Monday, 19 December 2022

Who gives away anything for free, these days?

 Happy Christmas! A free gift for you…

Have you ever had your suspicions raised when someone is giving out things for free?

Why are they doing that? What’s “the catch”? Is there a hidden motive, or an annoying group or newsletter to sign up to?

There’s a great Aussie saying that “there is no such thing as a free lunch” --- everything has a cost to someone, somewhere, sooner or later.

Christmas gifts are costly – time, effort, thought and risk. What if the person doesn’t like it?

It’s easier these days to return gifts, or - to openly declare on social media what you want or do not want, and of course, money or gift cards remove a lot of the risk of giving.

What is the cost of Christmas lunch or dinner? Not just the food, but the preparation and the buying of ingredients, the management of time, household members and the invitations to guests who may or may not come. And the risk of relationships.

Christmas is a time when all of us need to prepare our hearts and minds to give gifts. Not gifts purchased or made, but much bigger than that. Gifts of forgiveness, grace, mercy and love to the undeserving of our own families and lives. Gifts that cannot be seen, or counted, or understood except with the heart.

A free gift that you give to yourself is to let go of hurt and free your heart and mind from anger and bitterness.

A free gift that you give another is to let them be the imperfect human that they are, without trying to make them into what you had hoped they might be.

On that first Christmas, the gift of the baby Jesus was to show imperfect humanity that they could come just as they were – poor shepherds, unmarried mother, confused father, and searching wise men.

The gift of Christmas is freely given, and we remember that we too have cost others time, money, patience, care, worry and troubles over the years of our lives.

When we receive freely given gifts, our natural urge is to want to do something to ‘pay’, but what about just accepting the gift, and saying “thank you”? Open your heart to ‘undeserved’ and unexpected gifts – time, compliments, free fruit, hugs, or other joys.

The point of God sending Jesus is that no-one is ever good enough, no-one is worthy: it is just pure love, mercy, and grace for humanity. That is the gift of Christmas.

Friday, 15 April 2022

That's My Soul - a reflection, and a poem

I first came across this poem (not in Larson, but another prophetic work) in the 1980s as a teen searching for how the Gospels and New Testament relate to what I saw and felt in church each Sunday, and in my professing-Christian home.  Thankfully, God was real to me back then, despite what I experienced, and God’s love has carried me through many searching times.

His mercy and grace are what that I pray desperately to pass on to others.

Now, I have better skills and can sit with others in their pain, sorrow, loss and questions.

And, this poem ‘found me’ again, as I want to bring Jesus to a post-post-Christian world: to those who have put their souls out there only to find they are mocked, abused, used and discarded when they don’t measure up, don’t have any money left, no longer have sex appeal, or are just not on trend any more. 

How will others experience God in me, through me?  How will I care for them? (souls = persons – as Martin Buber redefines: I-thou, not I-it)

“Through us, God spreads the knowledge of Christ

everywhere like perfume”.

2 Corinthians 2:14b (NIrV)


THAT’S MY SOUL by Ernest L. Stech

That’s my soul lying there.


You don’t know what a soul is?

You think it’s some kind of ghostly sheetlike thing

   you can see through and it floats in the air?

That’s my soul lying there.


Remember when my hand shook because I was nervous in the group?

Remember the night I goofed and argued too much

  and got mad and couldn’t get out of the whole mess?

I was putting my soul on the line.


Another time I said that someone once told me

  something about herself that she didn’t have to.

I said that she told me something that could have hurt her.

And I guess I was asking you to do the same.

I was asking you to let me know you.

That’s part of my soul, too!


When I told you that my mother didn’t love my dad and I knew it as a kid,’

When I said that my eyes water when I get hurt

  even though I am thirty-four and too much a man to cry,

I was putting my soul out there in the space between you and me.

Yeah, that’s my soul lying there.


I’ve never met God.

I mean I’ve never met that old man who sits on a

  cloud with a crown and a staff and knows everything

  and is everything and controls everything.

But I’ve met you.


Is that God in your face?

Is that God in your soul lying there?


Well, that’s my soul lying there.

I’ll let you pick it up.

That’s why I put it there.


I’ll bruise and turn rancid like an old banana if

  you want to manhandle it.

It’ll go away if you want to ignore it.


But if you want to put your soul there beside it,

  there may be love.

There may even be God.

(reproduced in Bruce Larson ‘No Longer Strangers’ Key Word Books 1971)

Sunday, 12 December 2021

from 2012 - Ash Wednesday Reflection - learning Anglican traditions



The afternoon light was gradually giving way to evening.  We entered silently.  Some sat, some knelt.

I felt the reflective spirit and sombre mood of the occasion.  This was special – the beginning of Lent and the preparation for the wonderful Easter to come.  It was new for me to see St John’s in candlelight.  A few last rays of the sun illuminated the stained glass beautifully.  I took it all in but mostly bowed my head in prayer and preparation.  I wanted to dwell on the words of the service, to open my heart more fully to God and to remember Him in the quietness and flickering shadows.

