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Archive for the ‘Devotions’ Category

Jo 17I wonder if you have ever tried to find your way around by car somewhere and become hopelessly lost. I clearly remember that happening to me once in a new suburb of western Sydney where there are endless roundabouts and the streets seem to head in so many different directions. But I also remember another occasion when, after speaking at a church in a gracious, old, northern Sydney suburb, I could not get my bearings at all. Eventually, I resorted to looking up Google maps on my phone and was soon rescued. Phew!

In recent weeks, two lots of visitors trying to find us here in Sydney have been led astray by their car’s GPS at exactly the same spot as each other. In both cases, that disembodied voice talking so nicely to them was insistent they could turn right off Windsor Road at a particular street, but there were two problems. Firstly, there was no street sign at the relevant spot, so how could our visitors know this was the right one to take? Secondly, once they had missed it, they discovered the next corner said ‘No Right Turn’—and the next—and the next! Admittedly, the small print on some of these did say right turns were allowed between certain hours. But how could anyone unused to Sydney traffic risk trying to drive and read that fine print? As a result, our visitors had to proceed to a main intersection further on, then backtrack to our home.

GPS navigation can be a wonderful help—a lifesaver, in fact. But it is not infallible. There are some problems even that polite, electronic lady cannot solve, such as disappearing street signs! Nor did she tell our visitors the little trick many people in our area use to get from Windsor Road to where we live, which is to turn left instead of right, then turn right into a side street and right again. Then we can drive straight across that busy main road and head on our merry way, untroubled by those ‘No Right Turn’ signs!

Afterwards, one of our visitors told us how she has opted to rely on a different sort of GPS as she travels around. You see, those letters may stand for ‘Global Positioning System’—but they also stand for ‘God’s Perfect Strategy’! Now this latter navigational system will never let us down, because God, as the eternal, all-knowing, all-loving and all-wise Creator of the universe, is well aware of those missing street signs and ‘No Right Turns’ in our lives. God knows when we are lost and confused. And our God is not about to let us flounder or go off track, as we continue to look to the Lord in our lives and listen to his voice.

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. 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. Psalm 18:30-32

I’m thankful for both sorts of GPS available to me—but particularly the latter! And I hope I’m getting just that little bit better at going exactly where God’s voice tells me to go.

 

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Jo 23‘Would you like to go to a park, Maxine?’ I asked our granddaughter, soon after she arrived to spend the day with us.

She shook her head very definitely, as she settled herself at our dining-room table and began to work on a puzzle book.

‘Well, would you like to go to the shops? You could have fun in the play area and then I’ll buy you a doughnut!’

Again, she shook her head. At that point, I gave up and let her be. But after a while, I wondered if she might be hungry.

‘Maxine, would you like a little cake for morning tea? I have a pink iced one here. And you can have a drink too.’

But she assured me she was not hungry. I was amazed, as it is not every day she turns down a pink iced cake!

Half an hour or so later, however, things took a different turn.

‘Nanna, I’m hungry now!’

‘Oh, are you? Well, I’ll get out the little pink iced cake for you and a drink.’

‘But Nanna,’ our Maxine said gently then, ‘I’m hungry for a doughnut!’

As we quickly headed for those shops, I began to wonder if I am in fact so vastly different from Maxine. On occasions, I have been known to declare that I want something to eat but don’t know what. I try this and that, but nothing seems to hit the mark. Finally, it dawns on me what I want—and then I, the adult, am not satisfied until I have it.

But I also began to think about that amazing moment many years ago when I came to realise what I needed above all else in my life in general—and that was to experience and accept God’s love for me, through truly believing in Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. The night I committed my life to Christ, I remember thinking, ‘Yes, this is what I want most of all! Whatever else I do, I need to live for God.’ Back then when I was fifteen, I sensed nothing else in life would truly satisfy—and I was right.

