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Archive for June, 2016

Jo 12I can still remember the excitement on our five year old daughter’s face many years ago now, as she sang a song to us at pre-school, before presenting us with a special, secret Christmas gift she had made. The words went something like this:

I have a secret I can’t tell – I can keep it very well.

I have a big surprise for you – ha, ha, ha, if you only knew!

She had indeed kept her secret well and derived great joy from doing so. But there are other little people in our lives right now who are not quite so good at this. Take our youngest granddaughter, for instance. Sometimes when she becomes very quiet in our kitchen, we realise she is hiding and wants us to find her. We pretend to search in cupboards and behind doors, saying loudly as we do, ‘Where could Maxine be?’ We may even hear a cute little giggle or two. Eventually, she cannot contain herself any longer.

‘I here,’ she yells, ‘I under the table!’

Recently, she hid in her own bedroom at home. As usual, I called out ‘Where could Maxine be?’ and went searching for her. Soon I heard a faint giggle emanating from a strange lump under the covers on the bunk high above her brother’s bed. Surely she couldn’t have climbed up there?

But then came that little voice, ‘I up here!’ Again, she couldn’t resist sharing her secret—she was so proud of herself!

This week, I began to wonder if I am a little like Maxine myself, after reading Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:3-4:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

I then came to verse 6:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Later, I read verses 17-18:

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Hmm. How often do I opt for receiving those fleeting, little rewards here and now rather than keeping my eyes on God? After all, I like people to be duly impressed at times by my generosity, my holiness and my self-discipline. And, being a writer, I want people to understand how many hours I spend labouring in secret over this writing project or that. I want them to know all about the blood, sweat and tears that go into writing a book. I want them to admire my patience and perseverance. I want them to think how wonderful I am, working away quietly for God.

How much wiser it would be for me to forget about trying to impress others and instead remember that the most important Person sees everything I do in secret! How much better to remember I already have a special audience of one—the One who truly matters!

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Jo 17Recently, I found myself in an interesting situation. Here I was, talking with someone who was trying to be helpful—yet, inwardly, I was feeling a little annoyed, if not downright incensed. What was going on?  It was not this person’s fault, after all. She did not know my background. Much better to close my mouth and simply listen.

I tried to be as polite as possible and hold onto the fact that this person meant well. Yet I found it so difficult. I tried to interrupt her a few times, as she continued giving me advice, but, alas, my words fell on deaf ears. Could she not consider for a moment that she might be underestimating me? I already knew all the things she was telling me. I had been putting them into practice for years and even trained others to do the same. In fact, I was willing to bet I knew much more than she did—or others she was suggesting might be able to help me.

Humph! How dare this person think I was such an ignoramus?  I was determined to show her what I knew. So, when she at last drew breath, I swooped and did just that. She smiled at me—but it was obvious she did not believe me. How could what I was saying possibly be true? After all, she was the expert.

All the way home—and for days afterwards—I hung onto my annoyance. I did not like being misjudged. I did not like my knowledge and experience being questioned or downright disbelieved. I did not like feeling so patronised. I knew there was nothing I could do about it, but it still rankled. A lot.

Then one morning, I opened my Bible and found I was up the account of John the Baptist’s ministry in Matthew 3. As I read, I was once again moved by the amazing courage and commitment John the Baptist showed in the way he lived and in his honest, straightforward preaching. And how humble he was, declaring he was merely the forerunner of someone much greater!

I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (11)

Then I came to the account of Jesus’ baptism. I tried to put myself right there in the scene and soon sensed what a huge moment of humility this must have been for both John the Baptist and Jesus. Here was John the Baptist, blurting out how embarrassed and inadequate he felt, being asked to baptise someone so much greater than he himself:

“I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (14)

And here was Jesus, the sinless Son of God, calmly and humbly responding:

“Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” (15)

At that point, I swallowed hard. Where was this wonderful humility in the way I had responded to that person a few days earlier who, after all, was only trying to help me?

Gulp! I think I got the message that morning. And I hope I have taken it to heart.

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Jo 12I wonder if you have ever been asked to do something you thought you would never do again. Did your heart jump for joy at the opportunity you were being offered? Or did it sink a little at the prospect of revisiting something you were sure you had left behind for good?

