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Archive for October, 2014

Jo 23I’m sure I’ve managed to embarrass quite a few people in my life. I can recall several occasions when my parents ended up rather red-faced over something I had done. And I’m sure I can remember one or two times when my own children let me know how much I had embarrassed them in one way or another!

I’m also good at embarrassing myself. Now I can laugh more readily at some things I do and have done. But there was a time when I was much more sensitive and much more prone to feel ashamed long after I had goofed in some obvious way.

And I can certainly remember feeling ashamed when others have pulled me up about something I have said or done. As a young child, I hated to be disciplined in any way by my parents. It was altogether too embarrassing. When this happened, I would curl up in a ball, with my thumb in my mouth.

‘I’m not a naughty girl! I would wail as I sobbed my heart out.

I understand that sense of shame. It can become all-pervading and was something I had to deal with later in my life, with God’s help. But recently, I was given an entirely different insight into this whole experience of shame—from God’s own perspective.

At the time, I was reading through Hebrews 11 where the writer describes the exploits of brave and godly people in the past and how they were commended for their faith. There I was, enjoying being reminded of these stories when I came across a verse that shocked me:

Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:16

If God was not ashamed to be called the God of these heroes of the faith, I reasoned, then that must mean God could well have been ashamed of others who did not persevere. So could that happen now? Could that apply even to me? What a horrifying thought—imagine embarrassing God! Surely I could never do that.

But … what about the times I put other things before God in my life? What about when I dishonour God by not mentioning my faith? What about those occasions when I do not trust God will provide for me and give in to my doubts and fears? What about the way I so often live like an orphan instead of a much-loved child of the King? Could these things ever cause God to feel ashamed of me?

How wonderful it is that God is so forgiving of wayward, forgetful children like me and so gracious towards us all because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf! How amazing it is that God continues to love me, at the same time as possibly feeling ashamed of my behaviour! How thankful I am that God is able to lift any guilt and shame off me and replace it with perfect love and acceptance—forever! As Isaiah 43:25 tells us:

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”

I don’t want to continue practising the fine art of shaming God—do you?

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Jo 23After writing seven books, one would think I’d know the drill when it comes to my eighth. But no. Instead, I seem to have the knack of forgetting the painful parts of bringing a book into being and remembering only the joy of it all—a little like when having our three children!

So here I was, about a third of the way through editing and re-writing my latest book when I came to a particularly poorly written section. What was I thinking when I wrote those words? What did they add to the storyline? Why would anyone be interested in reading such rubbish anyway? So out these wondrous sentences all went, with one click of that handy delete button on my keyboard.

But that wasn’t the end of it. I began to question more than just a few sentences here and there. I began to question the whole idea of writing a second memoir. Was it worth all the effort I was exerting to polish it up? Would my publisher be interested in it anyway? Would there be a market out there for it?

I was tired. And I had other things to do, such as preparing for some upcoming writing workshops. I had also spoken somewhere the previous day where only a few people turned up. I’m sure God touched those present, but it had required effort on my part and a long drive to be there. I sat at my desk feeling somewhat hard done by, to put it mildly. Was it all worth it?

At that point, I noticed my Bible open beside me. I had not read it that day—I had been too busy editing. I glanced down at that open page and it was then that I saw the heading of the particular section I was to read next in Hebrews:

A Call to Persevere!

I literally felt a slight jolt through my body and almost laughed out loud. How like God to set my thinking straight in such an ‘in your face’ way!

I read on. Yes, I soon realised that Hebrews 10:19-25 deals with the need to hold onto our Christian faith and the hope this gives us and to encourage one another to do the same, right to the very end.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Heb 10:23-24

So essentially, this passage is not about hanging in there in writing books. But behind those words, by the Spirit’s prompting, I believe I saw and heard the heart of God for me, right where I am now—and for us all. And as my own spirit was encouraged, I began to see things from God’s perspective instead of my own warped and limited one. I began to look at my writing with fresh eyes and to see that yes, perhaps I was saying some worthwhile things after all and perhaps I could polish and fine tune this manuscript as required. I simply needed to persevere. And I know how to do that. I’ve done it before and I can do it again, in God’s strength.

How about you? Do you need a little more God-perspective too?

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Jo 23It is so true that, just when we might least expect it, an opportunity can present itself to say a gentle word in season that someone needs to hear.

