Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for December, 2016

Jo 17‘They look so joyful!’ I commented rather cynically, while watching some people singing a hymn on TV about, of all things, the joy of the Lord, all the while with decidedly doleful expressions. Yet, even as I opened my mouth, I felt judgemental. Perhaps they were tired. Perhaps this was the tenth time they had sung this same hymn. Perhaps they had to get it perfect for this particular TV program. And perhaps they did mean what they were singing, but simply didn’t convey that in their faces.

‘They look so joyful!’ I commented again, as I watched various well-known singers, actors and TV personalities perform Christmas carols at the Sydney Carols in the Domain on TV.  And yes, most did indeed look joyful, smiling and with eyes glowing, as they sang with great gusto.

‘But do they really believe it?’ a certain even more sceptical member of our family asked.

‘Well … they might,’ I replied, remembering how some of the performers at least had publicly declared their faith in God in past times. ‘We don’t really know, do we? As for those people in the audience, they must love singing carols, if they’ve bothered to turn up—and they might truly love God too.’

‘If you go by the statistics though,’ was the response, ‘chances are only a small portion do have any real faith in God.’

I had to admit that probably was the truth. Yet, whether all those people believed what they were singing or not, I reflected, at least these carols that honour the coming of Jesus were being sung in our city and broadcast far and wide.

The next day, when I sat down to read my Bible, I found I was up to 1 Samuel 16, the account of how Samuel seeks to decide which of Jesse’s sons the Lord wants as the next king of Israel. As soon as Samuel sees Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, he thinks he must surely be the one God had chosen. Yet in verse 7, we read:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Hmm. Don’t judge by appearances. What a timely reminder! Yes, our cynical comments might have been true—but then again, they might not have!

We can often see how people are feeling by looking at their faces. We may notice, for example, whether someone is happy or frustrated or angry or sad or discouraged or embarrassed. And it’s important to be observant of others and try to discern where they are at. But sometimes we can jump to the wrong conclusion. Sometimes we can assume so much, merely by those outward appearances. Sometimes we can judge so easily—without knowing all the facts.

It’s true only God can know what is really going in someone’s life and heart. The Lord looks way beyond the outer surface, to the very core of a person. But I’d like to think I could become more like him in this regard in 2017 and look beyond those outward appearances more often. Perhaps then, the world would be a more grace-filled place, don’t you think?

Read Full Post »

Jo 12I missed my friend’s phone call about how her job interview had gone, so my husband passed on her message.

‘On the morning of the interview, she woke up laughing’ he said. ‘She’ll tell you the rest on Sunday.’

I smiled to myself. It sounded good news to me, as I remembered what had transpired after she had asked two of us to pray for her at church the previous Sunday. She had told us how she was feeling about the interview and how it had been a challenging task to compile her resumé, after not having done so for years. So together we bowed our heads and began praying.

Straight away, the other lady present asked God for deep peace for our friend, for the ability to sense God’s presence with her at the interview and for a clear mind to answer any questions put to her. But as I stood there agreeing with her prayer, I found myself feeling more and more joyful. In fact, I almost burst out laughing! What was I to do?

In the end, I prayed for our friend to have a good night’s sleep and wake up on the morning of the interview feeling joyful and refreshed. Then I shared with her how I sensed so much joy surrounding this interview that I had almost laughed aloud! I also told her that I felt she would find herself saying something at one point that she had not expected to say at all—and that, when she did, those interviewing her would heave a sigh of relief, laugh together and say, ‘That’s exactly what we wanted to hear!’ Yet, even as I shared these things, I wondered if they were from God at all or if I had simply imagined them.

How reassuring it was then to see her beaming face last Sunday, as she came to tell me what had happened! Yes, she said, she had indeed woken up laughing on the day of the interview. In fact, she had had a dream during the night that she arrived for the interview in old clothes and with just thongs on her feet. In the dream, she had apologised, but the interviewers had laughed and assured her it didn’t matter!

In the actual interview, however, when asked what she would do if she encountered something she had not dealt with before, my friend, without thinking, simply raised her left arm high, waved it around and let out an anguished ‘Help!’

At that point—you guessed it—the interviewing panel laughed and said, ‘That’s the best answer we could ever have hoped to hear!’

But wait, there’s more! For a long time, my friend has had problems with her left arm—yet this was the arm she had used, with no trouble at all, to raise and wave around enthusiastically!

Yes, Jesus, our Saviour, our Immanuel, has come into this world. Our God is with us, in the midst of our joy—and in the midst of our pain. Our God is with us, whatever our situation. Our God is with us, to the end of all time.

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:25

Read Full Post »

p1040398I stood at our kitchen bench with our oldest granddaughter. She had come to spend the day with us and wanted to make herself useful, cooking Christmas treats and wrapping Christmas gifts for our family.

