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Archive for March, 2015

Jo 17No, I’m not talking about a huge cricket score, much as I love my cricket. I’m celebrating the passing of yet another writing milestone—the posting of my own personal Blog Number 300. Woohoo!!

‘I don’t know how you can come up with a different blog each week,’ someone said to me recently. ‘I wouldn’t be able to think of anything to write about.’

Back when I began blogging in July 2009, I myself wondered if a weekly blog was too ambitious a goal. Yet I am so thankful that, time after time, God opened my eyes and ears and birthed an idea just at the right moment. Some blogs I wrote seemed to hit the mark better than others. But even in those weeks when fewer people read them, I would often receive some encouraging online comment. It was worth it, I decided, if God blessed one person through what I had written.

During these years, I have also written over sixty blogs for Australasian Christian Writers, Christian Writers Downunder and International Christian Fiction Writers. I have enjoyed producing these writing-related blogs as well and hope other authors have been encouraged in their own journeys as a result, just as their blogs have helped me in various ways.

In all this blog writing, however, I know I am the one who has benefited most by far. But for my blogs, I might well have not been so alert to the many diverse ways God has touched my life, whether it be through Scripture, through some experience or event, through a friend or family member, through the Spirit’s prompting within me, through a book or article or through the wonders in the world around me. As well, collecting my thoughts together and fine tuning them has enabled me to take what God is saying to heart so much more myself. Then, from a practical writing perspective, the mere discipline of writing five hundred or so words each week in a way that will connect with others has helped me put things more clearly and succinctly. And, beyond all that, my blogs have connected me with so many of you, my readers, who have taken the time to comment from wherever you are in the world, often sharing your own beautiful thoughts in the process.

In January 2012, I received the following message from a reader:

I was at an IT in-service day last year where one presenter talked about his Biblical perspective on the use of the internet and encouraged us to be cyber salt. I always think of this now when I read your posts. Thanks for all the encouragement you provide. I love reading your gems.

What a privilege to have provided some of that ‘cyber salt’ three hundred times now, even if only in small amounts! In God’s hands, it can make a big difference in another’s life. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus says:

‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?’

So, however God gifts and enables, let’s all continue to be salt in this world so that others may ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34:8). As for me—well, I’m aiming at the four hundred mark now!

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P1040079I shocked someone last week by telling them I am usually reading three or four books at any given time.

‘Doesn’t that spoil the whole experience?’ this person asked. ‘And don’t you get mixed up?’

All I can say is it works for me. You see, it all depends on what I feel like reading. If my brain is alert, I will choose a ‘meatier’ non-fiction book such as the one I have just finished—The Discerning Heart by Wilkie and Noreen Au. I loved the many wise insights it contained about the ways God guides us.

If I am a little less alert, I might want to read something that will still give me food for thought but is slightly less ‘meaty’. At the moment, that book for me is Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P Freeman—one I have picked up and put down many times, probably because, although easy to read, it still packs quite a punch!

Then, when I am too tired for non-fiction, it’s time for a novel. Currently, I’m reading Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown, which deals with the spiritual journeys of four women at a retreat centre. But sometimes a novel like this that contains much food for thought is not what I need. So I turn to something lighter, which at the moment is an Ellis Peters mediaeval ‘whodunnit’ featuring Brother Cadfael!

Yet, at the risk of sound trite and obvious, nothing beats my worn, old Bible for me. Whatever my mood and however tired I am, there is always some treasure waiting there in its pages. Today I read Matthew 9, where Jesus goes to see a ruler’s sick daughter in her home. For me, there was something so uplifting and encouraging about the calm, authoritative way Jesus acted here:

When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd. He said “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. (9:23-25)

Despite the mocking of the grieving, noisy crowd, Jesus went ahead and brought that girl back to life. If Jesus can do that, I found myself thinking, surely he can deal with the relatively small concerns in my life with the same power and love and authority, as I look to him. And surely I too can minister with more of that same power and authority as I rely on God’s Spirit at work in and through me. One little passage of Scripture—yet it contained, for me, both great comfort and strong empowerment.

Yes, I confess I am an incorrigible bookworm. I have enjoyed and learnt much from reading a wide variety of books over the years. And many of their authors, no doubt inspired by the Spirit, have ministered to me deeply. I know too there are many more books out there for me to explore—I keep a ‘wish list’ of those I would like to own one day. On top of that, I even write my own! But that tattered, old Bible of mine still wins hands down. And somehow I think it always will.

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Jo 17I looked around me as the morning train headed towards the city. Not many people in my carriage appeared overly excited about the day ahead. Some were staring into space with glum expressions. Some were dozing. Some were playing electronic games. A few were trying to study or work, frowning as they did.

And, of course, several were talking on their phones. One girl sitting not far from me spent almost the whole trip complaining to a relative or friend about someone else. No sooner had that call ended than she took another one—during which an unpleasant argument ensued. No, there was not much joy around me in that carriage that morning, I decided.

When the train reached the city, I joined the others trudging up those stairs from our underground platform. At last I surfaced in George St and stood still to catch my breath. As I did, I noticed some large banners along both sides of the street. Each of them carried a simple question in bold letters—‘Do you hear the people sing?’—and the well-known image of a wistful, young child wearing a beret and with hair streaming.  Yes, those banners were advertising the new production of Les Misérables, soon to open here in Sydney. But that morning, this question impacted me in another much more significant way.