We all went forward for the Imposition of Ashes.  One by one receiving the grey-black ash mixed with oil in the sign of the cross on the forehead.  I closed my eyes and felt the signing of that powerful symbol on my skin.  I returned to my seat, eyes down and searching to understand the full meaning.

When it came time to exchange the Greeting of Peace, I looked about.  What a shock!  So that’s what I looked like!  Everyone with black marks at the hairline, some more cross-like than others, all evidently there, making a statement.

 Thoughts raced into my mind:  the black of sin – I am marked by my sin as I stand before God in this place…. But so are we all. 

Then – we are all the same – sinners in the sight of God so no room for pride.  We all bear the black mark of sin in one way or another, and all of us stand equal before God.

And then a joyful thrill to my heart as I realised also that the sign of the Cross was upon us all! 

The Cross of Jesus the Saviour, now symbolised in ashes and oil, had taken and paid for my sin so that I and all the others, could stand before God.

The black of ashes from Palm Sunday crosses reminding us of Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem.  Jesus went to that city full of God’s power to prepare for his work as Saviour – to die on the cross for my sin and for that of the whole world.  The oil, representing both preparation for burial – the death and burial of the old life - and an anointing to be special and set apart for God, and to now live for Him in response.

The strong symbolism and meaning rushed my brain and my heart at once and my eyes flooded with tears.  It was a most beautiful and humbling experience.

When I returned home, I kept on reflecting on how we are all the same before God – His children, marred by sin but now marked by Jesus, to be His, and to live for Him under the sign of the cross.

I took one last look in the mirror at the smudge on my forehead.  The ash and oil wash away but the imprint on my heart and mind is long-lasting.

J. V.

St John’s Dalby


Advent 2021 - Luke chapters 1 and 2

 Poems written during a Quiet Evening led by Vivienne Holt --- A Mary Christmas --- at Christ Church Cathedral, Darwin, Anglican Diocese of the Northern Territory.  32 degrees C; 7-9pm.

Reflecting on Annunciation and Incarnation  

Here I am

a servant of the Lord


I surrender.

May it be


And – “how” is okay


For there are questions

It is uncomfortable.

“The power of the Most High”.

I’m not God.

“He will be called Jesus”.

Let it be to me.

Let God

Yes, God

Again… and again

What does it mean?

[Mary hid all these things in her heart]

“A sword will pierce your own heart”.

A spear pierced his side.


God knows.

© JCV 09 December 2021, Darwin.

-  - - - - - -- - - - - - -


I wonder how God puts up with all the questions.

Bruce Almighty ---- the massive whine that reaches from earth to God.

The moans of millions

The bickering of billions

How does God…


The shouts of so many

The murdering of multitudes

How does God…


God came down – one of us.

Slept, shit, suffered


And still we accuse:

How does God???!?!?!?!?!


God does. God loves.

Because he has. God is love.

(And as I write, the foul language flies flies in from the street and echoes into the expanse of Christ Church Cathedral Darwin, where Black Jesus hangs on a cross for those who don’t know, but God does).


© JCV 09 December 2021, Darwin. 

-   - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- -

The Annunciation and other pronouncements

(If I was Gabriel, frustrated already by Zechariah,

I would have had an attitude ready for Miss Mary)


But she’s just logical.

She’s different.


Her questions, her puzzlement,

her fear --- all very normal.

I, Gabriel, know this from

so much experience.


So, I’ll continue:

Joseph sees me in his dream

And gets up immediately and goes -

No questions asked.


There are other dreams and visions

In other times and places

But suffice to say, the Magi listened too, and obeyed.


And that’s what God is looking for.

Sure, you can discuss it

But don’t blame me for what happens next.


© JCV 09 December 2021, Darwin.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

2 poems for Easter 2021


A poem for Easter 2021

 Sometimes silence

The space while Jesus scratches meaning 

In dust upon the ground 


Sometimes silence 

After raging storm has ceased and they are

Clueless Who's before them


Sometimes silence 

Deafens for He's laid in borrowed tomb

And soldiers guard the stone


Sometimes silence 

Of breaking hearts first morning of the week

and He's no longer there


Sometimes silence 

Gasping inhale when Risen is among them 

and opens blessed wounds


©JCV 01 April 2021


Un poém pour Pâques 2021

 Parfois silence

Pendant Jesus écrita par terre

Dans cette poussière


Parfois silence

Après l'avoir calmé la tempête

Tout surnaturel événement


Parfois silence 

Pendent la fermeture finale

D’une sepulchre banale


Parfois silence

Des femmes si éttonnées que

Leur Seigneur resussité!


Parfois silence

Entre tous qui ont surveillent

ses blessures frâiches, sacrées


©JCV 01 April 2021

Monday, 29 March 2021

When you can’t see… LENT 2021: Gospel of John, chapters 14-17

 LENT 2021:  The gospel according to John, chapters 14-17

When you can’t see the forest for the trees…

It’s been necessary for me to wear glasses since the age of 11, and now in my late 40s, the slow but sure decline of my vision continues a preoccupation with seeing clearly - seeing well.

