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Jo 12I love my old car. It is a 1999 model Ford Fairmont that has done quite a few kilometres—over 255,000 in fact! No doubt it chews up more petrol than a small, newer car would—but it requires only a gentle touch on the steering wheel to point it where I want to go and it still soars up those hills like a bird.

Sadly, however, little things have begun to go wrong with it. The numbers and symbols on the dashboard telling me what setting the air-con is on stopped working a while back. The remote unlocks the boot, but refuses to either lock or unlock the car itself. And (ahem) certain parts of the car do not lock properly at all anymore! I can live with all that, but I found it hard on a long trip recently when my poor old car refused to warm up inside at all, so that I arrived at my speaking engagement in a slightly frozen state!

As I drove home afterwards, I suspect it was God who reminded me how, back when our children were young, we had no car air-conditioning at all and no fancy numbers and symbols on the dashboard. To cool ourselves, we wound the windows down. To warm up, we wore jumpers. And we certainly didn’t own a remote to lock and unlock the car. Yet now I took for granted and felt entitled to a car that could deliver so much more.

Then it dawned on me to wonder whether God was also pointing out other things I had taken for granted that day—like the fact that I had been invited to speak somewhere at all; or the fact that I was able to drive myself there—and through such beautiful countryside; or the fact that my ability to speak and to thoroughly enjoy doing so comes from God anyway. How grateful I needed to be for all these things—and so very much more!

But then I started to ask myself some even more serious questions. What if I had I begun to take God for granted in my life in general? Had I come to presume too much on God’s grace and patience and long-suffering towards me each day? Was I treating God in too cavalier a fashion, listening only when I felt I needed to, instead of staying in that place of intimacy? Had I forgotten how much I need to thank God for the many blessings poured out on me in all sorts of ways over the years?

I think I need to remember well that recent cold drive to my speaking engagement. I don’t want to take anything in my life for granted, but instead thank God each day with a grateful heart for all I have been given.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100

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Jo 17A couple of weeks ago, our church celebrated its fifth anniversary of being in its renovated and revamped premises. To fill everyone in on the journey taken to get the building to its present state, photos taken at different stages of the remodelling were shown during our services. All up, it was a wonderful testimony to what can be achieved when a community trusts God and works together to bring a shared vision to reality.

Of all those inspiring images I saw that day, one in particular has stayed with me. It was a photo of something that looked like a piece of graffiti scribbled on the floor of the main auditorium. You see, the night before the carpet was due to be laid there, some church members decided they would like to write prayers all over the floor—prayers that God would always be honoured in this space, that all who entered would sense the presence of God’s Spirit and feel welcome and accepted, and that lives would be changed as a result. What a surreal feeling to look down and realise our feet were resting not only on carpet but, more importantly, on all those prayers written and prayed on our behalf!

Later, I remembered a similar but much smaller project I was involved in years ago at a different church. It was in the days when banners were still used on church walls to remind us of certain truths or words from Scripture. I had seen a banner somewhere else that featured a vine covered in fruit and felt we needed one like it in our own church. So some of us created one with a twirling grapevine and lots of bunches of big, purple grapes on it, along with the words ‘Chosen to bear fruit’. Then as we began attaching those grapes, we decided to write the names of all the streets in our area underneath them. We felt this was a way of praying for all those living nearby, that God would touch and transform their lives, so that they would not only become the fruit of our labours but would, in turn, bear fruit for the kingdom themselves.

We prayed and we sewed—then prayed and sewed some more. And that banner hung on our church wall for quite some time, reminding us why we were there in that place and what God could do as we prayed. It was a hard area, but people did come to know God more and see God work in their lives.

Time passed and we moved on—and that banner too disappeared eventually. But I believe God heard those prayers of ours, as well as the ones written beneath the carpet in our current church. Our role is to pray—and God is not deaf to our pleas. That fruit will come, both in our own lives and in the lives of others, as we continue to trust and to share God’s love. How blessed we are that we can pray in all sorts of diverse ways, leaving those requests with our gracious, loving God!

This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Matthew 6:9-10

Jo 23From time to time, I meet people who make me sit up and take notice. Somehow, they seem to march to the beat of a different drum—and I want to find out what that drum sounds like and how they keep in step with it.

Many years ago, after moving across Sydney, we met some people whose Christian commitment and experience of God seemed so much more real and vital than mine was at the time. One day, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer to find out more.

‘What is it you’ve got that I haven’t got?’ I asked them point blank.

They looked at each other, as if unsure how to answer me. In the end, all they said was ‘Just wait. Just wait. God will show you when the time is right!’

Now I found their response frustrating, if not plain annoying, but they were right. Not long after, God broke into my life in a fresh and sovereign way, overwhelming me with such deep love and opening up a whole new journey of being led by the Spirit in my life and ministry.

