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Archive for January, 2018

Jo 17Have you ever had the opportunity to boo someone off the stage or platform, as I did recently?  What fun it was! Never mind that most of the audience members were around sixty years younger than I am and took up decidedly less space in those City Recital Hall seats.  I was determined to make the most of this chance of a lifetime!

As you may have guessed, we were all at the pantomime ‘Puss in Boots’. What an opportunity to let our imaginations run riot and play that age-old game of ‘let’s pretend’!

The main characters’ costumes weren’t particularly fancy, except for the scary ogre’s colourful outfit. Puss in Boots merely had a furry tail attached around her middle and cat’s ears on her head, then later donned a red hat and boots when she and the miller’s son, Harry, set off on their adventures. The props were simple—just a large folding screen, with doors that rotated, allowing the characters to go through and around it. A few other devices were used, like a cut-out shape of a castle and the big sign prompting us all to boo. There was also appropriate music and stage lighting. But we the audience were the ones who filled in the gaps with our own vivid imaginations. We yelled out, ‘Hello, Harry!’ whenever the male lead asked us to. We responded gleefully with ‘Oh no you can’t!’ to his firm ‘Oh yes, I can!’ We screamed ‘Behind you!’ when Puss couldn’t find the big ogre. Yep, our imaginations had a great workout—especially our grandson’s.

Now Zain has always been quite adept at playing ‘Let’s pretend’ games. ‘Nanna, imagine if …’ he will say, with a twinkle in his eye. And off he goes on a wonderful flight of fancy. But Zain’s not the only one who does this.  I do too—although in nowhere near such a fun way. You see, my ‘let’s pretend’ games tend to happen when I want to impress others. I may want them to believe I have everything under control and am cool, calm and collected. Or I may want them to think I know more than I do.  Perhaps I may even want them to think I’m more ‘spiritual’ than I am or more prayerful or more Christlike or more … on it goes.  That game of ‘Let’s pretend’ is so helpful in hiding my real self that others may not like or approve of.

Do I fool anyone? Maybe—or maybe not. I know I certainly don’t fool myself. And I also know I don’t fool God. What a futile thing even to attempt, when God is present everywhere and knows us so intimately!

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. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. Psalm 139:1-4

Just as well God is also totally loving, gracious and merciful, don’t you think?  So in 2018, I plan to remember that, keep my ‘let’s pretend’ moments to pantomimes and the like and, instead, be real with God and with others—and with myself. How about you?

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Jo 17Sometimes, forgetting things can be advantageous, don’t you think? I don’t mean that slight absentmindedness that leaves me unable to remember where I have put things in our new unit because there are so many more cupboards than there were in our old house! Can you imagine the fun I had in our first Christmas here, hunting for those bonbons I had stashed away somewhere—or even some of our grandchildren’s presents I had bought earlier and hidden who knows where? But what I do mean, for example, are those times I when I somehow made a fool of myself and felt embarrassed or ashamed as a result. I may still recall something of the incident, but can more readily laugh at myself and let it go, while appreciating the things I learnt through the whole experience.

Yet there are many more instances where it is definitely not advantageous to forget things—or people. There is a family anecdote one of our children often tells when they feel a little hard done by for one reason or another. ‘Well, I’m not surprised this has happened’ they might say, ‘because, after all, you drove home and left me playing at the Lego table in the newsagent when I was a child. And another time, you left me sitting watching TV in the electrical store in the main street!’

Fortunately, they are joking when they remind us of these events in an injured voice. Yes, these two incidents really happened—and both times, my husband was the culprit! Just to reassure you, however,  on each occasion, it wasn’t long before he realised what he had done and scuttled back to find our poor lost child, who didn’t seem concerned at all and had barely missed him!

It’s not good to forget people—or their names, as I often do. But it is even more concerning when we forget who God is and what God has done for us in our lives. Recently, I came across some very sobering verses in the Psalms:

When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles, they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived. Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel. Psalm 106:7-13

Wow—what a challenge! As I enter this new year of 2018, have I truly remembered all the times God led and rescued me in 2017? Have I allowed all this to strengthen my faith in God? Have I turned and praised God for it all with a truly thankful heart? Or have I, like those Israelites, forgotten what God has done for me and forged ahead in my own strength?

May you and I remember those many past kindnesses of God well—and remember too to wait patiently for God’s counsel as we move into 2018!

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Jo 12I wonder if you have ever discovered you misunderstood the words of a song you heard as a child. Years ago, one of our children asked me, ‘Mummy, why does God put the kettle on a thousand hills?’ Eventually, I worked out they had kind of melded together in their mind an old Sunday School chorus ‘He owns the cattle on a thousand hills’ with a nursery rhyme song, ‘Polly put the kettle on’!

On another occasion, this same child asked me, ‘Mummy, is God a lady?’ What a profound question, I thought—I wonder where that came from?’ Then I realised they must have been listening to one of the old Scripture in Song choruses popular in the seventies, ‘God is not a man that he should lie’. Now those words are from Numbers 23:19, where ‘man’ obviously means ‘human’ rather than the opposite of ‘lady’! Certainly tricky for a child to understand.

But I too made similar mistakes when I was around that age.  I well remember listening to my mother singing the 23rd Psalm to the old ‘Crimond’ tune, where the first two lines went as follows:

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want,

He makes me down to lie

I was unaware of that comma between ‘Shepherd’ and ‘I’ll’, however. The words were sung in one smooth line—which led me to wonder why on earth anyone would sing about a shepherd they did not want! And why would they not want the Lord as their Shepherd? Furthermore, why would he make people lie? That didn’t sound good. But eventually I realised that the Lord wasn’t about to make us tell untruths. Instead he was inviting us to lie down in those green pastures he provides and be restored deep in our spirit. Then in my teens, I discovered I did in fact very much want the Lord as my Shepherd leading and watching over me for the rest of my life.

