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Posts Tagged ‘the Lord’

Jo 12There I was, standing peacefully at the supermarket checkout, when the lady in front shook her head, turned to me and started muttering:

‘I could have done this in ten minutes! It’s not worth it, bringing my husband with me, I can tell you that!

I looked and saw her husband happily chatting to the checkout girl. Then the lady went on:

‘I asked why she hadn’t put our cold things into the blue bag but he’d packed it away! He’s no help at all!’

I glanced at another lady behind me in the queue then and caught her grinning.

‘Well, if I brought my husband shopping with me, he’d still be back in the chocolate aisle now!’ she announced.

Then I decided to add my contribution to the conversation.

‘My husband doesn’t come with me either. If he did, he’d organise everything with military precision and know exactly what was in each aisle and what order to get things! I know where things are and usually have a list, but I like to see what’s on special and get ideas for different things to cook.’

(I rest my case!)

I watched then as the first lady and her husband left, with things apparently reconciled between them. Phew! No doubt she would be very happy to have his help with loading everything she had bought into the car and unloading it later.

All the way home, I chuckled at this amusing little episode. I shared it with my own husband then—and, thankfully, he laughed too! After over fifty years of marriage, we are well aware how different we are and how we can help each other best. But then I began thinking a little more seriously about this whole experience. The first lady’s husband looked as if he was only trying to help—had he felt rejected and rebuffed by his wife’s response? Had she overreacted, thinking she was holding the queue up? Was she perhaps a little tense and stressed that day anyway? Who knows?

I wonder what you are like when it comes to accepting help. I know I am not the best—I am quite independent and am also reluctant to bother others. Yet recently, when someone offered to make a cake to help out with some catering I needed to do, I accepted—and it felt good. Not only did this lady look pleased, but I was quite relieved too and grateful for her thoughtfulness.

Often too, I know I have rejected God’s help in my life and gone it alone, preferring to do things in my own strength rather than trust God. Yet how much that must grieve God’s heart! I think we see a glimpse of this in Isaiah 30, where the Lord says to his people:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. (15)

Instead, the Israelites decide to do it their way and flee on horses, even though the Lord warns them they will be defeated. Then we come to these beautiful words:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. (18)

It’s all about the right help at the right time, don’t you think? And the Lord’s help is always exactly that.

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Jo 12It’s a strange experience, isn’t it, to try to avoid others or have them avoid us as we go about outside at the moment? Yes, those social isolation measures are important, but to me, keeping our distance definitely feels weird, however much we might smile at each other in the process.

Recently, I was walking along a nearby footpath, enjoying the beautiful weather, when I noticed a couple coming towards me. Suddenly, they veered off onto the edge of the road. At first, forgetting our distancing rules, I wondered why they were doing such a thing. For a moment, they reminded me of the priest and Levite who crossed to the opposite side of the road to avoid the person in need, in the story of the Good Samaritan! But no, they were only being considerate of me, as well as careful on their own behalf.

And in the supermarket that same week, when there was a bit of a ‘log-jam’ in one aisle, some of us back-pedalled furiously to keep those social distancing rules and waited more or less patiently, while others continued on with their shopping in blissful ignorance. One lady even tut-tutted and shook her head in disgust at everyone. For a moment, I felt I had no right to be there—that I was ‘barred’ from that aisle and should take myself off elsewhere. How good it was to reach that cheery checkout person at last and be on my way home again!

As I thought about these experiences, I began to wonder if they might be showing me something about my attitude towards God at times. How often have I cringed from meeting with God and stepped off the footpath, so to speak, in order to avoid facing up to things in my life? How often do I choose even now to reject that gentle voice in my spirit, urging me to listen and to change my ways, and want God to keep a respectable distance from me?

Many years ago, at a very busy stage of my life, I pushed God aside for a while and chose instead to focus on things I needed—and wanted—to do. But one Sunday, I heard a story from Scripture read aloud in church that contained the words ‘Give me time …’. These words, taken completely out of context, nevertheless pierced my heart, as I realised that was exactly what I had been saying to God: ‘Oh, just give me time! I’ll come back to you when I’m good and ready!’ I felt so convicted that I had been treating our most holy and loving Lord in such a proud and careless way. Each day, I had been rejecting the Lord’s outstretched hand to me, offering me a wonderful, close relationship with him again. But I wanted him to keep his distance. I wanted him to move aside. I did not want him anywhere near.

How blessed we are when we realise how foolish it is to try to keep our distance from the Lord and instead, choose to welcome him into our lives each day with open arms!

