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Archive for April, 2018

Jo 23


I had finished my shopping and was heading towards the shortest checkout queue when I noticed a man doing the same thing.

‘Ladies before gentlemen!’ he said with a smile.

As I thanked him and forged ahead, I bumped my trolley against the counter.

‘Oops—looks like I need to see where I’m going!’ I laughed.

‘Oh,’ he replied, ‘I’ve been trying to work that out for the past seventy years!’

My mind whirred as I stacked my groceries on that counter, but before I could say anything, he spoke again.

‘Do you know where you’re going?’

For a few moments, that question seemed to hang in the air between us. It was as if time stood still—and almost as if God was smiling at me and saying, ‘Well, Jo—what are you going to say?’

So I said the first thing that came to mind.

‘Actually, I do know where I’m going!’

‘Oh, where’s that?’ he responded.

‘Well, I belong to God—I know Jesus and I believe I’m going to heaven!’

He looked slightly taken aback, but then launched into a little poem I recognised yet now sadly cannot remember. When he had finished, I decided that, if he could quote something to me, I could perhaps quote something back.

‘Oh, I love 1 John 3:1—How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! It’s amazing we can be children of God, don’t you think?’

At that point, it was as if he dredged up a Bible verse of his own from somewhere deep in the recesses of his brain—perhaps from childhood? I could not catch it all, but nodded and smiled.

‘What’s your name?’ he demanded then.

‘I’m Jo-Anne … what’s yours?’

‘I’m Tony,’ he told me, in his lovely European accent.

‘Good to chat, Tony!’I replied, suddenly realising the girl at the checkout was smiling at me—and that the shopper she had just served was looking at me somewhat strangely!

Later, I thought of all the things I could have said instead—but at least the man hadn’t seemed too put off. In fact, I wondered if something had stirred in him as we chatted—perhaps something God had spoken into his heart long ago? And maybe our conversation would cause him to reflect a little more on his own question. I hoped so anyway.

I wondered, however, if what I had said may have come across as just that little bit too presumptuous. Even as I said what I did, I remember thinking, ‘This could sound so proud and arrogant!’ But Jesus himself tells us:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

And in 1 John 5:11-12, we read:

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life …

I wonder how you would have answered this man’s question. Perhaps your response would have been much wiser and more sensitive than mine. Whatever the case, I hope you do know where you’re going—because that’s the main thing, isn’t it?

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Jo 12This week, our oldest grandchild turns fifteen. Fifteen!  How did that happen? Surely there’s been a mistake, I think to myself—she must have skipped out a few years along the way somewhere. Surely it wasn’t fifteen years ago that we rushed to see her in that hospital, just after she was born?

I remember well those growing up years of our little blonde-haired mite with the grey-green eyes. Each Friday during her preschool days, we had many adventures when we minded her until her father picked her up in the afternoon. We became well acquainted with all the nearby parks and soon worked out which had the best play equipment for whatever age our granddaughter was at the time. And we also came to know which shopping centres provided the best spots to have our important morning tea of juice and donuts!

We enjoyed endless games at home too—card games like ‘Donkey’, where somehow Nanna, with great skill, always ended up with that tattered donkey card left in her hand! We played Snap and memory games and later, Uno. We played Snakes and Ladders and others such as Charlie and Lola’s Pink Milk or that aptly named game Trouble. We watched old videos of The Fairies and The Wiggles and Hi5. We made pretend cakes and biscuits with play dough—but we baked yummy, real ones too, always keeping some for Mummy and Daddy.

Recently, I listened as our granddaughter groaned about the many school assignments she currently has to complete. Her life is so full—she is an excellent dancer, with classes and performances consuming many of her spare hours. Right now, she cannot even think much past these school years, with all those assignments and tests. Yet soon they will be over. And soon those university years will be over too. Soon, she will be a young woman, finding her own way in the world.

Will both my husband and I still be around to see her life unfold? I hope so, with all my heart. Yet none of us knows how long we have on this earth—not even our fifteen-year-old granddaughter. We often think we have years ahead of us, but nothing in this world is truly certain, as James warns us:

Now listen you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:13-14

Even if we all live into our nineties, that is such a very, very short time, isn’t it, when compared to eternity? Of course we have to plan and ‘carry on business’ in life, but how easily we can take our eyes off God and allow things that don’t matter in the end to consume us!

When I am about to vanish like that mist, I don’t want to find myself saying, ‘Where has the time gone? How did that happen? I know there were things God had for me to do, yet I chose not to do them.’ Instead, I want to use those God-given gifts each day as best I can—and I hope you do too.

