Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘eternal life’

Some things in this life are hard to understand, aren’t they? Often when we hear of some tragic event, we can feel so helpless and dismayed. We may be able to be there for those involved, provide practical support and pray for them, but still those big questions can remain.

This whole matter of life’s hard-to-understand questions was brought home to me recently, as I helped our granddaughter with a uni essay. This involved reading C S Lewis’s The Problem of Pain and grappling with how the idea of a good, all-powerful God could be reconciled with the reality of all the pain and suffering in our world. What a challenge for an eighteen-year-old—and what a challenge for me too, to help formulate a reasoned defence of Lewis’s Christian position!

During this time too, I heard a tragic story about a young mother who had just passed away from cancer not long after the birth of her second child. The mother was so ill that the baby was delivered early—and the grieving father is now left with two young sons to rear, one a premature newborn. It is hard to get our heads around such awful events, isn’t it?

As our granddaughter and I persevered with her essay, however, we came to some basic conclusions at least. We do not claim to be clear, logical thinkers—and we would not want to give any pat answers either. But we decided that God chose, from a position of strength and authority as the Creator of the universe, to give us free will—the ability to choose how we act. In one sense, it could perhaps be said God’s options then became limited, yet God is not intrinsically limited. God is still good and all-powerful, even though we may not be able to see that clearly at times.

Yet we also felt that, while our wrong choices may account for much of the world’s suffering, this does not seem to be the case with the young mother’s death mentioned above. Nor does it account for those large-scale natural disasters in our world, although it could be argued some are the result of man’s not caring for the earth’s God-given resources. We remembered too how sometimes God has judged the world in this way, such as in the days of Noah (Genesis 6). And we wondered too if, at times, God may allow suffering—sometimes suffering teaches us things we might never otherwise learn and refines our faith. Yet right now, through it all, God also longs to comfort and strengthen us in our troubles—God does not leave us to struggle on alone.

It is all so complex, isn’t it? Truly, we know only in part—but one day, we will know fully (1 Corinthians 13:12). And one day too as Christians, we have the wonderful hope of eternal life, where there will be no more pain and suffering at all.

God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:4

One day, those big questions will be answered—or perhaps then they will not matter anymore. But until that day, let’s keep on trusting and walking with our loving, good, all-powerful God.

Read Full Post »

I was in our local shopping centre again, not far from the large nativity scene in the middle of the main walkway, when I heard some children calling out in excitement. They were running here and there and seemed to be by themselves. Then one of them, a little girl, discovered the porcelain figure of the baby Jesus in the manger.

‘Oh look, a baby doll!’ she yelled. ‘I’m going to pick it up.’

Just then, her mum appeared and told her not to, after sending a quick, embarrassed glance my way. I am glad she was not close enough to hear my gasp at what her daughter had started to do, but I’m sure she saw my slightly horrified look. I wanted to tell her it was fine and quite a natural thing for a child to want to do, but they scurried away.

I was not worried that the doll the little girl wanted to pick up represented the baby Jesus, although I suspect that mum felt she might have offended me and others nearby. It is just that—a representation, not some sacred relic. Rather, I was more concerned the doll would smash if the little girl dropped it—and that would have been embarrassing indeed for her mum. But as I continued shopping, my reaction kept niggling me. Had I somehow acted a little like the disciples who rebuked those who brought children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them? But Jesus’ response had been so gracious.

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17

I prayed for that little family then. The mother had seemed so harassed and overwhelmed, but it all happened so quickly, there was nothing I could have said to her or done for her. Yet later, as I thought more about this event, I wondered if God had been teaching me a big lesson through it all.

How many times have I figuratively ‘picked up’ Jesus, listened to his words and connected closely with him, only to discard him after a while and rush off to something more exciting or interesting? How many times have I treated Jesus as if he were some mere effigy, instead of someone alive and powerful who loves me and wants to walk with me each day in my life? Even now, am I still like that little girl at times, not understanding or forgetting what that manger scene is all about? Have I truly grasped the enormity of the fact that God sent his Son Jesus Christ into our world out of love for us to save us and restore our broken relationship—forever?

