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Archive for January, 2015

Jo 23Isn’t it wonderful when we meet people who seem to be so at peace with God, with themselves and with the world at large? I can think of a number of folk I have met over the years who could be described in this way. And the reason I have noticed them is, no doubt, that I have longed to be so much more like them.

I grew up with a very caring mum who always did more that she should have for me. She worked hard in every area of her life—but she also worked hard at worrying. I’m sure I often gave her plenty of scope to do just that—yet sometimes it seemed to me she worried about nothing. Sadly, her fears about what might happen robbed her of her enjoyment of many things, often bringing a worried frown to her face and uncertain questions to her lips.

When our children were growing up, one of their favourite ‘Mr Men’ books was Mr Worry. Poor Mr Worry worries about everyone and everything—until he meets a wizard who promises to make sure none of the things Mr Worry is worried about will ever happen. For a whole week, Mr Worry can’t think of a single thing to worry about. But then all that changes. And, on the last page of this little book, we discover that Mr Worry, after seeing the wizard again, goes home ‘to worry about not having anything to worry about!

Now I’d be interested to know how that wizard could ensure none of those things that worried Mr Worry so much would ever happen! It’s a nice thought—but hardly realistic, after all. How much more realistic, in contrast, are the Apostle Paul’s words:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6

This does not mean that those of us who pray and trust God with our future will never encounter difficulties. In John 17:33, we read Jesus’ words to his disciples not long before he is crucified:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

This is what it’s about—peace in the midst of whatever is happening around us, knowing our God is with us and is bigger than anything the world can throw at us. Yes, at times God does rescue us out of difficult situations while, at other times, our path seems to lie through them instead. Yet we are not alone. God is with us, strengthening us and watching over us. ‘And the God of peace will be with you’, Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:9.

This is my prayer for myself for 2015—that, whatever happens with my writing and speaking, my family, my friends and the world at large, I will remain in that place of deep peace with God.

May you too find this place of deep, deep peace in God as you face the year ahead.

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P1040045Recently, after engaging some tree loppers to prune our large magnolia tree to allow more space for power lines, we decided to have another smaller tree cut down at the same time. The young, enthusiastic workmen arrived bright and early on the appointed day. Soon our magnolia tree had several fewer branches and our smaller tree was no longer. But then the pressure began to have more work done.

‘Madam, you should get this big tree cut down too. Look, it has some parasitic plant growing in it! It’ll cost you much less if we do it today. And I’ll get rid of that smaller one near it for just a hundred more dollars—it will all be done then.’

The young man was looking at me as if he was doing me a huge favour. Never mind the thousand or so more dollars it would cost me! To make it worse, my husband had just gone out—the final decision was up to me.

I wavered. It was a lot of money for us to spend.

‘Okay!’ I heard myself say in the end, feeling somewhat numb.

Before I could change my mind, it seemed, my young friend attacked that big tree. More crashing, grinding noises followed and more dragging of branches up our yard. Eventually, out came a rake and a blower to remove the remaining debris. Then all was quiet—and I was left to contemplate the result.

There was still some cleaning up to do and squashed plants to resurrect. But what a difference that tree lopping had made! Now there was ample room for those power lines. As well, our bedroom was much lighter and airier. With that large tree gone from our back yard, our kitchen was much brighter too. And where one of the smaller trees had been removed, now there was room for other nearby shrubs to grow properly.

All around us each day, there are spiritual lessons for us to learn. As I began to appreciate the tangible results of our tree trimming—more light in our home, greater safety with those power lines cleared, more room for growth—all this spoke to me on another level as well. I began to see the absolute necessity of pruning back those things in my life that had crowded out quality time with God in the past busy year and of making space for the light and love of the Lord to fill my heart. As I do this, I know I will find the security and guidance I need. And I will also have room within for God’s Spirit to enable me to grow and to bless others.

Do you need to make more room for God in your life? Do you need more of God’s love and light to flood in as you step into 2015? It may cost—just as our tree lopping cost us—but it is so necessary if we are to flourish as God intended. And that cost is nothing when compared with the peace and fulfilment only God can give.

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

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Our house is quite small. As someone once put it when visiting, ‘It’s a nice little cottage!’ So, over the years, we have tried to get rid of unnecessary or unwanted clutter. This applies to everything we own—well, almost everything. Of course, books are the exception.

