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Archive for June, 2013

At times, I confess I can be a bit slow to spring into action—although that depends on the task at hand, of course! If it’s something boring like housework or arduous like weeding, I can be very slow. I can think of all manner of things I simply have to do instead. Even if it’s writing, which I love, I can procrastinate, especially when starting a new and somewhat overwhelming project. So perhaps it was for this reason that two different events from John’s Gospel caught my attention recently.

The first one had to do with the official from Capernaum who travels to Cana to beg Jesus to come and heal his son who is close to death (4:46-54). When this man makes his request, Jesus seems to rebuke him or at least try to make a point with him (v 48):

Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

Now, just like this man, I think I would have been looking for a different response. I would not have wanted Jesus to stand there making a point but instead decide to head down to Capernaum pronto! The official continues to stick to his guns—until Jesus calmly tells him, ‘You may go. Your son will live.

At that point, if I had been this boy’s father, I suspect I would have argued with Jesus. I would have wanted what I wanted. But what does this man do? He simply takes Jesus at his word and departs! He does what Jesus says—even in this life and death situation and even before he fully understands who Jesus is.

It’s a different story, however, after the man’s servants meet him on his way home and tell him his son is now well. Then he discovers the fever left at the exact time when Jesus had told him his son would live—and he and his entire household believe (v 53).

The second event that challenged my own faith was the healing of the disabled man at the pool of Bethesda who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years (5:1-15). Jesus asks him a rather strange question first off—“Do you want to get well?” The invalid seems to be a little indirect in his answer which to me has some slight overtones of the sort of comment I probably would have made: ‘Of course I want to get well! Why do you think I’ve persevered lying here all these years near this healing pool?’ But Jesus simply responds: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

And that’s what happens. The man is cured then and there, picks up his mat and walks! He does exactly what Jesus tells him to do—and all this when he has no idea who Jesus is (v 13)! Later, Jesus finds him at the temple and challenges him further, yet even then we are not told if the healed man believes in him.

So where does that leave those of us, like me, who have believed in Jesus for many years and who have experienced his love, his kindness, his encouragement, even his healing firsthand? I, for one, know it makes me much more determined to listen well to Jesus and to spring into action, next time he tells me to act or speak in a certain way.

How about you?

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In recent years, I have learnt a few things from our grandchildren. They are all wonderful, of course! Our oldest, Amy—eager, out-going, energetic, blonde and beautiful. Our second oldest, Olivia—warm, a little more introverted, quick sense of humour, brown-eyed and equally beautiful. And our youngest, Zain—almond-shaped eyes, black curls from his Ghanaian dad, gorgeous grin and yummy, milk-chocolate skin! It is a delight to watch them all grow and develop.

Each of them is unique and has had a different reaction when visiting us, we have noticed. When Amy, now ten, was around twelve months old, I well remember her parents walking into our home, holding this cute, blue-eyed little girl who stared solemnly at us. We stared back, absolutely spellbound. We could not take our eyes off her. Eventually, she would frown heavily, scrunch her whole face up, reach out her arm and point her finger in some other, distant direction. Clearly, she was ordering us to take our gaze elsewhere! She did not appreciate being such an object of curiosity and wanted to make her feelings known. Even then, she was mastering the ancient art of deflection.

This picture of Amy came to mind last week, when I read the account of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). I love this story for so many reasons. I love the way Jesus treats this woman with respect, even merely by speaking to her. I love how he cares enough about her to offer her ‘living water’. I love how he tries to break it gently to her that he knows all about her. And, most of all, I love how he chooses to declare to her who he really is—‘I who speak to you am he.

But my heart goes out to this Samaritan woman, as she interacts with Jesus. Can you imagine how you would feel if some stranger told you everything you ever did, as this woman herself puts it later (v39)? No wonder she seems to grasp at any straw and chooses to dabble big-time in that ancient art of deflecting! No wonder she, just like little Amy, tries to point Jesus in an entirely different direction and wriggle out of the situation!

Perhaps her question about the right place to worship was serious and important to her, perhaps it wasn’t. Whatever her thoughts at that point, I can relate to them. With stunning clarity, I see myself in this woman’s response to Jesus. Even when I know much better, how many times do I try that same ancient art of deflection? How many times do I know what Jesus is saying to me, yet I seek to centre his attention elsewhere, foolishly asking him other questions that don’t matter nearly so much?

At last I sit still, listening to the One who knows all about me. Now I put down my arm and stop pointing elsewhere. Now I give him space in my day and in my heart and mind to be who he really is—the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour of the world sent from God to set us free.