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

This Christmas, let’s all carefully ‘pick up’ that baby Jesus, our Saviour, take him into our hearts once again and truly value the gift we have been given—freedom, peace, joy, a loving relationship with God, forever.

Read Full Post »

I’m sure it was only yesterday that our oldest granddaughter used to ask us this as a young toddler. ‘What happened?’ she would call out, as she came running to investigate, if I dropped something. From when she was only a few months old, we would mind her every Friday—and I have many memories of trips to parks, morning teas in shopping centres, cuddles as we read books and interesting conversations as we played games together.

Recently, when I saw this same granddaughter’s photos from her Year Twelve school formal, my mind catapulted back to those days with a vengeance. Around seven o’clock, Amy would arrive, still in her pyjamas, and her dad would hand her over, then rush off to his teaching job. First off, I would give her breakfast and check in her bag to find her clothes. But then the fun would begin, as I tried to brush her fine, blond hair and put it in pigtails. I would sit her in front of our TV, hoping the Wiggles or Hi5 would distract her enough so that she wouldn’t cry, as I worked as gently as I could. But no, Amy was often not impressed.

Yet there she was in those photos now, happy and smiling, with that lovely, long, blond hair of hers looking so beautiful and stylish. So … what happened? Where have those seventeen years gone? Weren’t we minding her only yesterday?

I remember too how Amy would often look up and say ‘Lovely day!’, as we stepped outside to go to the park or play in the front yard. Even now, we mimic how she used to say this, as we head out ourselves somewhere. Yes, we had many lovely days together then—and since as well. And right now, there are many lovely days in Amy’s life, as she celebrates the end of her school years. But … what lies ahead for her? What will happen in her life? What will the world be like for her in the future?

As I look back on my own high school and university years, I remember dreaming about the things I wanted to do—and feeling I had all the time in the world ahead of me to do them. Yet, while I still lead a busy life, so much is now behind me too. So … what happened? In the blink of an eye, those years all passed, just as the bible says.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:13-14

Now I hope and pray Amy has many more ‘lovely days’ ahead in her life, as she grows in her love for God and others. But in reality, we all have such a short time on this earth, don’t we, in the light of eternity? Yet in those moments when we look back and say ‘What happened?’, what a joy to know we can also look forward to that day when we will see Jesus face to face and be with him forever!

Read Full Post »

At the moment, I am making my way yet again through my current novel, checking for errors and tweaking this and that to make it the best I can. It is painstaking work—and it seems to have gone on forever. But each morning, as I open my laptop and go to the relevant document, I am cheered by the polite, little greeting that awaits me there. On the right of my screen, I always see a little box that says happily:

Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.

How encouraging is that? But recently, that little message did more than cheer me up and inspire me to pick up where I left off with even more determination. It also alerted me to open my ears to hear what God might want to say to me. It was as if God highlighted that little box on my screen so that I could not miss a much more important message it contained.

Then it hit me. In an instant, I sensed God saying: ‘That’s exactly what I’ve said to you so many times over the years, Jo-Anne. Whenever you have pulled back from following me for a while and gone your own way, but then turned around and repented, I have always been there waiting for you with open arms. Time and time again, like your laptop does each day, I have said to you, “Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.” What a joy it has been to offer you forgiveness each time—and how good it is to pick you up and help you stand firm again!’

Then my mind went to the Apostle Peter’s story in the bible. I love Peter. He seems such a full-on person—always the leader, opening his mouth on behalf of the other disciples and stepping out when others might well have feared to. I love how he was brave enough to get out of that boat and walk towards Jesus on the water (Matthew 14). I love how he realised early on that Jesus was the only one worth following and the only one who could offer eternal life.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. John 6:68-69

I love too how he declared he would never deny Jesus, fully thinking that was true—and I always feel sad when I read how he did deny him, then wept bitterly over it (Matthew 26:75). But later, when the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore as Peter is fishing with the other disciples and proceeds to provide them with breakfast, I hold my breath at what unfolds. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loves him. And three times, Peter replies, Lord, you know that I love you (John 21).