I was reminded of this recently when farewelling a friend at the airport. The person at the check-in counter thought she had found an issue with my friend’s visa, so went to check it out with her boss. When she returned, she told my friend it ‘should all be okay’, which didn’t sound so reassuring to me. But my friend stayed calm and seemed to take everything in her stride.

‘You’re so calm about it all!’ this lady finally blurted out, as if she couldn’t help it. ‘It makes me want to say “I’ll have what she’s having!”’

My friend and I looked at each other and laughed. You see, we had prayed for God’s peace to fill her as she said goodbye to family and friends. And here was this staff member wondering why my friend was so calm! I mumbled something about how we had prayed for peace, but there was no time to explain further, with that queue lengthening behind us.

Recently too, I met someone who decided to attend church again one Sunday, after an absence of many years because of having all sorts of doubts about the Christian faith. As the service ended, the pastors announced they would be delighted for anyone with questions about God and Jesus to come and spend time chatting with them about it all.

‘What church ever does anything like that?’ this person thought, amazed—and promptly took them up on the offer.

But the best example of amazement I have ever seen or heard is one I read recently in John 7. Here, the people of Jerusalem are trying to work out who Jesus is and how he could do the things he did. Some want to seize him, but ‘no one laid a hand on him’ (5:44). Finally, the temple guards return to those in authority, who ask why they haven’t arrested Jesus. Then comes this amazing statement:

No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared. John 7:46

How could this be? Could Jesus truly be the Messiah, the Son of God? Should we sit up and take notice of him?

I think we should—don’t you?

Jo 17I have discovered that, unless I am vigilant, I can sometimes become a lot more self-focussed and self-serving than I like to think I am. I may gladly agree to do something, but soon those selfish questions I am loath to acknowledge resound in my brain. What will I get out of this? How can I impress others as I complete this task? What if nobody sees all my effort?

Hmm!

One recent Saturday morning, I was ahead of schedule to get to a speaking engagement some distance away, so sat down to check over my input and read my Bible before leaving. I found I was up to the story in John 5 of how Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. This takes place on the Sabbath, so the Jews begin to persecute Jesus—and even more so after Jesus refers to God as his Father (5:17). Yet Jesus still proceeds to explain how he does only what he sees the Father doing and how he has received authority as the Son of  God to give life and to judge others (5:19ff).

Then the following words caught my eye:

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. John 5:30

Okay, I found myself thinking—Jesus chose to listen to his Father and not step out in his own strength. And he chose to please his Father rather than think only about his own wellbeing. What a challenge! If Jesus had that attitude in his life and ministry, then surely I should aim to do likewise—especially as I set out to speak somewhere.

I read on, admiring Jesus’ boldness as he addressed those Jews seeking to kill him: ‘But I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.’ (5:42) Wow—how confronting that must have been for them to hear! Yet I personally found his next statement even more challenging:

How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? John 5:44

As I drove to my speaking engagement, I found myself hoping I had heard my Father God well and prepared the message God wanted me to give. But then I asked myself: What are my real motives in it all? Is it just to receive praise from others—or is it to hear that ‘Well done!’ from God deep in my spirit and to know that is enough? Usually after I speak, someone will come and say something positive about my input—and I hope I have learnt to accept this with grace and not let it add to my pride. But if I begin to care more about that than about whether I have pleased God in it all, then something is sadly out of balance in my whole approach.

Sometimes our real motives for doing what we do can be well hidden, don’t you think? Let’s bring them into the light of day and check them out with our loving, caring, gracious God, who does not want to see us go astray.

Just Joey

I wonder if you can remember a time when you saw something on display somewhere and felt you just had to buy it. That happened to me almost a year ago, not long after we moved into our beautiful village unit. At the time, I was strolling around a plant nursery, trying to decide which roses to buy to put in the small garden beside our balcony. Apparently, the previous owner had had several different roses growing there, but once he was unable to care for them any longer, they had been removed. Despite this, one single rose bush had defied all odds and come back to life. So in order to balance the garden out a little, I asked if I could plant a couple more and was told that would be fine. Yet what rose should I choose, out of the many on offer?

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Just Joey

Finally, I found a deep red rose called ‘Mr Lincoln’ and decided on that one. Its blooms were not quite the shape I wanted, but they had a beautiful, strong scent and the plant seemed vigorous and hardy. Then a label on a pretty, apricot-coloured rose nearby caught my eye—‘Just Joey’. Now how could I resist? After all, my name is Jo-Anne—and the name I was often called by my family when I was growing up was ‘Joey’. So I felt I had to have that rose in my garden, as we began this new phase of our life.

Yet there was another reason the name of this rose had caught my eye too. For a long time, I had kept the idea for a kind of memoir on my computer, until I felt the time was right for me to explore it further. Eventually, I did—and gradually, it morphed into my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me, published in October 2016. But my original idea for its title? You guessed it—Just Joey.

