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Archive for August, 2017

Jo 23‘Do you think a visit to IKEA might be in order soon?’ a friend texted me.

‘Great!’ I texted back. ‘I’ll look around here and see if I can think of anything we need.’

Then it struck me how ironic my response was.  If I had to work hard at thinking of something I might need, then the chances are I do not truly need whatever it might be at all! If I have to wrack my brains to come up with something that would make life better or easier for us, then it’s more than possible we can well do without it.

A few days later, after visiting a nearby weekend market, I sat down and enjoyed a lovely cup of coffee my husband had bought for me.

‘I really needed that!’ I told him, as I swallowed those last few drops.

But did I? Yes, it gave me that temporary energy boost I was looking for—and yes, it made me feel less thirsty. But I think I might have been able to survive without it. I wanted it, but I didn’t really need it—unlike people lost in the desert need water or a newborn baby needs milk to survive.

Then yesterday, I found myself using that little word ‘need’ in yet another context.

‘I need to fit in a swim this afternoon,’ I told my husband. ‘I’m heading up to the pool now.’

Yes, I do need to swim to help my back recover from past damage. So I am grateful for that heated pool in our village—and that I had it all to myself yesterday! But did I really need to relax in that beautiful, warm spa right next to the pool for as long as I did afterwards? Still, it was wonderful—and, all the while, I felt God was smiling and saying to me, ‘It’s okay to relax, Jo-Anne, and enjoy my company in the process!’ Sometimes we do need those moments of pure relaxation, don’t we—doing nothing except letting those ideas flow in and out of our minds and talking to God in the process, as I did while the water bubbled around me in that spa?

I’m so glad God knows what I need and is always there, ready to supply just that. In fact, all the resources I have, material and otherwise, are gifts from our generous and loving God, who, as Paul assured the early believers, is able to meet all my needs ‘according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19). So how can I continually grasp at things, wanting this and that? Instead, I am trying to hold everything more lightly and to be much more willing to supply what is lacking for others.

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18

For me, it’s about walking hand in hand with God each day, listening well, opening my eyes to see the real needs around me—then doing something about them. And because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need to do just that (Psalm 23).

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Jo 12There we were, our youngest granddaughter and I, chilling out together on a beautiful, sunny day. She had come to visit, complete with her pink, plastic, three-wheeled scooter, so we decided to explore the nearby paths together. She is only three, so I was genuinely surprised at how well she could manage that little scooter of hers.

‘Wow, that’s excellent, Maxine!’ I told her. ‘You ride your scooter so well!’

‘I can only do my very best,’ she replied in a cute little matter-of-fact way.

‘Pardon?’ I said, taken aback.

‘I can only do my very best,’ she repeated in her most satisfied tone.

I was more than a little impressed. Where had she learnt such wisdom at her young age? From her parents? Her teachers at day care? One of her little friends? Some TV program? I could only guess—but I knew she hadn’t learnt it from me.

You see, I think I developed a rather warped idea of what doing one’s best meant as I grew up. I am sure my parents encouraged me to do just that in all sorts of things—keeping my room tidy, clearing the table after meals, doing homework, piano practice, choir practice and so many other areas of my life. But somewhere along the line, I managed to decide that doing my very best was not enough. Instead, I wanted to be the best. I needed to beat all those other children in my class when it came to those term exams. I had to come top. I had to be on that prize-winners’ list. And I needed to get that honours mark in practical music and theory exams too. In short, I became a bit of a perfectionist all round.

While I believe there are pluses in aiming high, even perhaps aiming for perfection, there are down sides too. We can become too hard on ourselves. We can become dissatisfied with our efforts. We may find ourselves unable to enjoy any of our excellent achievements. And we can also become far too hard on those around us, as we put our own expectations onto them. So what a joy to hear how our Maxine already seems to have grasped the concept of doing one’s very best and being content with that!

Some of you, like me, might have grown up with a parent who asserted that ‘if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’. Yet, over the years, I have come to prefer the words of Paul in Colossians 3:23-24 so much more:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

I prefer these because I now know the Lord Paul talks about here. I have experienced his amazing heart of love, his grace, his forgiveness, his understanding. Yes, truly he deserves our very best. Yet, whatever happens, I know he will accept me. His yoke is easy and his burden is light, as the Lord himself has told us (Matthew 10:30)—and I know he will strengthen me and help me grow, as I seek to serve him.

Now that’s the best news any perfectionist can hear!

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Jo 23I wonder if, like me, you have discovered that there are some people who are easy to get on with and others who … well, perhaps I should leave it at that! Of course, you and I both know we belong to the former category rather than the latter. After all, how could anyone ever have trouble getting on with us? Ridiculous! If they do, then it must be their problem, not ours!

As I woke up one morning recently, I realised with a jolt that I was about to spend part of my day with someone who I have to say irks me more than a little. This prospect did not fill me with glee and, not being a great morning person anyway, I grabbed some coffee and headed to my study in even grumpier mode than normal, feeling hard done by. Why me? I had more than enough other things to do than waste time with this particular person.

Still grouchy, I reached for my Bible and the study guide we had been given to help keep us connected with the current sermon series at our church. As I did, I was reminded of the title of the message I had heard only a few days earlier: ‘Learning to live peacefully’. Snippets of what had been said that day floated into my mind, but I quickly pushed them away. I did not care to remember them at this point. Instead, I wanted to wallow in my grouchiness for just a little while longer.

