Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Remembering well

Jo 17Sometimes, forgetting things can be advantageous, don’t you think? I don’t mean that slight absentmindedness that leaves me unable to remember where I have put things in our new unit because there are so many more cupboards than there were in our old house! Can you imagine the fun I had in our first Christmas here, hunting for those bonbons I had stashed away somewhere—or even some of our grandchildren’s presents I had bought earlier and hidden who knows where? But what I do mean, for example, are those times I when I somehow made a fool of myself and felt embarrassed or ashamed as a result. I may still recall something of the incident, but can more readily laugh at myself and let it go, while appreciating the things I learnt through the whole experience.

Yet there are many more instances where it is definitely not advantageous to forget things—or people. There is a family anecdote one of our children often tells when they feel a little hard done by for one reason or another. ‘Well, I’m not surprised this has happened’ they might say, ‘because, after all, you drove home and left me playing at the Lego table in the newsagent when I was a child. And another time, you left me sitting watching TV in the electrical store in the main street!’

Fortunately, they are joking when they remind us of these events in an injured voice. Yes, these two incidents really happened—and both times, my husband was the culprit! Just to reassure you, however,  on each occasion, it wasn’t long before he realised what he had done and scuttled back to find our poor lost child, who didn’t seem concerned at all and had barely missed him!

It’s not good to forget people—or their names, as I often do. But it is even more concerning when we forget who God is and what God has done for us in our lives. Recently, I came across some very sobering verses in the Psalms:

When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles, they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived. Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel. Psalm 106:7-13

Wow—what a challenge! As I enter this new year of 2018, have I truly remembered all the times God led and rescued me in 2017? Have I allowed all this to strengthen my faith in God? Have I turned and praised God for it all with a truly thankful heart? Or have I, like those Israelites, forgotten what God has done for me and forged ahead in my own strength?

May you and I remember those many past kindnesses of God well—and remember too to wait patiently for God’s counsel as we move into 2018!

Advertisements

Jo 12I wonder if you have ever discovered you misunderstood the words of a song you heard as a child. Years ago, one of our children asked me, ‘Mummy, why does God put the kettle on a thousand hills?’ Eventually, I worked out they had kind of melded together in their mind an old Sunday School chorus ‘He owns the cattle on a thousand hills’ with a nursery rhyme song, ‘Polly put the kettle on’!

On another occasion, this same child asked me, ‘Mummy, is God a lady?’ What a profound question, I thought—I wonder where that came from?’ Then I realised they must have been listening to one of the old Scripture in Song choruses popular in the seventies, ‘God is not a man that he should lie’. Now those words are from Numbers 23:19, where ‘man’ obviously means ‘human’ rather than the opposite of ‘lady’! Certainly tricky for a child to understand.

But I too made similar mistakes when I was around that age.  I well remember listening to my mother singing the 23rd Psalm to the old ‘Crimond’ tune, where the first two lines went as follows:

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want,

He makes me down to lie

I was unaware of that comma between ‘Shepherd’ and ‘I’ll’, however. The words were sung in one smooth line—which led me to wonder why on earth anyone would sing about a shepherd they did not want! And why would they not want the Lord as their Shepherd? Furthermore, why would he make people lie? That didn’t sound good. But eventually I realised that the Lord wasn’t about to make us tell untruths. Instead he was inviting us to lie down in those green pastures he provides and be restored deep in our spirit. Then in my teens, I discovered I did in fact very much want the Lord as my Shepherd leading and watching over me for the rest of my life.

Sadly even now, when I sometimes think I know better, I still choose to go my own way and turn a deaf ear to the Shepherd, as he urges me to stay close to him and head for a safe place where I can rest. How much these wilful choices of mine must grieve the Lord! Yet he still keeps following me and calling out to me in love, ‘Come this way, Jo-Anne! Here I am—I haven’t left you!’ How much I need to turn then, listen carefully to his voice—and do what he says.

Recently, I finished reading a wonderful novel by Charles Martin, Long Way Gone, a kind of modern-day telling of the story of the prodigal son. The son in the story walked away from his loving father, causing so much pain and heartache for all. He resented his father’s control over his life and decided to go his own way. But the father kept following him and watching over him, finally rescuing him from certain death. And that is what our Shepherd faithfully does for us his sheep too, year in and year out—forever. How amazing is that?

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

pexels-photo-461252There we were on Christmas day, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. I had put some cherries out for us to enjoy and offered one to our three-year-old granddaughter.

‘These are lovely, Maxine. Would you like one?’ I said.

She gazed at them for a moment, then came out with this profound statement.

‘I don’t like cherries because I’ve never had them before!’

Now that obviously made complete sense to her. After all, surely if her parents hadn’t given them to her before this, then those funny red things with stems must be yucky! I remembered too the response of one of our own children, when faced with eating something they hadn’t tasted previously. ‘I won’t like it!’ they would say, obviously fearful of what lay ahead.

