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Posts Tagged ‘amazing grace’

Jo 17Recently, I did something I have never done before. Each day for one whole week, I deliberately chose to do some special activity I have wanted to do for some time but always had a reason not to. On top of that, I did not cook dinner any night that week. Instead, we ate out or bought takeaway. You see, the whole thing was a unique birthday present for me—and what fun it all was!

Originally, my husband had wanted me to enjoy a few days away somewhere by myself—to relax, recharge and spend time with God. I thought about this lovely idea and even looked up various venues online but did not feel settled about any of them. Then one night, it came to me. I did not want to go away anywhere. Instead, I wanted to enjoy different, interesting experiences within reach of our own beautiful unit, then come home and not have to cook dinner! A win-win situation, don’t you think?

In the end, we called this wondrous week ‘The Festival of Jo-Anne’ (!)—and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I went shopping, twice over. I went to the movies. I had coffee out. I had a massage. I read. And in between, I had time simply to sit and be and reconnect with God. Yes, it was all very good indeed.

But one reason I enjoyed it even more was that, two weeks earlier, I had finally finished the first draft of my latest novel that had languished on my laptop for over three years, waiting patiently for me to unfold the rest of the story. This special week of mine then was also for me a time when I came up for air, so to speak, when I allowed my poor brain to rest, when I graced myself a little more than usual—and when I sensed God’s love and grace being showered on me from every angle. It was a lovely, hiatus period—a time to gain clearer perspective, not only on my novel, before I plunged into all that necessary editing, but on my life in general.

At one stage in writing this particular novel, I wondered if I should keep going. Should I be content with the eight books of mine that have already been published? Was that where God wanted me to stop? But one day, I sensed God saying gently to me, ‘Jo-Anne, whether you write this book or don’t write it, remember I’ll be just as delighted with you either way!’ What gracious, loving, freeing words to hear! I did not need to feel pressured to produce in any way. Instead, I had permission to write the sort of novel I have wanted to write for some time and to leave the outcome in God’s hands.

Yet I think God was saying more than that too. I think God wanted to remind me that, all the time, whether celebrating the Festival of Jo-Anne or writing or speaking or whatever, I can rest fully in this amazing love of God that accepts me, no matter what.

How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7 New Living Translation

Maybe you too need to hear this reminder right now?

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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 12Recently, I needed to bake a cake to have on hand for visitors. I stood in our kitchen for a while, trying to decide which mixing bowl to use. I have a few to choose from—three plastic ones of varying sizes, a sturdy, metal one and a large, glass one. This last bowl is too big, I decide—yet I choose it anyway.

As I continue cooking, I wonder why I have gravitated to this particular bowl. Then, to my surprise, a memory surfaces from deep in my brain of a similar bowl my mother had. I can still see her using it as she stood at her little kitchen bench-table, whipping up delicious cakes or biscuits or scones for us during our growing up years. Could this be the unconscious reason that glass bowl appeals to me now, so many years later?

I finish baking and sit down at my desk. Not until then do I remember it is my mother’s birthday—although she passed away many years ago now. So … is all this mere coincidence? Somehow I don’t think so. How powerful those hidden memories of ours are! What depths there are to those unconscious parts of us that we will probably never fathom!

But our conscious memories can also be so powerful at times. ‘Remember when we went to …?’ I said to a friend recently. ‘Do you recall the meal we had there and what happened when we went to pay?’ We laugh together—and both of us are immediately back in that little Turkish village where the owner said he was too busy to take our money, so could we please come back the next day to pay?! I remember vividly that little, rustic courtyard restaurant with the rosemary bushes growing nearby and can almost taste and smell that beautiful meal even now.

God created us and knows us through and through, as Psalm 139 tells us. God knows the power of memory. So no wonder we are urged in Scripture to use it to remember the lessons God has taught us and the way God has led and rescued us.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced … 1 Chronicles 15:11-12

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:2

This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  1 Corinthians 11:24

Sometimes our memories may not always be positive. Sometimes they may remind us of things we would rather forget and threaten to overwhelm us. But through all those hard and even harrowing times, God was still there. And God can bring healing to those dark memories, I believe, softening them and enabling us to move forward with greater strength and wisdom and peace. Whatever has happened, God is still good and righteous and holy. And God delights to bring good out of our most difficult experiences, restoring and recreating us as only God can.

So I cherish the power of memory, particularly those memories of God’s amazing grace at work in my life. And as I do, I hope I also remember to praise God with all my heart.

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Yesterday, while filing away some talks I gave this past weekend, I decided it was high time I threw out copies of others I gave around fifteen years ago! Why keep these bulging folders any longer? I have changed so much since then. And even if I were to speak on those same topics, my content would be quite different.

As I sorted through these, I noted how much preparation had gone into them—and no doubt much prayer as well. Then I stopped for a moment and reflected on all that has happened since then. Over these past fifteen years, I have spoken in and outside of churches many times, as I still do. In a flash, I saw how invaluable that earlier experience and hours of preparation had been for what I find myself still doing today. But beyond that, I sensed again God’s overwhelming grace in my life. In all those years, God has never forgotten me for a moment. And, just as I experienced this past weekend, as I gave three sessions at a women’s retreat, God is continuing to provide me with opportunities to use the gifts of speaking and encouraging I believe I have been given and continuing to guide and strengthen me.

