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Posts Tagged ‘the Scriptures’

I recently did something I have been putting off for years. With great regret, I at last steeled myself enough to throw my much-loved and much-used NIV bible I have had since somewhere in the middle 1980s into the bin. In one way, it felt as if I was throwing part of me out along with it. My hands had held that deep red cover so often that a lot of the fake leather had worn off and my fingers had turned some of those pages so much that the corners were ripped, with one or two having disappeared altogether.

Now many might think, ‘Why all that fuss? It’s just an old book!’ And at one level, that is true. After all, it is not the book itself that is sacred but rather the words it contains—and they can be found just as well in my brand-new, more recently translated NIV bible I received at Christmas or in any other bible. And yet … and yet …

You see, that old bible symbolised so much to me in so many different ways. It was my companion through countless amazing times in my life, as well as hugely difficult ones. I carted it with me to all sorts of places—on camps and retreats, away on holidays, to lectures at theological college, to nearby parks to sit and reflect, to places where I spoke. When it finally become too risky to use while speaking somewhere because it threatened to fall apart on me, I let it rest on my desk beside my laptop and bought another copy to take with me instead. And there my favourite, old bible has remained for many years now as I have written several more books and many blogs. I have read it each day, then left it lying open so I could look over at any time and be reminded of what God had said to me as I read. And sometimes that re-read turned into a little prayer, either whispered or spoken aloud—perhaps for perseverance in writing or in preparing a message to speak somewhere or as intercession for someone else.

As well as featuring occasional finger-marked and dog-eared corners, some of the pages of that old bible also contained verses I had underlined or highlighted with a little line at the side. At times, I had even put an exclamation mark beside some words that had particularly impacted me or left a brief comment there in tiny letters. And I had read some passages so often that I could visualise where the words I wanted to find were on the page before I even looked them up—so much so that even my other NIV bible of the same vintage did not seem quite right to me at first.

Yet, I know I will soon become used to this other bible now open on my desk. I am familiar with its wording and will keep my more recent Christmas NIV for speaking somewhere. Whichever bible I use, it is still God’s precious Word that I look forward to exploring again in the year ahead and finding great wisdom and encouragement in its pages. And I hope you do too.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105

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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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This past week, I achieved a couple of ‘firsts’ again for me. I gave the final of ten talks I had agreed to give at various venues during May—a record number for me all in one month. And I also completed the final few edits of my next novel, The Inheritance.

Now I am so grateful for those ten speaking opportunities—I loved them all. I even look forward to more in the coming months. But it has felt at times a bit like a mini-marathon, as I have juggled preparation and editing. I completed the original version The Inheritance in May 2011, so it has been in my mind for a while—even through the writing and eventual release of my first non-fiction work, Soul Friend, last August. But now I again have a clean writing slate, so to speak. At last I am again on the brink of being able to dive in to another whole project—and that can be a heart-stopping moment, I’ve discovered.

You see, in one way, the possibilities are endless—almost overwhelmingly so. Of course, one key decision I need to make is whether to plunge into writing a second work of non-fiction or to opt for a seventh novel. Which should it be? I have ideas for both. In fact, I have the outlines or general concepts for three more novels already saved on my computer, each very different from the other. How do I decide?

And it’s at this point that, despite all those ideas running around in my head, I can hear that doubting little voice whispering away as well. What makes you think you can come up with yet another book? None of those plots you’ve already thought out are any good. Anyway, it will be such hard work—and you don’t have the time, in the midst of preparing for speaking engagements. As for another non-fiction book, what on earth would you say that hasn’t already been said? I know from past experience this is the enemy using my old self-doubt, so I close my ears to it all. But on it goes.

I turn to the Scriptures, wondering what God has to say to me today. I am excited, as I always am, when it’s time to begin reading a different book in the Bible—and today I am about to start John’s Gospel yet again. I read that first chapter and am reminded that God, ‘the Word’, created all things, that in him was life and that this life brought great light to men, overcoming and confounding the darkness. I read on and take in the mind-boggling fact that ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14).

I remember that the Spirit of this ‘One and Only lives in me right now, inspiring me, encouraging me, dispelling the darkness of doubt and fear. I know, as I listen to that voice that is so full of grace and truth, it will become clear which of those endless possibilities I am to pursue. The Word is with me and in me, shaping my own words. And I am so blessed.

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It’s fun, isn’t it, waiting to meet someone you’ve met only via email? Will they look anything like you thought they would? Will they be younger or older? Will the personalities you suspect they have from the way they write be reflected in their faces?

Recently, I had the privilege of reading fifty pages written by three female authors before we met at a Writers’ Fair. They wrote in vastly different styles, which soon had me trying to picture what each of them might be like. Their personal emails gave me a bit more of a clue, but there was still plenty of scope for my imagination.

When we finally met, however, none of them was quite like I had imagined. One was very quiet and shy. Another was much more friendly and outgoing than I had expected. And the third seemed an interesting mixture of nervousness and self-confidence, but again nothing like I had imagined.

On the same weekend, I also met various other authors I had previously ‘known’ only via Facebook or blogs. What fun it was to be able to recognise them by their photos! Yet even then some tricked us. Some had changed their hairstyle, while others looked much younger than I had anticipated. And some were warm and outgoing, while others were a little more reticent.

With the authors whose writing had previously been sent to me, I did have some opportunity to get to know them as we worked together for one whole day. Yet despite that, I still knew so little about them and what they really felt about the various changes I had suggested for their work. As for my Facebook and blog ‘friends’, while we did work out who was who, we had little time to get to know them better. There is more substance to those photos I now see again on the net, but still so much to learn about each of them.

As I reflected on these experiences, I was reminded of a verse I had recently read in 1 Corinthians:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (13:12)

Right now, there is so much we fail to understand about this world and in particular about God. Yes, now we can know God through the Scriptures, through listening prayer, through our experiences, through other people, through observing nature – but all of this is still merely a mirror that is able to reflect only a part of the whole glory of who God is. One day, however, we will see the real thing. One day we will see God face to face – and be totally overwhelmed in the process.

Yet while we see only ‘through a glass darkly’, even now God knows us fully, Paul tells us. God does not have to wonder what we will look like or what our personalities will be like. God already knows us perfectly through and through, as Psalm 139:1 says. How wonderfully liberating and life-giving that is! I don’t have to pretend anything to God. I know I am loved and accepted and totally understood. God will not be surprised at anything about me or anything I do – it is all already known.

I loved meeting my author friends in the flesh for the very first time. But what a day it will be when I meet God face to face at last! Then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

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