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Archive for December, 2015

I love our New South Wales Christmas Bush. Several years ago, our son and daughter-in-law gave me one which I planted with great joy. But it never grew beyond around twenty-five centimetres, producing only a few stems of those beautiful, dusky pink blooms each year. So I gave up on it and planted a beautiful grevillea close by, which soon flourished. I still left that little Christmas Bush there, however—just in case!

Eventually, we decided to have a large, non-native tree growing nearby removed. It needed to go, for various reasons, and, as soon as it did, our lovely grevillea began to lose its sideways lean, which it had developed in order to avoid the shadow of the big tree next to it. As we carefully pruned the grevillea, its foliage thickened and, after a while, the whole shrub began to gain a more normal shape.

P1040312But something else happened as well. That poor, stunted Christmas Bush beneath the grevillea took on a new lease of life. With great determination, it decided it wanted to make its way through the branches of the grevillea and onwards and upwards towards the sun! Now this involved its central trunk performing a distinct swing to the left at one point and a perfect right-angled turn before it could head for the sky. Yet, with surprising swiftness in those months after seeing and feeling the sun again, this is what it did.

Then in October this year, I noticed little blossoms beginning to emerge all over the topmost branches of my hitherto very tiny Christmas Bush. My heart sank—was it all happening too soon? Would all those lovely dusky red and pink flowers have disappeared well before Christmas?

I kept observing my bush closely in the weeks ahead. And yes, by the time Christmas finally arrived, there were myriads of little blossoms just
waiting for me to pick them. With great joy, I prepared a huge boP1040311uquet for a long-time friend who loves Christmas Bush too and always buys some to decorate her home for Christmas. And, with equal joy, I picked a large bunch to put in our lounge room and another to decorate the table where we would eat our Christmas meal.

I have to say I enjoy my particular Christmas Bush, not only because of its lovely foliage but also because of the way it overcame all obstacles to get to that sunlight and stand strong and tall. For me, it is like a little daily parable, as I gaze at it from our kitchen windows above. It reminds me to keep on reaching out to Jesus, to seek always to turn my face up to the Son and to find strength and nourishment for my own growth and wellbeing, as well as for any ministry I might undertake. Then my words will hopefully bless others, just as my Christmas Bush is blessing us right now.

May 2016 be a year when you too continue to turn your face to the Son, experience his love and grace in a fresh way and grow so much more in God as a result.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

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Jo 12One day recently, I sat down at the piano, wanting to play something but unsure what. There was my own music—an eclectic mix of classical works, sacred and gospel songs, albums from hit musicals, pop songs from the sixties! There were piano pieces our children used to play, along with pop songs of their day. There were albums of waltzes and other dance music belonging to my mother, along with popular piano classics I liked to hear her play as a child. And there was my grandfather’s music too—classical tenor solos and Scottish and Irish ballads, their pages mottled with age. I was spoilt for choice.

In the end, I decided on some popular piano classics from my mother’s era. And, as soon as those inexpert notes of mine began to ring out, there too were the memories of hearing them all those years ago. I then tackled some of my grandfather’s old music—and immediately I was transported back to my grandparents’ lounge room when I used to stumble through these same songs for hours on end, on the same old piano now in our own lounge.

Yet, while all this music was familiar to me, I found myself playing it in a fresh and different way. It was as if I was approaching each piece with more maturity, even though my playing is now quite rusty. And, to my surprise, I began to appreciate little nuances in those phrases and chords I doubt I noticed in previous years. I stumbled often, but the whole experience turned out to be so enjoyable and fulfilling all over again on a different level.

Later that week, wondering what I should read next, I browsed through some favourites on my bookshelves. There were those old Elizabeth Goudge novels I could lose myself in all over again—and, nearby, a whole shelf of Kate Morton and Maeve Binchy and Rosemary Pilcher novels that also beckoned me. But then I saw, tucked away, the very first of Jan Karon’s Mitford Series. Just the sort of pleasant, lighter novel I was looking for, I decided. I had forgotten the quaint village setting and the charming characters it contains and I am looking forward to enjoying them once again.

But in these few days before Christmas, I am also looking forward to reflecting on another familiar but much more important story all over again— the story of the Christ Child born in Bethlehem, of Joseph and Mary, of the angels, the shepherds and the wise men, as told by Luke. Each year, I re-read this story with awe and wonder. And, each year, I am blown away, not only with fresh insights, but with the very fact that God became man and chose to live among us.

So this Christmas, may you too find time to reflect on that well-known Christmas story, see it with fresh eyes and experience the love of God in your heart all over again–and at an even deeper and more wonderful level.

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

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Jo 12Don’t tell anyone—but I have a strong suspicion I might be getting a little … well … ahem … old! This Christmas, as I have listened to parents talking about the plethora of end-of-year events they have had to take their children to and how busy they are in the lead-up to Christmas, I have felt tired even hearing about it all, let alone doing it!

I wonder how busy your own lead-up to Christmas has been. For us right now, it is nowhere near as hectic as it was in past years—particularly those years when our own children needed to be at all sorts of end-of-year celebrations. Yet, for some odd reason, I still find myself just that bit too stressed as Christmas approaches. And, however much I am determined not to, I can so easily begin to forget what we are supposed to be celebrating in this festive season.

So what things cause me to forget, at least to some degree, what those festivities are all about? For me, the first is the challenge of getting the right presents for everyone. What if our gifts for each grandchild don’t look enough?? What if they don’t like what I bought them? What if they already have this game or that book? As for the parents, what if they think my presents are plain unimaginative—the same ones I come up with each year? What if they truly don’t want what I give them? What if I haven’t spent an equal amount on each of them?

Then there is that little matter of something to feed everyone for Christmas lunch and dinner. Even though we don’t have a huge family to cater for, I still find myself thinking, ‘What if we don’t have enough? What if it’s all a bit ordinary? What if I forget something? What if no one likes the special dessert I plan to make? What if …?’ On and on it goes.

Yet, once I take a moment to step back and analyse what is going on in my own mind, I have to laugh at myself. And one day last week, God helped me do this in a big way, when I came across Psalm 39:5-6 in ‘The Passion’ translation of the Bible:

What a brief time you’ve given me to live! Compared to you my lifetime is nothing at all! Nothing more than a puff of air, I’m gone so swiftly. And so too are the grandest of men; they are nothing but a fleeting shadow! … All our activities and energies are spent for things that pass away. We gather, we hoard, we cling to our things, only to leave them all behind for who knows who.”

Here was I, using what little time I have on this earth to worry over things that don’t really matter. Here was I, forgetting to focus on celebrating the wonderful gift of Emanuel, God with us, all for the sake of a few material gifts that won’t last anyway. How ludicrous!

So this Christmas, before my own ‘puff of air’ expires entirely, I’m determined, in the midst of all the celebrating and gift-giving, to remember what our festivities are all about and truly welcome the Son of God amongst us. How about you?

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Jo 17I quite enjoy Christmas shopping, on the whole—although I may not like those crowds or those occasions when I can’t quite find the right gift for someone. But one thing I definitely don’t enjoy is witnessing those little family fights that seem to occur at times—like the one I saw last week in our local shopping centre:

Young boy in loud, demanding voice, clutching a particular toy:  ‘I want this, Mum!’

Mum, in tired, resigned tone:  ‘Well … you can’t have it.’

Young boy, now in bullying mode:  ‘But I want it. You’re buying it for me!’

Mum in angry, slightly fearful tone:  ‘No, I’m not! If you want it, then you have to use your own money. And you forgot to bring your wallet, so put it back!

Young, now very sulky boy:  ‘I’m not putting it back, so there! I’m having it—you buy it for me!’

On and on it went—until I decided I needed to leave. I felt embarrassed for this mum and sorry for her, but also a little sick. And, sad to say, I also suspect this young man did get his toy in the end.

As I went about the rest of my shopping, I decided to make a special effort to smile and encourage those around me, particularly any trying to shop with children in tow. To my surprise, those smiles often led to good conversations—even with a tired staff member at the check-out. All round, this made for a much more pleasant shopping experience, I decided.

The following day, my husband and granddaughter came home with a little gift for me from their own shopping venture. It was a pretty, spiral-backed journal featuring an interesting suggestion on the cover that read:

Leave a little sparkle wherever you go.

That’s a nice concept, I thought. It could even be one way to describe what I was trying to do at the shopping centre last week. Yet, was it really enough? In the end, I decided I’d like any sparkle I might leave behind not only to be pleasant and attractive but also to have a little bit of lasting impact from God. And that’s when I remembered some verses I love from one of Peter’s letters:

Each one should use whatever gift he (she) has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he (she) should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he (she) should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4: 10-11

Years ago, I remember hearing a speaker describe the act of using our God-given gifts as showering others with ‘little droplets of God’s grace’ and thus partnering with God in refreshing others. What a lovely image! And how privileged we are that God has entrusted us to administer or give out this amazing grace to those around us!

Next time I’m shopping, I plan to watch out for that extra harassed mum or that bored child or that exhausted shop assistant or that lonely person, pray for them, then shower them with those little droplets of God’s grace however I can. That’s the very best sparkle to leave behind, don’t you think?

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Jo 12I wonder if you are like me and enjoy watching people at airports, as they welcome home relatives or friends. Sometimes these reunions can be quieter, more restrained affairs. And sometimes, they can be big and noisy, with excited family members yelling and waving ‘Welcome Home’ balloons. But, whether loud or quiet, it is the joy that lights up the faces of both those arriving and those greeting them that I love to see. And I feel sad when someone walks out that airport door and there is no one present who shows any delight in their arrival.

One afternoon each week, we pick up our two young grandchildren from their day care centre. Currently, when Zain sees me arrive, he runs towards me, with a wonderful, beaming smile that lights up his face, and gives me a huge hug around my legs.

‘Hello, Nanna!’ he yells, his pleasure obvious to all.

But Maxine’s greeting is somewhat different—and somewhat more subdued. When she first catches sight of me, for a brief moment, her face often registers almost shocked recognition. Then a long, blank stare follows, until finally she turns away, as if she is too interested in something she is playing with. Yet she knows I’m there—and would be more than a little annoyed if I did not pick her up and cuddle her! She might be determined to ignore me, yet, in her own way, she is delighted I am there.

These different forms of welcome came to mind recently while reading Psalm 24 in The Passion Translation, a very readable, new version that attempts to convey God’s passion for people and touch our hearts in a deep, life-changing way. In verses 3-6, I read:

Who, then, ascends into the presence of the Lord? And who has the privilege of entering into God’s Holy Place? Those whose hearts are true and sealed by the truth, those who never deceive, whose words are sure. They will receive the Lord’s blessing and righteousness given by the Savior-God. They will stand before God. For they seek the pleasure of God’s face, the God of Jacob.

Have you ever thought about the whole concept of seeking God’s face? If you have, I wonder what expression you believe it might hold. Perhaps you envisage a rather unwelcoming, disapproving one that lets you know straight away how far you have fallen short in your life. Perhaps you even envisage one that is quite distant and uninterested, because you are too insignificant to bother about.

Or perhaps you might have a far different picture in mind. Perhaps you already have a foretaste of this warm welcome here and now, whenever you choose to be with God. Perhaps you, like me, envisage God’s face to be one that radiates not only splendour and holiness, but also great delight and always such a warm, loving welcome. Perhaps you, like me, recognise that acceptance there on God’s face because of Jesus, our Saviour, that deep understanding of our heart’s desire to live with purity and integrity and that constant, compassionate offer of forgiveness to each one of us.

What a welcome we can receive each day in God’s presence! Can you imagine what it will be like then when we meet God face to face at last?

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