I hear him say to me today, ‘I who speak to you am he.’ And, like the Samaritans of that town, because of his words, I believe.

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This past week, I achieved a couple of ‘firsts’ again for me. I gave the final of ten talks I had agreed to give at various venues during May—a record number for me all in one month. And I also completed the final few edits of my next novel, The Inheritance.

Now I am so grateful for those ten speaking opportunities—I loved them all. I even look forward to more in the coming months. But it has felt at times a bit like a mini-marathon, as I have juggled preparation and editing. I completed the original version The Inheritance in May 2011, so it has been in my mind for a while—even through the writing and eventual release of my first non-fiction work, Soul Friend, last August. But now I again have a clean writing slate, so to speak. At last I am again on the brink of being able to dive in to another whole project—and that can be a heart-stopping moment, I’ve discovered.

You see, in one way, the possibilities are endless—almost overwhelmingly so. Of course, one key decision I need to make is whether to plunge into writing a second work of non-fiction or to opt for a seventh novel. Which should it be? I have ideas for both. In fact, I have the outlines or general concepts for three more novels already saved on my computer, each very different from the other. How do I decide?

And it’s at this point that, despite all those ideas running around in my head, I can hear that doubting little voice whispering away as well. What makes you think you can come up with yet another book? None of those plots you’ve already thought out are any good. Anyway, it will be such hard work—and you don’t have the time, in the midst of preparing for speaking engagements. As for another non-fiction book, what on earth would you say that hasn’t already been said? I know from past experience this is the enemy using my old self-doubt, so I close my ears to it all. But on it goes.

I turn to the Scriptures, wondering what God has to say to me today. I am excited, as I always am, when it’s time to begin reading a different book in the Bible—and today I am about to start John’s Gospel yet again. I read that first chapter and am reminded that God, ‘the Word’, created all things, that in him was life and that this life brought great light to men, overcoming and confounding the darkness. I read on and take in the mind-boggling fact that ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14).

I remember that the Spirit of this ‘One and Only lives in me right now, inspiring me, encouraging me, dispelling the darkness of doubt and fear. I know, as I listen to that voice that is so full of grace and truth, it will become clear which of those endless possibilities I am to pursue. The Word is with me and in me, shaping my own words. And I am so blessed.

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I’m a writer and speaker. I use and play with words day in and day out, and our English language is so rich that I’m often spoilt for choice. Yet sometimes I wonder if, in all my cleverness, I make something sound much more complex that it really is.

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at a women’s retreat. I was entrusted with the task of giving three talks, each forty-five minutes in length. I spent many hours preparing these and their accompanying reflection sheets and discussion questions. And in the end, those talks more than filled those forty-five minutes I had been allotted! Yet the women were very gracious and patiently heard me out.

But as I delivered what I had prepared, I noticed two things. The first was that the women present went very quiet and seemed to listen extra hard whenever I shared some personal experience I had had of God or some story from my own life to illustrate a point I was making. I saw again the power of a simple story or honest testimony, as the women related to what I shared. No wonder Jesus so often taught in parables.

The second thing I noticed was that, out of all I shared over the weekend, what seemed to have the most impact was the simple truth that God loves each one of us. Not just in some theoretical, matter of fact way, but deeply¸ profoundly, purely, honestly. God created us. We went our own way. But God called us back, treated us with such grace, forgave us, accepted us. God loves us with a love that is perfect and eternal.

It was when the power of God’s love and the power of story combined, however, that the Spirit seemed to touch us the most. At one stage, I shared how, at a needy time in my life, God’s love filled me again in an amazing way. I had been so busy and, in the process, lost any sense of God’s real presence with me. But God broke through one night when I was home by myself. To my vast relief, I found myself freely worshipping God again, full of joy and so conscious of God’s Spirit alive in me. But it was the two pictures I believe God gave me then that impacted me even more. The first was of Jesus holding me as a baby, smiling down at me with such pure love and delight as he whispered, ‘Wow! Jo-Anne!’. I knew he was showing me he loved me just the way I had been created, before I could achieve anything. In the second picture, I saw all my certificates I later received piled in a bunny rug and gently pushed to one side. I knew God was showing me that, while they were great, I was utterly loved even without any of them.

I pointed out to the women listening how each one of us is that baby in Jesus’ arms, so precious to him. And in the quietness, God touched us all.

When it’s all said and done, it’s as simple—and profound—as that. God loves me. Jesus loves me.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

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