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Archive for September, 2020

It’s strange how wearing a facemask in a public place can cause us to feel so isolated, isn’t it—perhaps even invisible? We may try to make eye contact with others, but it’s hard to convey friendliness and warmth with our eyes alone. We may smile—but no one can see that smile. And is anyone smiling back? Who knows? Or are they merely wondering why we are staring straight at them? Better to stay in our own little world, go about our business and get home as quickly as we can. Is that how you feel at times?

Recently, as I walked up the travelator into our shopping centre, a lady coming the other way saw me and said hello. At first, I did not recognise her, even though she had no facemask on—but then I realised I knew her from our church. She had managed to connect with me, even with my own mask covering half my face—and it was lovely to see her smile and hear her warm greeting.

But as I went down that same travelator after finishing my shopping, I saw a girl coming up on the opposite side. She had a facemask on and seemed to be talking loudly to herself. Then I noticed she had some ear-pieces in and realised she must be on the phone behind that mask! She was completely engrossed in her conversation and well and truly in her own little world—such a contrast from my earlier experience.

Yes, we are becoming adept at keeping others at a distance and isolating ourselves in our own little worlds behind those masks. And technology can isolate us even further. I sometimes encounter this even in our own home, since my husband wears hearing aids that pick up the sound from our TV. But I still often try to comment on something to him when we are watching a show, forgetting about all that noise already blaring in his ears! And by the time he has asked me what I said, the moment is gone.

But as I look at my own life, I see how adept I often am at keeping God at a distance too. Sometimes there is so much going on inside my brain—plans for this and that, writing ideas, interesting things to think about—that I deliberately refuse to stop and reflect on the things of God. I want that close, loving relationship with God, but I also want to hold God at arm’s length at times. I love God—but I want my own way too.

Surely I should know by now that, whatever ‘mask’ I might try to wear to isolate myself in my own little world will not work with God, who sees and knows everything anyway and is present everywhere? How much better then to remember who I belong to, open my heart to my loving Father again, listen for his voice and invite him into every part of my life.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Revelation 3:20 NLT

Truly our own little worlds are so much richer in every way when we welcome God into them, don’t you think?

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This week marks a big milestone in our family, as we celebrate my husband’s eightieth birthday! To keep things COVID-safe, we are staging ‘The Festival of Lionel’, several small get-togethers over ten days or so with friends and family members. It all seems a little surreal—as one kind friend wrote when invited to come and celebrate with us, ‘But … are you sure he’s eighty?’

Yes, Lionel was born in 1940—a very long time ago indeed, although in some ways, it seems to have flown. And what a lot he has packed into those many years! After ministering at a small church in Brisbane where our first daughter, Jane, was born, Lionel accepted a call to a church in Sydney, where our son Andrew came along.  A lecturing role at the Bible College of South Australia in beautiful Victor Harbor followed. We loved those six years of living near the beach and surrounding farms and our third child, Tina, was born there.

But then the college relocated to Adelaide, where we lived until Lionel’s role there finished a year later. We returned to Sydney, where he became a local church pastor again, until he was offered another lecturing role, this time at our theological college, which necessitated a move across town for us. Twelve years later, after that role ended, Lionel joined our church’s pastoral team full-time, before training as an intentional interim minister. He then worked in this capacity at several different churches, helping them find their feet again, and trained others in this ministry too.

Can you imagine the number of sermons Lionel has preached down through the years, often two different sermons each Sunday? And what about all those lectures—and the thousands of hours of preparation that went into them? Lionel already knew his bible well when I met him way back in 1968, during his own time at theological college, but along the way, he added to that knowledge with further study in the USA. He was—and still is—convinced of the truth of the gospel. His desire was to equip others well for their own ministries, whatever shape or form these might take, and to this day, even at the ripe old age of eighty, he still enjoys doing that.

Lionel has touched many lives through the years—college students, those who made up the church congregations where he ministered and also friends along the way, as well as family. His life has been well spent, serving the Lord and equipping others to do the same—and we hope and pray he can continue doing such things for quite some years yet.

Right now, however, what fun we are having, celebrating this milestone birthday! Yet it’s wonderful to know that one day a much more joyful celebration will take place for him when he meets Jesus face to face. On that day, I’m sure he will hear the same words the faithful servant who used his talents well heard when his master returned:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21

What a celebration that will be, sharing in the Lord’s happiness! Are you looking forward to that for yourself too?

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All those neat boxes

I watched in my rear vision mirror as the van behind me came closer and closer. The young driver looked impatient, yet I could not immediately move to the left-hand lane—and I could not go any faster because I was already on the speed limit. Eventually, however, it was safe to move over and the young man passed me. But then he pulled into my lane right in front of me and proceeded to sit there.

Perhaps I imagined this was a clear statement on his part—except I have seen it happen before. It’s as if some young drivers have a neon sign flashing on their foreheads that says loud and clear, ‘Ugh—silly old grey-haired lady driver! She’s going to slow me down, for sure. I’ll get in front her as quick as I can. And I might even teach her a lesson!’

Once years ago, as I was waiting to enter a busy, main road, an impatient driver pulled around me and squeezed into a small space between two cars in the oncoming traffic, only to run into the back of someone a short distance further on. He deserved it, I thought to myself on that occasion—hardly a loving, Christian response!