Can you imagine how Peter must have felt, as Jesus treated him in such a loving way and reinstated him to be the strong shepherd and leader he had called him to be? What grace Jesus showed him that day! And what grace Jesus shows each of us today, whenever we turn back to him, as he says with such love: ‘Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.’

Read Full Post »

IMG_20191026_124546957‘Do you like rhubarb?’ our dear, old neighbour asked, as he pointed with a trembling hand to a small clump growing nearby. ‘My wife cooks it with apple. Please pick it, otherwise it’ll be wasted.’

That day, he had learnt his wife would need to be in a nursing home and unable to come back to their unit. For thirteen years, she has chosen to care for all the garden areas nearby, with the blessing of our village gardeners, and I remembered how carefully she had tended this precious rhubarb plant in the months it had taken to grow. Now, just as it can be harvested, she is unable to do so.

As he went on to explain that he and his wife would probably both move into a double unit in the nearby nursing home, I noticed how he wiped tears away. He was concerned about the cost and also about the fact that there might not be room for all their possessions.

‘I tried to clean out the garage the other day, but I didn’t get too far,’ he told us. ‘I don’t know what we’ll do with it all.’

We endeavoured to reassure him as best we could. Finding a double unit where they can be together is wonderful, we told him. After all, they have been married for well over sixty years. And their beautiful daughters and sons-in-law will sort out what to take and what to give away, as well as all the paperwork needing to be done.

We felt so sorry for him as he stood there, a frail, old gentleman who is not well himself. Eventually he left, assuring us he had more than enough at home for dinner. Then, feeling so guilty, I went to cut those rhubarb stalks. I cooked them up, along with some apple, then filled a little container for him to take to his wife in hospital. It was the least I could do for her.

As I did, I felt sad, but I also felt at peace for them. You see, they are both Salvation Army officers and beautiful, humble Christians. This time in their lives might be fraught with pain and difficulty, as they suffer ill-health and grieve over the loss of their independence, as well as their lovely unit and garden. But they know where they are going. They know Jesus Christ. They have known him for a very long time. And I know they look forward to the day when they will meet him face to face and be with him forever. I know too they would agree with the words of the Apostle Paul:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

Our lovely neighbours will get over this huge hump in their lives in God’s strength and they will keep on trusting, whatever happens. And one day, I am sure, ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:17)

May we all carry such a hope in our hearts, as we live out our days here with our eyes fixed on the Lord, knowing this is not the end but only the beginning.

Read Full Post »

Jo 23


I had finished my shopping and was heading towards the shortest checkout queue when I noticed a man doing the same thing.

‘Ladies before gentlemen!’ he said with a smile.

As I thanked him and forged ahead, I bumped my trolley against the counter.

‘Oops—looks like I need to see where I’m going!’ I laughed.

‘Oh,’ he replied, ‘I’ve been trying to work that out for the past seventy years!’

My mind whirred as I stacked my groceries on that counter, but before I could say anything, he spoke again.

‘Do you know where you’re going?’

For a few moments, that question seemed to hang in the air between us. It was as if time stood still—and almost as if God was smiling at me and saying, ‘Well, Jo—what are you going to say?’

So I said the first thing that came to mind.

‘Actually, I do know where I’m going!’

‘Oh, where’s that?’ he responded.

‘Well, I belong to God—I know Jesus and I believe I’m going to heaven!’

He looked slightly taken aback, but then launched into a little poem I recognised yet now sadly cannot remember. When he had finished, I decided that, if he could quote something to me, I could perhaps quote something back.

‘Oh, I love 1 John 3:1—How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! It’s amazing we can be children of God, don’t you think?’

At that point, it was as if he dredged up a Bible verse of his own from somewhere deep in the recesses of his brain—perhaps from childhood? I could not catch it all, but nodded and smiled.