P1040041This past week, I nevertheless decided to pare down one or two of the bookshelves in our house. I picked up some volumes I had read recently—but no, I could not throw those out. You see, I know the authors. And, being an author myself, I could not consign their books to some throw-out pile. Far better to take them to a second hand bookstore where others might read them as well, if I had no room for them. So back on those shelves they went for the moment.

I began pulling out other books lower down on those crammed shelves. Some were textbooks from my years at theological college. Others dealt with church issues I was passionate about at one stage but no longer am—at least not so much. Some even went back to my earlier years as a Christian—large volumes I treasured then, now too outdated to refer to often, if at all. Yet I found myself loath to throw them out because they hold so many memories for me of key periods of my life when I was growinP1040044g and learning and trying to come to grips with so many matters of faith.

In another room, I unearthed some old language learning books of mine—Japanese, German and even Classical Greek textbooks of little use to any student now since they are so outdated. I stopped for a moment to reflect on the hours and hours of effort put into studying these. And again, because they represent such key parts of my life, I did not have the heart to throw them out.

Putting these back, I then progressed to another set of book shelves. Here I found books dating back not only to our children’s growing up years but also to my own—favourites such as Anne of Green Gables, What Katy Did, Little Women and many others. How could I possibly throw those out? Perhaps our grandchildren will read them one day. Yet the pages are so yP1040042ellowed and the print so small. And all those long sentences and unfamiliar words …

I am aware January is often the month when nostalgic and even somewhat depressive thoughts can take hold as we get to clear out the clutter of the past. Yet, while acknowledging these feelings, I also found myself reflecting on God’s faithfulness through all those periods of my life those books represent. While my faith may well have waxed and waned, according to the pressures of life or my own wilfulness, God has watched over me, steering me through it all.

Those books are only things—I cannot take them with me when I die. And the memories they invoke in me will no doubt fade in the years ahead. But that faithfulness of God they represent to me will never, ever end. And I am so thankful.

Praise the Lord, all you 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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If there were a degree in playground assessment, I reckon my husband would pass it with honours. He well knows the various criteria that must be met as far as playgrounds go, according to which grandchild one is trying to entertain. The equipment has to be suitable for the child’s age—not too adventurous and not too boring. It is preferable for there to be some shade. There has to be good parking nearby. And it also helps if said playground is not too far away.

P1030367AAnother plus is the presence of a particular piece of equipment we call the ‘basket swing’—that is, a shallow, basket-like circle made of some webbed material attached via chains to the apex of a strong support structure that enables it to swing in all sorts of directions. In past years, our two older granddaughters loved swinging together in one of these. Now our grandson lies back just like they did and is happy to be pushed for as long as Granddad has energy to do so. Sometimes he even goes to sleep in the process. Zain, that is—not Granddad!

I thought of this swing recently when I came across some words in Isaiah, which, while spoken to the people of Zion, God’s chosen children, surely also apply to God’s children today:

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

What has this verse to do with basket swings, you may well ask. To my mind, lying back in a basket swing is a wonderful picture of what I believe it means to truly rest in God’s unfailing love. Just as our grandchildren relax and enjoy the ride in this swing, trusting Granddad to keep on pushing faithfully and in a way that is safe for them, so I know I can trust the Lord to be there for me and to go on loving me, whatever might lie ahead.

Yet it is one thing to agree God loves us with an unfailing love but quite another to live as if we actually believe it, I have discovered. Why do I sit here, for example, worrying about so many things if I know the Lord has such compassion for me and is able to keep me in a place of peace, even if everything falls apart around me? Why do I so often forget about God’s amazing love for me that will never, ever waver, however much or little people might value me as a writer and speaker?

So … as 2015 begins, once again I choose live my life secure in that basket of God’s unwavering love, knowing God understands me perfectly, values me so much and will provide for me, whatever happens in the coming year and beyond. When those doubts and fears come flooding in, I plan to choose to rest back in those loving ‘basket swing’ arms of God and allow that unshakeable love to consume me once again.

If you find yourself feeling a little shaky as you look to the year ahead, may you too experience that unshakeable love of the Lord once again that will never fail you, whatever happens.

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