‘We could make these Peppermint Creams,’ I told her, as I opened a plastic covered spring binder containing recipes for various sweet treats. Then I noticed most were written in my mother’s rounded handwriting—she had faithfully copied out her favourite recipes for me when I was married almost forty-eight years ago!

‘Or perhaps we could make these again,’ I then suggested, as I pointed to a recipe for Gingerbread Men in an old,  spiral-bound book I own, with its front cover almost torn off. As I did, I realised exactly how old this particular book was too—it was produced by the Nursing Mothers’ Association of Australia in 1975!

‘Or for a “no-bake” recipe, we could use this one,’ I added, digging out some neatly printed instructions for a yummy chocolate hazelnut slice. At least this recipe was roughly from my granddaughter’s vintage, as it had been emailed to me by a young friend only in the past couple of years.

In the end, our granddaughter opted for creating our chubby gingerbread men once again, so we set to work. Yet, all the while, my head was spinning. Surely it could not be forty-eight years ago that I was given those recipe books? How had all that time passed? And surely this beautiful granddaughter of mine working so deftly beside me could not be thirteen, going on fourteen? On top of that, surely it had not been a whole year since we last stood beside each other, baking a batch of tubby little gingerbread men?

It can be scary, can’t it, the way the years fly by? In no time at all, we realise we are at a different stage of our lives and the past has become just that. Our priorities change—who knows whether, by next Christmas, our granddaughter might feel a little less inclined to spend a whole day baking and wrapping presents with her grandmother?

In James 4:14, our lives are starkly described as ‘a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes’. As I reflected on our granddaughter’s visit, I realised all over again the truth of these words. Then the next day, I read the following from 2 Corinthians 4:18: 

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.

Yes, so many things we think are important in this life will not always be with us. Soon those old recipe books of mine will have fallen apart completely. Even now, our children and grandchildren have trouble reading my mother’s handwriting and understanding what some of the more old-fashioned terms mean. Soon all those Christmas presents our granddaughter wrapped so carefully may well have been forgotten or may no longer be needed. And even sooner, all those little gingerbread men we baked will have disappeared forever.

By all means, let’s enjoy the wonderful temporary things around us, especially at Christmas. But let’s not forget that unseen, eternal dimension either—because, after all, that’s what Christmas really is about.

Read Full Post »

Jo 17There I was, seated behind my book table at a school Christmas Market on a hot, Sydney summer day. The first mad scramble of students was over and the bell had rung. Around me, all sorts of interesting wares were on display—handmade Christmas cards and decorations, clothing, jewellery, festive food, plants and other miscellaneous items. The idea was that teachers would bring their students, class by class, to buy Christmas gifts for parents and other family members.

Soon the youngest students began arriving, many clutching tightly to little plastic bags containing their precious five dollars to spend. It was touching to see how teachers or older ‘buddy’ students tried to help them pick out something they could buy. Some found what they wanted by themselves, but most needed a lot of help and guidance. After all, it is hard to understand why that money in your little bag isn’t enough for just anything you like! My books were out of the question for them, but I tried my best to point them to some greeting cards I sell for a friend and to the one and two dollar items on the table next to mine.

When the older primary students turned up, however, it was a different matter.  Some perused the tables slowly, trying to work out what they could buy with their limited funds, while others headed straight for what appealed to them. But that definitely did not include one young boy I noticed. I watched as he circled all the tables at a great rate—once, twice, then yet again, each time getting faster and faster. Then he suddenly stood still and looked totally lost and confused, as if it was all too much for him. His face was red—and he seemed close to tears.

Just then, one of the organisers came by and I mentioned this boy to her.

‘Which one is he?’ she asked straight away. ‘Some can find it all a bit overwhelming.’

I tried to point him out, but it was difficult, in the midst of so many children. Then I lost sight of him altogether.

Later, I wondered where he went. Did that organiser find him? Or did he give up and not spend anything? Did he leave happy? Or was he still upset?

As Christmas comes closer, I am reminded of that young boy whenever I am out shopping and take a moment to look at those around me, as they head through the centre with bulging bags and trolleys. Some seem relaxed and cheerful—but many appear decidedly harassed and overwhelmed, just like the boy at the Christmas Market. And soon I find myself remembering some words from Matthew’s Gospel about all those people who came to receive healing and teaching from Jesus in the places he visited:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

This Christmas season, let’s watch out for those around us who seem harassed and helpless, for whatever reason. Let’s do what we can to walk alongside them and ease their burdens. By our kind words and helpful actions, let’s do our best to point them to Jesus, the true Shepherd, who alone can bring that deep peace we all long for in our hearts.

Read Full Post »