Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To Choose my Weapons and Seeds Wisely

In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Peter cut off the high priest's servant's ear, Jesus instantly said, "All who use swords are destroyed by swords!" Now, two types of people spring to mind who never say anything trivial and unimportant. 1) Those who are always mindfully doing God's work, and 2) Those who know that their lives will soon be over. At this very moment, Jesus fitted both criteria perfectly. These words to Peter were full of wisdom and significance. I couldn't help mulling over them carefully to consider what we may take from them. I believe this is it:

He expressed a principle set in place by God which can be carried over to all aspects of life. Those who use gossip are destroyed by gossip, those who use cheating are destroyed by cheating, those who use discontentment, complaining and griping attract more to complain and gripe about, and those who choose sarcasm and bitterness as their weapons are destroyed by the same. When we use lies, we may attract those who lie to us and furthermore, we may find it far harder to gauge whether what we are hearing around us is truth.

I started to think about some of the weapons I've chosen over the years and regretted.
1) A close-hearted type of stinginess, not wanting to reveal too much good to others for fear that they might hog it all, leaving me to miss out. This was probably partly a result of being the youngest child in my family by far and also being the target of detractors and bullies at school. I spent many years from school onward with the uncomfortable feeling that people were keeping things hidden from me which would benefit me if only I knew.
2) Lots of fear and dread, which definitely attracted more to be nervous about and make me tremble. I ended up with an exhausted body that was on high alert during every waking moment.

I got tired of living this way. I longed for a spirit of lavish generosity and calm trust to replace all of the above. I realised that I must get into the habit of asking, "Is this thought/attitude something I want returned?" Asking this is a good habit because nothing helps us make changes so effectively. Those who say that life is like a mirror that reflects back what we are, are basically saying the same as Jesus about living by the sword.

Those who say we reap what we sow are saying the same thing. To get a bumper crop of sweet, healthy apples, we need to plant good apple seeds in our lives. We can't plant withered little thistle seeds and expect that by some miraculous provision of favour, God will give us apples. The wonderful thing when we sow the right crop is that we have a God of surprises. We won't necessarily get back goodness from the same source where we planted it. We may see returns way down the track when we don't expect them. Proverbs says,"Cast your bread upon the waters and after many days, it will return." I'm convinced that this is not just a pretty little idea but a promise based on a sound principle.

People who talk about 'vibes' don't realise that they're saying the same thing. Those who delve into metaphysics suggest that we attract vibrations around us of similar magnetic frequencies to those we emit. I came across many of these types of science buffs at Uni. Pluck a guitar string and the corresponding string of a guitar across the room will also resonate. Put a whole lot of clocks into one room and their pendulums will eventually line up with each other. In many cases, these scientists don't realise that they're simply agreeing with what we find within the pages of the Bible.

The bottom line: We can't emit one of type of feeling (hopelessness, depression, fatigue, resentment, envy, fear) and attract the opposite (prosperity, contentment, peace, love, health, well-being). When we choose the weapons we want to use and the seeds we want to plant, we may be certain we'll see results in their proper time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

That we ought to live at the speed of life

... and that's a lot steadier and slower than many of us may think.

I've often found myself tearing around, madly trying to tick jobs of a "To Do Today" list, and while I'm completing one as fast as I can, I'm already thinking about the next. Or else there are voices in my ear crying out, "Muuuum ...." while I'm trying to keep my mind on the job at hand.

Well, one day a few years ago now, my family and I stopped at the Mt Gambier caravan park on our way back from a trip to Victoria. It was the tail-end of a long drive. Rather than being the focus of our holiday this time, Mt Gambier was just the last stop on the way home. Andrew decided to have a football game with the kids as Logan had been nagging him for a kick. I'd exhausted myself racing after and entertaining our toddler, Blake, who had a way of quietly disappearing and getting into mischief. I just wanted to relax but started thinking how close the Blue Lake* was, just over the hill.

I suggested that we all walk over for a look, but nobody else was interested. After all, we'd seen it before, it wasn't the focus of this trip and there was a footy to kick, but as we'd come so far, I felt sort of obligated. So I called to the others to keep an eye on Blake and headed over myself, striding briskly to get another job out of the way.

When I caught my first glimpse of it, the serenity of that vivid blue sheet made me pause. I sat on an overlooking bench and studied how the summer breeze gently caught it, highlighting the ripples. A flash of light in one spot traveled right across the surface to begin gently somewhere else. Although full of movement, it was a beautiful, serene sight. I liked the way the same breeze that caressed the water also tickled my face.

I realized that my heart had been thumping, my mind was still in its racing mode, saying, "Get back to the kids now," my feet and hands felt jittery and restless. Furthermore, I knew that my body had been running in this high gear all holiday and I hadn't even known it until I took the time to pause. I'd been forcing myself to live beyond the optimum speed of life that God had set in place. The rest of creation, which has no free choice in the matter, was reminding me how I should move.

I like to think back to that day on occasions when my body sets itself into 'full steam ahead' mode without my realizing it. The tell-tale symptoms of digestive disturbances and panic attacks, which I used to attribute to wrong foods and stressful thoughts, are often just signs that I'm trying to live faster than the speed of life.