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. … Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honour. James 4:8,10 New Living Translation

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Jo 23‘I have HOMEWORK!’ our almost six-year-old granddaughter announced ecstatically, her big brown eyes wide with anticipation, as we picked her up from school one afternoon last week. ‘I’m going to do it right now!

Then and there, in the middle of the schoolyard, Maxine wanted to set to work. But I managed to get her to the car and then home at least before she tackled this wondrous new thing called homework. Last year, she had spelling to practise at home. But now being all grown up in Year One, she finally had those magical homework sheets in her hands.

First off, she tackled her spelling list for the week. She wrote out all her words in the column marked ‘Monday’ —then the Tuesday column as well, since she might not have time the next day. The Wednesday column soon followed and the Thursday one too.

But wait, there was more. As well, we completed some little ‘Maths’ exercises to do with measuring things and deciding which things were bigger or smaller than something else.

‘This is fun!’ she declared—until her granddad tried to help her draw a map of her bedroom. But she did not want help. She did not care if things weren’t in the right place or weren’t drawn to scale. What mattered to her was making that chest of drawers she drew bigger and brighter than everything else in her room and enjoying the whole experience of doing her very own homework!

As I watched, I found myself hoping she continues to be as enamoured with the idea of doing homework for a long time to come. After all, she has plenty of it ahead of her. But I began to think too how I initially embraced some things in my own life with passion and excitement, only for it all to die down a few weeks or months later. For example, I know I should walk regularly and I do enjoy it. I used to walk every day. But things happened—and now I resent the time I need to take from my writing to go walking. Then there are some books I have started reading too with enthusiasm, even taking notes as I went. But sadly, I soon became too busy—or too lazy—and lost interest in them.

I’m so glad God has enabled me not to do the same in my Christian journey. I well remember the joy and enthusiasm with which I embraced my new-found faith in Jesus Christ in my mid-teens. Over the years, while this joy and enthusiasm may have changed in degree or shape, even becoming a little dulled at times through the pressures of life, it has never left me. Today, many years later, I still rejoice that I am God’s beloved child, through the great grace God has shown me and goes on showing me. And, through God’s strength, I am still embracing with enthusiasm the things I have been given and gifted to do right now.

May that deep joy continue to flourish in my life and yours—and may we, like Maxine, embrace all God has for us to learn and experience with enthusiasm, whatever our age!

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

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Jo 12This past week, I actually managed to finish the first draft of my seventh novel—over ninety-eight thousand words. Woohoo! It still feels a little surreal—I have lived with my characters for so long that they feel part of me. At times, I have even found myself thinking in real life settings, ‘Oh, how would Meg (my heroine) have responded here?’ Or ‘This is what happened to Stephen.’ Or ‘Meg has just done that!’ It has been quite a journey.

I can’t remember exactly, but I think I began this novel around three and a half years ago, not long after my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me, was published. I love writing non-fiction, but felt drawn to write yet one more novel, this time inspired, a little at least, by the lives of my maternal grandparents. Yet I cringed at the thought. Only one of my past novels could truly be classed as historical (ie set prior to and during World War Two) but, after writing it, I vowed and declared I would never write an historical novel again. You see, doing so brings with it a second huge task, on top of actually writing. Everything needs to be checked to see if the characters could truly do such things in that time and place—and if they could, how long it would take them. Certain things could not be mentioned either, since they were not around then. And certain words could not be used. Yet in my heart, I still wanted to write this novel, set in Queensland in the period 1909 to 1926.

Now I am supposed to be ‘retired’ (!), but somehow I have still not quite discovered the meaning of that word. As a result, writing this current novel has been punctuated by speaking at a variety of places, supporting the pastoral team at our church for four months while our senior pastors were on sabbatical, minding grandchildren on a regular basis, accompanying the village choir, meeting with others—and so many other good and right things. I do not regret any of them. But it makes completing a full-length historical novel just that little bit more challenging.

Can you see why I still feel a little numb at this point? Yet I also feel so grateful to God and thankful for this amazing opportunity to write a story that has been in my heart and mind for many years, long before I sat down to write the novel. I am well aware it may or may not be published—that will be my next challenge, along with many edits! But whatever the outcome, I am so glad God enabled me to persevere. Yes, I chose to sit down and write—but God inspired me to keep going and gave me the strength and ability to do so. And that can be true for each of us, however we are gifted and whatever God puts on our heart to undertake.