‘Do you hear the people sing, Jo-Anne?’ God seemed to be asking me. ‘Do they know I love them? Where is the joy in their hearts?’

At once, I recalled those glum faces in the train. Then I looked at the people all around me on busy George St. Most were hurrying along, eyes down, their expressions set. Nearby, a young busker was playing her violin with great dexterity yet little heart and soul. She seemed tired and even bored—how many times had she played those pieces already? Not far from her, an unkempt man sat begging, head bowed in a hopeless manner and hand outstretched to receive whatever coins people might give.

At that point, it occurred to me to wonder how I myself looked. Could others see any joy and peace in me? Or did I seem glum and preoccupied, perhaps even hopeless, as if everything depended on me? Had I even given God a thought on my way into the city? Could God hear my own heart singing that morning? If so, what did it sound like? Was it doleful or even angry, like those who had sung the song with such fervour in Les Misérables?

Maybe I too needed to choose to begin my day with a thankful heart, full of praise for God’s many blessings, whatever was happening or not happening in my life. And maybe I needed to pray for and reach out to those around me more often in love, so that God would hear their hearts sing as well.

Maybe we all need to do what the psalmist urged us to do so long ago:

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. Psalm 95:1-2

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P1030779You might find this hard to believe, but my husband and I are both getting a little older as each year passes—at least, he is! Occasionally, in my smug state of being a number of years younger, I remind him of this. Whenever we pass an elderly driver doing something a little dangerous on our roads, I have been known to comment, ‘Oh, don’t worry. He’s just an old guy of about seventy-four!’—which is, of course, is my husband’s age!

But last week marked a different sort of milestone for him. Fifty years ago, in March, 1965, Lionel began theological college, which involved a student ministry placement as part of the training. He has been in some ministry role or other ever since, including several local church ministries but also two longer periods as a theological college lecturer and registrar, firstly at the Bible College of South Australia and later at what is now the Australian College of Ministries.

Yet that is not all. Even now, he mentors several pastors, meets with others for coffee and a good dose of encouragement and understanding, occasionally preaches, and pastorally cares for various friends via visits, phone calls and emails. Also, he still provides background support in training others for intentional interim ministry. On top of that, he continues to support me in my writing and speaking ministry as my bookkeeper, computer expert and general ‘roadie’, as he likes to call himself!

During those fifty years of ministry, there have been many interesting experiences, both encouraging and discouraging. Many sermons have been preached. Many lectures have been given. Many people’s lives have been touched. Only God knows the end result of all Lionel’s efforts in sharing the Good News, in caring for others and in training others to minister. Through it all, Lionel has remained faithful. He has kept going when I would have wanted to give up. He has persevered when I would have lost interest in doing so. He has kept the main thing the main thing. And I honour him for that.

Recently, a man in our street became seriously ill. Since then, Lionel has made a point of visiting him, talking with him, praying with him and sharing about God with him, both at home and then in hospital—to the point that now he has been asked to take this man’s funeral when the time comes. He has spoken with this man’s wife too because he cares about them and about their eternal destiny. That to me is the mark of a true pastor and man of God.

So I would say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ to my husband for staying the course and completing that ministry marathon of fifty years. More importantly, however, I know this is what God will say to him one day—a day I know Lionel is looking forward to as he continues even now to run the race marked out for him until the very end.

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

May the Lord strengthen us all to remain faithful and finish our own, unique races well.

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Jo 17This past week, I found myself more than once in complaining mode. There were various events, large and small, ongoing and one-off, that brought this on. For the most part, I stewed in silence. But in the end, after venting my feelings to someone close to me at great length, I began to surface from my morass of self-pity and see things in a more reasonable light.

Yes, I decided, I had good reason to complain about some things that had occurred and some decisions others had made. I was right in feeling a little ripped off. As for some of the ongoing situations, I decided it was okay to be honest and acknowledge the difficulty these were causing me. But what was my response to be from this point on? Where was the healthy and godly way forward for me?

You see, it had dawned on me at last that God was still there in the midst of everything. God knew all my muddled, confused thoughts and mixed emotions. Not only that, God still loved me with the most amazing, tender, caring love and wanted me to remember that. I know this was the case for two reasons. Firstly, by that time, I had calmed down enough to recognise the Spirit’s gentle voice within, whispering this truth to me. But secondly, only that morning, I had received a beautiful email from a friend who told me she was praying for God’s encouragement and love to surround me and wanted to share with me some words from Ephesians 1 in The Message version of the Bible:

“Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ (What pleasure He took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of His beloved Son.”

I had a clear choice at that point. I could continue to grumble and stew and feel sorry for myself, ignoring what God might be saying to me through these words and through the situations in my life, as well as my responses to them. Or I could change my focus, step back a little and begin to allow God to widen my perspective and show me the way forward. A ‘no-brainer’, wouldn’t you agree?

For a little while at least, it had kind of slipped my mind that, because God’s Spirit lives in me, as I know from experience and as Jesus talks about in John 14:17, then God is an integral part of everything that is happening in my life. Nothing takes God by surprise—and God is quite able to use every situation to teach us something and draw us closer. So my best response is to rest back in that amazing love of God, receive the grace and mercy that is always there for me and choose to listen once again to the Shepherd’s voice.

God is always up to something in our lives—and I am so thankful for that.

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