Apparently, my rose ‘Just Joey’ was named after the wife of the head of a nursery company in the UK. But to me, it kind of symbolises my own life, as I have learnt and grown and made mistakes and grown some more and stepped out and taken risks to become more of the person I believe God created me to be. God knew all about me before I was born—and created me as a unique person, with my own personality and gifts.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13-14

God knew every twist and turn in my journey too and has been with me all the way, even when those winds threatened to snap my fragile stem, as occasionally happens to my rose. Today, I feel so blessed to be ‘Just Joey’, to rest in who I am in God, to be less afraid to be all I was created to be and to be less jealous of those with different gifts and abilities from me who seem to have achieved more in life than I have.

My ‘Just Joey’ rose is unique, with its frilled petals and gentle perfume. And you and I are unique too—just as God created us. May you rest in that truth today and be thankful.

Jo 12Recently, I needed to bake a cake to have on hand for visitors. I stood in our kitchen for a while, trying to decide which mixing bowl to use. I have a few to choose from—three plastic ones of varying sizes, a sturdy, metal one and a large, glass one. This last bowl is too big, I decide—yet I choose it anyway.

As I continue cooking, I wonder why I have gravitated to this particular bowl. Then, to my surprise, a memory surfaces from deep in my brain of a similar bowl my mother had. I can still see her using it as she stood at her little kitchen bench-table, whipping up delicious cakes or biscuits or scones for us during our growing up years. Could this be the unconscious reason that glass bowl appeals to me now, so many years later?

I finish baking and sit down at my desk. Not until then do I remember it is my mother’s birthday—although she passed away many years ago now. So … is all this mere coincidence? Somehow I don’t think so. How powerful those hidden memories of ours are! What depths there are to those unconscious parts of us that we will probably never fathom!

But our conscious memories can also be so powerful at times. ‘Remember when we went to …?’ I said to a friend recently. ‘Do you recall the meal we had there and what happened when we went to pay?’ We laugh together—and both of us are immediately back in that little Turkish village where the owner said he was too busy to take our money, so could we please come back the next day to pay?! I remember vividly that little, rustic courtyard restaurant with the rosemary bushes growing nearby and can almost taste and smell that beautiful meal even now.

God created us and knows us through and through, as Psalm 139 tells us. God knows the power of memory. So no wonder we are urged in Scripture to use it to remember the lessons God has taught us and the way God has led and rescued us.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced … 1 Chronicles 15:11-12

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:2

This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  1 Corinthians 11:24

Sometimes our memories may not always be positive. Sometimes they may remind us of things we would rather forget and threaten to overwhelm us. But through all those hard and even harrowing times, God was still there. And God can bring healing to those dark memories, I believe, softening them and enabling us to move forward with greater strength and wisdom and peace. Whatever has happened, God is still good and righteous and holy. And God delights to bring good out of our most difficult experiences, restoring and recreating us as only God can.

So I cherish the power of memory, particularly those memories of God’s amazing grace at work in my life. And as I do, I hope I also remember to praise God with all my heart.

Jo 17As an introverted writer, there is nothing I like more than sitting at my desk, typing away in perfect peace and quiet. As I do, I can look out my window at the trees and shrubs and beyond them to the sky. I hear birds chirping and the occasional bark of a dog, yet these sounds are pleasant and somehow reassuring. In these moments, I feel so blessed—and spoilt! I have peace, both inside and out—and I am so grateful for God’s gracious hand on my life.

Yes, sometimes that outer peace of mine disappears when little grandchildren arrive and run around excitedly or when we mind them at their house until mum or dad finish work. Sometimes too, we have visitors for meals or for a longer period. Sometimes I venture out to speak at various events or promote my books, which always involves much relating to others. And each week I attend church and happily mix with the family of God there. I also meet with others one-on-one for coffee and truly value these intimate conversations. Yet afterwards, I scuttle back home to my place of peace, where I sit and process everything—and thank God again for my lovely, quiet space where I can reflect and be refreshed in my spirit.

But sometimes that inner peace of mine can also disappear, which is much more alarming. Sometimes I take my eyes off God and refuse to listen to the Spirit’s voice, urging me to be still, to become aware of God’s presence in me and around me, to remember God knows all about my issues and those facing anyone near and dear to me, as well as those in the world at large. Sometimes I choose to worry so much about this and that, instead of handing it all over to God. Sometimes I fret over situations when it is way beyond my ability to sort it all out for those involved. Sometimes I foolishly ignore that peace God is holding out to me with such love and grace and instead decide to cling onto that deep turmoil within.

How important it is in these times to stop and read again Jesus’ words to his disciples—and to me:

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

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

And how important the Apostle Paul’s words are too:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Whatever is happening in your life right now, may you too be able to turn to God, be still and rest in that peace only God can give.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26