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Archive for September, 2021

I wonder if you can remember a time when you thought you knew someone well, then realised you didn’t at all. Perhaps you were delighted to discover they had done or could do something amazing. Or perhaps your experience was not so joyful. It can be quite a rude awakening, can’t it, when someone we thought we could depend on lets us down or disappoints us?

I can well remember the time years ago when I told some friends I was heading to theological college. This had long been a dream of mine and I thought they would be delighted for me. Yet instead, they seemed offended and asked me bluntly, ‘What would you want to do that for?’ I can’t remember how I responded—but I know I did not say much. I knew they would not be receptive—and by then, they had come crashing down off that pedestal I had put them on where they could do no wrong, in my eyes. Later, I realised they were at least being honest—and we remained friends. But that day, I certainly came to know them a little better.

Yet new revelations can happen even in our own families too. Recently, I mentioned something to my husband about a particular, ongoing difficulty our granddaughter was facing.

‘Oh, I used to have that trouble back in my teens myself!’ he told me immediately, to my great surprise.

He then described an actual setting where this had happened once and how he felt at the time. Yet, in all our fifty-two years of marriage, for whatever reason, I had never heard this personal story of his before. I was amazed—and it also made me wonder what other things I have yet to discover about my husband!

Recently, however, as I read in John 1 how Jesus called his early disciples to follow him, I realised my amazement paled into insignificance when compared with how Nathanael must have felt, when he first met Jesus. After hearing about Jesus from his friend Philip, he was reluctant at first to believe anything good could come from Nazareth, but went with Philip anyway to see for himself (44-46). And he was in for quite a shock.

 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (47-49)

Nathanael believed immediately because he realised Jesus knew all about him, even though they had never met. And we see a similar response in John 4 from the Samaritan woman at the well, after her amazing conversation with Jesus there.

Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (29)

There is something freeing, don’t you think, in the fact that Jesus knows all about us too? We don’t have explain anything to him. And we don’t have to justify ourselves or pretend either. Instead, we can be at peace in his presence. We are loved. We are accepted. We are valued. We are known—truly known. Let’s praise God for that!

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Have you noticed in this COVID time when there is so much bad news around how wonderful it is to hear good news? It can feel like soothing ointment on a raw wound or a cold, thirst-quenching drink on a boiling hot day, can’t it?

One Saturday recently, I received an excited text from a friend. She had just discovered she did not have to pay a certain bill she owed—and it was for a sizeable amount. Way back, I had read something online that suggested she might not have to and mentioned this to her. Then, as soon as she could, she investigated further and stated her case. Many enquiries, pleasant/unpleasant phone calls and requests for various documents followed, but my friend is determined and did not give up. And finally, her perseverance had been rewarded.

She was so relieved that she could not help sharing her good news with me straight away—and I was so glad she did. At first, I could not believe that some little idea I had suggested to her way back, without much faith, had actually borne fruit. After all, I did not know much about the matter and am no expert when it comes to understanding various financial technicalities. Yet it had happened. It was true. And the fact that God had used me, even in my ignorance, to play a small part in bringing this good news to my friend added even more to my joy.

Later, as I reflected on this whole event, I could not help thinking of Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and lost coin, where he comments how natural it is for the owners involved to want to share their joy when their search pays off:

Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ Luke 15:6

And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin. Luke 15:9

That is exactly what my friend was doing via her text, I realised. And how wonderful it was to rejoice together and shake our heads over God’s amazing grace and provision for her!

But then I realised Jesus’ aim in telling these stories was to point out something so much more wonderful than that even:

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents … Luke 15:7

I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:10

I marvelled again then that, when I experienced the love and grace of God in my life, repented and believed in Jesus with all my heart, joy erupted in heaven. Just as Jesus taught in his parable about the lost son, there had to be a party held in heaven to celebrate the moment:

… we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:32

Wow! Just as I loved sharing in my friend’s joy, so God lovingly celebrated my new birth. What an amazing reminder of how much I matter to God—and of how much you do too!

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Often, as I read something online or watch a news item on TV, I quickly decide, ‘This doesn’t interest me’, ‘This doesn’t apply to me’ or ‘This hasn’t been my experience’. In this era of information overload, we need to choose what we take on board and what we ignore. Yet this may not be the best way to read Scripture, I realised recently.

