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Archive for the ‘Devotions’ Category

Jo 17I had just finished some Christmas shopping in Westfield Parramatta and, feeling tired, decided to head home. I walked to my car, started the engine and prepared to reverse slowly to vacate my spot, but instead, found myself being propelled backwards at an alarming rate. I hastily felt for the brake pedal but alas, I could not find it! In desperation, I pulled the hand brake on, to no avail. And with a jolt, I hit the bumper bar of the car opposite with a thud.

But that was not the end. As that waiting traffic watched on, I put my car into drive and tried to manoeuvre my way slowly forwards. Alas, the same thing happened again—my car seemed to have a mind of its own. It sprang forward, straight back into the car spot I had just vacated and proceeded to hit the wall there with some force before stopping. At least there I could turn the engine off and try to figure out what was happening.

‘The brakes just didn’t seem to work!’ I explained to the nice man who had got out of the car waiting to take my spot, as I stood there shaking.

‘Don’t worry! These things happen to the best of us,’ he said, as he tried unsuccessfully to reassure me.

I proceeded to leave my details on the windscreen of the car I had damaged—but what to do now? I was reluctant to try driving a car that did not seem to do what I wanted it to do.

In the end, I contacted security and, as I waited, checked inside my car. I discovered that a thick mat the auto electrician had placed in the front had apparently flipped up onto the brake pedal—and possibly got in the way of the accelerator too. I tried to explain that to the security men, but it was very obvious they suspected I was just some silly woman who had mistaken the accelerator for the brake, then panicked! After all, once one of them helpfully got in the car for me and tried out the brakes, they worked fine for him! Or perhaps I had had a medical episode. ‘Are you okay to drive?’ they kept on asking—and I can well understand their concern. But it’s a good way to learn humility, don’t you think?!

As I recovered from this interesting experience, I began to wonder if my life might sometimes resemble my poor, out-of-control car far too closely, as I career this way and that. Those onlookers in the car park must have watched heart in mouth, yet they were powerless to do anything for me. But our God is not powerless—or uncaring. Instead, God reaches out to us with love and grace, watching over us, giving us the strength to sort things out, bringing the right people alongside us and guiding us to move forward again in the right direction. And I’m so thankful for that, aren’t you?

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. … My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:24. 26

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Jo 23I sat down for a moment at our local shopping centre, in order to respond to a phone text and, as I did, I noticed a lady at the other end of the seat. Soon after, a man sat down between us—and that was when things became interesting! Suddenly, the lady began talking to him—or rather at him.

‘Wasn’t it shocking, that attack in Parramatta on a young mother-to-be! What’s the world coming to? That’s just terrible. I bet the man was high on ice or something. And what will he get for that? Nothing much, probably—just a slap on the wrist! You wait and see. What sort of person would do that to someone else? It’s awful when a young woman can’t sit down with a friend in a café and enjoy a meal!’

She went on and on, her voice loud and indignant. Unfortunately, I suspected that man next to her had hoped for some peace and quiet, as he waited for his own wife to finish shopping. And that became clear from his response.

‘Oh … now I’m well and truly stirred up! And I thought I was going to have a nice, quiet, peaceful morning!’

He spoke softly and smiled as he said it. He even went on to agree with her. Yet I could tell he was irritated by the way she had harangued him. I hoped this lady would get the message, but she seemed oblivious.

‘Yes, and my daughter wanted me to wait downstairs in the car park for her, but I said no. I’ll sit here where I’m nice and comfortable. I’m not going to stand down there, breathing in all those fumes. No way! Then there’s all those people who go down there to smoke too! It’s terrible.’

‘Now I’m even more stirred up!’ the poor man said then.

Regardless, she continued on and on about other issues in her rather grating voice—so much so that I decided I was glad I did not share a house with the poor lady! But then I felt a little uncharitable. After all, she was obviously on edge about lots of things and maybe others had stopped listening to her.

