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Posts Tagged ‘the Bible’

Recently, while taking part in a Christmas carol service, I found myself sitting straight and tall in my seat and automatically taking a deep breath before singing each line. After all, I did not want to gasp for air halfway through—and definitely not halfway through a word as I sometimes hear singers doing on TV and elsewhere. I also tried to sing all the words clearly, even though I was certainly not giving any solo performance. But then I laughed at myself. You see, suddenly I realised that, without any conscious effort on my part, I had slipped back into singing exactly as I had learnt to do over sixty years ago! It all felt so natural—and so wonderfully fulfilling too.

During my middle school years, I belonged to two different choirs. The first was the Queensland Junior Conservatorium Choir which I joined after a nervous audition with the rather scary Director there at the time. In that choir, we learnt so much about the basics of good singing and about performing two-part songs well. The second was the Brisbane Junior Eisteddfod Choir where I ended up in the second soprano section as we sang three-part madrigals, sacred anthems, folksongs and all sorts of other beautiful music. In this choir, I learnt to keep my eyes on the conductor at all times, to listen to the other singers around me and to commit our whole repertoire to memory. We practised long and hard and in a very disciplined way, yet it was all so enjoyable, especially when we staged our own concerts and competed at eisteddfods.

These were the same skills then that popped up all over again, even in a humble little carol service. And I was glad. Perhaps you have experienced something similar in another context—perhaps you may have discovered to your great surprise that you still know how to ride a bike or swim or knit or sew, things you put a lot of effort into learning when very young. What a joy to find you still remember the basics, even if you might be a little rusty on the actual execution of your hard-won skills at this stage!

On the other hand, like me, you may also have other less joyful skills you acquired early on and have honed over the years so that they are second nature now. For me, I suspect they may be things like easily becoming defensive, too readily judging others, finding it difficult to apologise, not caring enough about others—the list goes on. Instead of celebrating these skills and continually resurrecting them, I need to let them disappear forever. And to do that, the best way I have found is to listen to what God says, both in Scripture and directly through the Spirit.

Perhaps you were blessed to learn to do this early on in your life so that it is second nature for you now. Yet this is a lifelong lesson we all need to keep learning, isn’t it? So, in 2023, let’s do exactly this— then faithfully put into practice everything we hear and learn.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

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Jo 12I hope I never cease to be moved by the amazing life stories I hear at times from the most unexpected people. One such story inspired me to write my first novel around sixteen years ago—and parts of others too have found their way into my novels since then. Yet it is often these very parts that people think I have made up myself. Surely that couldn’t happen, one sceptical reader told me once to my face!

But truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, as I discovered again last Sunday when I met a lovely man from South America at a church where I was speaking. After a while, I asked him how he had come to know or hear about God. His face lit up—and, with great excitement, he launched into his story. From what I remember of it all, his uncle belonged to the army back home and was involved in one of the ongoing wars with a neighbouring country. Eventually, the uncle’s troops won their battle with the enemy soldiers, so they entered their town to raid it and take whatever they could find for themselves. But by the time the uncle got there, the only thing left was an old book.

‘What use is that to me?’ he thought in disgust. ‘Oh well, I have some time now—I might as well read it.’

It turned out to be a bible. And as he read, he began to wonder if it was all true, so he showed it to a Catholic priest in his own town.

‘Oh, you shouldn’t be reading this,’ he was told. ‘We’re the only ones allowed to do that. Give it to me!’

But this soldier refused to and eventually found another Christian pastor, who explained to him what this book he had found was about and helped him understand it. As a result, this man then became a believer.

Yet that was not the end of the story. Eventually, this soldier told his sister about the book and about Jesus Christ—and she believed in him too. Then in time, this lady told her son—and he also believed. … And this son was the man I met right here in Sydney last Sunday. Now this man constantly tells his own children in no uncertain terms about God’s precious book, the bible—the word of God that is true and powerful and active.

This man’s uncle did not know, when he first picked up his bible, that it is indeed a much stronger weapon than any gun or grenade or knife he had been issued with—or doubled-edged sword, for that matter!

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Yet God spoke deep into his spirit through the book he found, despite his ignorance. And thankfully, this uncle had an open, seeker’s heart that reached out to God and was so responsive, as God’s Spirit drew him close.

What a story—and what a challenge! May my own heart be equally open to God—and may I always value my own ‘old book’ as much as this man did.

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Jo 23I wake up feeling tired, after a rather restless night. As my mind begins to clear and I work out what day it is, I realise I need to head to our church office for the morning. For four months, my husband and I are helping to support our wonderful ministry team, while our two lead pastors (husband and wife) are on sabbatical leave. It is an honour to do this—yet today, I feel decidedly less than adequate for the task.

I get ready, all the while thinking of the many jobs waiting to be done at home while I am out. So … why am I doing what I am doing? I have more than enough to occupy me, without any added responsibilities. What was I thinking, to say yes when asked? I have moved on. I left a ministry role many years ago and, since then, God has unfolded such a fulfilling writing and speaking journey for me. How could I have agreed to put my current novel aside for these months? Besides, some of my ministry gifts and skills are quite rusty. Surely there are others who could do these things so much better?

I grumble to myself as I eat breakfast and leave home, feeling so unsure about the day ahead. I plan to work on some training material for the pastoral team, preparing input I have been asked to give on a topic I myself originally suggested. Yet as I arrive and open up those documents on my laptop, I wonder how what I have already prepared will connect with our team members. I don’t know them very well yet—will they understand where I’m coming from? Will they feel that giving up their precious time in the middle of the day to sit and listen to my input is a big waste? Will they decide it is irrelevant for them in their particular area of ministry?

Eventually, I turn to a sermon I am currently working on. I thought what I have already written was what God wanted me to say. Yet, as I look at it again, I begin to wonder. Today, it seems a little trite—perhaps too simple, too fanciful even. I want to honour God in what I share on the day—and also honour the trust our leadership has shown in asking me to speak. But am I making a huge mistake with all that input I see on the screen before me?

Then I stop and reach for my Bible, turning to some verses I read earlier before heading out. In these, the Apostle Paul lists the many sufferings he has endured in his ministry, then writes:

But he (the Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   1 Corinthians 12:9-10

Yes, I may be weak—but I am also strong, because I have an amazing God whose grace and power are able to shine through my weaknesses. How wonderfully reassuring is that?

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