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Archive for October, 2017

It’s amazing to me how one image or event can burn a particular truth into our hearts and minds all over again in a new and fresh way. When a truth is played out before our eyes in a way we can’t ignore, something clicks into place inside and that truth becomes so much more firmly embedded in us.

One recent Saturday morning, I arrived at our church just before nine to open up our Art Installation for anyone wanting to spend time reflecting there with God. I thought no one else would be around, but as I drove into the car park, I could see activity everywhere.

I had forgotten about the working bee. I looked around and saw men busily cleaning up in different corners of the property. Someone was mowing the grass. Someone was blowing leaves away in another area. Another was sawing away, fixing up a wooden structure elsewhere. Another was blasting the concrete with a pressure cleaner. And still another—one of our senior pastors, in fact—was removing a drain cover to clean out mud and muck that had piled up there.

But in a room in another corner of the property, a different activity was taking place. There, prayer was happening. There, people had been invited to come and receive God’s healing, as others listened to them and prayed on their behalf. A quiet ministry—but oh, so important.

IMG_20171005_201041693_HDRI headed for the Art Installation, then walked around, turning on some soft music and also the special fairy lights that highlighted some of the displays. As I did, I marvelled again at the variety of works people had contributed for this event.  Paintings—some better executed than others, yet all expressing something of God from the depths of the artists’ hearts. There were drawings too and sculpture and other intricate works of art. Various forms of writing were on display as well—poetry, prose, song lyrics. There was even a beautifully iced cake, made to depict the different gifts those in the Body of Christ have, through the Spirit’s enabling.

Three hours later, I closed the door on this lovely, creative space and went to leave. And as I did, a van pulled up outside the main door and men began hauling tables out. Then some women arrived, carrying trays of food and all sorts of boxes. Everyone was intent on the job at hand and everyone seemed to know what to do, like bees in a hive. Their task was to get things ready to enable well over a hundred women to pack two thousand birthing kits that afternoon and evening that World Vision staff will use to help women in rural Uganda. Even prior to this, others had prepared parts of these kits to enable this packing to run smoothly.

So that Saturday, I witnessed afresh the great strength the Body of Christ has when every part functions as it is made and gifted to do.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:4-5 New Living Translation

We all belong to each other. What a wonderful thing—and how important to remember!

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Jo 12I was chatting to a friend who had come to visit, as we walked along a paved ramp near our unit. The gardens to our left were beautiful, but instead, our eyes were drawn to some stains on those pavers beneath our feet.

‘These need attending to,’ my friend who likes to get in and fix things commented. ‘Who is responsible for cleaning common walkways like this here?’

‘I don’t know,’ I told her. ‘But I think I’ll get out here myself and scrub them off, as they annoy me too!’

The next day, I filled a bucket with soapy water, took my scrubbing brush and tried to clean those messy marks off the walkway. Yet, despite my best efforts and much bending over, some spots did not budge. I stretched my sore back and sighed, but in the end, decided to leave it at that.

A few days later, my husband and I heard a loud, whirring sound nearby. We poked our heads out—and there was a workman with not one but two large machines, washing down the pavers and blasting away all those dirty marks! Being new to our village, we did not realise that this event apparently happens every six months or so—the outside cleaning is all done for us.

Soon after, a neighbour told me another similar story.

‘We’re only quite new here too and, a few months ago, I decided to clean our outside windows. I took the screens off, then couldn’t get them back on, so had to ask the maintenance man for help. But when he came, he told us that contractors clean our outside windows, so we don’t have to do them ourselves at all!’

Now that’s two lovely cleaning tasks I will be very happy to leave to the professionals in future!

Years ago now, I also discovered how foolish it usually is for me to try to fix anything that goes wrong with my trusty laptop. I have a wonderful husband who is a whiz at all things computer-related, so I have learnt it’s much better to consult him in the first place, rather than press this or that button or click on this or that with my mouse. I do try at times—but that tends to complicate things even further rather than fix anything.

I suspect I need to apply these lessons in other areas of my life too. I can try to fix aspects of my behaviour that do not honour God. But unless I stop relying so much on myself and instead, learn to rely more and more on God’s strength on a daily basis, I will no doubt fail again. In the end, God is the Expert, the Master Designer, the only one who can ultimately fix things in our lives. And God has chosen to do this in the most amazing way, through sending our Saviour Jesus Christ into our broken world. Like the Apostle Paul, I know I need to declare from the bottom of my heart:

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Romans 7:24-25

How about you? Is that your heart cry too?

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One morning recently, I decided to take a particular route through our village to the main road. Just before I entered an area bordering on bushland, I noticed a nearby sign. I read what it said—it was very clear:

IMG_20171013_120522229 (2)Even as one part of my brain took these words in, however, another part thought: ‘This will never happen to me! Those magpies won’t bother me! They’re probably not close by at all—it may not even be the right season for them.’

How wrong I was! I had taken only a few steps before—whoosh! Something came at me from behind and off to my right, swooping down at breakneck speed and narrowly missing my head.  Needless to say, I scuttled off, no doubt looking more than a little undignified in the process! Why I thought I was immune to those attacking magpies, I have no idea. Put it down to ignorance or arrogance—or both.

Later, I told my husband about my perilous adventure. Yet the next day, he too chose to walk through that same area and did not even notice the sign. This time, that pesky magpie dive-bombed a little more accurately and, while no damage was done, my husband did get quite a fright. Was he forewarned? Yep. Did he remember what I had said? Nope!

What silly creatures we can be! I know in other areas of my life as well, I have not heeded warnings on occasions from those much wiser than I—gentle suggestions to take time off, to be kinder to myself, to rest and relax. Instead, I have kept going and become exhausted in the process. I did not think it would happen to me. I thought I was invincible.

