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Archive for April, 2017

I wonder if you have ever experienced one of God’s gentle but firm ‘ambushes’. There you are, getting on with your life, when you read some words of Scripture or someone shares a deep thought with you and—kapow! In an instant, you know God is reaching out to you, longing for you to pay attention.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with someone about an issue she was facing.

‘Lately, I’ve sensed God is asking me, “Do you trust me? Do you really trust me?”’ she said, almost as a throw-away line.

Even as I continued listening, I felt a definite nudge in my spirit and knew God was challenging me with this same question. But inwardly, I blustered a little. Of course I trust you, God! I don’t need this reminder. This person is talking with me to glean wisdom for her own life—not vice versa!

Then we put our house on the market. Hmm … did I really trust God to find that one person who would pay a good price for it? If I did, why did I have so many ‘what if’ questions in my mind? Why did I occupy my time inventing those worst case scenarios where everyone would think the house was too small or too old and where we might not have the money to make our own next purchase?

Then came Easter—and this year, I decided to read the account of the crucifixion and resurrection from John’s Gospel. Of course, John was writing in an entirely different context about an entirely different situation, but as I read, I realised God was speaking into my own life as well.

On the evening of the first Resurrection Sunday, we are told in John 20:19, as the disciples huddle in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus joins them.

Peace be with you!’ he says, as he shows them his hands and side.

In an instant, I sensed those words were for me too.

‘Yes, Lord,’ I admitted at last, ‘My situation is nothing like what the disciples had just experienced, but I know I need that same peace right now too.’

I read on and came to the account of another meeting Jesus had with his disciples a week later, when Thomas was also present.

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you! Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  John 20: 26-27

Hmm—‘StopIMG_20170421_145112767 doubting and believe.’ Those words speared straight into my spirit. There was no way around it. I had certainly doubted God was able to look after us in the whole process of selling our house. I felt rebuked—and rightly so. But I also felt deeply comforted. Yes, God knew our situation. Yes, God could indeed be trusted, even in the face of my unbelief. And yes, God was forgiving too!

Then last Friday, even before going to auction, our little house sold for a very good price indeed—and only twelve days after being put on the market. Thank you, Lord, for your unending faithfulness to us in so many ways!

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This past weekend saw the beginning of our ‘open house’ days for potential purchasers of our home—as well as the merely curious! In preparing for this event, I found it a weird experience to walk around our house and try to see it from an outsider’s point of view. What would put them off? What personal items should I remove? What could I do easily to de-clutter our home of thirty-two years?

As I did, I began to feel quite vulnerable. We have had plenty of visitors in this house over the years—but that’s a little different from people we don’t know prying and poking everywhere!

IMG_20170414_172906326_HDRActually, I had begun to feel vulnerable the moment a huge ‘for sale’ sign was erected outside our home a few days earlier, featuring large photos of our backyard, kitchen and lounge room. There for all to stare at were key parts of our property only friends or family usually see. As well, on several websites, interested parties could take a virtual tour around our home, room after room. I felt a little unmasked, if you like—as if my precious home where I love to curl up had suddenly been peeled open and laid bare for the world to see.

Later, however, I wondered why I felt this way. After all, I am a writer, with eight books published and out there in the market. Two of these in particular—my non-fiction books, Soul Friend and Becoming Me—made me feel very vulnerable when they were released. After all, there was my life, served up on a plate for anyone to consume! Yikes! True, the publication of my earlier novels was also a vulnerable experience—yet that was different. Writers can hide in novels, giving their characters things to say we have wanted to say for years! And, in the end, they are novels, not my own personal story. Yet … what if no one liked them? What if those reviews were terrible? What if I had made a huge mistake, thinking God had led me to become a writer?

Now I realise I need to remember those lessons from my publishing journey. It is okay to put my work and what feels like my very self out there to be scrutinised. In fact, it is more than okay. After all, what does it matter if people criticise or misunderstand or disagree? Surely God has taught us things that need to be shared, that will make a difference for others—it is well worth the risk. Besides, there is a kind of sweet sense of freedom in letting others into our deepest thoughts and experiences, don’t you think? Here I am—and nothing has been wasted.

I am reminded too of the beautiful freedom and transparency that God, who knows all things, offers us and the comfort this brings. With God, it is ‘open house’ all the time—a place where nothing is hidden. So I can relax in those loving arms, knowing I am totally accepted there, just as I am. And that’s the kind of ‘open house’ where I am happy to live—forever.

