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Archive for February, 2016

Jo 17When our phone rang early one recent Sunday morning, I knew it could not be good news. One of our daughters was calling to tell us their unit had been broken into during the night while they were there asleep and lots of things had been stolen, including wallets, handbag, TV, laptop, mobile phones, wedding ring, as well as all their keys. And they have no household insurance cover.

Where to start in dealing with such an event? The police had already been called, but now, in a hurry, they needed to find out how to cancel credit cards. Then they had to track down a locksmith to change the locks. In the days that have elapsed since then, more things have been discovered missing and more paperwork has had to be done and more running around to fix up this and that.

Our daughter and her husband are not well off and have two small children. They are a struggling young family with a mortgage, trying to meet all their financial obligations in life. On top of that, our son-in-law is studying in his spare time. Yes, they both have jobs, but are not highly paid, so any money or possessions they have are valued and hard won. But when they were robbed, while they were aghast at what they had lost and are still reeling at the thought of how they will pay for it all, they both reached the same key conclusion. What they had lost is only ‘stuff’. Yes, it is important ‘stuff’—especially money! Yet they are safe—and that is the main thing. If they had come out into the living area when things were being taken, who knows what could have happened?

Also, through this whole unpleasant experience, we have seen what a difference the kindness and generosity of others can make. Some have offered the loan or gift of a mobile phone. Some have brought meals. Others have given money. And one family even delivered a spare large TV to them. There is nothing like people helping people, showing God’s love via practical help, is there? Each in their own way, these folk too have realised the importance of relationship with others over hanging onto material possessions.

Truly, the material things we have around us are so temporary. One day we have them—the next, they may be gone. How easily our family can relate to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21 right now:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.

In 2 Corinthians 4:18, the Apostle Paul also writes:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I’m so glad there will be no jarring wake up call to tell us those unseen heavenly treasures have gone missing, because God has promised they are eternal and will be there, waiting for us. How blessed we truly are when we set our hearts on God!

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Jo 12‘It’s all so neat and clean and bright!’ our daughter exclaimed, as she gazed around during our drive home across Sydney from the airport. For a moment, I wondered if she was in too jet-lagged a state to see things clearly. None of the neighbourhoods we were driving through seemed too outstanding to me. In fact, several houses we were passing clearly needed some TLC.

Now our daughter happens to live in one of the western suburbs where people from many from different ethnic backgrounds face considerable economic challenges in life. It is quite a presentable area, in my opinion, yet ‘neat’, ‘clean’ and ‘bright’ might well not be adjectives that immediately spring to mind when describing it as a whole. But you see, our daughter had just returned from visiting her husband’s hometown in Africa. No, the people there are not dirty or untidy—far from it. They are warm, hospitable, family-oriented folk who are proud of their country. Yet they do have to contend with all the challenges that come from living in a very hot, dry, dusty area, where the roads are unsealed and where most yards are not covered in grass, as they are here. Any wonder then that our daughter was shocked by those neat, green lawns and footpaths she saw as we drove home.

Almost in unison, we commented how thankful we should be for all this country of ours has to offer. We might not live in the best suburbs of Sydney, but we have much to be grateful for.

Then today, I received my own personal reminder not to take things for granted. I was not in the best of moods as I set out on my regular walk. It was hot and sticky and I had lots to do at home. But I soon passed a gentleman heading the other way who smiled and greeted me—and then I noticed he had a pronounced limp and his right arm was bent and shrivelled up. I continued on, humbled and well aware I had nothing to complain about but every reason to be thankful I do not have a shrivelled arm or a limp like his.

At that point, I began to wonder how many more of God’s blessings I take for granted each day, including those huge spiritual blessings I have received. How often, for example, do I take for granted the amazing honour of being God’s child?  Or how often do I read those treasures in God’s Word and experience the delight of God’s presence, yet so easily decide God can wait when I am too busy? After all, God is faithful and forgiving and will always be there for me.

Recently, I almost laughed aloud when I read the final verse of Psalm 89 in ‘The Passion’ translation. It follows on after more than a dozen verses in which the author grumbles about his lot, even challenging God with the question, ‘So God, where is all the love and kindness you promised us? (49) But then comes this simple, heartfelt, closing statement:

Nevertheless, blessed be our God forever and ever. (52)

Yes, we may have struggles and difficulties. But may we too always find it in our hearts to bless God. May we not take things for granted, but instead give thanks, whatever is happening in our lives.

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Recently, I received a special birthday gift—a voucher from our daughter and her husband for a restaurant I had always wanted to try but felt was beyond our budget. They could ill afford such a gift, yet I knew they gave it in love and wanted my husband and me to enjoy the whole experience.

