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Archive for March, 2019

Jo 12Our grandson has a wonderful way of keeping me humble—and this skill of his came to the fore recently when I tried to help him complete his Maths homework. He is only in Year 2, yet sadly I had great trouble understanding some of the questions he had to answer about shapes. What on earth were ‘cuboids’, ‘vertices’ and ‘edges’? I had no idea!

‘I don’t think you have that answer right,’ I told Zain at one stage, as I stared at the cube alongside the first question. ‘I think it has six edges.’

‘No,’ he told me firmly. ‘You’re counting the faces, not the edges!’

I was unconvinced, but decided to go along with him. We counted those edges together and somehow I came up with eight, while he found twelve—or was it sixteen? Another interesting discussion ensued but, in the end, he wrote down my answer of eight. Later, we wrote the same answer for a cuboid—which of course Zain knew straight away was a rectangular prism! Surely everyone knows that, his look implied.

We proceeded then to travel through what for me was the even rockier, more dangerous territory of cylinders and cones and square-based triangles. But when it came to answering an interesting question about whether cylindrical shapes could be stacked, we differed again. While Zain maintained they could not, if they were lying with their curved surfaces lengthwise, as they were on his homework sheet, I maintained they could if they were standing upright on their flat bases. In the end, I felt Zain worked out a clever answer to this one—‘Maybe!’

Eventually, I enlisted my mathematician husband’s help and asked him to check our work. And guess what his first comment was?

‘You have two answers wrong here!’

Yes, I had been wrong about those ‘edges’—and Zain had, I think, been right from the beginning. But, when I told Zain this, to add insult to injury, he responded: ‘Well, you’re just an old lady!’

Now that put me firmly in my place.

Later, as I pondered Zain’s words, I decided that, while I may be ‘just an old lady’ to him—and there is nothing wrong with being an ‘old lady’—I know I am more than that too. I have done many things in my life. I have two tertiary degrees and a couple of diplomas. I have worked in a variety of occupations, including high school teacher, editor and pastor. I have written eight books. I have spoken publicly well over two hundred times in recent years. Along with my pastor husband, I have raised three children. I have had an interesting and varied life and am grateful for that.

But the best thought that came to me was this. Even if I had done none of that in my life, I would still be of such worth in God’s eyes. Whatever my age, I am still God’s precious child. Through Jesus, I have been born again into God’s family. I belong to God. Jesus loves me, this I know.

That’s what really counts in the end, don’t you think?

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! 1 John 3:1

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I am a writer. I play with words—a lot. I rearrange them. I delete them and replace with more suitable ones. I shape them into phrases and sentences for hours on end. I love to tell stories and paint pictures with them, hopefully touching others’ hearts in the process and giving them a small glimpse at least of the loving heart of God. I am so grateful for this gift of writing, yet I also find myself in awe of those who can create via some form of visual art, in all its infinite variety.

This year at our church, Parramatta Baptist, our pastors have sensed God calling us to focus on the theme of ‘Ask, Seek, Knock’, as Jesus invites us to do in Matthew 7:7-8:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

So recently, they invited us all to commit ourselves to ask—to pray by name for God’s transforming presence in others; to seek—to pursue more of God’s transforming presence in our own lives; and to knockto appeal for the places and lives that we long to see open more to God. As I listened, I realised this was no man-made challenge they were giving us all—there was nothing of the ‘You should do this’ or ‘You must do better’ about it. Instead, we were being freely and joyfully invited to be part of God’s purposes for us as a body and for others. And what a unique, creative way they found to do just that!

One Sunday, we arrived to find several tables dotted around the chapel and on each were a pile of small, oval-shaped pieces of vinyl in grey and brown shades, along with some felt pens. As well, right in the centre of the church was a bright red wheelbarrow, decorated with fairy lights. As the service progressed, we were invited to commit ourselves to ‘ask, seek and knock’ by writing our name on one of these vinyl pieces and placing it in the wheelbarrow.

IMG_20190303_101333209That day, and on two further Sundays, around four hundred people did just that. Then last Sunday we arrived to find this beautiful piece of artwork installed in our chapel, with all those signed pieces of vinyl arranged to form the soil from which the tree of God’s kingdom would grow, flourish and bear fruit. It was created by our ministry assistant, Jo Sterland, a gifted artist and graphic designer, who blesses us and others in so many ways with her God-given gifts and abilities. Yes, now we could see, depicted clearly and beautifully for us, what a vital role we each play in providing that fertile soil of prayer to grow God’s kingdom more in our own lives and that of others. Truly, a picture paints a thousand words, don’t you think?

Yes, it’s a privilege to write or paint or create in any way for God. But it’s also a great privilege to be part of that living soil of prayer, as we focus on our amazing God who can do so much more than we can ever ask or imagine!

