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Archive for July, 2016

Jo 12I admit it does take a little effort to remember those years when I was a busy, young mum living in South Australia. It is quite a while ago, after all! But this past week, in the second or two it took for me to read one sentence from a story Jesus told, I was there again, in the midst of an event that happened way back then.

I was holding our baby son in the crèche during a Sunday morning service. As I stood rocking him gently, someone began reading aloud Matthew 18:21-35, the parable of unmerciful servant. At that point, I was kind of listening, but I was also distracted and concerned about our son—I knew he was quite unwell. Yet as soon as I heard the servant’s words in verse 26, something happened. In an instant, God had my attention.

‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’

Why did these words jump out at me? After all, they are nothing more than a simple cry for mercy. Yet God used them in an amazing way, completely out of their context in the story, to speak to me. From then on, I heard nothing more—not even the input from the excellent visiting speaker about the real point of this story Jesus told. It was as if an electric current had run through me and I had been shocked into seeing things clearly in my life. You see, through those few words, I knew God was saying in a loving but firm, confronting way: ‘This is how you have been treating me, Jo-Anne!

I was a young mum with two little children at the time. I was busy with so many things—looking after my family, cooking, gardening, sewing, shopping, cleaning. I was also involved in at least two ministries of the church. My faith was real—but I knew I had lost that close, intimate relationship with Jesus I had once had. If I had any spare time during my day, I would rarely decide to spend it with him. Instead, I chose to do all the other interesting things I liked so much more—playing the piano, singing, reading, writing letters. After all, Jesus would still be there when I was less busy and had nothing more interesting to do.

In essence, I had been saying to God, ‘Just be patient—you can wait. When I’m good and ready, I’ll spend more time with you.’ What an insult! How dare I treat my loving, heavenly Father in this way? I felt as if a knife had been plunged through me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember thinking, ‘So this is what that little phrase “cut to the heart” must mean!’ I knew I could never ‘pay back’ the huge debt I owed God for sending Jesus and for saving me, but surely I could give God first place in my life, along with all due honour and respect?

That morning, a whole new, more intimate journey with God began. And today, I am still reaping the benefits of God’s grace to me in challenging my ‘when I’m good and ready’ attitude back then.

I want to be ready—all the time. Don’t you?

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Jo 17‘Well done! I’m so proud of you!’ I wonder if you can remember when someone said this to you. Perhaps it was a long time ago. Perhaps it was when you managed to do something particularly difficult as a child, like riding your bike by yourself or making your bed or behaving well in some situation. Do you remember how you felt?

Perhaps you heard them later in life when someone noticed how you put yourself out for others or how you worked hard to achieve a particular goal or realise a God-given dream. Perhaps some of you find it hard to remember hearing such words at all, although you suspect you would have. Perhaps some of you would love to hear them again right now.

I thought I was over needing to receive such encouraging comments. After all, I have done many things in my life and am much more comfortable in who I am now than I used to be. Yet when I heard those words ‘I’m so proud of you!’ last week, I almost cried. And what made them particularly special was that they were spoken with such sincerity by someone who happens to be ninety years old!

Around Christmas time, this lady would often phone to order some of my books yet again as gifts. Over the years, she had mentioned how she would love me to come and speak to the seniors’ group at her church and how she had given my name to the organisers. Eventually, it all fell into place and, last week, I met this lady face to face for the first time. However, we did not have an opportunity to talk after I spoke, apart from saying a brief goodbye, so she decided to phone me the following day.

‘I just wanted to say thank you so much for coming to speak. Everyone really enjoyed your input—we didn’t want you to stop! It was all excellent—and it made me think too what I could still do for God at ninety years of age. I’m so proud of you!’

So proud of me? What encouraging, comforting words to hear! In that moment, it was as if God was allowing me to experience what to me seemed a kind of blessing from one generation of women to the next. It was as if God was saying to me through this lady, ‘Well done for sharing your faith as you do through your speaking and writing! I am using it to inspire others to grow in me and to be all I purposed them to be, whatever their age. Keep going!’

This past week, I read similar lovely phrases in Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents—or the parable of the three servants, as the New Living Translation calls it. I love what the master says to each of his first two servants in the story:

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (21)

One day, I hope I hear similar affirming words of welcome from Jesus when we meet face to face. But right now, I hope I am making him proud. And I hope you are too.