Later, when I thought about this experience, I began to wonder how I myself come across whenever I voice my opinion on matters I feel passionate about. Do my hearers perhaps feel a little assaulted, as that man and I did? Do I take note of their body language and facial expressions to gauge their responses? Do I give them time to speak and share their own views? Hmm.

In Proverbs 25:11, King Solomon writes:

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

Or as The Message version puts it:

The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewellery.

Sometimes, we need to speak those challenging words to stir others to action or to stand up for what is right—especially when God prompts us to do so. But we need to be careful to say them in the right way, at the right time and in the right setting. Then they will hopefully be heard and valued, like those precious apples of gold in settings of silver.

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Jo 17I sat down with my cup of tea, ready to play a game of ‘Trouble’ with our five-year-old granddaughter. After deciding whether we would be mean and jump on each other’s counters this time or not, we began playing—and Maxine was very pleased with herself when she won.

Then she started getting ready for a second game.

‘This time, the rules are different!’ she announced firmly.

Apparently, we did not have to throw a six to start—that was the first change. The second was that, if we jumped on our opponent’s counter, we would not send that person home, but instead swap places with them. We did so with such frequency, I thought we’d never finish the game! But eventually, when one of us had almost made it around the board, I discovered change number three. We had to get our counters into the spots where they normally are at the start of a game, rather than into the ‘home’ section on the board—and there were certain rules about doing that which I have yet to understand fully!

Eventually, we somehow finished—but then I discovered change number four. Whoever won was actually the loser and not the winner! And, wonder of wonders, this turned out to be very convenient for Maxine, since I was the first to get all my counters into their designated spots. Now all this was quite fun, to be honest, but it left me marvelling once again at Maxine’s inventiveness. What had made her think up such an idea in general? And how did all those different ‘rules’ occur to her as we went along? So far, that remains a mystery.

As I thought about our game, it occurred to me that I am quite inventive at making up my own ‘rules’ at times too—not for any games, but rather for my life in general. At times, I might well decide I can be less than truthful about something or that I can pass on that juicy piece of gossip about someone or that I can ignore a person who is obviously in great need. I might be distinctly uncaring in the words I say to someone or the thoughts I think about them. I might decide it doesn’t really matter if I forgive fully or not—instead, I can simply pretend to. No one will ever know, after all. Yet in each of these areas, I know full well what God’s standards are and how God would love to see me respond.

Of course, being a Christian isn’t all about rule-keeping—and I’m thankful for that. Where would we be without God’s amazing grace and forgiveness? Yet, for those of us who say we follow Jesus Christ, God’s standards are pretty clear, don’t you think? For example, in Colossians 3, we read:

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander … (8)

Do not lie to each other … (9)

… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. (12-13)

Now those are the sorts of commands we need to listen to—and put into practice—so much more often, don’t you think, rather than inventing those rules of our own?

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Jo 12Whenever we mind our two young grandchildren after school at their home, we go armed with various games, plus something yummy for afternoon tea, of course! On top of that, they have an amazing variety of games and toys and books of their own available. There is a great playground nearby where we can head too. And another option is watching TV, but it is rarely one they choose. Anyway, we can never find the remote!

Each week, we wonder what game or idea will grab them. Will our grandson tackle the ‘Expert’ level of our own son’s ‘Rush Hour’ puzzle again? Will he want to increase his skills at Chinese Checkers, a new game to him? Will our granddaughter beat me at Uno again or play that old card game ‘Donkey’? Or will she want to play ‘Trouble’, a morphed version of Ludo that we loved to play as children?

This past week, however, I was floored when our granddaughter Maxine did not want to do or play anything we suggested. Instead, she chose an imaginary game of her own, with imaginary goodies and baddies—and oh so much imaginary action that stunned me. I was invited/told to sit in a certain spot while she, the heroine, came to my aid after some horrible, imaginary person stole my purse. And, as I looked at her big, trusting, brown eyes, willing me to join in with all my heart, how could I do otherwise? There was much wailing and gesticulating and explaining, as she assured me she knew who the baddies were and would find my money. And to her satisfaction, she did—although I was left wondering where on earth the various story-lines she invented were taking us!

