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Archive for April, 2015

Jo 17I wonder if you can identify a time in your life when you decided against pursuing a particular career or course of action or when you perhaps closed the door on one part of your life and opted for a different direction. How did you feel as you made that decision?

I still remember the moment I turned my back on high school teaching in the late eighties and opted for an editing job instead. Part of me was relieved, while another part was sorry to walk away from the classroom setting and the opportunity to engage with so many young people. And I can well recollect my sorrow at leaving a ministry position over twelve years ago now, after agreeing to stay for a further four years. I knew God had something else for me to do, which turned out to be my whole writing journey, but I hated disappointing our church and walking away from a role I loved.

These decisions of mine, however, pale in comparison to the one made by the rich, young man we read about in Mark 10. Jesus gives this man the offer of a lifetime, in answer to his question about how he might inherit eternal life:

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (21b)

It was not as if Jesus said this harshly at all. In the first part of that verse we see how much he cared for this young man and longed for him to make the right decision:

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

What beautiful words—so simple, yet so profound! Can you imagine the scene here? Can you perhaps put yourself right in that scene, either as an onlooker or even as that rich, young man for a few moments?

This week I did the latter. I imagined myself coming to Jesus with a sincere question about eternal life. I listened as Jesus responded and I answered him honestly. Then, it was as if I could not believe my eyes and ears. There was Jesus, looking straight at me with such love—and my heart almost turned over. But his words were too much for me. I wanted to follow him, but all the beautiful things I own flashed before my eyes—and I wanted them too. I turned away then from his loving face, but even as I did, my heart felt so, so heavy.

Now in reality, I am not this young man. But this experience of allowing Jesus’ words to come alive for me showed me things within myself even now, I believe. What holds me back from following Jesus with my whole heart each day? Are there areas in my life where I still turn from him and go my own way, unwilling to give him everything in response to his love for me? Or have I forgotten those eyes of love with which Jesus still looks at me today, just as that rich, young man experienced so long ago?

Let’s not walk away from those life-giving offers Jesus extends to each one of us. Let’s look him full in the face, listen—and follow.

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Jo 17I wonder what the most appealing personality trait is for you. What virtue do you most admire in others and perhaps wish you could cultivate a little more in yourself?

Mine has been the same for years now—and that is humility. Recently, I came across the following statement:

Find humility or it will find you.

I could not help but agree. And these words set me thinking about my quest for more of that rather elusive commodity in my own life.

I grew up feeling quite proud of certain things I could do, particularly in the academic area. That led to my looking down on others who did not do so well at school. Never mind that they left me for dead on the sporting field and in other ways. And it seems to me such thinking can lead to a kind of self-protection, where we feel safer and better about ourselves by judging others to be inferior in some way.

We often come to hate some trait in another person that we ourselves have, don’t you think? We may be unable to acknowledge or even recognise it in ourselves—but we can see it clearly in someone else. It’s for this reason, I believe, that I came to hate pride and arrogance in others. And perhaps it’s for this reason that I longed to be much more like those who had achieved great things in their lives yet seemed so humble about it all. I remember several amazing people I have met, some only fleetingly, whose humility both amazed and challenged me. And I am grateful for others who have shown me over longer periods in my life what it is truly like to walk that humble road.

But it has been through my writing journey that God has taught me the most about humility. I believe God has a great sense of humour. Not long after I started writing, I suspect I heard God say to me, in a loving but slightly rueful tone: ‘You want to be more humble, Jo-Anne? Right—then writing’s a sure fire way to reach your goal!’ There is nothing quite as daunting and confronting, I have discovered, than putting one’s creative efforts out there for all the world to see, to like or dislike, to criticise or to praise, to tear apart or to truly ‘get’ and appreciate. One of the most unnerving experiences I have ever had was to see a man whose opinion I respected reading one of my early novels. Was he enjoying it—or did he think it was rubbish? I could not tell. I looked the other way. I did not want to find out.

In 1 Peter 5:5-7, we read:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

I would much rather that God extend grace to me than oppose me, wouldn’t you? And that’s one reason I plan to keep going in my quest for that elusive commodity of humility until the day when God’s hand, and not my own, lifts me up.

Is humility something you long for more of in your life too—or has it found you already?