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Jo 23This past week, I have found myself the recipient of some wonderful, warm, welcoming hugs. What a joy! Each time, as those arms have wrapped around me, I felt my heart kind of melt and go to mush. It was as if, in one unguarded moment, we reached out to each other in all our vulnerability and opened a window into our very souls.

Now it’s not as if we did this on a conscious level—at least, not in the case of our four-year-old grandson. I had arrived to pick him up from day care and quietly entered the room where he was busy playing. He turned around and, in an instant, I saw joyful recognition and sheer delight written all over his little, smiling face. The next moment, bits of puzzle scattered everywhere as he raced over to hug me tight. And, of course, I hugged him back. Our Zain can be very strong-minded at times and always full of energy. But he can also be warm, loving and gentle, wanting us to cuddle up close.

My other wonderful welcoming experience occurred after speaking to a seniors’ group in a church on the opposite side of town. As I chatted with people at my book table, I saw a younger man walking towards me. I recognised him immediately—I had known him years earlier when he was still at theological college but knew he was now the senior pastor of this church. How would he greet me in front of all those older members of his congregation? Would he be a little guarded? He smiled at me and, before I knew it, I was enveloped in the biggest bear hug and welcomed warmly to his church.

Then his wife arrived. For some years, I had met with her in a mentoring capacity, as she worked back then to support her husband. Now as we embraced, I could sense our hearts meeting again in a deep and moving way that went far beyond words. Later, I met up with another girl I had mentored—and again received a heartfelt hug. What a delight to see how both these women, now with families of their own, are still serving God in the most amazing ways!

As I reflected on all those wonderful, welcoming hugs, I could not help but think of the father we read about in Luke 15 who welcomes his lost son home with such joy.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (20)

True, my recent hugs were not given because I had returned from having squandered all my inheritance, as the young man in this story had. I was merely picking up our grandson and renewing old friendships. Yet these hugs have enabled me to imagine and appreciate all over again how much that father’s warm, welcoming, forgiving embrace must have meant to his son. And right now too, as I reflect on this wonderful, healing reconnection, I can feel those warm, loving arms of my own heavenly Father, welcoming me into his presence with equal joy and delight.

I am accepted. I am forgiven. I am loved.

And once again, my heart melts.

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Jo 17Have you ever tried to point out to a child something interesting you can see high up in a tree or in the sky? Sometimes this happens when we are driving our grandkids home from day care.

‘Look at that plane up there!’ we might say.

‘Where? Where?’

‘Way up there! Can you see it? Ooh, it’s really big!’

‘I can’t see it! Where?’

But by then, it’s almost too late. We may glance around at that point and realise our grandson has been looking straight ahead out the window rather than up. Or he might have looked up—but not high enough. Then he loses interest and is soon chattering about something else. The moment has gone.

I think I too have such moments in life of focussing in the wrong place. When challenges come my way, at first I am confused and wonder what to do. Perhaps I talk about it with someone. And I also pray. But I don’t leave it there. Oh no—that’s when the worry starts to creep in. What if this or that happens? What if things don’t change soon? What if this one’s too hard for God?

This week, I read three accounts in Matthew 8 and 9 of people in extremely challenging situations. I almost skipped over them—after all, I know these stories well. But then a little voice seemed to say to me, ‘No, look at them.  I mean, really look at them!’ The first was the account of Jesus calming the storm (25-27). So I stepped in that boat along with the disciples and imagined being in the midst of that furious gale. I panicked along with them and shook Jesus awake. Then his clear question pierced me to the heart:

You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (26)

Can you picture that moment when Jesus rebuked the wind and waves and, in an instant, everything became calm? I know I would have asked the same amazed question the disciples did, ‘What kind of man is this?’

I then read the account of the healing of two demon-possessed men (28-34). What a display of Jesus’ power and authority! Even the demons recognised this, shouting out ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ (29). Can you imagine that crazed herd of pigs rushing into the lake and drowning? Like the people from this region who then asked Jesus to leave, I think my mind would have been well and truly blown too.

I kept reading and found the story of some men who brought a paralytic to Jesus (Matthew 9:1-7). What a moment that must have been when the man whose sins Jesus had forgiven hopped off his mat and walked home! Can you imagine the stunned looks on the faces of the teachers of the law? Can you imagine that crowd, filled with awe and praising God?

Then Jesus seemed to speak into my spirit: ‘If I could do those miraculous things back then, why would you doubt I can make a difference in your life today? I’m alive! I can help you deal with the challenges you’re facing—or take them right away. Lift your eyes up! Look at me! Raise your sights!’

May we all do exactly that.

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