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. Psalm 139:1-2

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IMG_20170404_142602648Last week, I discovered a new calling in life! Someone lent us one of those water pressure cleaners that make concrete, bricks and stones look as good as new. Over a couple of days, I had such fun finding that nice, white concrete all around our yard and the lovely golden and brown rocks that form the terraces and borders everywhere. We had forgotten what it was meant to look like. All that moss on the rocks and that greying of the concrete paths and barbecue area had kind of crept up on us, just as it had on the rocks and paths themselves.

Inside our house too, I recently unearthed quite a few possessions I had forgotten about, as we have cleaned and tidied everywhere, in preparation for putting our home of thirty-two years on the market. Some of these brought joy to my heart—books I remember our children loving, videos our grandkids liked to watch over and over again, jewellery that is not precious but has sentimental value. But there were also some I could not believe I had kept all these years—pictures I had cut from old Christmas cards for our granddaughters to create something with, material for covering our own children’s school books, instructions for long-gone kitchen appliances.

These two experiences, both inside and out, have given me much food for thought, especially in the lead-up to Easter. What a stark reminder it was, as I unearthed those lovely, clean surfaces outside again, of the ease in which we forget how we ourselves have been made pure and clean through the death of Jesus! Once we were lost. Once the unique image of God we were created to be was hidden under layers of mess and wrong thinking and wrong choices. But then Jesus came, washing it all away, giving us a way to be made new through him. How easily we forget the huge, huge difference this brought about—for all of us!

But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT

And as I tidied inside and unearthed those hidden things, I reflected on how easily we forget the wonderful treasures God has given us through Jesus Christ and how readily we replace them with our many material things. Yes, we do need those material things in our lives—for shelter, for covering and warmth, for sustenance in various ways. But that is not where our true wealth is. That is not where our deepest security lies. What a reminder, especially as Easter approaches, that my focus in life needs to be firmly on Jesus! As Jesus himself told us:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.  Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

As you remember Jesus’ sacrifice and celebrate Easter this week, may you too rejoice in the renewal this brings us and those riches in God that will last forever.

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Jo 23As a small child, I hated being told off. If my mother ever scolded me, I would assert, in no uncertain terms and with many tears, ‘I’m not a naughty girl!’ My pride was injured beyond repair—and besides, I could not bear the thought that I had disappointed her.

All through my growing-up years—and well beyond—I continued to dislike being corrected or rebuked. My fragile self-esteem did not handle such things well and I was always ready with a defensive response. After all, I had to keep that pride of mine intact.

On one occasion around twenty years ago, however, I learnt a valuable lesson in this regard. A minister at our church invited me to take on a task he felt I would do well. At first, I told him I might not be good enough and suggested others who could do a far better job. But, instead of reassuring me, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘That’s not humility, Jo—that’s self-protection!’

Hmm!

Because I respected this minister, I went away and thought about his words—and eventually concluded he was right. I did what he had asked and thoroughly enjoyed it. Through this experience, I learnt to take such correction, given in love and for my ultimate benefit, on board much better than I previously had.

Recently, I was reminded of this lesson when a friend and I visited a dear, mutual friend who is suffering from some degree of dementia. At one point, our friend seemed a bit confused and told us she had once stolen a white hat, so I tried to help her out.

‘Oh, did you? Where did you take it from?’ I asked her gently.

I could hardly believe her quick, clever response.

‘I’m trying to resist correcting you,’ she said with some spirit and a touch of hauteur. ‘It should be “From where did you take it!”’

After a stunned moment, I burst out laughing. With inhibitions gone, our dear friend had simply blurted out her true thoughts—yet I was not offended at all. You see, I know this beautiful, older woman of God. I respect her even now, in her declining years, just as I respected my minister friend who told me the truth all those years ago. And I know her heart of love for me.

This amusing exchange soon set me thinking about my response to God’s corrections and challenges, whether through Scripture, through the words of others or through the Spirit’s whisper deep in my heart. How often do I still bristle a little, become defensive, perhaps pretend I don’t hear anything and decide I can easily justify my words or actions—even to God?

Yes, that old pride of mine still rears its ugly head at times. Yet why do I let this happen? After all, I know God loves and accepts me. I know God is good and kind. I know God has my best interests at heart. And I know God does not make mistakes.

So … next time I hear God’s loving correction, I hope I remember past lessons, swallow my pride—and respond with both alacrity and humility.

He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray. Proverbs 10:17

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