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Archive for August, 2015

Jo 23A few weeks ago, I managed to achieve an almost miraculous feat. I actually threw out all those notes from my theological college days around twenty years ago! Admittedly, I didn’t have the heart to dispense with a few favourite assignments. And admittedly, it also felt as if I was somehow betraying those three very busy but precious years of study. However, it needed to be done—and the memories are still there.

But there’s something else I have even more trouble parting with—and that is my books. When one begins to pack books horizontally on top of those already squished in vertically, it’s pretty obvious something needs to be done! So I decided to begin this daunting task.

As I started, the memories came flooding back. In one section, I found many books on prayer—for nations, for cities, for our churches and their leaders, for individuals. Now I still strongly believe in the power of prayer, but I do not feel this is currently where my main focus is to be. Sometimes God calls us to different ministries at different stages of our lives, I believe. But I remember vividly those many hours spent praying at our church, alone and with others. And I soon became aware of a strange mixture of joy, sadness and gratitude within—as well as nostalgia for times past.

On other shelves, I found books on counselling, pastoral care, church leadership, women in ministry, worship and missions. Memories of those college years surfaced again, along with those spent fully involved in all areas touched on in these books. Some of these I am still passionate about, although in different ways and in different settings. I know that is okay, but those mixed emotions still surfaced.

In the middle of another shelf, I noticed my own six novels and one memoir, all published since 2007. I paused and was again overwhelmed at God’s abundant grace at work in my life in these writing and speaking years. But then my eyes ranged over the many other novels and memoir/biographies on my shelves—most of which have enjoyed much greater popularity and contain far more exciting stories than mine. I sighed, as envy and self-doubt began to flood in.

I decided to step back and ask God for a better perspective on it all. And soon I began to see the wonderful variety of reading experiences there, in the midst of which my own books truly did belong. I also saw books I currently enjoy—gems on contemplation and on experiencing God’s presence, some written by Christians centuries ago. I saw helpful books on writing and creativity. I saw new releases alongside older novels I have recently re-read and loved all over again. I saw so much richness in books both old and new on those shelves. And I gave thanks, realising they have all been part of the tapestry of my life, with no one section more important than the other.

Yes, my book culling task might still be daunting, but not depressing. God is there with me as I work and remember, whispering to me, giving me perspective, filling me with gratitude and grace.

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Psalm 25:15

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Jo 17Is there some particular virtue or positive personality trait you truly admire and wish you could demonstrate more often? Perhaps you’ve noticed it in others and felt ashamed you had so little of it. It could be kindness. Or generosity. Or patience. Or loyalty. Or, as in my case … um … a good, healthy dose of humility!

I am in the right profession, I believe, to acquire more of this commodity. After all, it doesn’t take long as a writer to discover not everyone is going to like one’s books. This is quite understandable—especially given I myself am choosy about what books I read. Yet, being a published author can also add to one’s sense of consequence at times. I admit there is something nice about seeing my name on a book cover. And it is always gratifying to hear how readers have enjoyed or been moved by my books. This is fine, I guess—providing I don’t allow myself to become puffed up with pride and providing I remember God is the source of any gifts or abilities I might have.

At a recent training day, I noticed how some wise Christian leaders I have known for years conducted themselves with great humility. They did not seek any real acknowledgement. Instead, they seemed sincerely interested in everyone around them and spoke to them with gentleness and grace. Add this to several examples I have noticed lately in Scripture and—well, I get the message!

In Mark 5, I read how Jesus healed the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. Heedless of his own reputation, Jesus cared enough about this ostracised woman to speak gracious, affirming words to her and heal her. He then raised up the synagogue ruler’s daughter, even after those present laughed at him when he maintained she was only asleep. As we read on, we see how Jesus, after sending the people away and allowing only the child’s parents and his disciples into the room, ‘gave strict orders not to let anyone know’ what had happened (5:43). Did those who laughed ever discover what actually unfolded or honour Jesus at all for this miracle?

Next, I read John 2, where Jesus changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. To me, this seemed to be done quietly and with minimum fuss, since only the servants knew where that wine had come from. Yes, we are told ‘his disciples put their faith in him’ as a result (2:11), but did that master of the banquet or the bridegroom ever discover who was responsible for such an amazing miracle, let alone believe in Jesus?

Then I read in Luke 17:11-19 how ten lepers received healing, after Jesus spoke to them and sent them to the priests. Yet only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank him and to praise God. Did those other nine ever acknowledge what Jesus had done for them? Yet Jesus’ only concern seems to be that they did not see the need to return and give praise to God (17:18) for their healing.