Then many years later, I met some Christians who seemed so much closer to and on fire for God than I was. I remember asking, ‘What is it you’ve got that I haven’t?’ They refused to answer me, but instead told me to wait—God would show me. And that is indeed what happened. One night during a worship time, I experienced the amazing love of God in a fresh way as God’s Spirit overwhelmed me and filled me with deep and abiding joy. From then on, I became even more convinced that nothing else in life will truly satisfy—only knowing that gracious love of God, clearly seen in the death of his Son Jesus Christ for us.

On one occasion, Jesus told two parables about the hidden treasure and the priceless pearl and how the men who wanted these sold all they had to obtain them (Matthew 13:44-46). He was talking about the kingdom of heaven, about finding new life as a child of God and then loving and serving the King of Kings, above all else.

That’s what I truly want to do in my life. Is that your desire too?

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Jo 12I can’t quite put my finger on why, but something interesting happens to me whenever I walk into a Bunnings store. Of course, that friendly aroma of sausages cooking outside the main entrance is always enticing! But besides that, there seems to be some sort of inviting sense of creativity and of making things better or brighter or tidier that sets my heart and mind buzzing whenever I walk in the door. Somehow I feel at home—as if I belong. And there are so many interesting things to discover in those never-ending aisles. What could this or that be? Who would ever use or need that? Somebody must!

Recently, I went there to buy a gift card. I lingered much longer than I needed to, walking up and down several aisles and thinking of my dad as I did. My dad was a great handyman, always fixing things around our house when I was a child. His workshop was in the cool under our Brisbane ‘house on stilts’, where he fashioned all sorts of intriguing things. Occasionally too, he would try his hand at bigger projects, such as building a sun deck on top of our garage. But his greatest passion was our garden, where he worked tirelessly. If he were still with us, I suspect Bunnings would be akin to heaven for him.

On this same visit, I inevitably made my way towards the gardening section. Surely I could fit one more nice pot plant on our balcony? On my way, I passed aisles stacked with bags of potting mix, compost and moist garden soil—and immediately their unmistakeable aromas brought back more memories of my dad working in our garden. Eventually, I reached aisles filled with different seedlings and pots containing a range of beautiful flowers, including gerberas—my dad’s speciality. In fact, way back before gerberas became popular in bouquets, Dad managed to create a hardy, double gerbera variety of his own, with pretty pale pink and yellow blooms.

Then it dawned on me to wonder whether that sense of belonging I often feel at Bunnings may have something to do with those childhood memories of my dad, tinkering away at his work bench under our house or labouring in the back yard in the hot sun. Such memories from years ago are powerful, aren’t they? Whatever my father’s failings—and they were there, alongside many positives—I knew I belonged in my childhood home, where I was always loved and well cared for.

Recently, I was minding our four-year-old granddaughter when she suddenly stopped playing, sat still for a moment, then began to sing the following in such a cute voice, as she looked up at me with her big, brown eyes:

In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
*

My heart melted. Yes, my earthly family may no longer be here, but I know I am part of the family of God and that I belong in my amazing heavenly Father’s house. I prayed Maxine would always know this too, deep in her heart—and I pray you do too.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

Who You Say I Am Hillsong Worship

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Jo 23One morning recently, I found myself setting out with some reluctance to get to a speaking engagement. It was pouring rain—and on top of that, I was tired and had found it hard to get my head around what I planned to say to this particular group. Why am I doing this, I grumbled to myself, as I headed off?

From the moment a gentleman I did not know had asked me to speak, there had been some confusion about this meeting. I offered him the choice of two topics and he decided on one, but also asked me to include some material about writing our life stories. I had therefore tried hard to condense my original talk to give me time to do what he asked. But not long before the date I was to speak, I received another email from him—and somehow now, he had switched to the other topic I had suggested! Hmm. This time, I decided I would simply ‘wing it’ and condense as I went, then try to add my few final points about life stories as asked. But I did not feel gracious about it—at all. Surely God could not bring anything good out of this particular speaking engagement!

