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Posts Tagged ‘eternal life’

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?

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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.

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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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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

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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?

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I wonder how many of you, authors or otherwise, struggle with this whole area of looking for praise for what we produce? I  have been thinking about this in connection with the recent release of my fifth novel Heléna’s Legacy. Of course I want people to like this book. And of course I want it to impact and encourage as many people as possible. After all, I believe in this novel – and I believe it was something God wanted me to write. So I’m happy to get out there and promote it for all it’s worth. And I’m very pleased (and relieved!) when people respond positively – when they congratulate me, when they say they love the cover, when they warm to what I’ve written.

In one sense, I have to ‘pursue’ praise. By that I mean I have to listen to my readers – there is no point in continuing to produce novels no one likes and no one buys. And that includes taking on board praise as well as criticism. But in my uncertainty as to whether my book is ‘good enough’, I find myself on occasions seeking so desperately for that reassuring praise that may never come. I look too eagerly for people’s responses. My wellbeing begins to depend on it. I analyse their words too closely and, if face to face, try to discern if they mean what they’re saying. Perhaps they’re merely trying to be nice and not hurt me. Or perhaps while they compliment me on some aspect of the novel, they’re secretly glad they can find at least something positive to say about it!

So where is the point where I begin to seek praise for praise’s sake only – to make me feel good or to boost my ego – rather than look for it to show me I have written something that will be well-received and hopefully used by God? Where do I step over into self-centredness, caring more about my own honour rather than God’s? Where is the dividing line between humbly and thankfully accepting people’s praise and letting it go to my head?

I guess the real question in my heart is this: Whose praise am I seeking the most – men’s (and women’s!) or God’s? Recently I read the account in John 5 of how Jesus heals a disabled man, telling him to pick up his mat and walk, but is persecuted for this because it is the Sabbath. The persecution then gets worse when Jesus calls God Father, yet this doesn’t deter him from confronting his opponents even more strongly. ‘I know you,’ he tells them (v 42). ‘I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.’ Then he asks a question that pulled me up short: ‘How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?’ (v 44)

Yes, I know and am so thankful for the fact that I am fully accepted by God and saved by grace – that none of my works, written or otherwise, will ever ‘earn’ me eternal life. But here Jesus clearly shows the importance of taking God’s opinion of us into account over that of mere mortals, of living in a way that please God above all else. And I’m sure you too look forward to the day when, like the faithful servant in Matthew 25, we ourselves hear our Master’s ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ (v 21)

Now that’s definitely some praise worth pursuing, don’t you agree?

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I received some great gifts for Mothers’ Day, among them a fantastic Boston pocket umbrella. Sadly, my precious Liberty umbrella from Harrods in London had finally died, so I wanted one that would be equally noteworthy. And that’s exactly what I got. My new umbrella is a lovely amethyst colour and when folded up in its neat, rectangular carry-case, measures all of seventeen centimetres. I admired its special features and then opened the tiny booklet that came with it to find out more.

Congratulations on your purchase. You are obviously a person of fine judgement’, I read first off. Hmm, I would agree with that – well, at least my daughter is! I continued on. Most of the instructions were serious, but here are some I laughed aloud over:

  • Do not use in the event of storm, hurricane, typhoon or serious climatic disturbance. If you do, your Original Pocket Umbrella may break and then you will be very upset!
  • Please remember this is not a toy and you are not Mary Poppins. Do not use it to fly, float, swing, dance or other bizarre activity for which it is not designed.
  • Do not throw the case away. How would you like it if someone threw your home away?

And as for the one year guarantee, here’s what it says:

The guarantee does not include damage which results from misuse or accident. We strongly recommend that you avoid opening it in a crowded lift, using it to play ‘fetch’ with Fido the dog, or sitting in it while rowing to China. In these cases we are sorry to say your warranty is null and void!

Obviously someone at the Boston Umbrella Company has a sense of humour. But as I later reflected on these fun instructions, it occurred to me that when it comes to God’s instructions, many of us take these with a similar ‘grain of salt’ as the examples above, if not laugh at them outright. Surely Jesus was a little ‘tongue in cheek’ when he declared we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 6:44)? Or surely he didn’t mean that being angry with our brother is just as bad as murdering him (Matt 5:21-22)? What a joke! As for lustful glances being equivalent to committing adultery (Matt 5:27) – don’t be ridiculous! And how can we not worry about what we will eat or drink or wear, as Jesus suggested (Matt 6:25)? Surely, that one’s for the birds! As to becoming great by serving others (Matt 20:25-28), that’s never going to get anyone anywhere in life.

But Jesus wasn’t joking. We can’t merely laugh off his commands as far too naive or impractical – or even unfair. One day we will all find out he meant exactly what he said. And one day we will all see clearly the wisdom and truth of his commands.

Well, I’m not about to risk my life floating to China in my new umbrella – but I am prepared to stake my life on Jesus and his teachings. And when Jesus gives a guarantee that those who believe in him will have eternal life, I know this guarantee will hold good. And I also know God delights to shelter me from the storms of this life and will watch over me forever (Isaiah 25:4; Psalm 91:1).

Now that’s some umbrella – don’t you think?

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