I have long been encouraged by the words the Lord spoke to Zerubbabel, who had undertaken the task of rebuilding God’s house in Jerusalem:

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord. Zechariah 4:6

May these words also encourage you today to keep persevering in doing what God has given you to do.

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I have some clear memories from my childhood that I’m not so proud of. I was a very strong-willed child who didn’t like very much being told what to do, when to do it, what to wear, what to … well anything, really! On those occasions when my will clashed with my mother’s, I would argue on and on until eventually she would come to the end of her patience. With a very upset, angry look on her face, she would say with some passion, ‘Well, do what you like – you will anyway!

I remember how, while at first I was happy I had got my own way, this happiness was dulled somewhat by the knowledge that I had upset my mother and was displeasing her by pressing on with whatever I wanted to do. And I think I remember giving in myself at that point in some instances at least – although perhaps that’s wishful thinking on my part or the distortion that time can bring!

I think it’s these memories of my childhood wilfulness that cause me even now to sit up and take notice when I read passages in the bible dealing with the stubborn and rebellious attitude of God’s people. It couldn’t possibly be, of course, that I am still rather strong-willed and stubborn! Whatever the reason, this week I found myself taking particular note when I came across Psalm 81. Here the Lord reminds the Israelites how he rescued them from slavery and begs them to listen to him so they will triumph over their enemies. I could clearly hear his love for his children and feel his grief as I read verses 11-12:

But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.

I heard this love even louder and stronger in the final verse of this psalm, however, which paints a beautiful picture of the Lord’s provision for his children, would they but listen.

But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.

It seems this honey the Lord promised was the best and sweetest wild honey that could be obtained then from bees that established themselves high up in the clefts of rocks. If the Israelites truly listened, the Lord would provide not only water from the rock, as happened at Meribah (see v 7), but the best honey ever and the highest quality wheat for their bread.

Now I’m a bit partial to fresh bread and honey, I must admit. And that in itself should make me long even more for such good gifts from God’s hand. In fact, in reality, I know I have tasted them over and over again as I have grown to love and trust God more and look to him for the things that truly satisfy. How sweet it is for me to remember, for example, that whatever happens with the books I have poured myself into writing during the past eight years, I am still perfectly loved and valued by God! One day, I believe, the Lord will welcome me into heaven and he and I will sit down together and write the most perfect books imaginable! And that will indeed taste to me like the best bread and the sweetest honey ever.

Is God’s wheat and honey on your menu today?

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One Sunday recently, I found myself part of an interesting lunch-time conversation. We had just consumed the most amazing meal, which our friend, a mother of five young children, had somehow managed to serve us, despite having been at church most of the morning. In complimenting her on her fantastic effort, we mentioned how she is following in the footsteps of her mother, also a wonderful cook.

‘Yes,’ her husband said then. ‘It’s always important to take a good look at your girlfriend’s mother before proposing.’

Now on the surface, his words could have been taken as a compliment. But it was the rolling of his eyes, the resignation on his face and his doleful tone that conveyed something quite different. And the muffled chuckles of other family members reinforced his opinion. You see, our friend’s mother is a great person, but is also known to talk – quite a lot!

I felt sorry for our friend. The comment seemed quite a ‘put down’ to me. Had her husband merely been trying to lighten the moment with his particular sense of humour or perhaps shift the focus onto himself, I wondered? But no, I suspect he was at least partly serious.

‘It’s strange, isn’t it,’ I therefore responded sweetly, ‘how men make these comments about their wives. Have you ever considered that a woman might be well advised to look carefully at her prospective partner’s father before deciding to spend the rest of her life with him?’

My words were greeted with stunned silence and also some surprise. Obviously the males present had not thought about this possibility. Hopefully without being too judgmental, dare I say sexism was still alive and well around that table?

Yet our friend’s comment made me think – and this time along much more spiritual lines! Certainly, his wife resembles her mother, yet, knowing both her parents, I could also see glimpses of her father in her. And I was glad she reflected them both in ways that honoured them and their influence on her life. But she also reflected something of God to me, I felt, with her warm, friendly smile and the gracious, caring way she welcomed us after not having seen her for so many years.

Now I know I too am like my parents in various ways, both positive and negative, but how much do I reflect my heavenly Father in my daily life in a way that honours him? Do people see God in me in the words I write and speak? I am created in God’s image, Genesis 1:27 tells us, but just how clear is that image and ‘family likeness’ to those around me?