Recently, I received two requests that sent my mind hurtling back across the years. Both instances involved a brief return to different types of ministry I have carried out in the past. And, in both cases, it was an effort for me even to consider turning back the clock and taking them on. What was God on about, I wondered. Why was I being thrust into all this again? Some family and friends urged me strongly to say no—and I realised they had a point. What was I to do?

I thought and prayed about it all, hoping God would provide someone else to take my place in both instances! I had many other things to do that were already occupying most of my time. Why give myself any extra challenges? Yet, in the end, I did not feel at peace about saying no to either request. Instead, I seemed to sense God urging me to do these things and to trust that good would result.

And that is exactly what happened for me. Through revisiting the past in God’s strength and with a heart to hear God’s voice as best I could, I learnt all over again some key lessons about remembering—and forgetting.

I remembered, first of all, how God had led and enabled me back then, even when I was so green in ministry—I remembered how little I knew, yet how God came to my rescue and, in love, ministered through me. I remembered how much God taught me in those years, stretching me and challenging me to grow. I remembered how God had brought others alongside me to inspire me, to encourage me and to walk the journey with me. I had forgotten so much of what had occurred back then—yet now, just as King David commanded God’s people to do centuries ago, I remembered it all with gratitude:

Give thank 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. … Remember the wonders he has done … Psalm 105:1-2, 5

Yet I discovered I found equal joy in forgetting some things from these times too—the many difficulties encountered along the way, the blood, sweat and tears involved and, above all, the many mistakes I made. Yes, I needed to remember these things first of all and to face them. But how healing it was then to allow God to lift the burden of them off me again with such love and forgiveness and to let it all go! God has brought me so far since then, freeing me to press on and do what I am doing now—and I am so thankful.

But one thing I do. Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

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Jo 17It’s a fascinating word, don’t you think, this little word ‘not’? It can hold such power at times. It can defend a position. It can encourage and support. It can settle an argument. It can dash hopes and sound so final.

Currently, our two-year-old granddaughter uses it often. Recently, I overheard the following conversation between her four-year-old brother and her:

‘You’re crazy, Maxine!’

‘I not crazy!’

‘Yes, you are—you’re so crazy!’

‘I not crazy!’ (spoken with considerable vehemence)

I doubt Maxine would understand what ‘crazy’ even means, yet she definitely did not like the sound of it, just as she does not like being called ‘silly’ or ‘funny’ or sometimes even ‘pretty’.

Then there was the recent instance when she kept on crying.

‘That’s enough!’ her mum told her.

First thing the next morning, Maxine came out with the following:

‘Mummy, when I cry, it not enough!’

Did she think ‘enough’ meant something like ‘silly’ or ‘crazy’?  Whatever the case, she obviously still wanted her ‘not’ to be heard—even the next morning.

Sometimes, like Maxine, I find myself determined not to listen to someone on principle. I might not like them, for some reason. I might not appreciate what they stand for. I am too busy. I don’t want to have to change my mind about something. And sometimes, I am right to do this. I do not want to change my electricity provider, for example, simply because someone at my front door says I should. Nor do I want to give my credit card details to some interesting person on the phone. In those instances, the word ‘not’ can be a wise safeguard.

But sometimes by deciding not to listen, I might well close my ears to something I need to hear. Like Maxine, in my determination to be right, I might miss out on those wise and loving things someone is trying to share with me. In my arrogance and self-righteousness, I might reject a challenge that could be life-changing. And my decision to employ that little word ‘not’ could even bring disaster.

This to me is what is so sad about some words I read recently in John’s Gospel:

He (Jesus) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John 1:10-11

Wow! Just two flat little statements of fact containing that little word ‘not’, but how final they sound. And what huge repercussions were unleashed as a result. These verses send shivers through me.

But then I wonder how many times each day I myself refuse Jesus and say ‘I will not’ to him. I will not honour you, Lord, by apologising to this person or reaching out in love to that person or changing my attitude. I will not listen, as you whisper words of comfort to me. Instead, I will rely on myself and go my own way.

And yet you remind me that you love me, that I am your child. And once again, I return to you, so grateful that I belong in your family.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God … John 1:12

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