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Archive for March, 2021

These days leading up to Easter are always filled with mixed emotions for me. I feel so joyful and relieved when I think about Easter Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Yet I always feel a sense of dread too, as Good Friday approaches, because those last days of Jesus’ earthly life held such pain for him on many different levels.

This year in preparation for Easter, I decided to read the last few chapters of Luke’s Gospel again slowly, wanting—yet not wanting—to follow Jesus’ journey to the cross. And, as always, I found new challenges awaiting me and a whole new appreciation for the huge sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.

Central to this was the way Jesus remained in control of all that took place. For our sake, he allowed those terrible events to happen to him. For us, he deliberately remained at the mercy of Pilate, Herod, the soldiers, the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard and the crowd who shouted, ‘Crucify him!’ The physical pain he endured through it all, even before his crucifixion, must have been absolutely excruciating. But what challenged me most this time as I read was the deep mental, emotional and spiritual anguish he must have suffered, as he was mocked and ridiculed. Yet he took it all—for you and for me—and I still find that hard to fathom.

When Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he forbids his followers to defend him in any physical way. When one of them strikes the high priest’s servant and cuts off his ear, Jesus even goes to the extent of healing the wounded man (Luke 22:51). Yet further on in that same chapter, we read how Jesus himself is not only beaten, but cruelly mocked and made fun of too.

The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” And they said many other insulting things to him. Luke 22:63-64

How did Jesus, the Saviour of the world, put up with such taunts? How shameful that the Son of God, who knows all things, was blindfolded as if a child taking part in some party game and challenged to guess who hit him! It makes my blood boil just to read it. I myself am often too proud to accept any sort of rebuke or hint of insult or blame. Yet Jesus, who had done nothing wrong and instead healed and restored so many, took this shameful rubbish and cruel play-acting on our behalf.

I read on then, as Jesus quietly answers the chief priests and teachers of the law the next morning and is taken before Pilate, then passed over to Herod. And here the scoffing and taunting continues.

Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.  Luke 23:11

Yet Jesus does not retaliate or even speak out to defend himself. Instead, when he is eventually led away and hangs on that cross, he prays:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

What amazing love Jesus showed for us—what a beautiful Saviour we have! This Easter, let’s truly remember this and worship Jesus with all our heart.

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It’s not every day we take ourselves off to enjoy high tea somewhere, so we had been particularly looking forward to this one, a special Christmas gift from our son and daughter-in-law. And at last, there we were, standing slightly overawed in the grand entrance to the Wintergarden Restaurant of the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains, and wondering if we were back in the early 1900s when this amazing edifice was built.

I gathered together as many ladylike manners as I could muster and tried not to boggle at the beautiful, satin upholstered furniture nearby and the dining tables beyond, with their pristine, white linen tablecloths and plush chairs. Then a staff member greeted us and ushered us to our table beside the huge windows that framed a stunning view of the Megalong Valley and the surrounding mountains. By this stage, we were slightly speechless—this did not feel like us!

Soon, a lovely waiter came to take our beverage order. Then, not long after, another staff member brought our sumptuous high tea to us with a smile and asked whether we wanted the different treats explained to us. Yes, that would be helpful, we decided, as our eyes bulged.

But where to start? Soon we were demolishing the middle tier of savoury food—curried egg sandwiches, cucumber and cream cheese squares, tiny rye sliders, delicious lamb wraps and small pastry treats. Then, feeling almost replete already, we slowly moved on to the lower tier of delicious scones, jam and cream. Yum! After that, we waited some considerable time before deciding to tackle those tempting cakes and desserts on the top tier. And what a delight each one turned out to be, when we finally gave in! There was such attention to detail too, with a little chocolate stalk and flower petal leaf on the delicious citrus ball and gold edging on the raspberry that decorated the chocolate mousse creation. They were almost too lovely to eat.

Later, as we recovered and reflected on the whole experience, I sensed God saying, ‘I’m glad you enjoyed it, but the feast I provide for everyone is even more beautiful and satisfying!’  

Then I remembered God’s heart-wrenching plea to the Israelites so many years ago:

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever. But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81:13-16

I wonder how many times I, like the Israelites, have turned down that gentle but insistent invitation to come and eat the food only God can provide that will truly sustain me, whatever happens in life? I wonder how many times I have struggled on in my own strength, starving myself of spiritual nourishment, when it was there all the time for the taking?

Let’s not turn away or ignore that beautiful feast God offers each one of us. Instead, each day, let’s do what King David urges us to do:

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

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There we were, our granddaughter and I, chatting away as she bounced on the trampoline. Maxine had turned seven that day, so was particularly excited. We talked about all sorts of things, but at one stage, when she was trying to tell me something I didn’t understand, she looked at me with pity in her big, brown eyes and proceeded to climb off the trampoline.

‘Nanna, let me explain!’ she told me. ‘Now … this is what I mean.’

What followed was a detailed description of a certain game, complete with an energetic re-enactment for my benefit. With great enthusiasm, Maxine swooped back and forth, outlining the parameters of where everyone could run, with such patience and gusto that I did not have the heart to tell her I had no idea what she talking about. Instead, I nodded enthusiastically and said ‘Wow!’—and she seemed satisfied.

Yes, at the ripe old age of seven, Maxine is definitely good at is picturing whole scenes in her mind, then describing them vividly, complete with blow-by-blow actions. Sometimes I find it hard not to smile as I watch her in action with such an earnest expression on her face, while she enters fully into making me understand.