Perhaps you can tell I do not appreciate being put in a box—particularly a box that says, ‘silly old grey-haired lady’! And neither do two of my neighbours, one of whom is ninety years old and still driving.

‘Oh, I make sure I put my foot down and drive right on the 80k limit on my way home from shopping,’ she told me recently. ‘I like giving the car a good run when I can!’

‘Me too—but I don’t worry about any speed limit!’ my other slightly younger neighbour responded with spirit.

It’s easy to put people in boxes, isn’t it? I find myself making snap judgments about people all the time, according to how they look or talk. One could even say I have done this right here, as far as young male drivers are concerned, after all! I have done it as I looked around outside our grandchildren’s classrooms at the parents and other grandparents waiting there. I have done it as I gazed down at my audience, even while in full flight speaking somewhere. I have caught myself doing it here in our village, only to discover that people twenty years older than I am, whom I would perhaps have written off, are still doing amazing things—walking kilometres each day, volunteering, running groups, painting beautiful pictures. The list goes on.

Just as well God doesn’t put people in boxes according to their age or how they look or speak or act. God called Abram when he was already an old man (Genesis 12). God commanded Moses to deliver the Israelites, even though he was not eloquent (Exodus 4). God chose David over his older brothers as king, explaining to Samuel:

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

One day, I hope I learn not to judge by appearances. One day, I hope I learn not to put people in boxes—and I hope that young driver does too.

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There I was, congratulating myself that I had finished my shopping in record time. I settled into the driver’s seat and went to take off my facemask. But something was missing. I had lost one of my special earrings, a souvenir from our golden wedding anniversary trip to New Zealand.

While the earrings were not particularly expensive, I was determined to try to find the missing one. I felt around on the floor of the car. Nothing. I looked under the seat. Nothing. I slid my hand down the side of my seat near the handbrake. Again nothing. But then my hand stuck fast—my watch had twisted on my wrist!  I tried to undo the clasp, to no avail. Finally, with a desperate yank, I managed to pull my hand free, but then saw what I had done. The face of my watch was now at right angles to my wrist and some of the links of my watchband were bent out of shape.

What to do? I retraced my steps up to the supermarket, checking on the ground in the car park all the way. To my utter surprise, I found my earring—although the pretty paua shell that had been part of it was broken. But now my watch still had to be fixed, so I headed to our friendly watch repair man and told him the whole story.

‘Wow!’ he said. ‘I can straighten your watch up—I’ve seen others like this. But this could be a warning to you. It’s an omen. You’d better go straight home, before something worse happens!’

At first, I laughed—but then a weird sense of fear crept over me. What if he was right? What if I went and did more shopping and lost my purse? What if I caught coronavirus from someone in the centre? What if I had a car accident as I drove home? I had better get home as quickly and as carefully as I can, before anything else bad happens, just like he said.

But as I returned to my car, I came to my senses. What was I doing, letting such thoughts take hold and control my actions? Yes, fear can be a helpful warning. It can stop us doing foolhardy things like driving too fast or standing too close to the edge of a cliff or being with someone who will do us harm. At times, it is important to listen to that voice telling us to stay safe. But at other times, that voice seeks to bring us undone.

I sat there then, letting various verses from Scripture about fear surface in my mind instead.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Yes, these words bring comfort. This voice speaks freedom. And security. And peace. These words are so much more worth listening to than any weird omen warning, don’t you think?

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It is well known amongst our family and friends that I am not the world’s best caterer. Yes, I can cook. In fact, I quite enjoy baking cakes and biscuits in particular. But as for how much food to provide for any special event—well, that’s where I come to grief. You see, what I have prepared never looks quite enough to me. What if I have underestimated what we need? What if there’s nothing our guests like on the table? Perhaps I had better make another dish or some more slices—just in case. And before I know it, that table is laden.

Over the years, we have had many visitors in our home. At one stage when our children were young, a horde of bible college students used to come to our house on a Saturday night at regular intervals to relax and enjoy a home-cooked supper. Later, we often had ‘after church fellowship’ at our place on Sunday evenings, where the young people would devour everything! In more recent years, I have held many birthday parties in our home. And seven times, I have catered for my own book launches, carting my home-cooked food to the various venues where these were held. But these days, I have to say I am a little over such efforts. Catering was never my great strength—and now I feel it is even less so.

Yet, during this isolation time, I have discovered all over again the joy of providing something home-cooked and hopefully tasty for others. Each Sunday, a handful of folk from our village who normally attend our church but who cannot access our church’s online service for various reasons have been coming to our home to join in watching the service with us via our TV. We are careful to do everything in a COVID-safe way, with hand sanitiser at the door, chairs spaced one and a half metres apart, no singing etc—and the same goes for our morning tea afterwards. Everyone seems to enjoy watching and interacting with our church service. But somehow, I suspect that morning tea afterwards is almost as important to them. They chat on. They are listened to. They share from their own lives. And people’s spirits are lifted.

At times, I laugh at this turn of events in my life. And I suspect God might be smiling too. It’s as if God is saying to me, with a little wink, ‘Well, Jo-Anne, I know this is out of your comfort zone a little and that I’ve turned the clock way back on you, but … will you do this just now for these folk who need others around them? Will you love me and serve me in this way, as if I was one of those guests at your table?

I wonder what God has challenged or is challenging you to do in this isolation time that is a little out of your comfort zone. Whatever it is, in God’s strength, we can do it, don’t you think?

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. Colossians 3:23-24

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