In Isaiah 49:15, the Lord says to the people of Zion:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands …

Centuries later, I believe God is still not in the business of neglecting us. When we belong to God’s family, God takes responsibility for us—and I saw that clearly yet again this past weekend. Even before I left home, after glancing through my input once more, I decided to sit down quietly and read a few words of Scripture. Recently, I had begun reading through Psalms again and ‘happened’ to be up to Psalm 19. In the last verse there, I found the following:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

This was exactly the prayer I sensed I needed to pray before heading up the coast to speak. I did not know the group well who had invited me and was a little nervous about how I would be received. But, above all, I wanted to please the Lord with what I had prepared. So being given this little prayer brought such reassurance as I set out into the unknown.

And once again, God did not let me down. In fact, I am sure at times God rescued me and gave me words I would not have thought of saying, just as is promised in Isaiah 51:16:

I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand—I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’

This week, as you seek to love and serve the Lord, may you too receive a fresh glimpse of God’s amazing grace and enjoy that covering of God’s own, powerful hand over you in all you do.

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I’m on the home run – I think – with my first non-fiction book Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey, due for release in October by Even Before Publishing. A few days ago, the first layout version of the book arrived for me to check through and to get someone else to proofread as well. Now I know from past experience with my previous books how essential this meticulous proofreading is. But each time, I find such experiences somewhat disconcerting. As I discover this little mistake and that little oversight, I ask myself how these could ever have escaped my attention – as well as the attention of my two manuscript readers/editors – during our numerous checks prior to this. They seem so obvious now. Admittedly, some always tend to creep in during the editing process – as one thing is changed, so another is affected without noticing. And sometimes things happen as the manuscript is imported into a different program. But I know they will be there – I don’t assume anything with my work these days.

This time around, however, my experience has been even more interesting in that each day this week we have minded our five-month-old grandson. Can you picture him sitting on my lap, a little unhappy for some reason or another, reaching out his cute little hands towards my keyboard? Can you imagine my attempts to type sensible comments with one hand, while holding him firmly with the other?

Nevertheless, I have now succeeded in finishing it. Yet I am left with this weird feeling inside. Are there other mistakes I should have noticed? Are there more clumsy sentences I should have changed, even at this late stage? Have I acknowledged everything I should have acknowledged? Does the book do my lovely spiritual mentor justice? After all, this book is about the spiritual journey I have enjoyed with her over the past fifteen years – it reflects on her as well as on me.

And then as I reach for my Bible in order to sit in the sun and let God’s Word minister to me, even before I open it, I am reminded again of God’s amazing grace. God has been right beside me, through all the challenges of this week. And right now, God is saying a wonderful ‘Well done’ to me at another task completed to the best of my ability.

Yet as I let my mind relax and focus fully on God, I am reminded of another even deeper truth. Every day of my life, God sees my mistakes – my impatient words to a family member, my self-focus, my complaining about this or that, my self-doubt, my forgetting others who need my support. Yet God never gives up on me but continues to reach out in love, to forgive, to urge me on to do better. From God’s perspective, all my mistakes are gone. As Psalm 103:11-13 says:

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. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him …

There are no hidden mistakes with God. God sees. God knows. God loves. God forgives. I still find that so amazing and freeing – and I pray with all my heart you do too.

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This morning, as I read from Luke’s Gospel, I was bowled over yet again by the amazing grace and patience of Jesus.  He is sitting at the table with his disciples and they have just celebrated the Last Supper together, when a dispute apparently occurs as to which of them should be considered the greatest.  Jesus cuts through all their arguing and tells them that is not to be their attitude.  Instead they are to serve, just as he served them.  But then he goes on to address Simon Peter in particular:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  (Luke 22:31-32)

What an amazing glimpse into Jesus’ heart for Simon Peter and for us!  Jesus, the Son of God, out of love and concern for this man, puts time and effort into praying for him, that his faith will remain firm.  All this, despite knowing Peter will in fact deny him soon after, as the following verses show.  Jesus obviously loves and believes enough in this passionate disciple of his to forgive, even ahead of time, the hurt and pain of Peter’s denial, so soon after asserting he would be prepared to experience prison and death for Jesus’ sake.  But what’s more, Jesus actively prays in faith that he will repent and return to being the passionate disciple and leader Jesus knows he can be.  Jesus says ‘when you have turned back’, not ‘if you turn back’.  And he also shows his complete trust in Peter’s future willingness and ability to strengthen his ‘brothers’.

How incredibly humbling it must have been for Simon Peter to hear that Jesus, the Son of God, was praying for him!  How incredibly humbling it is for me to sit here today and realise that even now, according to Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in heaven, still pleading for me and for each one of us.  However much we have fallen short of the person he wants us to be, however much we have ignored or denied him, he still reaches out to us in love, reminding us that he died for us, that we belong to him, that we can step up yet again and encourage others, as we rely on his strength.

In John 21, we see how Jesus, after his resurrection, meets Simon Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and reinstates him.  He asks him the pointed question three times: ‘Do you love me?’, and three times Simon Peter strongly affirms he does.  May this be our hearts today.  May each one of us realise afresh today that Jesus is ‘for’us, that he loves and believes in us and that he longs for us to remain firm, just as he did as he prayed for Peter.

And may we too extend this same amazing grace and patience to others, knowing we would not be where we are except for Jesus, who pleads even now on our behalf.

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