Now that might seem a far cry from anything to do with Lent and the weeks leading up to Easter. Yet later, as I thought about how intent Maxine was on helping me enter into this whole experience, my mind went to God’s ultimate action in reaching out to us through Jesus Christ. For so many centuries, God’s nature and ways had been made clear to the Israelites. Yet eventually, by sending Jesus, God showed them—and us—beyond the shadow of a doubt how deeply we are loved.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Yet as the first disciples began following Jesus, they were still puzzled about who he was. And they were often slow to understand, despite listening to him and seeing him perform many miracles. Once, after Jesus rescues them by rebuking the wind and waves, they cry out:

What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8:27

A few chapters later, we read how Simon Peter at least has realised who Jesus actually is:

But what about you?” he {Jesus) asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

Simon Peter answered. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  Matthew 16:15-16

And this is the question we all are called to answer, isn’t it? In our heart of hearts, who do we truly say Jesus is?

God’s amazing love for us could not have been made any clearer. In Jesus, we see it played out in how he lived and died—for us. Jesus not only talked about God’s love, but also acted it out to the bitter end, despite the cost and the agony involved.

Let’s not take Jesus’ words or actions lightly. As Easter approaches, let’s look at that love of God, played out on the cross for us. Let’s not just smile or pretend to understand, as I did with Maxine. Instead, let’s allow that amazing love to change us—forever.

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It can be interesting—and challenging—to think about the casual phrases we use at times. Recently, I received an email from a friend that ended with the following:

Thanks a bunch. You’re a legend!

Those final three words in particular made me think. Why was she calling me a legend? Yes, I had spent time doing something for her, but it will also benefit me, so I doubt I deserved the title. Even a similar statement such as ‘You’re wonderful!’ or ‘You’re amazing!’ would have been an overstatement, from my perspective. To me, a legend is someone who has done something outstanding that will be or has been remembered down through the years—or, as the Oxford Dictionary says, ‘an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field’. Nope—definitely not me!

But this term ‘legend’ can also refer to a story of someone and their feats that cannot be historically verified and perhaps has been exaggerated over time. Did King Arthur and those knights of the round table really exist, for example? Did Robin Hood do all those daring deeds we have read about? Hmm—I very much doubt anyone would ever have cause to talk about my daring exploits, however, let alone exaggerate them, so I will never reach legend status on that front either. But … what story will I leave behind me? What sort of mark will I leave on this world?

Not long after my first few novels were published, someone commented to me. ‘What a wonderful legacy to leave for others!’ At first, I laughed—I had never thought of my books in that way. After all, I know novels do not have a long shelf life in bookstores, unless they are best sellers. And no doubt many of my books have ended up buried under piles of other books in people’s homes or in a second-hand bookshop—or in the recycling bin! But then I realised that person had a point—and that I should be so thankful for the opportunity hopefully to draw others closer to God through my books. Recently, I received two emails from friends, sharing how God had spoken to them through my most recent novel Down by the Water and encouraged them. I felt so humbled and so grateful to God. What a privilege!

We don’t have to be legends or our exploits legendary to matter in God’s eyes. In fact, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 NLT

True, some may become legends, as God empowers and guides. Yet whether legends or plain ordinary people or absolute nobodies in the world’s eyes, we need to remember it is how God sees us that matters. God has chosen each of us and will work through us in all sorts of ways to make a difference in this world, as we in turn choose to love and serve God with all our heart.

Legends? Maybe not. Lovers of God? Yes!

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I sat there waiting, the talk I was about to give clutched in my hands. I had known there would be a business session first, followed by morning tea. Then, as guest speaker, I was to address everyone physically present, as well as those joining in via Zoom from home. My husband and I had arrived early to set up my book table and check in with the person in charge of technology, with whom we had already liaised via email, text and Zoom, but I was still nervous. What if I could not share all those power point slides during my talk? What if our Zoom connection via my mobile phone did not work?

As the meeting began, my heart sank. The first speaker seemed to have no idea how to use Zoom—or the microphone right in front of him. Only the top of his head was visible on the screen showing us all what those at home could see, while the microphone obscured the rest of his face. And he spoke so softly, it was hard to hear him. The technology expert seemed busy with other things and took ages to act. And as I watched, I became more and more anxious.

But worse was to come. As one particular person approached the microphone, the slide presentation he needed to show could not be found. A frustrating fifteen-minute wait ensued, until it was eventually located. But this episode did little to inspire me with confidence.

A string of people then came to promote upcoming events, but they all moved so slowly and took so long to share what needed to be shared—and much more too! I stared at my watch and saw those precious minutes ticking away, shortening the time available for me to speak.

Just then, my husband noticed my anxiety and leaned over to me.

‘Relax,’ he told me. ‘God’s in charge!’

At first, I felt angry. How could I possibly relax, when these people seemed unaware how time was slipping away? And how could I shorten my talk, yet still say what I needed to say? But then I took a deep breath and tried to focus on God. Yes, I could not deny God was right there with me and was indeed in charge. I had prayed about the morning and I had also invited my prayer team to pray for me as I spoke. In this moment, I needed to trust God and simply do my best in the time I was given to share from my heart.

At last, the moment came. All our technology worked perfectly and everyone could hear and see me. I left out certain parts and finished exactly when I was supposed to, to my great relief. And afterwards, there was even time for some book sales and several interesting conversations with people.

Yes, God was there, in the midst of the chaos and failures and anxiety. And God is right there now too for us all, whatever is happening in our lives, walking through each moment with us. God knows. God cares. Our God is sufficient—always.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 NLT

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