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Archive for August, 2013

This world is full of such brave, amazing people. This week, I was inspired all over again to keep going as I listened to several—all women and all much older than even I am (!)—share what they have been doing and plan to do. These are no light things either. And soon my own complaints dwindle to nothing.

At the age of around seventy, would you be prepared to undertake yet another of many trips to Bangladesh, involving a punishing schedule of eighteen to twenty hour days, many miles of travel to encourage rural church planters, plus all sorts of speaking engagements? That is exactly what a gracious, female friend of mine will soon be doing. As well, she has been a large part of raising funds to set up and staff sixteen Christian schools and an orphanage there. Here she is, this beautifully groomed and dressed grandmother who could be taking it easy in retirement, instead giving her all to build God’s kingdom in Bangladesh.

I listen too as another friend, now in her mid-seventies, shares about her recent trip to India to witness the opening of a six-storey building that houses a Christian school for around six hundred children and to support the Christian teachers there. My friend has laboured long and hard with this project and has watched this school grow to where it is today. She too could sit back and enjoy retirement, but no—she keeps on. Soon she will release yet another book, encouraging women to share their stories, because she is passionate about women coming to know the love and grace of God and being fed from the Word of God.

I watch as another even older friend chats with two younger women present and arranges to meet with them to encourage them in their ministry roles. Yes, she will drive some distance across Sydney to see them, I hear her say—and their gratitude is evident. Then she tells us all, with great joy, how she recently preached again in her church and how fulfilling this experience was. I know too that in the past, this dear lady has led men and women to the Lord who now hold prominent positions at all sorts of levels in our society. Yet there she is, speaking so humbly and with such godliness, wit and wisdom.

I come home and hear about another dear friend who, in her early seventies, is sacrificing her own personal space to take into her home family members who have nowhere else to go at this point and supporting them financially in the process, even when she herself has little to spare. I am in awe of her, as I realise this would indeed be something I would personally find very difficult.

I look ahead at my own busy speaking and writing schedule over the next few weeks and realise the cost involved for me is nothing, compared with that of my friends. I honour them. I am inspired by them. But, most importantly, I believe God honours them too and watches over them with a fierce and jealous love.

Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4

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Life can be a puzzle at times, don’t you think? Such a confusing mixture of celebrations, disappointments, happiness, sadness, outstanding successes and downright disasters.

This past week, I heard from four different friends, all facing huge issues in caring for their children. These range from life-threatening physical illness to equally life-threatening mental illness and personality disorder to rearing children with developmental disabilities to discovering your children have been abused by a paedophile. My heart goes out to each one. They are all amazing heroes and heroines, trying to keep their heads above water in the midst of such anguish, exhaustion and frustration.

Each one has a faith in God they are trying to cling to, despite everything. Their faith may be very weak and wavering right now, but it is there still—that longing to know God hasn’t deserted them, that somehow, some day, they will be able to make sense of it all or at least see things from a different perspective. I grieve with them and understand their wondering where God is, as they watch their children suffer. Anything I say sounds trite, so I merely listen and pray and try to do what I can to help.

Then in the midst of this, I attend a friend’s party to mark a special milestone birthday. It is wonderful to catch up with several who have been a rich part of my own life, to laugh and rejoice together at the way God has led us and to be so thankful for the blessings we have received. On top of this, I myself receive news that a book of mine has reached the finals of a Christian writers’ award. I am so grateful to God—yet how can I rejoice at this small success in the light of the hugely difficult issues my friends are facing? How can I wrap my brain around it all?

I open my bible and find I am up to Isaiah 40. Certain phrases jump out at me: ‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. … All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. … The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. … He tends his flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. … “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?’ Then comes the clincher:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. … Is 40:28-29

What can I say then? Our Almighty God will always be exactly that. We may never understand why God does not intervene in these terrible situations, yet we are not forgotten and our pain is not ignored. The cross makes that very clear.

God has reached out and shared our pain. This I know for sure. And God still reaches out, strengthening us to hold fast, however difficult the journey.