Sadly even now, when I sometimes think I know better, I still choose to go my own way and turn a deaf ear to the Shepherd, as he urges me to stay close to him and head for a safe place where I can rest. How much these wilful choices of mine must grieve the Lord! Yet he still keeps following me and calling out to me in love, ‘Come this way, Jo-Anne! Here I am—I haven’t left you!’ How much I need to turn then, listen carefully to his voice—and do what he says.

Recently, I finished reading a wonderful novel by Charles Martin, Long Way Gone, a kind of modern-day telling of the story of the prodigal son. The son in the story walked away from his loving father, causing so much pain and heartache for all. He resented his father’s control over his life and decided to go his own way. But the father kept following him and watching over him, finally rescuing him from certain death. And that is what our Shepherd faithfully does for us his sheep too, year in and year out—forever. How amazing is that?

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

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pexels-photo-461252There we were on Christmas day, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. I had put some cherries out for us to enjoy and offered one to our three-year-old granddaughter.

‘These are lovely, Maxine. Would you like one?’ I said.

She gazed at them for a moment, then came out with this profound statement.

‘I don’t like cherries because I’ve never had them before!’

Now that obviously made complete sense to her. After all, surely if her parents hadn’t given them to her before this, then those funny red things with stems must be yucky! I remembered too the response of one of our own children, when faced with eating something they hadn’t tasted previously. ‘I won’t like it!’ they would say, obviously fearful of what lay ahead.

Sadly, I suspect I can be like Maxine at times, or that child of ours.  Often I can be very picky—but more so with books than food.  I may find myself turned off by a cover I dislike or the quality of the paper or the size of the print. I don’t mind small print, but I do object when a large font is used and those lines are spread so far apart and the margins are so wide, making that book too insubstantial for me and not worth the money I paid for it! Yet some smaller books I own have turned out to be absolute gems, such as Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude or Eugene Petersen’s The Wisdom of Each Other.

Much sadder than pre-judging books, however, are the times I have pre-judged people because of their appearance or something different about them. The biggest lesson I learnt in this regard occurred around twenty-five years ago when I met a young woman at a prayer training course. At first, after discovering she was blind, I avoided her. I felt I would not know how to relate to someone who could not see. And, to my shame, I was reluctant to put myself out to help her. Yet God drew us together—and that young woman taught me so much about myself, about courage, about perseverance, about relating to those who suffer from any degree of vision impairment.

A few years later, I found myself at another course where most participants were from a different part of the Body of Christ. ‘They won’t be able to teach me anything much,’ I decided in complete arrogance. Yet their kind acceptance, attentiveness and intelligent conversation turned out to be a wonderful, healing gift from God for me.

Now I’m hoping there aren’t too many others of you out there like me who are practised pre-judgers.  I hope you taste those cherries or look carefully at those smaller books before making up your mind. I hope you listen to and accept others, however different they are. And I hope I do too more and more. But above all, if Jesus Christ is someone unfamiliar to you, I hope and pray that, in the coming year, you may not pre-judge or write him off too quickly but instead take time to get to know him, to experience his amazing love and to taste his absolute goodness for yourself.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

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Jo 23

In the recent Christmas heat, I watched some of the shrubs and plants near our unit struggle to stay alive. Even some of the hardiest ones in pots on our balcony suffered, as the hot sun scorched the leaves and shrivelled the flowers. The native trees nearby survived the best—those gum trees and grevilleas and callistemon have had to learn to be tough in our dry terrain. And it was in the midst of observing all this that I read the following:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.

They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” Psalm 92:13-15

Have you ever noticed how some folk in their sixties look and act old before their time, while others in their nineties still seem quite young and are happily engaged in life in all sorts of ways? Of course, ill health and other difficulties can make life hard for some. Yet even apart from that, some seem to shrivel up before their time, like my pot plants, and resort to sitting on the sidelines rather than fully participating, while others much older continue to lay hold of life with both hands.

Recently, I discovered that one gentleman who is a member of our Village choir is actually ninety-nine years old! I would never have guessed it. He is interesting to speak to, alert and observant, obviously highly intelligent and also a gifted artist. Someone else told me that when he didn’t turn up to choir last year for a while, they discovered he had gone to Poland for his great-grandson’s wedding!

Now while some might consider me so old already—including our youngest grandchildren—I am actually thirty years younger than this lovely gentleman! So I have been asking myself what God might have in store for me, should I too have another thirty years ahead of me. After all, I did not waste the first thirty years of my life or the second thirty—so why waste the third thirty or beyond? In my old age, which I’m sure I haven’t quite reached yet, I feel there is still so much for me to do. I have ideas for books I would still like to write. I have many more ideas for my blogs. I would love to continue speaking for a while yet. I enjoy mentoring several wonderful women leaders. Everywhere I look, I see other opportunities for ministry. And of course, beyond all that, I want to see our grandchildren grow and flourish and still be invested in their lives for many years to come.

So in 2018, and for as long as God enables, I hope and pray I can be more like the native trees and shrubs I can see from my balcony and not those sad, wilted pot plants. As I keep my feet firmly on that Rock who is the Lord, I hope I can continue to flourish, bearing good fruit and staying fresh and green, for a long time to come yet.

How about you?

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