The interactions of the disciples and Jesus during the final discourses of his life give us a glimpse into how hard it is to see, even when something, or someone, is right in front of our eyes. 

We can imagine that scene where John 14 onward, takes place:  Jesus was before them, in rabbinic traditional pose for teaching, and they – loyal followers of Jesus – were around him listening intently.

Disciples had been called to follow this man, and they had done so. They - and others - were there when he turned water into wine, when he fed thousands of people, when he calmed storms and opened blind eyes, and yet, the recorded conversation shows that they still could not “see” Jesus.  They were those of whom demons had been cast out, who had received healing, and who had donated towards the ministry, and now, who were hanging on his every word.

Here, Jesus was concluding his earthly ministry, heading to Jerusalem and to the cross as he had told them, and here leaves the incredible words of John chapters 14 to 17 to comfort his disciples, and ourselves.

In this beautiful passage, we get an interruption from Philip who piped up and asked the question on the minds of them all:  Show us, please Jesus! Let us see who you are talking about!  Who is this Father, and how does it all fit together?

Clearly, there was another picture in the minds of the disciples, something that they saw that blocked their view of Jesus.  Were they still dreaming of a Jewish revolution to overthrow the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel?

Jesus had refused to be made a military leader.  Now, he reiterated that knowing him is the same as knowing God the Father, and having seen him (Jesus) is the same as having seen God. [Jesus already outraged the religious leaders by calling God his Father, John 5:18]. 

For the religious leaders of the day, that meant he must be removed – killed - as necessary to keep their observances calm from disruption.  For the disciples, this meant confusion and anxiety as to when and how the “kingdom” Jesus had proclaimed was going to come about. Neither group could see Jesus.

Philip and the others were following Someone who had up-ended their lives. They had given up everything for him – some their fishing boats and livelihoods; women regularly gave of their wealth to support Jesus, and one poured out a costly perfume. They followed up and down the dusty roads of the region, and they heard his words and saw what he could do.

Who was Jesus, if not a food provider, a magic worker, a mystical healer, or a purveyor of pleasant distraction from the harsh realities of life, or a leader to bring an end to Roman oppression?

The disciples both ‘saw’, and did not ‘see’.  There was something going on, and now Jesus was talking about leaving them. Right there, they could only see a gloomy future without this amazing man... they despaired of their teacher moving on and leaving them without a plan and without guidance.  The passages in John’s gospel show how much Jesus saw and felt for them in their pain and confusion.

There is no shame in asking questions, and the honesty of the accounts found in all the gospels and through the New Testament declare that real people met a real man who was really God. 

What about you and I today?  What clouds our vision of Jesus?

Do we come with glasses fogged by assumptions that he is just a nice moral teacher - not God, and not the Saviour?  Do we see the gospels as a bit fanciful - merely interesting or amusing? 

Or, do we come with eyes of faith, asking for help to see clearly as we put daily trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour?

The solution to our problem of seeing Jesus is firstly in recognising that we cannot see – we are blinded by sin to our own sins, and that is our fundamental issue. As hard as it is to admit, our lenses are scratched and our eyes are clouded by a variety of preconceptions and fears. The Bible is clear - all is not right in the world, and the name of this is sin.

Secondly, accepting that there is a Hope that is so much more than corrective lenses – there is transformation power that happened at the cross where sin was dealt with, and when we accept this - repent, and let Jesus in - we have our eyes opened.  Then, we can see and know and live for God, because of what Jesus did that first Easter.

Only in the salvation provided through Jesus Christ’s life, brutal suffering and death on a cross, his burial, resurrection to life on Easter morning, can we live for God, now and always – only in this Way can we truly see.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Cracks in the wood...

 What if your faith 'cracks'?

What if what you were hoping for - in a person, a movement, a moment - does not eventuate?

As the Donald Trump illusion fades, many people are questioning their faith in him as the "one" who would right the wrongs of the USA and 'Make America Great Again'.


No human can right all wrongs.  No political party has it all together.

Having "enough" faith, or faith to believe that things can be different, is just not enough.


"Faith", by itself, is nothing.

Faith is always a bounded concept, which has worth only in the 'what' or 'who' of its grounding.

Faith in a chair fails when a leg cracks off.

Faint in an office, or position, fails with the character of the incumbent.

Where is your faith? Who, or what, is your faith in?


If its in yourself, you had better be sure to live worthy of that honour, for you would not want to put your faith in something or someone who fails.


If you are tired of fallible human leaders, broken promises and 'doing it all' yourself, you are in good company.

If you cannot muster up "enough" faith to keep going - even as COVID-19 looks like menacing 2021 just as it did 2020 - then think about who or what your faith is grounded in.

What if there was more to this life... more than just humans who fail and our own selves which cannot hold strong to 'the faith' in ourselves?

Why not ask the Good God who makes a Way for all to approach and find strength for this life's journey?

"The Lord God is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance..." from The Bible: 2 Peter, chapter 3, verse 9.

May the cracks that we see in our fragile faith lead us to the One who never fails, never falters, and who longs to see wholeness and healing for all.

penned 25 November 2020.   edited and blogged 16 January 2021