Sadly, I suspect I can be like Maxine at times, or that child of ours.  Often I can be very picky—but more so with books than food.  I may find myself turned off by a cover I dislike or the quality of the paper or the size of the print. I don’t mind small print, but I do object when a large font is used and those lines are spread so far apart and the margins are so wide, making that book too insubstantial for me and not worth the money I paid for it! Yet some smaller books I own have turned out to be absolute gems, such as Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude or Eugene Petersen’s The Wisdom of Each Other.

Much sadder than pre-judging books, however, are the times I have pre-judged people because of their appearance or something different about them. The biggest lesson I learnt in this regard occurred around twenty-five years ago when I met a young woman at a prayer training course. At first, after discovering she was blind, I avoided her. I felt I would not know how to relate to someone who could not see. And, to my shame, I was reluctant to put myself out to help her. Yet God drew us together—and that young woman taught me so much about myself, about courage, about perseverance, about relating to those who suffer from any degree of vision impairment.

A few years later, I found myself at another course where most participants were from a different part of the Body of Christ. ‘They won’t be able to teach me anything much,’ I decided in complete arrogance. Yet their kind acceptance, attentiveness and intelligent conversation turned out to be a wonderful, healing gift from God for me.

Now I’m hoping there aren’t too many others of you out there like me who are practised pre-judgers.  I hope you taste those cherries or look carefully at those smaller books before making up your mind. I hope you listen to and accept others, however different they are. And I hope I do too more and more. But above all, if Jesus Christ is someone unfamiliar to you, I hope and pray that, in the coming year, you may not pre-judge or write him off too quickly but instead take time to get to know him, to experience his amazing love and to taste his absolute goodness for yourself.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

Jo 23

In the recent Christmas heat, I watched some of the shrubs and plants near our unit struggle to stay alive. Even some of the hardiest ones in pots on our balcony suffered, as the hot sun scorched the leaves and shrivelled the flowers. The native trees nearby survived the best—those gum trees and grevilleas and callistemon have had to learn to be tough in our dry terrain. And it was in the midst of observing all this that I read the following:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.

They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” Psalm 92:13-15

Have you ever noticed how some folk in their sixties look and act old before their time, while others in their nineties still seem quite young and are happily engaged in life in all sorts of ways? Of course, ill health and other difficulties can make life hard for some. Yet even apart from that, some seem to shrivel up before their time, like my pot plants, and resort to sitting on the sidelines rather than fully participating, while others much older continue to lay hold of life with both hands.

Recently, I discovered that one gentleman who is a member of our Village choir is actually ninety-nine years old! I would never have guessed it. He is interesting to speak to, alert and observant, obviously highly intelligent and also a gifted artist. Someone else told me that when he didn’t turn up to choir last year for a while, they discovered he had gone to Poland for his great-grandson’s wedding!

Now while some might consider me so old already—including our youngest grandchildren—I am actually thirty years younger than this lovely gentleman! So I have been asking myself what God might have in store for me, should I too have another thirty years ahead of me. After all, I did not waste the first thirty years of my life or the second thirty—so why waste the third thirty or beyond? In my old age, which I’m sure I haven’t quite reached yet, I feel there is still so much for me to do. I have ideas for books I would still like to write. I have many more ideas for my blogs. I would love to continue speaking for a while yet. I enjoy mentoring several wonderful women leaders. Everywhere I look, I see other opportunities for ministry. And of course, beyond all that, I want to see our grandchildren grow and flourish and still be invested in their lives for many years to come.

So in 2018, and for as long as God enables, I hope and pray I can be more like the native trees and shrubs I can see from my balcony and not those sad, wilted pot plants. As I keep my feet firmly on that Rock who is the Lord, I hope I can continue to flourish, bearing good fruit and staying fresh and green, for a long time to come yet.

How about you?

piano-1655558_1920I wonder if you have ever been thanked for something you truly had not even thought twice about—something that perhaps came easily to you or was almost automatic? This happened to me on two occasions recently—and, with each one, it had to do with playing the piano, something I have not done seriously for many years.

The first occurred just before I was due to accompany our Village choir for their Christmas presentation in the nearby nursing home. Before the program started, I decided to play some carols softly, more for my own sake than anything else, to get my fingers working. I did not think many were listening—but I was wrong. Later, as I was about to leave, a lady stopped me.

‘I truly enjoyed your soft playing before the choir came,’ she said with some emotion. ‘It was so beautiful—it made me cry!’

I was quite shocked—but also extremely humbled.  I had not really thought about those residents sitting patiently waiting—I was just running through some simple carols. Yet somehow God used my playing to bless one other person at least.

The second occurred a few days later at a Christmas gathering for our particular area of the Village, when a lady I had only vaguely seen in the distance prior to this approached me.

‘I want to thank you so much for playing those carols in your unit!’ she said. ‘My husband is not well at all and can barely get out of bed. But he wanted me to tell you how much he has enjoyed lying there, listening to you play. So thank you!’

