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Archive for September, 2014

I wonder if you have ever experienced one of those weird moments in your life when, with one glimpse of something or one whiff of a familiar perfume, you find yourself transported back through the years in an instant. There you are, a child again in a place or situation you had thought was long forgotten.

Recently, in order to entertain a fourteen year old visitor and his ten year old sister, I decided to check through our board games. Some date back to my own childhood—Snakes and Ladders and Ludo and Fairyland and Motor Race on fragile pieces of folded cardboard, held together in spots by yellowing sticky tape. And our ancient Monopoly game, bequeathed to us by an old friend of my parents and complete with currency in English pounds. And yes, the little silver top hat, boot, racing car and ship my sister and I used to fight over are still there too.

P1030981In the end, I put all these aside. This is 2014—no doubt my visitors would prefer a game on their mobile phones or Ipads. But I couldn’t resist showing them two classic old card games from my childhood years, the boxes now held together with rubber bands. I was sure ‘Donkey’ would be beneath them, but, to my surprise, they were intrigued. In fact, they played three games and were quite chuffed when they avoided that dreaded donkey card! And they were even more intrigued when I showed them my old ‘Comic Families’ card game, with cartoon-style drawings of Pa Lather (the barber), Pa Bones (the butcher), Pa Snips (the tailor) and Pa Chalk (the milkman), among others!

As I sat dealing those dog-eared cards, I remembered the hours spent playing with them in my growing up years. How long ago that was! Many years later, our own children had played with these same cards, then later still, our two older grandchildren. And what had happened to me personally since those early, innocent childhood days in Brisbane? So many, many things I would never, ever have envisaged.

God was there for me throughout all those early years, I reflected then, knowing what lay ahead and drawing me close, even when I was unaware of it. God reached out to me when I was fifteen, so that I came to experience Jesus’ love for myself. God watched over me in the ensuing years, not letting me stray too far and always, always calling me back. And God showered me with grace and continued to deepen my faith, even when I thought I knew it all in later years. God loved me so much as that little girl way back then who played those games with her sister and rarely won. And God loves me just as much now, I realised, as I held those same old cards in my hand.

Games come and go. Things change. People change. But God remains the same, so faithful and so loving through all the ups and downs of our lives. How truly blessed we are!

Praise the Lord, all your nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Psalm 117

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Jo 23On a recent Saturday night, I fronted up at a church to speak at a special dinner to raise funds for a home for disabled teenagers. I had been invited months earlier and the women organising the event were obviously keen for me to come. But for that, I might well have dropped out since I was still recovering from the flu and also hobbling along in a ‘moon boot’, after injuring my ankle.

By God’s grace, I was able to focus and speak from the heart, forgetting about everything else. Yet, as I sat down afterwards, I wondered if I had struck the right chord. They had all seemed attentive—but I had not expected so many men to be present. Were they happy to have a woman speak to them? Or were they all wondering when I would finish, so they could enjoy their dessert for which they had waited so patiently?

I was not left in doubt for very long. As one old gentleman passed me on his way to select his dessert, he tapped me on the shoulder. What was coming, I wondered. What was he about to say? Had he even heard what I had said? He was rather bent over with age—perhaps he was a little deaf as well. But then he began speaking softly, his face filled with emotion.

‘In my experience,’ he told me, ‘there are some people who know about God—and some people who know God. Now … you are one of the latter. Thank you very much! And you know, God has spoken to me too—many times.’

Ignoring all that wonderful dessert nearby, he began telling me how God had saved him during the war and had warned him about other events in his life. My heart was touched and I felt so honoured and humbled. I had judged this man as perhaps being unable to catch or understand my input. Instead, he had heard every word and had related so much to it all.

Later, I chatted with two other gentlemen, one of whom I discovered was a retired minister. Both thanked me for my input and were obviously touched. I had not expected such feedback at all and again felt so humbled.

The next day, as I reflected on the evening and on other events where I have spoken recently, I began to see yet again how so many people, whatever their backgrounds, seem to long to truly know and hear from God. They want the real thing. They are tired of merely hearing about God—if they hear anything at all. And this opinion seemed to be reinforced when I later turned to my bible and read Jesus’ strong response to the Sadducees who had asked him about some hypothetical situation, twisting Scripture to suit their own ends.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. Matt 22:29

What an indictment on them! And what an indictment on those of us too who feel called to speak if we do not come to grips fully with God’s heart in Scripture and then convey this in God’s power and with passion and sincerity! People are waiting, looking for reality. May we let neither God nor them down.

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Maxine in car mid-MayIt was an eerie experience at first. There I was, standing in the semi-darkness beside our granddaughter’s cot, leaning over to pat her until she settled again. I thought I had been successful. I thought she had gone back to sleep and was busy congratulating myself. But when I looked down at her again, I realised with a shock that those big, brown eyes of hers were wide open and staring straight back at me, fixed firmly on my face. It might have been dark in that bedroom—but not nearly dark enough for our little Maxine to miss seeing her grandmother standing there looking down at her.

For a while, she seemed happy just to know I was there and to feel my hand patting her and smoothing her hair. Yet I could not lean over her cot forever. I tried to move away—but those big, brown eyes followed my every movement. I did not even make it to the door before our little girl let out an anguished yell and waved her fists frantically in the air. I leant over her cot again—and that look of desolation in those gorgeous, almond-shaped eyes pierced me to the heart. Needless to say, I picked her up. And soon she was cuddled in close to my body, quiet and contented.