My new philosophy is to work steadily without multi-tasking, focusing my attention completely on whatever I'm doing as if that's all I have to think about. I try to take rests for quiet times and walks whenever I feel like it. My mobile phone needs to be charged regularly, and human bodies work on a similar principle when we keep giving out energy. I often achieve more in a day this way and think clearer at the same time.

One of my favourite old Christian writers, Brother Lawrence (pictured above), understood the secret of living at the speed of life. "Even when he was busiest in the kitchen, it was evident that the brother's spirit was dwelling in God. He often did the work that two usually did but he never seemed to bustle. Rather, he gave each chore the time that it required, always preserving his modest and tranquil air, working neither slowly nor swiftly, dwelling in calmness of soul and unalterable peace." (The Practice of the Presence of God)

* For those who live far away, Mt Gambier's Blue Lake is one of South Australia's spots of pride. It is an ancient volcano crater which turns a deep, vivid shade of incredible blue for only the summer months. In the winter months its water is as grey as anywhere else.

Monday, May 9, 2011

That I'd rather stand for something positive than against something negative

I've noticed that Face Book and the Internet have been full of Christian warnings to avoid playing this computer game, watching that movie, wearing these clothes or going to those places. It makes me sad when I hear confused reports of people who honestly can't understand why others seem to want to spread a sour cloak of judgment and disapproval over things which never occurred to them as harmful.

I've been the butt of rigid, condemnatory words. I was selling my "Quenarden" series* at a market, when an elderly woman stepped over to have a browse. The conversation went something like this.

Paula: Hello, do you have any grandchildren who like to read adventure stories?
Christian Lady: I do have grandchildren but they certainly wouldn't be interested in this sort of twaddle! We're Christians. That may sound frank but one day, if you come to your senses, you'll understand that filling innocent children's heads with wicked, fanciful nonsense is what helps make the world into such a melting pot of evil and sin.
Paula: But I'm a Christian too.
Christian Lady: That's what you think, dear.

She didn't give me a chance to explain that I take my own Christian values very seriously; that I wanted to praise God through my series and fill it with symbolism that pointed to Him; that I never started anything without plenty of prayer. I wonder if she would have bothered to consider my explanation if I tried. That made me shy away from anything that seems remotely censorious in an attacking, 'holier-than-thou' sort of spirit. It's the sort of encounter that I can understand would make a genuine seeker of truth want to turn and flee at the mention of the word "Christian" in future.

I like this story. Whenever Mother Teresa was asked to take place in any 'anti-' rally (anti-war, anti-evil, anti-discrimination etc) she would politely refuse and reply, 'Invite me to a "pro-" rally next time (pro-peace, pro-goodness, pro-generosity etc) and I'll be there in a flash.' She understood that emphasising goodness rather than evil is the wiser path to take.

I'd love to see less time spent trying to battle the bad (or what we perceive as bad) and more time promoting God's love, resting with true faith in His sovereign control and displaying the fruits of His Spirit. In that way we wouldn't have as many battles to fight or demons to rebuke, for they'd turn and flee with a howl. They are not going to hang around for long where true understanding and worship of God is always going on.

* My Quenarden series is a trilogy for the 12+ age group which blends adventure, mystery, romance and a quest for the triumph over evil.

Monday, May 2, 2011

That fiction authors need a creed

I was reading Matthew 13: 10-17 in The Message version of the Bible. The apostles asked Jesus, "Why tell stories?" I paid close attention to his reply because I've often been asked the same question and come up with nothing better than, "I enjoy it" which seems too self-indulgent to justify.

Here is what our Lord and Saviour said.

"You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them. Whenever somebody has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That's why I tell stories; to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it."

What a wonderful way of putting it. I'd always loved reading fiction but used to put it aside as a treat for my spare time when more 'important' work had been done. When I started writing, I assumed that others would be approaching my books the same way, of course. Now I'm trying to get into the habit of acknowledging that just because my work is targeted for people's leisure moments, it does not follow that said work is "light-weight" or frivolous. In fact, our leisure moments may be the perfect time when we are most receptive to those things of depth and significance.

I searched around to see if I could find a fiction writer's creed. When I couldn't, I decided to write my own. If you like to write fiction too, you are welcome to share it with me, if you like.


1) I will do all I can to stir readers' hearts, to create fertile ground for insights and understandings to flow freely to them from God.

2) I will study and ponder God through His Word and prayer, to keep a clean heart toward Him and stay sensitive to what I believe He would have me write.

3) I will offer my very best to make people smile, cry, laugh and enjoy every moment of time they've put aside to read my books.

4) I will re-write and edit to make the finished result as polished as it can be. I will accept the sacrifice of hard work and time involved.

5) I will continue to study the craft of writing, willing to learn more.

6) I will not focus on praise, money or recognition as a gauge of how I'm going. I will be content to be a spark of light where God has placed me, trusting Him to open doors.

7) Having said that, I will look out, being ever vigilant for opportunities to introduce my work to people through speaking events such as talks and workshops, or written words such as articles or guest blogs.

8) I will take setbacks in my stride as an inevitable part of the journey but I will not let them turn me away from my chosen path or cause me to give up.

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