I love the heartfelt praises of God I find in the Psalms, but also the honesty, as David or another psalmist cries out to God in times of great need. So at first, I was on board, as I began reading Psalm 55.

Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my pleas; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught… (1-2)

Yes, Lord, I prayed, my thoughts trouble me right now too. I’m concerned for our family and others in this lockdown time—and for our whole nation. I read on, taking in how David’s enemies were reviling him and causing him such great fear and anguish that he wanted to run away and hide.

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” (6-8)

Poor David, I thought–but this doesn’t really apply to me. I don’t have terrible enemies like he did. I was only half-focussing by then, although I still registered David’s horror at a friend’s betrayal and the violence and destruction happening everywhere (9-15, 20-21). No wonder he cried out to God all day in anguish.

But I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. (16-18)   

I’m glad God listened and saved David, I thought, but by then, while my mind was present, my spirit was far away. I kept reading, keen to finish and move on.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (22)

Yes, David hung onto God well, despite his circumstances, I decided—I like his certainty here and how he goes on to share this with God directly. Hopefully I would be just as certain, if I were ever in a similar pickle.

Then my eyes caught the final words of the psalm:

But as for me I trust in you. (23)

David had spent the whole psalm describing his terrible situation and crying out to God for help. Yet here he was now, despite everything, clearly stating his own personal, simple, unshakeable faith.

In an instant, his words pierced my heart. ‘Can you say this right now too, Jo-Anne?’ I sensed God asking me firmly but lovingly. ‘The situation is dire for those around you in this pandemic, but aren’t you merely worrying about everything rather than trusting me in it all?’

I made sure I listened then—and I hope I have taken God’s timely challenge on board. Like David, I hope I can say with greater integrity and faith in the coming days, ‘As for me, I trust in you.’

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It’s amazing how some little word or act of kindness can lift our spirits and change our day, isn’t it? Perhaps you may feel you have been lifting others up quite a lot instead lately, in this challenging, lockdown time. Yet we all need to receive as well and experience those special moments when our hearts feel a little lighter.

Recently, I dashed to our local fruit shop to buy some ingredients for our dinner, including parsley. But as I paid for my items, I fell into complaining mode.

‘I can’t believe I’m having to buy parsley,’ I told the girl at the checkout. ‘Right now, our daughter has heaps of it growing in her garden on the other side of Sydney, but of course that’s further than five kilometres away. And her parsley’s so lovely and flavoursome too.’

The girl smiled sympathetically, then looked thoughtful, as she adjusted her pretty, pink headscarf.

‘Um … would you like some fresh parsley instead?’

At first, I didn’t understand what she was saying. Her accent was quite strong—and I was puzzled too, as I had hoped the parsley I had bought was fresh. But then she went on to explain further.

‘I dropped into my dad’s place this morning to give him some sweets I know he really loves and he wanted me to come in, but I said I wasn’t allowed. So he said, “Well, at least take some of the parsley from my garden with you!” We use it to make tabouli, but would you like some?’

At that point, she picked up the parsley I had bought, put it back in its display stand rather disdainfully and hurried to the rear of the shop. After a short while, she re-emerged and handed over a huge clump of her father’s beautiful, fresh parsley to me.

‘It’s good—and it’s organic too!’ she told me proudly.

I know it was only a bunch of parsley, but I was so touched.

‘Wow, that’s wonderful!’ I told her. ‘Thank you so much—and please thank your father too. God bless you!’

She looked a little stunned at my final words, but, somehow, they had just burst out of me. I truly did want God to bless her. She had done something so kind and unexpected for me—and I felt her actions had pleased God’s heart too.

That evening, as I chopped my lovely, fresh parsley for our dinner, I realised this girl’s actions had not only blessed me but taught me something too. We all need those kind words and actions right now, even more than usual—and I needed to remember this more often. I need to be part of the solution, rather than add to the problem by complaining and feeling hard done by. Besides, surely this is what God wants us all to do?

Be kind and compassionate to one another … Ephesians 4:32

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. 1 Thessalonians 5:15

An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. Proverbs 12:25

Little things are so important, aren’t they? Especially those kind words and deeds that reflect God’s own kindness and build us all up.

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