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IMG_20150107_084323086I sat holding our one year old granddaughter as I fed her some dinner. Things went along smoothly at first—but then, as that spoon came close once again, she pressed her lips tightly together and turned her head away. Now I had experienced that tactic before—but it was what happened next that almost caused me to drop spoon and plate and all.

‘No!’ she declared, with great finality.

At first, I thought I had imagined it. Surely she couldn’t talk yet? Of course, I had heard her previous vague attempts at ‘Hi!’ and ‘Up!’ and ‘Boo!’ Now, however, she had said a word I could not dispute—a word she had clearly decided was most useful to have in one’s vocabulary.

I’m sure our little Maxine will have many opportunities to employ this word in the future—much to the annoyance of her parents at times! There will come moments too when it is important she does say it and turn down others who might lead her astray. Even with regard to eating dinner, she seemed to know when she had had enough. But the shock of hearing this tiny word emerge from her mouth caused me to reflect later on how I use it in my own life—for good or for ill.

I wish I had learnt years ago to say no to certain requests a little more often. On occasions, I have too readily agreed to do things—and almost burnt myself out as a result. Yet sometimes I have said no simply because I did not care about someone else’s welfare enough to put myself out for him or her or because I wanted to do something much more enjoyable. And what about those occasions when I have turned God down? How many times has God gently prompted me to take some course of action or challenged me to attempt something new and my immediate response has been a resounding ‘No!’?

I am not so fond of the word ‘obedience’, I have discovered. For some reason, if I am told to do something, I often want to do the exact opposite. I want to reach my own conclusions about what I do or don’t do. I want to weigh it all up and decide for myself. Yet, at this point in my life, I have also realised that, when God calls me to act in a certain way, it truly is much wiser to say yes rather than no. I know I can trust God to lead me well, as Psalm 23 clearly shows. And I know I need to learn from Jesus who always did what his Father called him to do, who chose in that Garden of Gethsemane to do his Father’s will and not his own (Mt 26:39), who did not say no but instead ‘humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!’ (Phil 2:8)

I hope our little granddaughter learns to say no when it’s right to do so. But I also hope and pray she learns to say yes to the many things that will be good for her—and especially to God. And I hope and pray I continue to do the same.

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Jo 17I love Easter. Apart from anything else, I enjoy this time of the year, as autumn leaves begin to appear everywhere and there is a promise of cooler days to come. I love witnessing the pleasure on the faces of children as they receive Easter eggs. I love seeing relatives or friends who take the time to visit. But, above all, I love the opportunity it brings to stop and reflect once again on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This year, I read the account of the last weeks of Jesus’ life on earth in Matthew’s Gospel and, as often happens, it was as if I had never read some parts before. Yet I have—many times. And maybe these particular verses have even impacted me deeply before. But I am good at forgetting—and no, it has nothing to do with age! We all need this constant reminding, I believe, of what it cost God to send Jesus to die for us. We all need to allow those words written so long ago and the words Jesus himself spoke to pierce our hearts again and to spur us on to be and to do all God has for us to be and do.

I came to Matthew 26:34-35 and began to read how Jesus predicted Peter’s denial.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Now I know I have read these verses before—there is a big pen mark in my old Bible beside the last sentence there which shows me it impacted me on at least one other occasion. Yet this time, the sadness of those final, few words almost overwhelmed me. I had remembered Peter’s assertion that he would never disown Jesus. But I had forgotten how all the other disciples had joined in as well. How difficult it must have been for Jesus to listen to their promises, knowing they would not be kept—at least not immediately anyway.

I read on and came to the scene in Gethsemane where Jesus asks Peter, James and John to keep watch with him while he prays.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Mt 26:38

The disciples knew exactly how Jesus was feeling—yet three times when he returns from praying, he finds them asleep. Surely he felt utterly forsaken and devastated enough, without being so let down by those closest to him? Again, I felt deep sadness on his behalf—yet also compassion for those three disciples. After all, I may not have been faithful enough to be anywhere near the Garden of Gethsemane that night.

Yes, these verses might have made for sad reading–but what a privilege to enter fully into Easter with Jesus and to realise once again his incredible love for you and me. Easter 2015 has left me feeling so grateful, as well as strengthened and somehow enriched.

May you too have experienced something of that same strengthening and enriching as you identified with our Saviour in your own way this Easter.

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