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I wonder if you are like me and do not readily allow yourself time off from all the tasks around you demanding your attention at home. It might be something I need to finish writing. It might be cooking dinner. It might be vacuuming—my pet hate! Any of these can prevent me putting time aside to be kind to myself and do nothing—or perhaps something special.

Recently, a friend invited me to see the exhibition ‘Modern Masterpieces from The Hermitage’ at the Art Gallery of NSW, with paintings on display ranging from impressionists such as Monet and Pissarro to the more avant-garde Matisse, Cezanne and Picasso. So we locked in a date and I immediately bought our tickets online. No backing out then!

And what a memorable day we had. After a speedy bus ride to the city, we strolled up through Hyde Park and the Domain to the Art Gallery. It was a beautiful day and, as we walked, we enjoyed God’s creative heart on display all around us, particularly in the towering Moreton Bay fig trees lining the road through The Domain.

As we entered the Art Gallery, we were overawed by the building itself, with its spacious, elegant interior, complete with domed ceilings and marble pillars. Our hearts lifted. Our particular exhibition was superbly set out and included an excellent multi-media presentation. And while some of the paintings were more to our taste than others, all spoke of such creativity, of pushing the boundaries, of trying new styles and techniques.

IMG_20190226_131535052Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch in the open air section of the cafeteria and were reminded again of God’s creativity, as we watched the cheeky and persistent rainbow lorikeet pictured here help itself to any crumbs we had left. What fun God musIMG_20190226_115620622t have had, creating its amazing colours! Perhaps it was this very bird, we decided, who inspired the artist Kandinsky to choose the colours he did for his bold landscape included in the exhibition!

As we eventually made our way home, after sampling the special delights of the Queen Victoria Building, we looked back on our wonderful day and felt so blessed—as if God had poured such kindness all over us in so many different ways. We were tired, but our hearts felt lighter and our minds buzzed with creative ideas birthed from seeing such creativity around us—both God’s and man’s, which surely comes from God anyway.

Recently, a friend commented how we can sometimes be less kind to ourselves than God is—and I think that may be true. Some of us are so hard on ourselves that we can end up becoming quite graceless and may even struggle with receiving God’s amazing grace. We do not deserve such compassion and forgiveness, our hearts cry out—we are not good enough. Yet through Jesus, God has reached out to us with such lovingkindness, drawing us close again. We are loved. We are accepted. We are God’s precious children.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

I hope you can show that same kindness and compassion to yourself when you need to—and I hope I can too.

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Jo 12A few weeks ago, I went to pick up our youngest granddaughter from school. I thought I knew the way, but ended up at our granddaughter’s old day care centre instead! Well, surely I can get to the school from here, I thought to myself—after all, we had often picked up our grandson there. But that soon proved easier said than done, given the extremely winding and what seems to me utterly confusing layout of Glenmore Park, a western suburb of Sydney, where roundabouts abound and streets meander in all directions. The more I tried, the more confused I became. Meanwhile, time was ticking away—and I needed to be at our granddaughter’s classroom before the bell rang. She has only just started school and would be worried otherwise.

What confused me was that this time I had set out from our daughter’s home rather than our own. In the end, I became so disoriented, I had to call up Mr Google on my phone—and yes, there was that big, blue dot on the map that helpfully showed me where I was. I typed in the name of the school and tried hard to make that dot move closer to my destination as I drove along, keeping my phone in view at the same time (ahem!). Imagine my despair when sometimes, whatever I seemed to do, that blue dot started heading in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go!

Eventually, after a few stops by the roadside to check my phone properly, I somehow happened upon the street leading to the school. I parked at the end of what by then was a massive line of cars and ran as fast as I could to Maxine’s classroom, arriving in the nick of time. Phew!

But alas, that was not the end of the story. As our granddaughter sat calmly in her car seat, I much less calmly managed to get lost again en route to her home! Everything seemed back to front to me. So out came that phone again and in went our daughter’s address, as I blithely explained to Maxine that I was ‘just making sure we were on the right road’! And yes, after several more stops to check, that blue dot finally kept moving in the direction it needed to go and we arrived home safely.

After I recovered and was able to reflect on these interesting experiences, it occurred to me that sometimes I can be like that blue dot on the map, as I live my life. My heart is to keep focussing on God in all I do, yet sometimes I make unwise decisions that lead me away from God’s loving presence rather than closer. Sometimes I too go round and round in circles and up dead end roads before I come to my senses, stop, refocus on God and get my bearings again in my life. Does that describe you too?

In these times, may we all remember to listen again to those wise words from Proverbs 3:5-6—and do what they say!

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. (The Message version)

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