Day by day, our six month old Maxine is becoming much more knowing all round. Those eyes of hers seem to miss very little that really matters. At present, whenever she sees her mother walk past, she will follow her every move and demand some attention from her, even if her lovely dad is cuddling her. But when anyone else she isn’t too sure about comes near her, she usually subjects them to ‘the Maxine stare’—a long, unblinking assessment that can become quite unnerving! It’s as if she sees into our very souls and decides for herself whether we pass muster or not.

As I remember the way Maxine’s eyes focussed so directly on me in that semi-darkness beside her cot, I realise I can learn from her. How often do I forget to keep my own eyes fixed fully on the one who really matters, the only one who can rescue me when I have lost my way or pick me up when I have fallen down? How often do I become distracted with other things that demand my attention? How often do I trust in them, only to find they fail me in the end? In Hebrews 12:2-3, we read:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I want to learn, like Maxine, to keep my eyes glued to the only one who can save me and set me free. I want to consider him fully and continue to be absorbed by him so I will be encouraged and not give up. After all, nothing else and no one else is going to compare with him—or matter—in the end.

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Jo 23Waiting our turn anywhere can be boring and frustrating. Yet, this past week, during a routine hospital check-up, I was challenged to react in a different way. I could choose to feel annoyed about wasting so much time, I decided, or I could opt to live in that present moment, fully seeing what God has for me to see and to learn.

Taking a deep breath, I begin to look at those around me. I notice the administrative staff as I wait at that counter. One sits staring and withdrawn at her computer, determined not to see us. Another is jolly and friendly as she talks on the phone while taking someone else’s details and keeping a general eye on things. She finally attends to me and we have a pleasant conversation about her ability to multi-task. A third worker wanders around, getting in everyone’s way. She seems to irritate the other staff, although they try not to show it. What are the dynamics here, I wonder. Why is this worker so annoying? She is older and has a thick accent. What are her personal needs? Is she lonely?

As I make it to the x-ray waiting room, an Indian woman starts chatting to me, as does her daughter. I notice an older gentleman with a glum expression sitting silently nearby. It must be his son beside him, I decide—they have the same features and profile. Yet they do not appear to be on friendly terms at all, unlike my lovely Indian lady and her daughter. As we wait, several beds with patients in them are wheeled past and parked nearby. I notice one older man lift his head from the pillow and look around as if a little frightened. No one is there to answer any questions he might have, so he closes his eyes in a resigned fashion and is still. What is his story? What is he worried about? Eventually, an African orderly comes to wheel him away. She has beautifully braided hair but looks bored and moves slowly, without even looking at her patient. What is going on in her head? Where would she rather be?

I glance around me again. So many people from so many different backgrounds and nationalities. Are they happy? Are they at peace? Do some of them at least know and love the Lord? For some reason, I remember what Jesus said when he looked at all the people who came to hear him and to be healed:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36

I don’t know these people and their stories—but the Lord does. I pray each one of them will hear his voice and follow him. I pray for joy instead of sadness, fulfilment instead of boredom, healing instead of sickness, peace in the midst of whatever is happening around them. And I repent of my frustration and my desire to be anywhere else but in the moment, seeing with God’s eyes and sensing God’s heart for those around me.

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Jo 23It is a well-known fact in our family that I am quite skilled at being clumsy. Even I admit I qualify well for the title of ‘klutz’ that my children have readily bestowed on me over the years. But one recent Sunday afternoon, I excelled myself. While out walking on a completely flat bike track near our home, I managed to turn my ankle and, unable to right myself, landed full length on that very hard surface with a resounding splat.

I sat there for some time, waiting for the shock to wear off and that wave of sickness to go. Then I turned around and noticed a small section of tree branch lying nearby on the path. Was this what had made my left foot roll onto its side? It looked so harmless and insignificant—no wonder I had missed seeing it. Then again, I had been walking along, thinking about all sorts of things, instead of watching where I put my feet.

With the help of a passing cyclist, I managed to stand up. But as soon as I tried to walk, I knew something was wrong. On top of that, my right arm did not feel the best either. I limped to the next street and sank down on a nearby wall, before phoning my husband to come and rescue me.

The next morning, we headed to Concord Hospital and discovered that, while my arm had no breaks, I had chipped some bone off the base of my ankle. My foot was duly put in plaster and I hobbled out to the car on crutches, feeling somewhat sorry for myself.

It had taken only a small piece of wood lying on a wide, flat path to bring me down—literally. Yet, as I thought about it, I realised how often that same thing happens in my life on a different level as well. While I might remember to look to God to help me face those bigger challenges that come my way, it is so often the little, daily challenges I regard as unimportant or overlook entirely that can cause me to stumble. How many times do I look to God for strength to speak somewhere, for example—just as I had when preaching in the morning service at our church on the same day I fell over? Yet how many more times do I ignore or not even notice those little things in my life that dishonour God on a daily basis? How often do I choose to pass on that piece of gossip or tell that half truth or be jealous of another’s success or stay angry or lose patience with someone?

Next time I walk along that bike track near us, I plan to watch out for those little bits of branch that have fallen onto it. And next time I am in danger of stumbling in one of these ‘small’ ways Paul mentions in both Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4, I hope I will choose a better path. After all, I don’t want to break any more bones. But, much more importantly, I don’t want to hurt God either.

How about you? Are you watching how and where you walk?

Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Col 3:12

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