As I drove along, a verse I had read earlier that morning came to mind:

I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

I took a deep breath—it would all be fine. But just then, as I carefully negotiated a roundabout at low speed, my trusty old car began to ‘fish tale’ on the wet road. I managed to right it but felt more than a little shaken up. How apt that verse became for me in that moment! I continued on my way, speaking that verse out loud. I could do this. After all, God was with me.

And God certainly was. As soon as I arrived, people came from various directions to help me set up and meet my every need. And as I began to speak, I could sense the audience was ready to hear what I had to say. I relaxed and sailed through my input, even covering the extra points I had been asked to add. And at the end, the questions came thick and fast.

Afterwards, a good number gathered around my book table, some just to say thank you and others to buy a book or two. I had some wonderful conversations and found the whole experience so fulfilling. And to my surprise, I even received a small cheque for my efforts!

I had not wanted to go—and I had certainly not expected God to bring such blessing out of the whole event. Yet despite my negative attitude, God still graciously used me that morning. How thankful I am that God is so much greater than my feelings or circumstances—and how much I need to echo Paul’s words of praise to our wonderful God!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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Jo 17I had driven into Camperdown to visit our older daughter who was in the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, recovering from an operation. I had never been to this hospital before—I am much more familiar with the beautiful, old Royal Prince Alfred hospital, across the road and down a little way. So what would the Lifehouse be like, I wondered. How would it compare?

I love the Victorian architecture of RPA, particularly that grand entrance foyer, with its tiled floor and stained glass windows. But what a contrast this much newer hospital was! In only a few seconds, the super-quick, glass-sided lift whisked me directly from the underground car park up to the eighth floor. As I sped upwards, I noticed the modern decor everywhere and how shiny and light-filled each floor was.

Once on the right level, a cheerful nurse guided me to our daughter’s room—and there she was, smiling at me, despite the big operation she had just undergone. We chatted for a while, but I soon noticed her eyelids drooping.

‘Why don’t I go down to the cafe in the foyer while you rest?’ I suggested.

‘Okay,’ she responded. ‘There’s a piano down there you might like to play.’

A piano? Why would there be a piano in the foyer of a hospital? Perhaps the painkillers were playing with her mind, I decided. I tiptoed out, took that zippy lift to the ground floor—and there near the cafe, just as our daughter had said, was a grand piano with a sign nearby, inviting anyone to feel free to play! I glanced around. Hmm—only one or two people within earshot. Perhaps I would take up that invitation after I had my coffee.

I almost thought better of it, however, when a few more people entered the cafe. In fact, I had decided to walk right past that piano when something made me change my mind. But … what could I play without music?

Immediately, the chorus of a simple, old song written by Catholic priest Frank Andersen came to mind:

I have carried you on eagle’s wings

I will care for you in all your years.

I sat down and began playing. Soon I felt the wonderful, healing presence of God, along with a deep sense of awe and privilege. And as I played, I prayed God would somehow use my music to bless and encourage someone in that hospital, whether patient, relative, friend or worker.

I played just the one piece—I needed to get back to our daughter. But as I stood to leave, a lady came past.

‘Thank you very much for playing,’ she said with emotion. ‘It was so beautiful!’

As I headed up in that lift, I prayed God would indeed carry this lady—and any others who had listened—on eagle’s wings through whatever trials they were facing, closer and closer to his heart. Could God possibly do that through one simple piece of music, I wondered?

Yes, I decided, surely God could.

This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. ’ Exodus 19:3-4

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We were blowing bubbles together in the grounds of our village, our youngest granddaughter and I, when she announced she wanted to dance for me. She is only four and has never learnt ballet—but that did not deter her. With a wonderfully professional air, she slowly moved her hands and arms around her head, caressing her face and gazing up at me with such a soulful expression that I was hard-pressed not to laugh. Some interesting movements then ensued, until her carefully executed performance ended with a flourish and a creditable version of the splits.

How on earth had she learnt to dance so expressively, I asked myself. It could only have been through watching movies like Frozen or Moana or perhaps her favourite shows on YouTube. All she knows, she has learnt by imitating those beautiful heroines in her favourite shows—even down to their dreamy facial expressions!