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I hesitated for quite a while before writing the title of this blog. After all, I’m not in the business of shocking or offending anyone—and definitely not in the business of writing about Jesus in any dishonouring way. But I decided to take the risk in order to share something that may challenge but also encourage you as it did for me this past week.

A few evenings ago, I was privileged to speak to a group of women at a nearby church who braved some bleak, cold weather to be there. I had chosen to speak on a favourite part of Scripture—Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 where he first of all prays the following for ‘the saints in Ephesus’:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (3:16-17).

Yet Jesus Christ was already present in the hearts of these believers. In the previous chapter, Paul reminds them how they have been made alive with Christ by grace (2:5) and how they are now ‘fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household’ (2:19). So what does he mean?

Apparently, the Greek word translated ‘dwell’ here can also mean ‘inhabit’, ‘live in’, ‘settle in’—even ‘settle down and feel at home’—which is why we find the following in the New Living Translation: ‘And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him.’ In other words, Paul is praying that these believers will be strengthened more and more in their faith in Jesus, coming closer and closer to him in the process.

As I explained this, I noticed one girl sitting with her feet resting on a nearby chair. She wasn’t being rude. In fact, she was right at the front, paying close attention to everything I said. In an instant, it occurred to me that this is exactly the way Jesus desires to be at home in our hearts—sitting back, feet up, knowing he is so welcome there, ready to listen and also so ready to share with me from his own heart. And that is what I told the women, as I pointed at the smiling girl, sitting back with her feet up and enjoying it all!

Sometimes I’m convinced Jesus turns the tables on me when I speak and has me say things intended first and foremost for me. Sometimes I picture him smiling wryly at me and saying in a gentle but firm voice, ‘Oh really, Jo? Make sure you put it into practice yourself!’ But this time, I think Jesus wanted to show me again how delighted he is to be at home in my heart and to put his feet up there. Because he loves me, he is prepared to wait there patiently in those times when I ignore him and want to run my own life. He doesn’t leave—because that’s his home. But he longs for me to notice he is there and to allow his presence to fill me to overflowing once again.

What a privilege we have to be able to open our hearts to Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and make him comfortable there!

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It’s not too often I’m challenged on my way into church—but that’s what happened this past Sunday morning. After one of our ministers greeted me as I arrived, we had a brief conversation that, rightly or wrongly, kind of took over my mind during the service itself!

You see, we had talked about how amazing our brains are in that we can be fully engaged in one activity, yet be able to take in something else entirely that is happening at the same time. In the process, I had commented how, on occasions, I have found myself speaking from the heart on an important topic in a church or to a group somewhere else, only to find another section of my brain is busily involved in thinking of practical details that have nothing to do with what I’m sharing. I can be in the midst of trying to connect on a deep level with those present, but somehow my brain can be busy on another parallel track as well. For example, in mid-sentence, I can find myself noting how someone is smiling or looking upset—or, worse still, bored! Or I might realise I am taking too long with my input and begin deciding what I will need to leave out. Or part of my brain might even be sending me little messages such as ‘This isn’t making sense! It’s rubbish! You’re making a fool of yourself!’ And if I then notice someone get up and walk out, for whatever reason, these doubts are very quickly confirmed in my mind!

But the profound question my minister friend then asked and that I carried with me into our service was this: What if we used all our mind in whatever we were attempting to do, particularly speaking? What would the results be then? Hmmmm!

Well, much as I hate to admit it at this point, my immediate response was, ‘Oh, we might change the world!’ It was not so much what I said but the facetious way I said it and what I was thinking as I did that makes me shudder now. I say that because, the more I have reflected on my response, the more I have realised that, if our minds were totally filled with God’s message for those present and totally filled with the Spirit of God as we spoke, then yes, it’s entirely possible we could change the world by the power of God at work in us.

In that same church service, we were reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Wouldn’t it be better if, next time I speak, I focus on the One Who is with me forever, the One Who has all authority and can very well deal with any of those extraneous thoughts of mine? Wouldn’t it be better if I were to shut out those destructive messages from the enemy that invade my brain and listen to God’s loving, empowering voice instead?

Yes, in God’s power and by God’s presence within us, I believe we really can change the world!

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