Years ago, I remember singing a particular song in church in which we all passionately declared we would follow Jesus forever and never fall away. I have forgotten the exact words, but I remember holding my breath at how fervently we all sang them. I hoped and prayed we would be able to stand firm, whatever happened in our lives, but I sensed even then how desperately I would need God’s help to do so. And sadly, as time went by, many who sang those words did cease following the Lord.

I think too of the Apostle Peter’s fervent declaration of faithfulness just prior to Jesus’ death and of Jesus’ heartrending response, predicting what would actually happen:

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” Matthew 26:33-34

How easy it is to make promises to God, yet not keep them!  How tempting it can be to forget how much we need God and to think, ‘It couldn’t happen to me’! How quickly we can become just that little bit too complacent and cease to care about living in a way that honours God!

May we all continue to walk humbly each day in the strength and power that God gives. And may we always be ready to listen with all our hearts to that Voice behind us, saying , “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21b)

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I suspect I am getting a tad old. You see, these days I find I gain an inordinate amount of joy from the simple things in life. Of course I treasure the big, exciting events too. But how wonderful it can be to stop and truly appreciate those seemingly insignificant moments along the way!

One day last week, while in the kitchenware aisle of our local supermarket, I saw a large, metal cake cooler on special for around four dollars. Wow, I thought, it’s so much bigger and better than my old one I’ve used for all those forty-eight years of my married life. IMG_20171006_155427875This one has real wire mesh, so my biscuits won’t fall through and break and my cakes won’t end up with deep indentations on them! So with great glee, I placed that cake cooler in my trolley and headed for the checkout.

Such a simple item—yet how thankful I am for it. And what fun it was too to stare at the old and new versions on our kitchen bench and laugh at myself that I hadn’t bought a new one sooner!

But there were other simple moments in my week that brought even greater joy. OIMG_20171007_091749262ne special delight was to notice the first beautiful bloom on a rosebush I planted in our little garden beside our balcony, not long after we moved in here. To add to my delight, this particular rose is called ‘Just Joey’. How apt, when I was so often called Joey as a child, rather than Jo-Anne!

Another day while on our balcony, I found myself staring at the leaves on the nearby gum trees as they stirred in the wind against a backdrop of clear, blue sky. And one morning, I sat amazed at the myriad of different bird sounds I could hear coming from these same trees and nearby bushland. How easily I could have brushed off these special moments, in my preoccupation with everything waiting to be done inside!

Then one afternoon, I almost missed out again on something so simple, yet so priceless. I had arrived at our youngest granddaughter’s day care centre a little early to pick her up and the children were still playing outside. For a while, I stood and watched Maxine and her little friends. But then Maxine turned around and saw me—and, for a fleeting second, the most beautiful smile of greeting lit up her face. A moment later, she had obviously decided to be all serious again and pretended to ignore me. But I had seen that smile—and I knew she was delighted I had come.

As I reflected on these events, I thanked God for them. But I wondered if God wanted to teach me an even deeper lesson. How often in my busy life do I ignore those simple yet precious truths of Scripture and forget to rest in their power to keep me in a place of peace? Truths like:

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Joshua 1:5

I have loved you with an everlasting love … Jeremiah 31:3a

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. John 14:27a

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

So simple—yet so profound. So easy to remember—yet so often forgotten.

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I have always longed to be an artist. I would love to be able to create beautiful scenes or stunning portraits for others to appreciate. Instead, I am a writer who weaves together words and sentences, in the hope of inspiring my readers to create their own scenes in their imaginations as the story unfolds. And I have to say I love doing this. But, while I might admit to being a tad envious, I also love celebrating those with different, God-given, creative gifts—artists, sculptors, photographers, craftspeople of all sorts—and allowing their creations to speak to me in their own unique way, maybe even revealing more of God in the process.

IMG_20171001_103745359And right now, there is a unique opportunity to do just that at our church’s Art Installation, which features a variety of creative works, all centred around our church’s vision statement—Led by God’s Spirit. Compelled to share Christ. Restoring the broken. Each weekday evening from 7.00pm to 9.00pm and on weekends (Sat 9.00am to 12.00 midday; Sun 9.00am to 1.00pm, 4.30pm to 8.00pm) until Sunday 15th October, someone will be present in ‘The Basement’ at our church, Parramatta Baptist, 84-94 Kleins Rd, Northmead, Sydney, to greet visitors and invite us to wander and look or simply sit and reflect on what God might be saying to us through the various creative works on display.

I hope my piece of writing below that is included in this year’s Art Installation will bless and encourage any who pause to read it. It is more a brief meditation than a poem and came to me one morning as reflected on the beautiful, well-known words of Psalm 23, the ‘shepherd psalm’. As you too read it now, may you be reassured of the presence of God’s loving ‘Shepherd Spirit’ with you to guide, restore, comfort, strengthen and encourage.

 

Shepherd Spirit

you long to lead me in paths of peace

to provide for me,

to empower me to live and serve.

You whisper gentle words to me–

‘This is the way–walk here!’

‘Don’t be afraid–I am with you.’

‘Not yet–wait!’

                Shepherd Spirit,

at times your voice is firmer, more fervent,

impossible to ignore, urging me

to lay down the old,

to explore the new.

Even when darkness descends and loneliness engulfs,

Even when I stumble on, seeking my own path,

you rise to rescue me,

securing my steps,

attending to my needs.

              Shepherd Spirit,

as I come to my senses, I see you are there,

offering me the finest of fare,

seating me at your table,

where healing and wholeness await.

Shepherd Spirit,

I stand in strength,

inspired again to write of you,

empowered again to speak of you,

rejoicing in your love,

relishing your leading,

ready to be all you call me to be.

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