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Archive for March, 2016

2016-03-19 19.35.45In the past two weeks, I have attended two quite different musical performances—one in the Sydney Opera House and another at a local church. At the Opera House, I joined around two thousand others in a feast of nostalgia and good old British patriotism at a ‘Last Night of the Proms’ concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Choirs. The program contained an interesting mix of stirring marches, waltzes, operatic arias, an excerpt from My Fair Lady, a solemn choral piece performed at Princess Diana’s funeral and some jaunty, British sea songs—so many emotions all rolled into one experience.

Then, at the end, we were invited to join in the rousing chorus of Rule, Britannia, which everyone did with great gusto. This was followed by Jerusalem, again with audience participation. But then came Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March, during which the audience rose to their feet, burst into the chorus of Land of Hope and Glory, threw streamers and waved the little Aussie flags we had each been given. What an experience!

Yet amidst all the carrying-on, I sensed some deep emotions too. There was certainly much patriotism on display and perhaps a longing for times past when Britain truly did ‘rule the waves’ and when the ‘mother of the free’ did look to become even mightier. For me personally, it also stirred many memories of hearing these songs in my home as a child. Even the rousing rendition of God Save the Queen at the beginning of the concert brought back vivid recollections of standing to attention in school assemblies, not daring to move or talk.

Then came my second musical treat—a performance of excerpts from Handel’s Messiah on Good Friday by around eighty choristers, along with soloists, pipe organ and orchestra. Again, this performance brought back many memories of past years when I sang in such performances myself. But beyond that, I was surprised at the depth of emotion I felt as I listened to the beautiful music once again, along with those stirring words of Scripture. I felt the tears forming as I heard the haunting question sung by the excellent young tenor—Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto his sorrow? But it was when everyone rose to their feet for the Hallelujah Chorus that I realised the depth of emotion many people present seemed to feel as they heard those words from the last book of the Bible ring out with joy—And he shall reign forever and ever, King of kings, forever, hallelujah! And Lord of Lords, forever, hallelujah!

So … in the space of a week, I had the opportunity to rise to my feet and sing the praises of both the old British Empire and the King of Kings! Now, while I have nothing against Britain, I hope I was much more fervent about the latter than the former. Thrones and empires pass away, after all—but our risen Lord will reign victorious forever and ever! May this stir us all not only to rise to our feet but to honour and bless the Lord from the depths of our hearts—forever and ever.

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain … to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing! Revelation 5:12-13

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Jo 17I wonder how you feel in this week leading up to Easter. Do you look forward to Good Friday and Easter Sunday? Or is it an extra busy time for you, with no opportunity to slow down and spend some quiet moments with God?

For me as Easter approaches, I often feel as if I need to hold my breath, knowing something momentous is about to happen—as if the world is teetering on the brink of a huge catastrophe. And along with this come several conflicting emotions. It’s a bit like when I am facing some challenging event in my life. I can feel excited, perhaps even elated, as I picture myself overcoming whatever obstacle lies ahead. But I can also experience those butterflies in my stomach and even deep misgivings and uncertainty.

Then there is that mixture of emotions I experience as I look around at the way our world approaches Easter. For those who do not believe in Jesus Christ, these days are merely religious festivals for someone else to celebrate, with the bonus of public holidays here at least for everyone. I feel sadness for them—they are missing out on so much. For some, it’s all about family fun, with perhaps a visit to the Easter Show here in Sydney, along with consuming those mounds of chocolate Easter eggs. I love that they enjoy themselves, but feel sad for them too, that they are missing the main point of Easter.

For others, including us, Easter involves taking time personally and at church services to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection—and of course spoiling our grandkids with those Easter eggs too! Yet even at those Easter services, I often find myself experiencing some further conflicting emotions. At times, I feel as if I am short-changing God. Am I once again failing to grasp the full significance of Jesus’ sacrifice and the triumph of his resurrection? Yes, it may well be beyond our comprehension—but am I taking it all too lightly?

On top of that, I can feel overwhelmed with the thought that the crucifixion is the end result of what we did to God, through our disobedience and unbelief. We turned and went our own way—yet God reached out to us and responded in love and grace. What a roller coaster of emotions this brings! Feelings of sorrow for sin are surmounted by thankfulness at the generosity of God, as I reflect on this forgiveness I could never deserve but simply need to receive in repentance and trust.

Yet none of the emotions I might experience come anywhere near the pain and horror Jesus must have experienced as he made his way to the cross. And no doubt my joy and thankfulness come nowhere near what Jesus experienced as he came to life and talked and ate with his disciples. So this Easter, I plan to enter as deeply as I can once again into Jesus’ journey on my behalf, to experience all those emotions  and allow them to draw me so much closer to our loving God. Surely it is the least I can do, in the light of such love.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

It is true! The Lord has risen … Luke 24:34

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Jo 17Sometimes it’s easy in life, isn’t it, to become bogged down in the problems and issues facing us in this present moment. We may feel they are insurmountable, that we will never find our way through the things pressing in upon us. Yet, time and time again, we do overcome, our situations do change and we do find enough strength and courage to make our way through to the other side, with God’s help and the support of others around us.

I mentioned this recently to a mum of pre-schoolers who was feeling exhausted and also puzzled about how to manage things like toilet training, two-year-old tantrums, sleep times and the myriad of other challenges involved in raising children.

‘It doesn’t last forever,’ I told her. ‘The day will come when you won’t remember the details of this part of your life.’

My airy statement was met with a somewhat doubtful expression, however. And I can understand that, because I have experienced times like this in my own life. Even now, in similar situations, I still need to remind myself to see this part of my life as just that—part of my life—and to put things in better perspective.  And I also often remind myself of the opening words of a prayer/poem usually attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador:

It helps now and then to step back

                         And take the long view

But it is not only about seeing future possibilities and realising this period will not last forever. Equally important is looking back and remembering all the other difficult situations we have come through and the way God helped us and provided for us in these times.