In 2 Corinthians 3: 18, after commenting how we reflect the Lord’s glory as we gaze on him, Paul maintains we ‘are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ Yes, we were all created in God’s image, both male and female – but something happened. Sin entered the world and that image became marred and blurred. Yet as we choose to become part of God’s family again, keeping our eyes on the Lord, his Spirit will transform us more and more into his likeness. So God’s image is slowly being restored in me as I cooperate with his Spirit.

Now that sounds pretty amazing and wonderful to me. How about you?

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In recent days, I have been involved in finalising the cover of my fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, due for release in June. I was asked by my publisher, Ark House, for suggestions and in the process, told them one thing I don’t like on a cover – a front view of the hero or heroine! I like my readers to imagine these characters themselves. And as the author, no image ever seems to do justice to this ‘real’ person I have walked beside for months who has persevered and struggled and triumphed and lived through so many different experiences.

When the cover was returned for approval, however, I found a front view of the main character on it! And yet … well, she looked lovely, with a rather pensive, sad expression that exactly suits the storyline. So I rapidly had to revise my own mental concept, step back a little and try to appreciate what the graphic artist had come up with. Now I’m very happy with the result – and I hope my readers will be too.

It’s sad but true that we do tend to judge a book by its cover. For this reason, I’m very glad all my novels have excellent covers. In this day of economic downturn and questions about the future of books and bookstores, we authors need all the help we can get! But all of this has led me to wonder how I myself come across to people – how the ‘cover’ I present to the world expresses what is inside me. What do people see when I get up to speak somewhere? What do people notice about the way I live my daily life?

Well, I know they see a grey-haired woman who is definitely not slim and perhaps make judgments about that! It is amazing how people are put in ‘boxes’ simply on the strength of having grey hair, I’ve discovered. Perhaps we would be suitable to speak to Seniors’ Groups, it is suggested nicely – when I absolutely love speaking to young mums or people of any age, including Seniors! But much more importantly, I hope I carry with me in what I do and say – and yes, even in my appearance – something of who God is. After all, each of us is created in God’s image, as Genesis 1:27 tells us. And as the psychologist David Benner puts it in ‘The Gift of Being Yourself’, each of us, when we are prepared to be our true selves, actually is a ‘unique face of God to the world’! What a privilege – but what a responsibility as well.

So I hope both in my life and through my novels, by God’s grace, I reflect that grace and love clearly in a way that points people to God. ‘Let you light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’, Jesus tells his disciples (Matt 5:16). I hope as I speak, that my words carry something of the ‘fragrance of life’ that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 2:16. And I hope and pray that the ‘cover’ of the book of my life will attract people to God and not turn them away.

But I’m so relieved that when God looks at me, the inside matters much more than the outside! In 1 Samuel 16:7, when Samuel is sizing up Jesse’s sons as potential future kings, the Lord reminds him:

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

How about you? What does your ‘cover’ convey? And what does God see in your heart?

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Our granddaughters seem to own lots of things that need batteries to keep going. Just before Christmas, our Olivia lined up an interesting array of Santa and Rudolf toys they own and began to demonstrate to me how these only half worked because they ostensibly needed new batteries. They looked a sorry lot, with glowing noses that didn’t quite glow, heads and hands that kind of half moved and voices that sounded very strange and tended to peter out miserably. Then there are the toys that don’t run across the floor anymore because they need new batteries or the cute puppy that no longer wags its tail or the fluffy kitten that has forgotten how to purr – not to mention the camera that won’t click or the keyboard that won’t play. And so the list goes on.

Well, I think I know how these toys feel! I related very well to that poor, tired Santa my granddaughter showed me who just couldn’t sing and dance around. But that was a few weeks ago now. Here I am today on the ‘other side’ of Christmas and heading through much quieter territory, momentarily at least. I have discovered, as I have let myself relax a lot more than normal, the joy of doing nothing for once – of putting aside speaking engagements, book promotion and yes, even writing, and letting those batteries run down completely. And again, I have been reminded that life is not a matter of always having to be productive – and certainly not a matter of ‘doing’ things to impress God or anyone else. God loves us completely and utterly. God understands and in fact has made us so that we need to rest at regular intervals and be renewed. In fact, I suspect God is delighted when we take time out to sit or lie back and just ‘be’, for a change. And as we put everything aside and choose to live ‘in the moment’, simply letting God hold us and ‘be’ with us, then that is when we can best hear not only God’s heart for us but our own hearts as well.