This time, I was very shocked. I am always aware when I play my piano in our lounge area that nearby residents may hear me, but I did not think the sound would reach as far as the unit where this lady and her husband live. Yet in this case, what I thought might annoy someone intensely turned out to bless them deeply instead. Once again, I had underestimated God. Once again, even when I was not trying much at all and not producing any sort of polished performance, God used my playing to bless this sick man.

At first, these events almost made me feel guilty. I should have tried harder. I should have put more thought into my playing. But then I stepped back and decided instead simply to be grateful that something I could do relatively easily could bless others so much. And I remembered too my old music teachers of many years ago who schooled me so well in sight-reading and music theory. As a result of their efforts, I had much less trouble swapping from one key to another for each carol!

It’s kind of like the story of the loaves and fishes, don’t you think? An insignificant offering—yet the end result was something I bet that young boy whose lunch it was could never have envisaged (John 6). So in the new year, let’s continue to offer up and use our God-given gifts, even without thinking too much about them, and watch God do the rest!

Each one should use whatever gift he (or she) has received, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various ways. 1 Peter 4:10

It’s about peace

Jo 17‘So what do you think Christmas is all about, Zain?’ my husband asked our five-year-old grandson, as we drove him home from school last week.

There was silence for a while in the back of the car, but eventually he responded.

‘It’s about peace,’ he said in a very definite tone.

‘That’s an excellent answer, Zain!’ I told him—but then the moment passed and we left it at that.

Later, however, I reflected on his simple response. Why would he have chosen to say what he did? Was he repeating something he had heard at school? At kids’ church? At home? Did he even understand what the word ‘peace’ meant? Yet wherever he had heard it and whatever he thought it meant, in one word he had got to the heart of the matter, don’t you think?

Christmas is about peace—on various levels, it seems to me. It is about peace with God. It is about peace within our own hearts. It is about peace with those around us. And all of these seem to be intertwined.

Peace with God. What an incredible gift, made possible through the coming of Jesus into our world who showed us what God is like! Through Jesus’ death, we have a way back into close relationship with God. And by faith in him, we become part of the family of God—forever!

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. Romans 5:1-2

Peace within our own hearts—that deep, personal peace only God can give. That perfect peace that will sustain us through all the ups and downs of life, as we rest in God’s amazing love and trust God to guide and provide for us. That is the peace Jesus promised his disciples—and that same peace is available for us today too.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Peace with those around us. Once we truly know the love of God and have deep peace within ourselves, it seems to me this wider peace is easier to achieve. We don’t have to compete with or be envious of others. We don’t have to score points off them. Instead, we can focus on who God is calling us to be—and allow others to do the same. Yet obviously this is easier said than done on a worldwide scale where prejudices rage that have been in place for centuries. How much we need the reign of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, in the hearts of men and women across our world right now!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

So … may the peace of God reign in your hearts and homes this Christmas. And may 2018 see so much more of that peace on earth that Jesus Christ alone can bring!

Jo 23Last week, it was wonderful to cross paths again with two men who graduated from theological college the same year as I did—exactly twenty years ago this month. Back then, I was in my late forties. I had wanted to train for ministry for years, but thought this was an opportunity long gone, until God made it clear it was time to return to study once again.

One of these men reminded us that we were the three students in our year who aimed for an honours degree, which involved undertaking three extra subjects, as well as achieving a high overall grade in all subjects. We managed it, but I had not remembered this at all. In fact, I wondered what he was talking about at first.

I had not forgotten I ended up dux of our year, however. I remember how vindicated I felt as I received my award. After all, I was old enough to be the mum of many of the students in my year! Besides, I was a woman—surely I couldn’t have done better than those other bright young men I studied alongside? On top of that, I had struggled with big family issues in my final year, including my husband’s job loss and a daughter’s severe illness. It had been hard going, but God had sustained me in amazing ways and kept me motivated.

That day, as I talked with my two college friends, each of us had stories to tell of great years in ministry—but also of times of difficulty and differences of opinion. For each of us, our journeys had taken more than a few twists and turns, from one role to another and even from one denomination to another, until we have ended up where we are today. With great faithfulness, God had picked us up, time and time again, strengthening us, challenging us to move on.

Later at home, as I reflected on our special catch-up conversation, I remembered a psalm I had recently read:

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. Psalm 77:11-12

God had not always rescued us from various life situations in the way we thought needed to happen. For each of us there were ‘times of no miracles’—at least from our perspective. But God had not left us. God was always there, watching over us, never letting us stray too far, weaving the strands of our lives together as only God can.

Twenty years down the track, I can honestly say my college honours degree and academic achievements have by and large lost the huge significance they once had. Of course, for some, this is how God has gifted them to make a difference in this world, which is wonderful. But for me now, it is much more about listening to God, about being faithful in doing what God gives me to do, about touching hearts and lives with God’s love, as God guides and empowers.

And that’s something within the reach of all of us, don’t you think?