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Archive for March, 2013

I love Easter and the lead-up to it. It’s a fun time of the year, with Easter eggs and family celebrations and extra days to relax. But it’s much more than that. For me, this is where the rubber meets the road—where we get to the kernel of what it’s all about to be a Christian.

I remember attending a special three hour long service at our local church one Good Friday when I was about twelve. The service was built around the ‘stations of the cross’, which were depicted in various paintings on the walls of that old stone church. Every so often, we would be invited to gather around the next ‘station’ and listen to special readings and prayers. Somehow, even though I was so young, the awesome events we were remembering touched my heart. While I did not fully comprehend it all at that stage, I knew something earth-shattering had happened when Jesus was crucified.

Since then, in the days leading up to Easter, I have always liked to follow Jesus’ journey to the cross by reading one of the Gospel accounts of the events involved, stopping often to reflect. Time and time again, I have been deeply moved by what I have found there—and inevitably, something in particular challenges me, demanding a response. This year, it was the conversation Jesus has his disciples just prior to the Lord’s Supper. In Matthew 26:20-22 we read:

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?”

Eventually it comes to Judas’s turn. As I read his own “Surely not I, Rabbi?’ (25), I began to wonder what was in his heart as he said those words. Was he aghast at himself at what he knew he was about to do? He had already been paid thirty silver coins to hand Jesus over to the authorities (15). Was he feeling ambivalent about the whole deal by this point? Or was he just plain pretending?

Then comes Jesus’ simple but confronting ‘Yes, it is you.” Or, as some translations put it, “You yourself have said it. From such a brief response, it is hard to tell what he must have been feeling. No doubt there was love as well as deep grief in his eyes as he looked at Judas and uttered those words. But could there also have been deep disappointment and even anger in his words? Was he trying to challenge Judas to the very end?

In ‘The Message’ version of the Bible, Eugene Peterson expresses Jesus’ response this way: “Don’t play games with me, Judas!” Whoa!! Now that certainly caused me to stop and think. Do I ever try to fool myself when God’s Spirit convicts me of something and come back with the same smart rejoinder, ‘Surely not I?’ Does Jesus have cause to say to me at times ‘Don’t play games with me, Jo-Anne’? What an affront to my Saviour, who loves me and gave his life for me!

This Easter, may you and I find time to stop, reflect and be real with God. May we put aside our little games and our ‘Surely not I?’s once and for all and kneel with contrite hearts before Jesus, the Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

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P1030759I think I might have told you once or twice before about our cute little grandson Zain. Well, okay … maybe a few times more! One thing he loves to do at the moment is to find an interesting little space behind or under some item of furniture and quickly ‘hide’ there. It could be in between our piano and the piano stool in our lounge, for example, or perhaps under the desk in his granddad’s study. Either place, he is hardly invisible—he just thinks he is. If he can’t see me, he has obviously decided, then chances are we can’t see him! But I join in with his little game anyway.

‘Where could Zain be?’ I wonder out loud as he stays very still and quiet where he is.

‘I can see you!’ I say after a while in a teasing voice. The next moment, he appears, his little head to one side, eyes gleaming with mischief and a cheeky grin on his face.

There you are!’ I exclaim, to his delight. ‘You’re such a tricky boy!’

You know, sometimes I wonder if God isn’t tempted to laugh out loud at times at our bumbling efforts to deceive ourselves and hide from him as Zain does with us. It’s exactly what Adam and Eve tried to do back in the very beginning after they had disobeyed God and eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The almighty Creator of the whole world surely knew where they were hiding and what had happened. Yet God calls out to them ‘Where are you?’, as if willing them to come and be up front about it all, but they choose to hide in fear (Gen 3).

Later, in Genesis 16:13, we read how the Lord finds Hagar after she has run away from her mistress Sarai. Hagar proceeds to give the Lord a simple, unique title—‘You are the God who sees me’.  And in Psalm 139:11-12, as King David realises there is no place where he can flee from God’s presence, he exclaims almost with an air of relief:

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

By the power given to him by his Father in heaven, Jesus understood what was in men’s and women’s hearts without having to be told. ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you’, he says to Nathanael, Philip’s brother (Jn 1:48). He was well aware of the type of life the Samaritan woman at the well had led without her having to enlighten him (Jn 4). And in the same way today, God sees into our hearts, bringing to light the things we still try to hide at times.

I’m so thankful God doesn’t laugh at me and the foolish games I play. I’m so glad that instead, God treats me with such love and forbearance, forgiving me and patiently setting me feet on the right path, ready to do better next time.

