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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Jo 12We sat on the Manly Ferry together—two couples who have known one another for around fifty years. Our friends were down in Sydney from Brisbane for the weekend, so we joined them in the city and headed for Circular Quay. It’s wonderful, isn’t it, how conversations between old friends can flow on seamlessly from where we left them whenever we last met up!

Our day unfolded beautifully, with a great trip across the harbour and a stroll through the Manly Plaza, with much laughter along the way. We decided to have lunch early to avoid the crowds, so my job was to ‘bag’ a table on the beachfront while the others went to buy lunch. Now we had planned to pay for our friends’ meal, but when they all arrived back with that obligatory fish and chips, I discovered they had got in first. We protested, but in the end, had to accept defeat.

Afterwards, we strolled through nearby market stalls until we saw a coffee shop. This time, we managed to shout our visitors—phew! But not long after, they spied an ice cream shop. Now one cannot go to Manly, we decided, without having an ice cream, so there we were, all in our seventies and even eighties, standing on the footpath, licking our huge ice creams like kids! And you guessed it—our visitors paid again.

Soon after, we headed back on the ferry to Circular Quay and caught the train to near our friends’ hotel. But we could not part without yet another cup of coffee, now could we? When our friends managed to get in first again to pay, we protested, but then gave up, as our friends explained how they had put money aside for this particular weekend and this was how they wanted to spend it. Then the husband made an interesting comment:

‘Don’t worry about it, Jo-Anne!’ he said, his voice kind but a little exasperated. ‘It’s only silly old money! In a couple of years, we won’t even need it anymore!’

I was shocked at first, but then realised the truth of what he was saying. When our time here on earth is over, we can’t take anything with us, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7

I know for many in great need in our world right now, it is not ‘only silly old money’. For many, those dollars could well mean the difference between life and death, between putting food on the table or not, between paying the bills or bankruptcy, between meeting the monthly mortgage bill or losing the family home. Yet what our friend said is still true and so important to remember. And he himself has taken heed of what Paul goes on to say:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. 1 Timothy 6:10

Our friends might have accrued some money through much hard work and wise investing, but they do not love it and hang onto it. Instead, they are so generous and use it so well to bless others in all sorts of ways—because, after all, ‘it’s only silly old money’!

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I have a friend who loves photographing doors, particularly ones that look a little weatherworn. And if they are any shade of blue, that’s even better! On one trip together, it became a joke between us to find as many blue doors as we could and decide if they truly warranted being photographed. As a result, whenever I see an interesting door anywhere, I think of her. And this was the case when I recently came across the intriguing door below, about a third of the way down this beautiful, old staircase in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney.

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IMG_20181124_102226413I don’t think anyone will open this door in a hurry, do you? Yet how inviting it looks! Could it hide an escape route for those overwhelmed by the expensive clothes, shoes etc sold in the QVB, do you think? Or does it lead to a little room where those tired workers from the endless coffee shops in the building can hide for a brief respite? And what about that interesting Number 417 on it? After all, if I’m correct, that equals three times thirteen squared, so perhaps some superstitious official in the distant past may have decided to block that door right up for good!

Yet my thoughts took a serious turn too as I looked and reflected on those figurative doors barred to me at certain times in my life. When I was nineteen and studying at Queensland University, I tried to change from my Bachelor of Arts degree course to a five-year combined Arts/Divinity course. Way back then, I felt God was calling me to train for some form of ministry, but I soon discovered my Commonwealth Scholarship could not be extended to cover those extra years at university. I knew my parents could not support me through any further study—and I had no part-time job. So I reluctantly abandoned the whole idea.

Then in my middle forties, I felt God again calling me to prepare for some form of ministry, this time at theological college. I left my job and wanted to start studying straight away the following year, but that turned out to be impossible. So instead, I spent that year praying for our church, attending two schools of prayer, auditing two college subjects and reading many books—all of which turned out to be vital for what lay ahead. Then the next year, I began my college course in earnest. Three years later, at the age of forty-nine—thirty years after I first wanted to study divinity/theology—I graduated with that degree, plus a ministry diploma.

Was it a mistake that I did not undertake these studies earlier? I suspect not—because, in those intervening years, God brought so many different experiences across my path, teaching me things I would never otherwise have learnt. In the end, God answered my prayers and those doors I thought would never open for me did indeed open, just as Jesus promised.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10

May those doors that have been barred for you open in God’s time too.

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IMG_20181121_121203912Recently, I found myself wondering whether our four-year-old granddaughter truly is only four and not a hundred and four! There we were, sitting on the floor, trying to set up some wooden train tracks together. I could see on the box that those train tracks were meant to link up in a certain way, forming three intertwining loops, yet I could not seem to make them do what they were supposed to do.

‘Oh dear!’ I told Maxine at last. ‘I think I’ve made a big mistake somewhere. These tracks aren’t going to connect up at all.’

Thankfully, Maxine did not show any disappointment or frustration.

Don’t worry, Nanna!’ she said in a lovely, compassionate tone. ‘Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone!Even I made a mistake once!’

I tried not to laugh or even smile—I knew she would be highly embarrassed and offended if I did. Besides, she had meant it so kindly. And there was so much wisdom in the first part at least of what she had said. As for her last sentence—well, even it was meant to be kind and generous! At that point, I let her know I appreciated her words. And I realised too how weirdly comforting they had been, because I was feeling a little silly that I could not put a simple train track together.

Eventually, I found some instructions in the box and, after my husband and Maxine disappeared to the playground, I managed to work them out. What a sense of accomplishment I felt, as that train track came together!

Maxine’s gracious response, however, led me to reflect on the many other much more serious mistakes I have made in my life, some more accidental than others. Sometimes I have said or done things out of ignorance, thinking I was right and even, in fact, acting in a godly manner. On those occasions, God has known my heart, seen my sorrow and graciously picked me up, strengthening me to do better. Yet on other occasions, to my regret, I have deliberately chosen a wrong course of action, knowing full well I am making a huge mistake—sinning, in fact. Many times, I have said that hasty, angry word or judged someone harshly or refused to listen to God and do some kind act or speak those life-giving words to someone. Yet each time, God has still reached out to me, shown me my wilful mistakes and in kindness led me to repentance, setting my feet on solid ground once again (Romans 2:4). What a loving, patient God we have!

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him: as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:8-12

Yes, Maxine is bound to make more than that one mistake in her life, but I hope and pray she will always know her loving, compassionate Lord is with her to comfort her and enable her to move on in his strength.

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Jo 12I wonder if you can remember a time when you felt so frustrated that you could not get on with what you truly wanted to do because of other pressing commitments in your life. Perhaps you had to work while others were enjoying holidays. Perhaps you had to be at home minding young children or caring for someone with ill-health while colleagues pursued their careers. Or perhaps you had to put study aside, in order to pay the mortgage and support a family. It can be hard, can’t it, to see others doing exactly what you yourself would like to be doing?

For the past four months, my husband and I have been supporting our church’s pastoral team while our two lead pastors (husband and wife) have been on sabbatical leave. We have felt so privileged to be able to work alongside our team and so many wonderful volunteers. Yet even though it was such a positive experience, at times I felt a little rebellious about where I found myself. I am a writer, after all, but in these months, I have not touched my current manuscript. In fact, I can barely remember my characters and what they have been up to! So why was I there ministering, instead of writing? Besides, I have missed my times of solitude, sitting at my laptop, lost in another world as I churn out those words.

Then it dawned on me that, for someone who belongs to God and is committed to doing what God wants, this is a rather silly way to think. After all, if I truly believed God called us to support our pastoral team, then surely I need not worry about what is not getting done—or written! Instead, I can be at peace and do what I have been given to do.

As I realised this, a second thought emerged. Could God possibly have had some further purpose in drawing me back into a pastoral role for a season? Through it all, what did God want to show me or teach me that could not happen any other way?

I decided to journal my responses. Firstly, I felt God wanted to point out how far I have come in those sixteen years since laying down a formal ministry role. I have grown so much, as I have gone on my writing and speaking journey—and I realised how thankful to God I need to be for that. Secondly, as a result of this growth, I believe I have approached this temporary pastoral role in an entirely different way. My trust in God has grown and I have gained greater confidence in using my God-given gifts. Thirdly, as I have ministered this time around, I have felt God’s deep love and affirmation and also a kind of healing from any regrets or sense of failure I may still have felt at leaving ministry all those years ago.

What a lesson, to realise I would have missed out on all this, if I had not helped out for these four months! God is so gracious and long-suffering with us, don’t you think?

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. Psalm 42:11

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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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