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Jo 17I have embarked on a new writing project. At least, it’s not actually new—it has been hovering around on my laptop for a couple of years, patiently awaiting my attention. Whenever I find time, I open the relevant files and try to work out where I’m up to. One contains a chapter outline for the whole novel, while another is filled with notes about the characters. A third contains the beginnings of the first chapter, which has morphed several times, as I have reflected on it further.

One thing that has kept me from becoming fully launched into this novel is my concern about how best to spend my time. What does God want me to do now? Since 2007, I have had six novels and two non-fiction works published, with many resulting opportunities to speak. Could eight books perhaps be enough?

As I prayed about it, I sensed God’s green light either way, as if God were saying, ‘Jo-Anne, I will be so delighted in you if you write this novel—but equally delighted if you don’t!’ What a wonderful, gracious, freeing message to hear! I could be at peace about it all. I could write it—or not write it.

The months passed and that novel still did not grow at any great rate. Then one day, I read Isaiah 26:8 again:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

These words seemed such a good, timely reminder to me to check my motives in continuing with my novel. Was I writing it merely to get my name out there again? Did I want to be known as this prolific author who keeps producing books? Did I hope this novel would bring me greater personal kudos or renown? Or did I truly desire to write it to honour God and to share God’s amazing love and grace once again in story format?

My heart said a fervent ‘yes’, in response to this last question. Furthermore, I felt a strong urge deep inside to create the sort of novel I personally want to create this time around, irrespective of current writing conventions or literary fashion or whatever! Yet I was still wary about it all. Already, my life is full—would I ever be able to find the necessary time?

I read on in Isaiah 26 and came to the following verse:

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us (12).

I know this was written in the context of Israel’s finding peace as a nation. But what a good, personal reminder to me to be at peace and allow God to shape this future novel—and its time frame! After all, it was only through God’s strength, guidance and inspiration that I was able to write my other eight books, when I initially thought it would be impossible to write even one. Truly, whatever I have accomplished has all come from God.

So I plan to trust God to guide and inspire as I write—and be at peace in the process. Surely that’s the best perspective to have in it all? And, whether you seek to serve and honour God through writing or something entirely different, I hope and pray this will be your perspective too.

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IJo 23t was 1968 and I was in my busy, final year at university, but I decided I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to be a counsellor at the upcoming Billy Graham Crusade. This involved several training sessions, then attending as many crusade meetings as we could at the Brisbane Showgrounds. I was new to it all—and in both the training and the actual meetings, I learnt some lessons I have never forgotten.

During our training, we were asked to memorise some key Bible verses in order to counsel someone better—Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, John 3:16, John 1:12, Ephesians 2:8-9 and others. Those verses remain clear in my mind, fifty years on.

But one day during our training, I learnt another key lesson. Some, it seemed, were questioning others’ fitness as counsellors because they were not baptised or not taking communion in a certain way or not following some other church practice these critics regarded as essential. I remember the gracious way our trainer handled the matter, gently warning us all against being judgmental.

Later, he asked if any of us had been able to put into practice what we had learnt the previous week about sharing Christ with someone. There was silence—until a little, old Salvation Army lady stood and, with a beaming face, told us about how she had talked about Jesus with someone on the train that day. What a profound and salutary lesson! This lady represented a group of Christians who do not usually practise baptism or take communion—yet she was apparently the only one present who had shared Christ with someone that week. Hmm.

But I was to learn an even more profound lesson in not being judgmental one Sunday afternoon at the crusade itself. I had made my way to the old ‘Machinery Hill’ section of the grounds, proudly wearing my counsellor badge, and was waiting for the meeting to begin. Two men were sitting in front of me and one of them was smoking. I could tell he was nervous—he was fidgeting around and his friend was obviously trying to put him at ease. Then a man wearing an usher’s badge approached them, red in the face.

‘Excuse me!’ he said loudly to the man smoking. ‘Would you please put your cigarette out? This is a religious meeting!’

The man seemed stunned, then apologised and did as asked.

Right then, crusade or no crusade, I wanted to get up and punch that usher! I could not believe what I had witnessed—after all, it was an open air meeting and no one else seemed to mind that the man was smoking. At least he was there! I could feel the deep embarrassment of both men seated in front of me—I was sure neither would hear a thing Billy Graham said that day because of that officious usher. Surely he could have been more discerning and prayed quietly for the man instead?

Yes, one of those verses we learnt mentions grace—and that is what we all need, don’t you think? Tons and tons of it!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

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