‘What’s your name?’ he demanded then.

‘I’m Jo-Anne … what’s yours?’

‘I’m Tony,’ he told me, in his lovely European accent.

‘Good to chat, Tony!’I replied, suddenly realising the girl at the checkout was smiling at me—and that the shopper she had just served was looking at me somewhat strangely!

Later, I thought of all the things I could have said instead—but at least the man hadn’t seemed too put off. In fact, I wondered if something had stirred in him as we chatted—perhaps something God had spoken into his heart long ago? And maybe our conversation would cause him to reflect a little more on his own question. I hoped so anyway.

I wondered, however, if what I had said may have come across as just that little bit too presumptuous. Even as I said what I did, I remember thinking, ‘This could sound so proud and arrogant!’ But Jesus himself tells us:

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

And in 1 John 5:11-12, we read:

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life …

I wonder how you would have answered this man’s question. Perhaps your response would have been much wiser and more sensitive than mine. Whatever the case, I hope you do know where you’re going—because that’s the main thing, isn’t it?

Read Full Post »

Jo 17Recently, the funeral an elderly gentleman who had never married and whose closest relative was a sister living in the USA was held at our church. He was a quiet, unassuming man who had worked with a Christian organisation in various parts of the world. Each Sunday, he would catch two buses to get to our church from his home a few suburbs away. But one Sunday a few weeks ago, he apparently fell over at home while getting ready and it was two or three days before friends or neighbours realised something must be wrong. The police broke in—and he was taken to hospital.

As soon as our church heard about his plight, various people started visiting him. Some helped by getting things he needed from home. Others washed his clothes. Still others prayed for and with him. Our pastors liaised with medical staff and kept his sister informed. And when the difficult decision had to be made to turn off his life support system, his Christian friends gathered around his bed, surrounded him in prayer and farewelled him in the most godly, dignified way possible.

At one stage, a nurse commented how sad it was that no family members could be with him at the end of his life.

‘But we are his family—we’re his church family!’ one of those present exclaimed.

Perhaps most moving of all, however, were the words of the head ICU doctor, after noting the love, care and respect shown to his patient by those who visited.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it!’ he said with feeling.

Now that was both a wonderful but sad comment, don’t you think? It was wonderful that the loving, sincere, Christlike care given to this elderly man seemed to amaze this doctor, but sad too that he had never before experienced people who were not biological family acting in this deeply caring way. Perhaps he may have come from a culture where such tasks are shouldered by family members only. Who knows? Yet what a reminder to us of the importance of caring for those alone and in need, not only for their sakes but also for any who might be watching and wondering!

For me, it was also a sobering reminder of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 about gathering the nations together, putting the ‘sheep’ on the right and the ‘goats’ on the left, then welcoming those on the right to take their kingdom inheritance, on the basis of having helped him when he was hungry or thirsty, in need of clothes or shelter, ill or in prison. He goes on to explain how the ‘righteous’ hypocrites will argue that they never saw him in such situations—and then adds some words that always cut me to the heart:

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (40)

How thankful I am that that elderly gentleman, who surely qualifies as one of those whom Jesus called ‘brothers of mine’, with no biological family close by to help, had his church family around him who treated him in a way that honoured both Jesus and him! May I have the grace to follow their example, show the same love and be true family to others.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Jo 12There I was, busy unpacking the final carton from our move, when the lights in our living area went out. I heard voices outside, went to investigate—and was hailed loudly by a gentleman from upstairs.

‘Hi, my name’s Bill. You’re new, aren’t you?’

‘Yes—my name’s Jo-Anne.’

‘Good to meet you, Jo-Anne. Welcome to this wonderful place where the electricity isn’t working!’

Soon, more folk from neighbouring units appeared.

‘Why are the lights out?’ one lady asked.

‘Oh, we mustn’t have paid our bills!’ another man joked.

We all chatted for a while. Then those lights came back on and everyone disappeared inside again.