Yes, such humility is a huge challenge to me—but oh so appealing and important, don’t you think?

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5

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Jo 12I was glad no one else could see me. There I was in my kitchen, kneading my latest batch of play dough into a lovely, squishy ball. I had coloured it bright blue for our grandson and knew I should put it in a container to keep it from drying out. But it was okay to play with it for a while … wasn’t it?

Later, I went to my study, where I had stored some toys our older granddaughters had bequeathed us for their younger cousins to play with. Now I decided these toys needed very slow and careful sorting … well, didn’t they? Oh, look—here was a whole playground to assemble, with ‘Little People’ who fitted in cars and on swings and little tricycles! And here in a box was something called an ‘Imaginarium’—a miniature wooden village, with train tracks leading here and there and a little pink train with carriages that joined together via magnets and some tiny cars and some people and trees and … And there was ‘Mr Potato Head’, with eyes and noses and arms and legs to attach!

Hmm.

I had such fun. I ignored all those other tasks awaiting my attention and allowed myself to enjoy the moment. No grandchildren to interrupt my play and want whatever it was I had. No grown-up children around to laugh and shake their heads at their mother. Not even any other adults in sight to wonder—and perhaps be a little jealous?

Was it a waste of time? Definitely not. Because, in the midst of my play, an answer Jesus once gave in response to a question about who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven came to mind.

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3

I have been a Christian a long time. Yet I am still called to have that childlike faith that simply believes and trusts and enjoys the company of my heavenly Father. I need to recognise his voice and listen to what he says. I need to talk with him and laugh and cry with him—perhaps even play with him a little? Maybe then, I will become more like him.

This week, I read again the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Zacchaeus was a wealthy, important, grown man. Yet he was so eager to check out Jesus that he did something quite childish and climbed a tree to get a better view. Imagine how he felt when Jesus stopped right under where he was, called him by name and informed him he needed to come to his place! At once, we are told, Zacchaeus, in full view of everyone, came down from that tree and welcomed Jesus gladly. And the result?

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham.” Luke 19:9

I might be past climbing trees these days. But I hope I will always be that child at heart who will do anything to see Jesus more clearly and continue to trust him in childlike faith.

How about you?

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Jo 12It was a beautiful, sunny day—too beautiful to spend at my desk. So from time to time, I took myself outside and pottered around in our garden, pulling out weeds near our letterbox. As I did, I reflected on how little personal mail comes for me these days. I remembered how, when our children were young, I would pounce on those letters from family members far away and relish sitting down to read them. No internet back then—and no mobile phones for those quick texts back and forth either. In fact, we did not even have a home phone at that stage. I remembered my mother’s letters, always written on both sides of small, lined sheets of thin paper, and sighed.

But what was I doing, standing there on such a beautiful day, feeling so nostalgic? Those times were long gone. At that point, I realised I had not actually checked the letterbox. I reached inside—and there was a letter, addressed to me in handwriting I did not immediately recognise. Probably someone ordering one of my books, I decided, as I tucked the letter in my pocket and continued weeding for a while.

Eventually, I went inside and opened it. It was written in gold on black paper—and it was from our son. It was, in fact, a thank you letter, putting into words various things he appreciated about our relationship and the way he had been brought up. So many lovely things, written simply and clearly in his own unique way. I re-read his words several times, allowing them to sink in and touch my heart. Yes, those tears did well up at times, but not from sadness. Instead, I was filled with joy and gratitude at such an unexpected, affirming gift.

I sit here now, perusing that letter once again. Over the years, our daughters too have expressed similar thoughts, face to face or via little messages, as they have thanked me for my ongoing support and efforts on their behalf. Of course, I would never think of doing anything less than my best for our children—yet I reflect on how heart-warming it is to be thanked anyway.

Then I glance out my window at the blue, blue sky and the trees bending in the breeze and realise how often I overlook expressing my own heartfelt thanks to my heavenly Father, not only for the beauty of this world but for everything else I have been given in my life. I know God loves me unconditionally. I know God has rescued me. I know God walks with me day by day. I have experienced all this grace and goodness from my heavenly Father—and so much more. Yet how often do I take it all for granted, as if it was somehow my right to receive, rather than all gift?

So right now today, Lord, I remember all your loving-kindness to me. My words seem trite, but my heart overflows with thankfulness. You are a great, great God, so worthy of all praise and honour and thanks—and I love you.

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 …  Psalm 95:1-2

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