Yet somehow that did not seem to be God’s ideal plan for me right then. I glanced at the reading set down for the day—Galatians 5:22-26. And, despite myself, verse 22 caught my eye:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law.

Hmm. I noticed verse 25 too:

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Hmm again. I had been all set to ignore the Spirit’s voice that day, for sure.

In the end, our guest came and went—and no one had made too many waves. But I am an expert at post mortems, so I was still grumbling more than a little by the next morning, ready to criticise and condemn our visitor for this and that. Then I turned to my Bible reading for that day and my heart sank, because I knew I would find some verses there that I did not want to see.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:30-32

Oops! Sometimes those gentle rebukes from God are more like sledgehammers landing on one’s head, don’t you think? Yes, our guest may have been one of those ‘extra grace required’ kind of people. Yet surely, if I say I know and love God, I should be able to take a deep breath, listen to God’s Spirit and allow that love and grace of God to flow out to others, whoever they are?

I hope there aren’t too many more ‘oops’ moments like that in my life—but I suspect there might be!

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Jo 17There I was, happily reading John’s Gospel when I noticed I had previously put two exclamation marks beside a particular verse. Then I discovered two more in another spot—and I realised why. What the Jewish leaders were saying and how they were responding to Jesus just seemed so crazy-ridiculous to me!

I read how the Jewish leaders pester Jesus to tell them plainly if he is the Christ. Jesus points out he already has—and how his many miracles back up his claim (10:25-26). They try to stone him, but when Jesus asks which of the many great miracles from God the Father has upset them so much, they dismiss them, as if they are unimportant:

We are not stoning you for any of these,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (10:33)

I then read how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44). While many Jews put their faith in him as a result, some head off to the Pharisees, who call a meeting to discuss the matter:

What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him …” (11:47-48)

Their conclusion, in collaboration with the chief priests, strikes me as sad but kind of funny too:

So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. (12:10-11)

Doesn’t it seem weird to you that the best idea the Jews can come up with is to kill Lazarus? If Jesus had brought him back to life once, could he not do it again?

Finally, I read the saddest verse of all:

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. (12:37)

As I reflected on all this, I remembered a time when I was a student at Queensland University and a keen member of the main Christian group there. One year, we held a mission on campus and tried to strike up conversations about Jesus with passers-by. During one such discussion, some sceptical philosophy students clinched their arguments with us with the following very definite statement:

‘If Jesus were to appear here right now and do some miracle, then we’d believe in him, for sure.’

An older minister helping us then chimed in.

‘Would you really? … Would you really?’

At that point, they left, uncertainty written all over their faces.

I sat for a moment, remembering and reflecting. If God had not opened my eyes to see who Jesus truly is and changed my life forever, I could well have had the same response as these students—and the Jewish leaders. I too could be lost in that sea of scepticism and unbelief. I still scratch my head at God’s absolutely amazing grace and love for me—but I also receive it with a truly grateful heart and with determination to treasure this gift forever.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God … John 1:11-12

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Jo 17Years ago, I discovered something that intrigued me. I was in the middle of preparing a talk and had become stuck, as I tried to organise my thoughts. So I took a break and went to have a shower. To my surprise, as I stood there, letting that water flow over me and mulling things over in my mind, my input simply fell into place. Somehow, it was as if the water was cleansing not only the outside of me but the inside too, washing away my muddy thoughts and bringing so much more clarity.

Now some might say it was the relaxing effect of that water flowing over me that cleared my mind—and I’m sure that was part of it. But I suspect there was more to it too. It seemed to me that, as the physical water flowed over me, so did the living water from God’s Spirit, inspiring me so I could express myself so much better. And, while I hadn’t swallowed any actual water, I felt I was being filled up on the inside with ‘spiritual water’ somewhere deep in my being, so that the right words were able to form and bubble away there, ready to flow onto the page and eventually out to my audience.

Only a few days ago, I experienced something similar—but not in the shower this time! Twice a week, usually late in the afternoon when no one else is around, I try to make my way up to the heated pool and spa in our Village Centre, not far from our unit. I am quite out of practice as a swimmer, so each week, I challenge myself to do a few more lengths of our smallish pool and improve on my previous efforts. Gradually, I am beginning to enjoy the sensation of that water flowing under and around my body again, now that I don’t have to focus on whether I will make it to the other end of that pool or not! Instead, I can let my mind mull over whatever blog I am writing or whatever talk I am preparing and chat about it all with God as I swim.

It was afterwards, while relaxing in the spa, however, that I felt that lovely, cleansing flow of both actual and living water strongly again. As those super warm bubbles surged around me and the water jets massaged my body, it was as if a curtain lifted from my mind, giving me much clearer direction for my writing projects. Then, once again, I sensed that deep peace and joy filling me up inside. And I knew the Source of this peace and joy was Jesus, who still delights to provide living water today, just as he offered to give that Samaritan woman at the well all those centuries ago (see John 4).

How much I need that beautiful, life-giving water to fill me, so it can overflow to others as I write and speak! How much we all need it, so we can bring light and life to our hurting world!

… Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37-38

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