How could she possibly think up such things? Even the names she gave her imaginary characters were intriguing, with some being different people with the same name, just to trick us! For me, the whole experience provided an amazing insight into the intricacies of a child’s wonderful, fertile, unspoilt imagination where everything was possible and where Maxine knew, as the heroine, that she would win through in the end.

It seems a shame that, as the years pass, such joyful imagination tends to be squashed out of us, don’t you think, as we mature and become more logical and pragmatic? So often too, we lose that childlike sense of wonder and excitement I saw in Maxine’s eyes as I played her game with all the enthusiasm and imagination I could muster. And what about our childlike sense of trust that invites grandmothers to join in such games and is positive she will know what to do and say next? How easily that can disappear too!

We all need to grow up and manage our lives well. And we all need to grow and mature in our faith in God too and put childish ways of thinking behind us, as the Apostle Paul explains (1 Corinthians 13:11). Nevertheless, on one occasion, Jesus called a little child to join him and said the following:

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3

Imagine what our world would be like if more of us became humble children again and truly believed. Just imagine!

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Whenever I look out over those rugged ranges in the Blue Mountains that seem to stretch forever, I often wonder how the early explorers felt when faced with such a formidable barrier. But while visiting the Botanical Gardens at Mount Tomah last week, some words on a plaque at a lookout gave me a little more insight. They were originally written by an early explorer who stated how he could not find words to describe how incredibly difficult it was to traverse the mountainous terrain around him, except to say it was akin to ‘climbing across the steep roofs of houses, one after the other’. That poor man—how intrepid and tenacious he must have been! And how his heart must have sunk when, after congratulating himself on reaching the top of one unforgiving mountain range, he was faced with another … and another … and another!

Sometimes our lives can feel like that, can’t they? We may manage to fumble our way through a demanding week or month, only to discover an even more demanding week or month around the corner. Or perhaps you have a relative or friend for whom life never seems to be straightforward. Instead, they seem to face one huge challenge after another, only just managing to get their head above water before the next onslaught comes. Perhaps that may even describe your own life at times. So when that happens, how can we stay in that place of peace we know God can provide for us?

IMG_20191107_121153435These thoughts were in my mind when we went on to visit the Jenolan caves area. While having lunch there, I happened to glance at the rock wall nearby. It had quite a sheer surface, but here and there in the small crevices, various ferns and other plants had managed to find a foothold and were flourishing. How had they survived there? It hadn’t rained much of late and the snow season was over. Then I noticed a small waterfall flowing down one side of the cliff face. No doubt some of this water at least was finding its way along the crevices and enabling those tenacious plants to survive, as they clung to that rocky surface in such an exposed position. In that moment, I sensed God prompting me to see that, here before my eyes, was a clear picture from nature of how to weather the challenges of life in the best way possible. Just like those plants, we must all cling onto the Lord, our strong, unshakeable rock, who will sustain us with the lifegiving water we need to survive—and, in fact, even to thrive.

For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. Psalm 18:31-33

I hope I am never called upon to be as intrepid and tenacious as those early explorers must have been, to tackle those rugged mountains one after the other. But I hope and pray I always remember, whatever challenges life brings, to cling to the Lord, hide in those rocky clefts with him and rely on his strength to see me through.

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IMG_20191026_124546957‘Do you like rhubarb?’ our dear, old neighbour asked, as he pointed with a trembling hand to a small clump growing nearby. ‘My wife cooks it with apple. Please pick it, otherwise it’ll be wasted.’

That day, he had learnt his wife would need to be in a nursing home and unable to come back to their unit. For thirteen years, she has chosen to care for all the garden areas nearby, with the blessing of our village gardeners, and I remembered how carefully she had tended this precious rhubarb plant in the months it had taken to grow. Now, just as it can be harvested, she is unable to do so.