Another day, I had walked up to our Village Centre to use the wifi there. Before we moved, we arranged with a certain well-known telecommunications company to have our phone connected at our new address and also the internet. Alas, four weeks later, we are still waiting! During that time, I have realised how much I rely on touching base with author friends and others via email, Facebook and blogs. So there I was, hoping to work quickly and quietly at my laptop in the coffee shop. But soon a man and a lady sat down nearby, obviously wondering who this newcomer might be. I chatted with them for a while, then tried to return to my work. Yet, every few moments, one of them would say, ‘Excuse me, do you know …’, ‘Excuse me, have you seen …’, ‘Excuse me, are you aware …’ and so on. They simply wanted to connect with me and be helpful to someone new. So in the end, I forsook my online friends and opted for the folk seated right in front of me.

On yet another day, I met a lady slowly coming downstairs with some rubbish.

‘Do you need help?’ I asked reluctantly, a little unwilling to stop and chat.

‘No thank you, I’m fine. My name’s Marie.’

‘Oh, that’s my second name,’ I told her—and she was delighted.

Soon I discovered she is ninety and has a twin sister who lives just across the way in another unit.

‘We can wave to each other from our balconies!’ she told me—and I could see how important this connection was for her with the one she has known for all of her ninety years.

As I have reflected on all these recent connections with others and how ready each person was to chat, I sense I have been strongly reminded of God’s heart to connect with me in a meaningful way each day. Yet how often do I momentarily touch base, then scuttle away, as when that electricity came on again in our block?  How many times do I ignore God, as I tried to ignore that couple while answering my emails? How often do I refuse to acknowledge God’s presence at all, as I almost did with ninety-year-old Marie?

It’s about stopping in the midst of our busy lives. It’s about becoming aware God is with us and wants to relate to us. It’s about truly connecting—then listening and responding.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I given them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:27-29

Read Full Post »

There I was, quietly reading away this morning when, in a trice, I found myself swept back into the past. I was a young girl again, watching my father struggle to his feet, put on his gardening hat and declare in a resigned but relatively cheerful voice, ‘Well, I’d better get going again. No rest for the wicked!’

You see, I had just read Isaiah 57:21—“There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” A few days ago, a similar verse in Isaiah had not triggered any strong memory. Yet this morning, I was jolted back so forcefully that I could not only hear my father’s voice but see every detail of how he looked—old blue singlet, checked shirt and all. Now to Dad, these words seemed to mean he needed to keep working hard rather than that there would be no heavenly rest or peace for the wicked. At that time, Dad claimed he rejected the idea of eternal life in any form and used to say with finality, ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead.’

Well, it is many years now since he passed away. I was not present in the last weeks of his life, but it seems he may have changed his mind about God and eternal life. I hope he did—I like to think of him at rest and at peace with God. Because that is really what God is talking about in Isaiah 57. In verses 15 and 19, we read:

For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. … Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”

We all need that peace, don’t we? There are often so many competing voices seeking to bring us down and make us feel anxious or hurt or frustrated or inadequate or angry. We may well find things in life that give us great peace and joy—a wonderful partner, an interesting job, a new home, success in some area, good friends. But God’s peace goes beyond all of these.

I have always loved Jesus’ words in John 14:27 as he tells his disciples about what lies ahead. I like to imagine the sound of his voice as he spoke out such comforting words—a voice I am sure was filled with authority but also with love:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus’ peace is different from any we might find in this world. It is far, far deeper and more profound. It is eternal. It is not merely the absence of trouble, but rather the presence of the Prince of Peace within us in the person of his Holy Spirit, even in the midst of strife.

So let’s close our ears to the voices that would pull down our faith and call us to look elsewhere to find a peace that satisfies. Instead, let’s choose to be among those who are ‘contrite and lowly in spirit’, who listen intently to that loving voice of God and learn to recognise it as readily as we do the voices of father or mother or others close to us.

Whose voices are you hearing? Do they speak peace into your spirit?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »