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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

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This past month, I discovered once again how life can have a way of springing interesting surprises on us! Out of the blue, I was asked if I would accompany the small choir in our Village on the piano. And in what was perhaps a weaker moment, I agreed!

What could have possessed me? After all, it’s a long time since I accompanied a choir or singing group—possibly around … ahem … thirty-five years! Yes, I have played for congregational worship in that time—but not a great deal, as I have felt those days too are over.  Yet I could not help but say yes when our lovely conductor phoned and asked if I would help out. Besides, I soon discovered how much we had in common, with our lifelong involvement in music and also with husbands who are both retired ministers.

In no time at all, I was given the music for five items the choir will sing at two Christmas concerts. Four of these turned out to be easy enough, but the fifth one saw me scurrying to the piano to practise. So many tricky twists and turns and unexpected key changes!

Then the moment came for my big return to accompanying.  Everyone was so welcoming—and so grateful to have someone prepared to play for them. I soon felt at ease, especially when I realised the group found that challenging carol even more challenging than I did! I kept my eye on our conductor—and I also tried to help everyone along, wafting up into the melody line at times when the tricky accompaniment was leading some astray. I knew my role as an accompanist was just that—to accompany the singers and enhance their efforts rather than try to outdo them in any way.

As I strolled home that afternoon, it dawned on me that accompanying others in a musical sense is a little like the style of mentoring or spiritual companionship I have tried to give others over the years and still do. As best I can, I endeavour to walk in step with them, to listen to them, to pray for them, to provide resources that may help them somehow and yes, perhaps even to challenge at times when needed.

Then I realised too what a big part the whole idea of accompanying has played in my own journey with God—and still does. Recently when I spoke somewhere, I shared the following quote from Clement of Alexandria:

Prayer is keeping company with God

This is the privilege you and I have as children of God—to walk hand in hand with Jesus each day, listening, learning, knowing we are loved and accepted, talking with him, receiving strength, comfort and guidance. Of course, the difference is that Jesus is the perfect Shepherd, who is also to be honoured and obeyed as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yet by grace, he chooses to accompany us day by day through all our ups and downs.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3

Now that’s the fine art of accompaniment at its best, don’t you think?

 

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Jo 17I wonder if you have ever been in some busy place at 11.00am on 11th November when that moment came for a minute’s silence to commemorate the ending of World War One and remember all those who gave their lives in what was to be the war to end all wars. That happened to me in a busy shopping centre on one occasion—and I can still remember what a sombre, moving experience it was.

Recently, I discovered some Armistice Day activities are held on the weekend prior to 11th November. Last Sunday week, soon after arriving to speak at a nearby church, I was warned that a brass band involved in a commemorative event would march past outside during the service.

‘You might need to be quiet when that happens,’ one helpful lady told me, ‘because no one will hear you anyway!’

As the service proceeded, I forgot about her warning. But midway through my message, just as I was about to share a key illustration, I heard music in the distance. It soon became louder, so I decided to encourage everyone to sit quietly and remember those who lost their lives in war.

As the music eventually grew softer again, a gentle and reverent hush enveloped us all. One or two of the older folk surreptitiously wiped their eyes—and I too felt moved, as I remembered those in my father’s generation who had fought in World War Two. I felt reluctant to break the silence but knew I needed to continue our service.

‘We are so blessed to live in Australia—so very blessed,’ I found myself saying then, to my surprise. ‘We need to be so grateful to those who fought on our behalf, don’t you think?’

Many present nodded in agreement—especially those who had come to our shores as migrants, some fleeing from war in their own countries. It was a sober moment, as they too remembered those there who had given their lives while trying to protect them.

I finished my message and went onto lead the congregation in a time of communion. Then it dawned on me how well our shared experience had prepared us for this moment. Through that music the band played, we had been reminded to be thankful for those who had given their lives for their country. Now here we were invited to remember the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf—the sacrifice of the Son of God himself.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

John puts it even more simply in his first letter:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. 1 John 3:16a

For those of us who take part in communion on a regular basis, its impact may well be lessened, unless we take care to stop and appreciate what it truly represents. That Sunday, I know that band was God’s gift to me, almost forcing me to remember not only the price paid to ensure my safety and freedom in this life but the enormous price paid by God to offer us all eternal freedom.

May we all remember well—and be so thankful.

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One morning recently, I heard a soft knock on our front door. And there was our neighbour, holding something out to me.

‘I wanted you to have these’ she explained. ‘They’re my “first fruits”—and I like the whole idea of that!’

green-beans-2707996_1920I glanced down and saw around eight green beans in her hand. Not only does this lady produce a beautiful array of flowers around her unit but also a few vegetables, herbs and even some fruit. Her garden gives her much joy—a joy she was now sharing with us. And because I know my neighbour is very grateful to God for all she has and can still do, I understood her gift was a thanksgiving offering as well.

While those fresh, crunchy beans did not last long in our house, my neighbour’s words stayed with me, causing me to reflect on the whole idea of ‘first fruits’ and research it for myself. And as I did, I discovered that the concept stems from the belief that everything we have originates from God, the Creator of the universe. After all, Psalm 24:1-2 says:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

Then, in Deuteronomy 26 in the Old Testament, we find Moses reminding God’s people, as they were at last about to enter the Promised Land, to be sure to give God the first fruits from all their future crops. They were to bring these to the priest on duty, declare out loud how God had delivered them and their forefathers from slavery in Egypt and brought them to a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ (9), and place their offering before the Lord. Finally, we read in verse 11:

And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

So today, deliberately giving up those first fruits of our earthly endeavours, whether things we grow or other items we produce or money we earn, may still well be a great way of thanking God for all we have received. We may not present them to a priest, as in Old Testament times, although some churches still have a harvest festival which incorporates this idea. But as my neighbour did, perhaps we too can express our thanks to God and our joy in all we have been given, by passing on our own unique version of first fruits, thus blessing someone else as well.

Hmm—now that’s a challenge for me! Yes, I do give away a few copies of any new book I write when they first arrive fresh from the printer. But I also tend to cling onto what is mine because, after all, I worked jolly hard to produce it or earn it!  Yet I know in my heart any gift or ability I have is from God—and it is only by God’s grace that I write anything or have anything published. So why be so stingy?

I think that first fruits idea has a lot going for it, don’t you? And I hope I remember my green beans lesson for a long time to come.

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It’s amazing to me how one image or event can burn a particular truth into our hearts and minds all over again in a new and fresh way. When a truth is played out before our eyes in a way we can’t ignore, something clicks into place inside and that truth becomes so much more firmly embedded in us.

One recent Saturday morning, I arrived at our church just before nine to open up our Art Installation for anyone wanting to spend time reflecting there with God. I thought no one else would be around, but as I drove into the car park, I could see activity everywhere.

I had forgotten about the working bee. I looked around and saw men busily cleaning up in different corners of the property. Someone was mowing the grass. Someone was blowing leaves away in another area. Another was sawing away, fixing up a wooden structure elsewhere. Another was blasting the concrete with a pressure cleaner. And still another—one of our senior pastors, in fact—was removing a drain cover to clean out mud and muck that had piled up there.

But in a room in another corner of the property, a different activity was taking place. There, prayer was happening. There, people had been invited to come and receive God’s healing, as others listened to them and prayed on their behalf. A quiet ministry—but oh, so important.

IMG_20171005_201041693_HDRI headed for the Art Installation, then walked around, turning on some soft music and also the special fairy lights that highlighted some of the displays. As I did, I marvelled again at the variety of works people had contributed for this event.  Paintings—some better executed than others, yet all expressing something of God from the depths of the artists’ hearts. There were drawings too and sculpture and other intricate works of art. Various forms of writing were on display as well—poetry, prose, song lyrics. There was even a beautifully iced cake, made to depict the different gifts those in the Body of Christ have, through the Spirit’s enabling.

Three hours later, I closed the door on this lovely, creative space and went to leave. And as I did, a van pulled up outside the main door and men began hauling tables out. Then some women arrived, carrying trays of food and all sorts of boxes. Everyone was intent on the job at hand and everyone seemed to know what to do, like bees in a hive. Their task was to get things ready to enable well over a hundred women to pack two thousand birthing kits that afternoon and evening that World Vision staff will use to help women in rural Uganda. Even prior to this, others had prepared parts of these kits to enable this packing to run smoothly.

So that Saturday, I witnessed afresh the great strength the Body of Christ has when every part functions as it is made and gifted to do.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:4-5 New Living Translation

We all belong to each other. What a wonderful thing—and how important to remember!

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Jo 12I was chatting to a friend who had come to visit, as we walked along a paved ramp near our unit. The gardens to our left were beautiful, but instead, our eyes were drawn to some stains on those pavers beneath our feet.

‘These need attending to,’ my friend who likes to get in and fix things commented. ‘Who is responsible for cleaning common walkways like this here?’

‘I don’t know,’ I told her. ‘But I think I’ll get out here myself and scrub them off, as they annoy me too!’

The next day, I filled a bucket with soapy water, took my scrubbing brush and tried to clean those messy marks off the walkway. Yet, despite my best efforts and much bending over, some spots did not budge. I stretched my sore back and sighed, but in the end, decided to leave it at that.

A few days later, my husband and I heard a loud, whirring sound nearby. We poked our heads out—and there was a workman with not one but two large machines, washing down the pavers and blasting away all those dirty marks! Being new to our village, we did not realise that this event apparently happens every six months or so—the outside cleaning is all done for us.

Soon after, a neighbour told me another similar story.

‘We’re only quite new here too and, a few months ago, I decided to clean our outside windows. I took the screens off, then couldn’t get them back on, so had to ask the maintenance man for help. But when he came, he told us that contractors clean our outside windows, so we don’t have to do them ourselves at all!’

Now that’s two lovely cleaning tasks I will be very happy to leave to the professionals in future!

Years ago now, I also discovered how foolish it usually is for me to try to fix anything that goes wrong with my trusty laptop. I have a wonderful husband who is a whiz at all things computer-related, so I have learnt it’s much better to consult him in the first place, rather than press this or that button or click on this or that with my mouse. I do try at times—but that tends to complicate things even further rather than fix anything.

I suspect I need to apply these lessons in other areas of my life too. I can try to fix aspects of my behaviour that do not honour God. But unless I stop relying so much on myself and instead, learn to rely more and more on God’s strength on a daily basis, I will no doubt fail again. In the end, God is the Expert, the Master Designer, the only one who can ultimately fix things in our lives. And God has chosen to do this in the most amazing way, through sending our Saviour Jesus Christ into our broken world. Like the Apostle Paul, I know I need to declare from the bottom of my heart:

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Romans 7:24-25

How about you? Is that your heart cry too?

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One morning recently, I decided to take a particular route through our village to the main road. Just before I entered an area bordering on bushland, I noticed a nearby sign. I read what it said—it was very clear:

IMG_20171013_120522229 (2)Even as one part of my brain took these words in, however, another part thought: ‘This will never happen to me! Those magpies won’t bother me! They’re probably not close by at all—it may not even be the right season for them.’

How wrong I was! I had taken only a few steps before—whoosh! Something came at me from behind and off to my right, swooping down at breakneck speed and narrowly missing my head.  Needless to say, I scuttled off, no doubt looking more than a little undignified in the process! Why I thought I was immune to those attacking magpies, I have no idea. Put it down to ignorance or arrogance—or both.

Later, I told my husband about my perilous adventure. Yet the next day, he too chose to walk through that same area and did not even notice the sign. This time, that pesky magpie dive-bombed a little more accurately and, while no damage was done, my husband did get quite a fright. Was he forewarned? Yep. Did he remember what I had said? Nope!

What silly creatures we can be! I know in other areas of my life as well, I have not heeded warnings on occasions from those much wiser than I—gentle suggestions to take time off, to be kinder to myself, to rest and relax. Instead, I have kept going and become exhausted in the process. I did not think it would happen to me. I thought I was invincible.

Years ago, I remember singing a particular song in church in which we all passionately declared we would follow Jesus forever and never fall away. I have forgotten the exact words, but I remember holding my breath at how fervently we all sang them. I hoped and prayed we would be able to stand firm, whatever happened in our lives, but I sensed even then how desperately I would need God’s help to do so. And sadly, as time went by, many who sang those words did cease following the Lord.

I think too of the Apostle Peter’s fervent declaration of faithfulness just prior to Jesus’ death and of Jesus’ heartrending response, predicting what would actually happen:

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” Matthew 26:33-34

How easy it is to make promises to God, yet not keep them!  How tempting it can be to forget how much we need God and to think, ‘It couldn’t happen to me’! How quickly we can become just that little bit too complacent and cease to care about living in a way that honours God!

May we all continue to walk humbly each day in the strength and power that God gives. And may we always be ready to listen with all our hearts to that Voice behind us, saying , “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21b)

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I suspect I am getting a tad old. You see, these days I find I gain an inordinate amount of joy from the simple things in life. Of course I treasure the big, exciting events too. But how wonderful it can be to stop and truly appreciate those seemingly insignificant moments along the way!

One day last week, while in the kitchenware aisle of our local supermarket, I saw a large, metal cake cooler on special for around four dollars. Wow, I thought, it’s so much bigger and better than my old one I’ve used for all those forty-eight years of my married life. IMG_20171006_155427875This one has real wire mesh, so my biscuits won’t fall through and break and my cakes won’t end up with deep indentations on them! So with great glee, I placed that cake cooler in my trolley and headed for the checkout.

Such a simple item—yet how thankful I am for it. And what fun it was too to stare at the old and new versions on our kitchen bench and laugh at myself that I hadn’t bought a new one sooner!

But there were other simple moments in my week that brought even greater joy. OIMG_20171007_091749262ne special delight was to notice the first beautiful bloom on a rosebush I planted in our little garden beside our balcony, not long after we moved in here. To add to my delight, this particular rose is called ‘Just Joey’. How apt, when I was so often called Joey as a child, rather than Jo-Anne!

Another day while on our balcony, I found myself staring at the leaves on the nearby gum trees as they stirred in the wind against a backdrop of clear, blue sky. And one morning, I sat amazed at the myriad of different bird sounds I could hear coming from these same trees and nearby bushland. How easily I could have brushed off these special moments, in my preoccupation with everything waiting to be done inside!

Then one afternoon, I almost missed out again on something so simple, yet so priceless. I had arrived at our youngest granddaughter’s day care centre a little early to pick her up and the children were still playing outside. For a while, I stood and watched Maxine and her little friends. But then Maxine turned around and saw me—and, for a fleeting second, the most beautiful smile of greeting lit up her face. A moment later, she had obviously decided to be all serious again and pretended to ignore me. But I had seen that smile—and I knew she was delighted I had come.

As I reflected on these events, I thanked God for them. But I wondered if God wanted to teach me an even deeper lesson. How often in my busy life do I ignore those simple yet precious truths of Scripture and forget to rest in their power to keep me in a place of peace? Truths like:

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Joshua 1:5

I have loved you with an everlasting love … Jeremiah 31:3a

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. John 14:27a

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

So simple—yet so profound. So easy to remember—yet so often forgotten.

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