This past week, I read Psalm 105 again. What a reminder to God’s people, both then and now, to remember how God has moved in our lives, blessing and rescuing us time and time again! The psalm begins:

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength seek his face always. Psalm 105:1-3

It goes on to remind the Israelites how God moved throughout history to honour the covenant made with Abraham, down through Isaac, Jacob and Joseph to Moses, bringing them out of Egypt, leading them through the desert, providing food and water along the way—and eventually, enabling the next generation to enter the promised land. Then, right at the end of this sweeping overview of Israelite history, we find three little words—Praise the Lord (45).

Yes, ‘Praise the Lord’ has become something of an old-fashioned, hackneyed phrase these days. Yet what an important reminder to us to look back and praise God for watching over us throughout our life’s journey, no doubt rescuing us along the way from all sorts of things we know nothing about. And, as in the past, God will continue to watch over us, seeing us through life’s challenges.

How good it is to step back at times, take the long view and gain something of God’s perspective on our lives!

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12801188_10153370942846709_6303442265014422707_nLife can be difficult for a four-year-old at times. After all, what is he going to do when his little sister puts on her gorgeous fairy outfit, complete with wings, little pink headband and a wand with ribbons? Who says little boys can’t wear something like that? But his sister absolutely loves it and is dancing around with it on. Should he try to get it off her by force? Should he ask nicely if he can have a turn? Or should he let her have it and be happy with his own toys?

What a dilemma! His ever resourceful mum reminds him about his very own cute Spiderman suit, which he loves—but he still likes the look of that fairy costume. In the end, a compromise is reached when his little sister decides to wear a funny striped hat instead of her little pink starry ‘feelers’ and lets her brother share her outfit. Peace reigns—well, for the moment anyway!

I suspect even us grown-ups have trouble at times choosing between two or more desirable things or 1920266_10153370943031709_4007177900362672850_ntwo different courses of action. Currently, I try to refrain from eating anything containing sugar, like cakes and desserts. So what does one do at one’s granddaughter’s second birthday party, when faced with a choice between a marshmallow-covered Doc McStuffins birthday cake, a delicious raspberry cheese cake and some fresh fruit? I’ll leave you to guess!

Of course, we all face much more challenging choices in life than the above. In my final high school years, I chose to study subjects that steered me in a particular direction—far away from Science and Maths! At university, I chose to major in modern languages, with Classical Greek thrown in for good measure. And in that Greek class, I met the man I later chose as my life partner! Throughout these years, I also chose some wonderful friends. But, before all that, I chose to follow Christ, committing my life to him when I was fifteen. And that decision changed things for me forever.

Yes, choosing to follow Christ may be in response to God’s choosing to call us, as Jesus made clear to his disciples (John 15:16). But we still have a choice whether to turn and receive God’s gift of grace or to go our own way in life. And when we do choose God’s way, we continue to face daily decisions as to how we live out our faith. We may wake up tired and a little disheartened, for example—but we can choose to remember God is with us and step into our day with courage, in the power of God’s Spirit. We may go to give that angry retort or make a disparaging remark about someone or pass on some gossip—but, in each of these moments, we have a choice whether to blurt it out or button our lips.

It’s all about listening to God, being sensitive to that check in our spirits, then choosing to do what honours God. Yes, this can be a challenge, but in the end, it’s the wisest way, don’t you think?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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I wonder how you view your life—what you are here on this earth to do or to be. It’s an important question, don’t you think? So often, we forge on from week to week, rushing here and there, doing our best just to stay afloat in the midst of our busy schedules. And, in the process, we can so easily forget the bigger picture. Where are we heading? Where does God fit in the scheme of things for us? What is the purpose of it all?

Last week, I was given plenty of opportunity to reflect on these questions, when my husband and I attended the private cremation of a good friend, Vaughan Bowie, and also his thanksgiving service. Now Vaughan had done much in his life. He had such a heart for people, but especially for those on the edge of society, those needing a helping hand in some way, those suffering violence and injustice. He listened to them, spent time reaching out to them, including them in his life. Despite his own personal struggles, he cared for others in very practical ways. And he did it all, not only because these were good things to do, but also because he loved God and wanted to show that same love to others. He cared about their life here and now. But he also cared about their eternal destiny.

Vaughan Bowie

Vaughan Bowie

I watched with sadness during the final committal prayer at the crematorium, as an opaque curtain began to close, partially hiding our friend’s coffin from view. I could still see the special photo of him that had been placed on the coffin—one in which he was smiling, eyes alight with joy. Yes, this was our friend who often used to come to our door to walk with my husband but who was always ready to chat with me too and ask how my writing was going. Then, moments later in that chapel, a heavier curtain obscured his photo completely—a final, gentle reminder that Vaughan was indeed gone from us.

At that point, I saw my own life in much clearer perspective. Our friend had touched so many during his time on this earth, accepting them, loving them and endeavouring to give them hope and encouragement. What had I done with the years I had been given? Was I now living in a way that showed love and care for others and brought glory to God? Or was I becoming weighed down with the little things of life that don’t really matter in the long run?

I look down now at the front page of the order of service from Vaughan’s thanksgiving service. On it are quoted Jesus’ own words from the parable of the talents:

Well done, good and faithful servant! … Enter into the joy of your master. Matthew 25:21

I’m sure our friend has heard those words again from Jesus, as he was welcomed into heaven. And I know I want to hear them too when my journey on this earth is over. In the meantime, however, like our friend, I want to live a life that blesses others, that makes a difference in this world and that also bears fruit for eternity.

How about you?  Is that your perspective in life too?

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