I’m known. I’m seen. I can’t hide from God. And that brings me deep joy and true freedom.

How about you?

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This past weekend as I looked at my diary, I realised I will be delivering about a dozen different talks over the next three months. I am not complaining. In fact, I’m very much looking forward to giving each one and meeting so many different people along the way. I feel blessed to be able to do this—but it does of course involve a lot of preparation, which means a lot of concentrated time, effort and prayer on my part. To do that, other things need to fall by the wayside if I am not going to fall apart in the process!

I am a writer and a speaker. But sometimes the order of those occupations has to be reversed. Over the next three months, I will definitely be more of a speaker than a writer. But after that, it seems I’ll be more of a writer than a speaker again for a while. Now I love preparing talks for different audiences. I have been trained in this area and naturally enjoy teaching and sharing in a public setting. But I am an introvert at heart, so most of all, I love writing in the quietness of my study. I enjoy the whole process of immersing myself in creating a new manuscript, becoming lost in the story and finding myself in a completely different world.

So what does one do? I have come to the conclusion that I basically need to trust God more—to go with the flow, taking hold of whatever God-given speaking opportunities come to hand and making the most of each one to share God’s love. And when those speaking engagements dry up for a time, then again I go with the flow, retreating to my quiet study with a satisfied sigh as I hopefully lose myself in another storyline.

In all this, I am beginning to realise more and more that God can not only be trusted but also has lots of wonderful bonuses along the way for us! This past week, as I have thrown myself into preparing two somewhat difficult talks to get my head around, I discovered God was there right in the midst of it all, blessing me in an amazing way. As I delved into Scripture to find out more about these topics, I found myself yet again in awe of God’s heart of love for us. I needed to check many parts of the Old Testament as well as the New, from the beginning of Genesis right through to Revelation, and as I did, it opened my eyes to God’s utter grace and amazing loving-kindness to us flowing right down through the centuries to this day.

In Jeremiah 31:3, we read some words the Lord spoke to the people of Israel in past years:

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

This is certainly what I see as I look back over these past few days and note the way God has fed my spirit and strengthened my faith. While in my heart of hearts I might want to be writing, God simply smiles on me and blesses me right where I am.

Who wouldn’t want to go with the flow and enjoy the ride with such a loving God?

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I knew I sP1030733hould have been keeping a straight face, but I couldn’t. There was our little fourteen month old grandson, smiling up at me with a mischievous twinkle in his big, brown eyes, as he copied my actions to a tee! My daughter had warned me, but I hadn’t quite believed her. Now I could see what she meant.

She had told me that whenever she shakes her finger at him and says ‘No, no!’ when he is doing something he shouldn’t, he copies her exactly and shakes his finger right back at her! So when he pulled the towels off the towel rail (one of his latest tricks!) and I shook my finger at him and growled ‘No, no!’ in my best grandma voice, he shook his finger back at me, chuckled gleefully and ran off! When I gave chase, he thought it was such fun that I soon found myself laughing with him.

Later, when he was sitting quietly beside me, I decided to try that age-old game ‘Round and round the garden like a teddy bear’. I traced that little circle on the palm of his hand and he giggled deliciously when I finally tickled him. Next thing, he was trying to do the same thing himself, before abandoning the whole idea when it didn’t seem to have the desired effect.

It’s clear our grandson is rapidly developing the art of imitating his parents (and grandparents) very well. It’s a large part of the way we learn so much in life, after all, so I’m pleased he is catching on quickly. But watching him has given me some serious food for thought. What if he copies things we do or say that aren’t worth imitating? What if he notices us being impatient and harsh with each other? What if he observes us wasting too much time in front of the TV? What if he rarely sees us reading any book—let alone God’s Word? What if he learns from us to be greedy or lazy or selfish or undisciplined?

Some words Paul wrote in one of his letters often challenge me in this regard. In 1 Corinthians 4:15-16, he says:

Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

I used to think Paul was ‘big-noting’ himself a little! How could he say this? But then I discovered 1 Corinthians 11:1:

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Because Paul is following Christ’s example to the best of his ability, he can urge the Corinthians to copy him in this. Paul knows he isn’t perfect—but he also knows he is following Someone who was and is! Elsewhere, Paul admits he does the things he doesn’t want to do (Rom 7:13-25). Yet he forges on, forgetting the past and always aiming to know Christ better (Phil 3:12-14). And he isn’t afraid to tell others to imitate him and live the same way.

Am I in the place of being able to say that to our grandson as he grows? Could I urge him to imitate me as I follow Christ?

At the risk of sounding too presumptuous, I hope and pray I will be able to do just that.

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