And that’s exactly what happened to me this morning as I took time to read Isaiah 40, forgetting at first that this is the chapter that talks about weariness and renewal! So it was a joy to find and read again what God has said on the subject:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

What an encouragement as we prepare to step into 2011! As we take time to focus on God, who never grows weary, and continue to ‘hope in the Lord’, then we will be strengthened and empowered to do the things God has put in our hearts to do.

Now that’s what I call a total battery recharge – don’t you?

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Many years ago, one of our daughters who was only very little at the time was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her answer was a doctor or – wait for it – a shepherd! She had heard various bible stories about shepherds and must have decided they were a kind lot who helped and cared for others. The interesting thing is that while she did not take up either of these occupations, she nevertheless clearly conveys these traits in the way she has related to others throughout her life. Next year she is heading out with a volunteer organisation to spend some time working with orphans in Rumania – still the doctor and the shepherd at heart.

I think of her almost every time I read or speak on Psalm 23. This psalm is so well-known that the temptation is to gloss over the richness of its words and to read it only at funerals or memorial services. Yet I think it gives such encouragement to us as we seek to live our lives well right now, and deep comfort whenever we find ourselves in a hard place.

Right off the bat, the psalm begins with the strong assertion that ‘The LORD is my Shepherd’. What a statement! David, its author, is declaring that Yahweh, the most high God, the ‘I AM’, the one whose name was too holy and too awesome even to be spoken aloud by the ancient Hebrews, is prepared to take on the lowly role of a shepherd and, furthermore, lead and guide him personally through his life. That blows my mind and immediately takes me back to my teenage years when I realised for the first time that the mighty God of the whole universe knew me and cared about me personally – enough to send Jesus to die for me, in fact.

As the psalm continues to unfold, we read wonderful statements about the Lord that I have found so true since then:

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the present of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

The key factor in it all is that presence of the Shepherd walking closely with me, strengthening me, showing me the way forward, defending me, healing me. My task is to ensure I keep my eyes on my Shepherd, listening for his voice, trusting him when he takes me in a particular direction. In John 10:27, Jesus himself says:

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

What a privilege to have Jesus, the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:14-15), intimately involved in my life journey, with all its twists and turns! In fact, he has told us this relationship will never end, that no one can snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). So it is with a grateful heart that I agree with David as he concludes his psalm:

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Can you hear the voice of this faithful Shepherd too? Are you listening?

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What did we do before the advent of email, Facebook, skype, blogs, and all the ways of linking us to others via the internet? Yes, we phoned, sent cards and letters – even telegrammed at times. But that was way back. Now – well, let me tell you a story about some conversations in a purple dressing-gown!

I have a good friend who lives in Turkey, with whom I communicate often via email but also by skype. At first she would skype me on our normal home phone, but then, after I also installed the program, we graduated to speaking via a small handset attached to my computer plus a webcam which didn’t seem to work, so I gave up on it. Finally, however, with the advent of my new laptop, I now simply sit at my computer talking to her – all the necessary ‘bits and pieces’ are built-in. Now, with one click of the mouse, I can even choose between a normal skype call and a video one, enabling my friend to see the top half of my body at least as I chat away.

The first few times we talked via video skype, I joked about what I was wearing. It was always the same – my warm, fluffy, purple dressing-gown! My friend tends to skype me later in the evening, by which time I am often comfortably ensconced at my computer, writing a few more precious lines of my latest novel before heading to bed. One time when I apologised for how I was dressed, my friend commented that it didn’t matter one bit to her. After all, we know each other well and have travelled around Turkey together several times, sharing a room in all sorts of B and Bs, ancient and modern!

But her response made me think. Whenever she skypes me, I want to ‘look nice’ on that screen. Almost unconsciously, I tidy my hair and straighten the collar of my purple dressing-gown – and yet, she doesn’t care! All she wants to do is connect with me and feel she is being heard and getting some response in return.

And that, I realised, is how God is with me too. God actually doesn’t care what I look like – in fact, God can see me any time at all, whether I am dressed carefully in my best or lounging around in my old jeans, jumper and ugg boots – even in a purple dressing-gown!  So why put on a ‘front’ for God? It doesn’t change anything – except perhaps make our communication just that bit more difficult.

In 1 Samuel, we read how God sent Samuel to find Jesse and anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel. At first, Samuel went by outward appearance, as Jesse’s first son came before him. Surely, he thought, this was the one God had chosen – but no. In 1 Sam 16:7, God says:

Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The Lord looks at the heart. God sees right inside me, past all the pretence, past all the self-justification, past all the outward trappings. God knows. God understands.

And as I sit snuggled up yet again in my purple dressing-gown, I’m so glad of that.

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