A few weeks ago, my husband was waiting for our order at a local pizza shop on a Friday night. He noticed a man nearby sitting forward with his head in his hands.

‘Glad the week’s over, are you?’ my husband commented.

They went on to exchange a few pleasantries.

‘Tell me, how you cope with stress in your life?’ the man then asked, out of the blue.

‘Well, it helps me to know I’m doing what God wants me to do,’ my husband replied.

They chatted on for a while. It turned out the man was from Rumania and works in IT. And soon he discovered my husband is a retired minister.

‘My uncle was a sort of minister in a Pentecostal church back in Rumania—I used to go to church then,’ he admitted. ‘Tell me … how do you see the Holy Spirit manifesting himself today?’

Not quite the sort of question one expects to be asked in a pizza shop! Nevertheless, my husband happily responded. Then our pizza was ready and the man thanked him sincerely for their conversation. Only God knows what might ensue in his life as a result.

But this past week, it was my turn. As I waited to have an x-ray at the hospital, I glanced at the other people around me and decided to pray for them. I particularly noticed an elderly couple sitting nearby who seemed quite nervous. They got up several times, once returning with a form to fill out, which they seemed to have trouble doing. The wife tried to help her husband, speaking to him in a language I did not understand and several times reaching in her handbag to find this or that document. Eventually his name was called and off he went. I looked across at his wife and smiled. She smiled in return and then began talking.

‘I’m so worried!’ she told me, a perfect stranger, as she started to cry. ‘My husband … he not well. He got cancer.’

I reached over and held her hand, then moved to sit beside her. Out came her story of migrating to Australia from Italy in the fifties, starting work at fourteen, missing her homeland, marrying a man from her own village, having children. I listened—and my heart went out to her. Then my name was called and I had to leave her.

When my x-ray was over, however, I saw she was still waiting and went over to her.

‘I’m going to be praying for you,’ I told her. ‘I believe in God—God will look after you.’

‘I believe in God too,’ she whispered, as she clung to my hand and the tears began falling again. ‘Thank you so very much!’

In Col 4:6, Paul writes:

Let you conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

What a privilege to be able to take part in these two entirely unexpected conversations! I hope they were grace-filled enough. I hope these two needy ones sensed God’s love reaching out to them, bringing refreshment and comfort. That’s what it’s all about, don’t you think?

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Jo 23I’m not the most ideal of patients. I have too many things to do and think about to be hampered by any sort of malady. At the moment, with a moon boot still decorating my left foot as a result of an ankle injury, I am unable to drive and also find it difficult to walk any great distance. So what’s to be done? I can complain and feel annoyed about the situation—or I can accept it, live in the moment and see what interesting lessons God has for me, right where I find myself, boot and all.

I try to choose the second option—most of the time! As a result, I have gained a new appreciation of the horrors those early convicts must have gone through when they found themselves with a ball and chain attached to one ankle. Granted, my moon boot isn’t anywhere near as heavy or as crippling as this device must have been. But it has made me value more the privilege I normally enjoy of being able to move about free and unfettered—and to empathise with those who have an injury or disability that truly hampers them in an ongoing way.

And I am also learning a lesson of a different kind. As I complain about having to drag my cumbersome moon boot around everywhere and move more slowly than usual, I believe God is showing me that this situation in the natural or physical realm also applies in the spiritual. What sort of other weights am I dragging around unnecessarily? What heavy, cumbersome things am I tolerating in my life that shouldn’t be there at all? At least my moon boot is hopefully helping my ankle to heal properly.  But what things am I clinging to that hinder rather than help me live the way God desires me to live?

Hmmm. … Could God be gently highlighting how much time and effort I put into worrying about this and that, even to the point of causing good things to become a burden to me? Could my lack of faith in God be holding me back in certain areas? Could my busyness be stopping me from hearing God’s voice as clearly as I used to and from knowing with deep certainty the way forward in my writing and in my life in general?

In Hebrews 12:1, after reminding us about the wonderful heroes of the faith in times past, the writer states:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Run? I couldn’t physically do that at the moment, with my moon boot. Instead, I plod along. But what about spiritually? Am I plodding through my life when I could run much more freely, unfettered by things that so often consume and entangle me and do not honour God? Why not get rid of them and, instead, trust God to enable me to scale the heights (Ps 18:33) and to provide those straight paths for my feet (Ps 27:11)?

How about you? Are you learning some spiritual lessons too from those annoying little things in your life?

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