As he went on to explain that he and his wife would probably both move into a double unit in the nearby nursing home, I noticed how he wiped tears away. He was concerned about the cost and also about the fact that there might not be room for all their possessions.

‘I tried to clean out the garage the other day, but I didn’t get too far,’ he told us. ‘I don’t know what we’ll do with it all.’

We endeavoured to reassure him as best we could. Finding a double unit where they can be together is wonderful, we told him. After all, they have been married for well over sixty years. And their beautiful daughters and sons-in-law will sort out what to take and what to give away, as well as all the paperwork needing to be done.

We felt so sorry for him as he stood there, a frail, old gentleman who is not well himself. Eventually he left, assuring us he had more than enough at home for dinner. Then, feeling so guilty, I went to cut those rhubarb stalks. I cooked them up, along with some apple, then filled a little container for him to take to his wife in hospital. It was the least I could do for her.

As I did, I felt sad, but I also felt at peace for them. You see, they are both Salvation Army officers and beautiful, humble Christians. This time in their lives might be fraught with pain and difficulty, as they suffer ill-health and grieve over the loss of their independence, as well as their lovely unit and garden. But they know where they are going. They know Jesus Christ. They have known him for a very long time. And I know they look forward to the day when they will meet him face to face and be with him forever. I know too they would agree with the words of the Apostle Paul:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

Our lovely neighbours will get over this huge hump in their lives in God’s strength and they will keep on trusting, whatever happens. And one day, I am sure, ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:17)

May we all carry such a hope in our hearts, as we live out our days here with our eyes fixed on the Lord, knowing this is not the end but only the beginning.

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It’s strange, isn’t it, how easily we can become creatures of habit? Sometimes this is a good thing. After all, for years, my husband has got up before I have and made a cup of tea for us both! But sometimes we can stick to those old ways, without thinking whether something else might work better all round. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’, we sometimes say. But maybe, from time to time, some things do need fixing—or at least adjusting a little.

In our family circle, we realised recently we had somehow settled into the habit of celebrating family birthdays at our place over a Sunday evening dinner—the only time everyone could be there. It worked well, yet for our youngest grandchildren, that means a rather late bedtime, which does not help them to be ready for school on Monday morning. So … what to do?

In the end, we tried a Sunday afternoon tea at our home, which everyone enjoyed. So, for our next celebration, we decided to do it again, only this time at our younger daughter’s home. And wow—what a special spread awaited us there!

IMG_20191020_150656090On arrival, we found a beautifully laid out table, complete with a charcuterie board containing all sorts of interesting fare—four different cheeses, spicy cold cuts, nuts, olives, blueberries, dried fruits and various crackers and other nibbles. I added my ‘old faithful’ egg sandwiches I had been asked to bring, thinking no one would ever choose them over all those other tempting morsels. Yet, lo and behold, they soon disappeared, along with much of everything else.

Later, the charcuterie board was whisked away and fresh fruit, plus two homemade cakes were put before us—a luscious chocolate cherry ripe mud cake and a to-die-foIMG_20191020_161525972_BURST001r, gluten-free mandarin and almond meal cake, complete with warm syrup and whipped cream. I added my own offering of old-style small cakes and chocolate slices, and yep—soon too much of that yummy food, old and new, had been eagerly devoured.

As I reflected on our birthday feast, I realised what we could have missed out on if we had stuck to our old routine of dinner at our place. But more than that, I thought about those times when I have missed out on the wonderful feast of good things God wants to offer me—new things to try and savour, as well as the more familiar, satisfying fare that always sustains me. At times, I have been like God’s people in the past who so often sadly missed out on the wonderful provisions God had for them:

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies … But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. Psalm 81:13-16

Let’s not ignore such a heartfelt plea to allow God to provide for us in all sorts of ways—physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are each invited to God’s table—and I for one don’t want to miss out on God’s gracious offer. So let’s accept that invitation, turn up to dine with the King of Kings and be fed with the finest of fare beyond anything we could ever imagine!

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