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Archive for the ‘Devotions’ Category

Jo 23I wonder if you own one of those clever washing machines like we do that actually sends little messages to you at times. Recently, ours made a few clanging sounds, then beeped insistently. When I scurried into the laundry to see what was happening, this is the message that was illuminated on the front panel of the machine:

Help! My load is out of balance. Please redistribute and press start.

I hastily did as I was bidden. I removed the big towel that had managed to wrap itself around everything else and straightened out the heavy pair of jeans that was also causing trouble—and lo and behold, my machine then happily went on to finish its cycle. I happily returned to my desk too, but those words I had read stayed with me. Could they possibly have a wider application? Could God ever use a message on a washing machine to challenge us about our lives in general?

I suspect God does sometimes do things like that to get my attention. But what an important challenge for us all to think about, as we begin a new year!

How was this past year in your own life? Was your load ‘out of balance’ at times? Did you feel you were struggling far too often with finding time for things like simply relaxing and taking care of yourself or being quiet with God or contacting someone to see how they were going or working on a project close to your heart? The list could go on, couldn’t it? Sometimes we need to stop, take stock and make those hard decisions to bring things back into balance and enable our lives to run much more smoothly.

Sometimes our lives can end up feeling more than a little askew because of external demands placed upon us, while at other times, this can come as a result of choices we ourselves make. I know in my own life I am very good at doing all the jobs I see around, instead of allowing myself to spend time writing—something that is life-giving for me. Often too, I can overlook spending time with God, in order to complete these same jobs. Yet that is so self-defeating, because my heart is not at rest and at peace as a result and I end up feeling drained and out of kilter, like that washing machine of mine. At times, I need to listen to the warnings of those around me whose wisdom I trust and restore a better balance in my life. But above all, I need to listen to God about it, because God’s heart is to watch over me as a loving father who cares about my wellbeing and does not want to see my life so out of whack.

Before we all press that ‘Start’ button on another year then and are caught up in a whirl of activity again, let’s look to God to order our days, fulling trusting that God will show us how best to live. Then let’s be obedient in 2020 and put into practice what we hear!

Trust in the Lord will all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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Jo 12Recently, while strolling through our local shopping centre filled with glitzy Christmas decorations, I noticed a large, boxlike structure in the middle of the main walkway. What could it be? It seemed that whatever was in it was facing shoppers coming from the opposite direction. I went to look—and found a beautiful, big manger scene there, with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men all grouped around the baby Jesus. Imagine that! Fancy seeing such a clear reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, right in the middle of all the commercialism the season brings with it!

Yet as I stood there, feeling thankful for such a reminder and grateful to those who had put it there (I think a group of local churches), I also realised this was not my initial response. Instead, I had felt deeply surprised—perhaps even shocked and fearful—that this nativity scene could be where it was. Was anyone really allowed to do such things these days? Who had given permission for this to go ahead? Would people be offended to be reminded about the religious aspect of Christmas?

Wow! As I stopped and reflected a little more, I was shocked all over again at these thoughts that had immediately popped unbidden into my mind. How could someone like me who has been a follower of Jesus for over fifty-five years end up being so easily be influenced by the culture around me and the prevailing anti-Christian stance in our society in general? How had I allowed fear and misgiving to be my first response in this instance, rather than joy and thankfulness?

What a challenge, right there in the middle of the shopping centre! At that point, I felt a determination rise up in me to honour that baby in the manger and to grasp every opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas with others. I can write about God’s love via this blog and my Christmas letter. I can look for openings in everyday conversations to do that. I can pray for God’s love and grace to touch those around me. I can invite others to our special Christmas church services. I can be generous in my giving, not only to family and friends, but also to those in need—the homeless in nearby Parramatta via the gift bags our church arranges, others doing it tough in our community via our Christmas hampers, those affected by drought and fire, those with barely nothing in other parts of the world. I am allowed to do this! I can do this! I must do this!

This Christmas, whatever our society tells us, let’s all be determined, in God’s strength, to do what we can to share the love of God with others—that amazing love shown so clearly in the fact that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, humbled himself and became a man for us.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Let’s celebrate this Christmas with hope and joy in our hearts. And let’s be at peace too, as we pray for that peace to permeate our world more and more.

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Jo 17Let’s say that one day, through no fault of your own, you damaged someone else’s car when they were not around. Assuming you yourself were unhurt, would you immediately look for the owner so you could discuss things face to face with them? If they couldn’t be found, would you leave a note with your contact details? Or would you hope no one had seen what you did and quickly scurry away, breathing a sigh of relief?

Recently, I backed into someone’s car in a shopping centre carpark because a floor mat in my car had somehow covered the brakes. After I collected my wits, I looked around for the owner, but also began writing my details on a page from a notebook I had with me. Whenever someone came by, I asked if the car was theirs–and I was more than a little shocked at their responses. Most looked at me as if I was weird to bother writing a note. One man even said to me straight out, ‘Oh, you’re good, leaving your details!’ Obviously, there was no way he would have!

When I told a friend about this experience, she mentioned how she had once managed to put a scratch on the side of an older utility, so she too left her details on the windscreen. The owner was utterly amazed that she bothered to leave a note—he could not get over her honesty and thanked her profusely, telling her the scratch did not matter. And when the owner of the vehicle I damaged contacted me, his nice, polite message also said in part, ‘I appreciate that you left a note’.

It seems to me many people in our society today feel it’s okay to disappear in such situations, without owning up to what has happened. After all, nothing can be proved, if there were no witnesses. Yet … well, what happened to the old rule that honesty is the best policy? Or, for that matter, the words of Jesus himself that many call ‘The Golden Rule’ and quote blithely from time to time:

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 New International Version

One day years ago now, I returned to my parked car only to discover that someone apparently driving some sort of truck had reversed into it and over the top of the bonnet, resulting in considerable damage—but no note! Did this person not realise what had happened? Perhaps. Did they not have a pen and paper? Perhaps. Did they know they would be unable to pay for the damage or afford to lose their insurance excess? Quite likely. Whatever the reason, they had decided to disappear while the going was good. I have never forgotten how this made me feel way back then—and now it was my turn to decide whether to do the same to someone else or listen to those words of Jesus.

It’s a no-brainer really, isn’t it? Why would we think our standards are better than our Creator’s, who knows how we function best, both as individuals and as a society? It may cost us financially to be honest, but surely the joy of living how God wants us to live is worth so much more than that, don’t you think?

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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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