I made a booking and looked forward to our dinner out with great anticipation, studying the menu online beforehand and deciding how best to use every last cent of that voucher! We also hoped we would do our special meal justice—we had never tasted some of the more exotic o2016-01-27 19.30.08fferings before.

When we arrived, we were escorted to a table overlooking the nearby river and small inlet. It had been raining, but the clouds and the filtered light of the setting sun only added depth to the beautiful panorama before us. Manicured lawns sloped down to the public park near the water’s edge. Ferries passed at regular intervals, while smaller boats bobbed around in the bay below. Inside the restaurant, the sandstone walls and white linen tablecloths glowed, as candles were lit. What a privilege to be enjoying this moment, I thought, given in love by our daughter and her family!

The manager kindly answered our questions and we made our selections. Then, as we waited for our meal, I sat back and decided to forget about what it had cost our daughter and her husband and simply appreciate it all.  Even now, as I remember the main course that soon arrived, my mouth waters. Succulent, flavoursome, cooked to perfection and served with2016-01-27 20.35.24 elegance—a treat for the eyes and the taste buds. As for the dessert—well, anyone for a light, tempting, melt-in-your-mouth mango soufflé?

Yet at times that evening, I found myself struggling with some strange, doubt-filled thoughts. Did I deserve such a special meal? Was it okay for us even to be here in this top-class restaurant? Were we merely interlopers in someone else’s world, pretending we belonged? After all, we weren’t about to pay for our meal. Perhaps they would throw us out any moment! But then, as sanity returned, I realised someone had paid for our special dining experience—and that they truly wanted me to enjoy it.

It was not until later that I realised how this whole experience was like a mini-parable of God’s amazing grace in reaching out to me, freely forgiving me and accepting me through Jesus.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God … Ephesians 2:8

What an enormous ‘voucher’ was extended to me that day on the cross, paid for by God’s own Son! Yes, I am unworthy to receive it. Yet how sad it would be if I were to refuse such a loving, gracious gift and resist walking into all the freedom and joy of living as God’s child! Refusing to enjoy the gift of a beautiful meal is one thing, but refusing to accept the gift of God’s grace is a much, much greater tragedy.

May you and I receive God’s gift with open, grateful hearts and continue to live each day in the joy of belonging to the family of God.

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Jo 17It always amazes me how easily some momentary sight or sound or smell can trigger a great gust of memories in us. Often these involve places or people we thought were long forgotten. But no, there they hide, ready to pop their heads up, given any little morsel of encouragement.

Last week, memories of my grandfather surfaced on two occasions. On 26th January, as Australia celebrated, I remembered it would have been his birthday and how he could not resist telling us grandchildren that we had a public holiday in honour of this fact!

My second memory of him seemed to pop out of nowhere, as I was out walking. Perhaps it was the time of day or the sight of the nearby university grounds that triggered vivid memories of the many walks we took together on Sunday afternoons during my growing up years in Brisbane. At times, I was his reluctant companion. Yet I never liked to see him—a white-haired man in his late seventies and early eighties by then—set out alone.

My grandfather would often let me decide where we would go. Sometimes, we would walk long distances from our house in Toowong—perhaps down to the Brisbane River or even as far as the beautiful grounds of the University of Queensland at St Lucia. At other times, we would stick closer to home and head to the big cemetery not far away or through the old Chinaman’s garden down the road or along a bush track beside a nearby school and around the adjacent oval. And as we walked, we would talk about so many different things.

Did my chatter bore him? I suspect it did often. Yet I don’t remember being bored by the things he told me. I looked on him as such a wise, experienced gentleman—not averse to keeping us grandchildren in line, but someone who I knew loved me and wanted the best for me. Often, he would call me ‘girlie’—and, to this day, whenever I hear or read this term, I am back there beside my grandfather and my heart is warmed.

At the beginning of each year, my heart is also warmed in a different way as I remember another voice that speaks continually into my life. Each January, I go through my journal from the previous year where I jotted down Scripture verses or some insightful statement from a book or something I sensed God saying. And each time, I am amazed at the wealth of wisdom and guidance God has given me and the blessings I have received, even in the hard times. Each time too, I see the great value of pausing and remembering—and giving thanks for God’s hand on my life.

My grandfather passed away in 1970, a long time ago now. And this week, I paused to remember him–twice. But this week, I have also been reminded that God is always ready to walk and talk with me, always listening, always reaching out—to me and to you. May we all remember this each day and be thankful.

Yet this I call to mind and there for I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23

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