IMG_20180919_133830660Later, back at our unit, Maxine decided to ‘play’ our piano, but then stopped abruptly.

‘Wait—I need some music!’ she declared.

So she proceeded to fish a music sheet out of our piano stool and place it carefully within her line of vision where she must have seen those real pianists place theirs. Then, with one hand tracing the notes on that piece of music, she proceeded to play gently with the other, checking often to ensure she was ‘reading’ the music correctly.

Again, I was hard-pressed not to laugh. She has no idea what all those funny-shaped notes and symbols mean—but she was determined to appear as if she did. Surely if one imitates well enough, she must think, she will at least look like she knows exactly what she’s doing.

As I thought more about this whole act of imitation, I realised it can be seen in either a good or a bad light. If a piece of jewellery contains imitation diamonds, for example, it is considered much less valuable—even a fake. If a singer sounds too much like the artist who made a particular song famous, he or she can be written off as unoriginal and boring. Young children, who learn by imitating those around them either consciously or unconsciously, can pick up undesirable behaviour from us. And sometimes we adults can decide to be nasty and mimic someone’s voice or mannerisms, in order to ridicule them.

Yet copying others can also be a positive thing. How wonderful it is when we notice children learning to act in respectful and responsible ways gleaned from their parents’ positive example—or even their grandparents’! But how much more it must delight God when we set our hearts and minds to imitating Jesus, just as the Apostle Paul did. In 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul simply urges the believers to imitate him—a command I used to think was a little arrogant. Yet a few chapters later, we see he is only able to say this because he knows he is following Jesus’ example with his whole heart:

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1

One day, I would love to say these same words as confidently as Paul did. But right now, I think I need a little more practice in that fine art of imitating Jesus. How about you?

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Jo 23Recently, I overheard the following conversation:

‘Would you like some coffee?’

‘I usually don’t drink coffee. I’ve never liked it much, but I’m trying to get used to it.’

‘Um … why would you want to make yourself like coffee?’

‘Well … well, I want to be accepted!’

I tried to hide my smile because I would expect this type of behaviour amongst children, not grown adults, which these two definitely were! Our young grandson, for example, refuses to wear a particular beanie in his school colours anywhere—especially to school! And our youngest granddaughter, at four years of age, has very definite tastes in clothes and other attire—which usually means pink things or things that have pink in them. Recently too, she cried, covered her ears and ran and hid, after she managed to lose one of her pink earrings. When I tried to comfort her, she sobbed, ‘I can’t let anyone see me with only one earring in!’

Being accepted matters when you are four or six—and it matters even more for our two older granddaughters who are fifteen and twelve. Yet it doesn’t stop there, does it? At times, and in certain situations in particular, we all desire to be accepted by those around us. None of us wants to feel rejected, pushed to the fringes, not interesting enough or attractive enough or good enough to fit the bill. So we may choose to act differently or say what we think those around us want to hear—and close our mouths on the words we truly want to speak out but are afraid to, for fear of rejection.

Recently, I came across a situation just like this in John’s Gospel. In Chapter 9, Jesus heals a man born blind and, soon after, his parents are summoned to appear before the Jewish leaders to verify he was indeed blind and to explain how he can now see (18-23). They know that, if they say Jesus healed their son, they will be thrown out of the synagogue, so they feign ignorance. They do not want to risk acknowledging Jesus as the Christ, the coming Messiah, so leave their son to speak for himself. In that culture at that time, it would have been a fearsome thing indeed to have been thrown out of the synagogue, to be outcasts, unaccepted in their own community, so I empathise with them.

But I am aware I can also behave like them at times. I may choose to stay quiet when I know I should stand up for the things of God. Or I may decide to water down what I plan to say somewhere, in order to be more accepted. Yet in my heart, I know my worth does not come from pleasing others. Instead, it comes from God, who tells me deep down who I am, who knows everything about me, yet loves and accepts me because I belong to Jesus and believe he died for me.

He (Jesus) came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God … John 1:11-12

Now that would have to be best acceptance of all, don’t you think?

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