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Posts Tagged ‘Eugene Peterson’

Jo 12A few weeks ago, I went to pick up our youngest granddaughter from school. I thought I knew the way, but ended up at our granddaughter’s old day care centre instead! Well, surely I can get to the school from here, I thought to myself—after all, we had often picked up our grandson there. But that soon proved easier said than done, given the extremely winding and what seems to me utterly confusing layout of Glenmore Park, a western suburb of Sydney, where roundabouts abound and streets meander in all directions. The more I tried, the more confused I became. Meanwhile, time was ticking away—and I needed to be at our granddaughter’s classroom before the bell rang. She has only just started school and would be worried otherwise.

What confused me was that this time I had set out from our daughter’s home rather than our own. In the end, I became so disoriented, I had to call up Mr Google on my phone—and yes, there was that big, blue dot on the map that helpfully showed me where I was. I typed in the name of the school and tried hard to make that dot move closer to my destination as I drove along, keeping my phone in view at the same time (ahem!). Imagine my despair when sometimes, whatever I seemed to do, that blue dot started heading in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go!

Eventually, after a few stops by the roadside to check my phone properly, I somehow happened upon the street leading to the school. I parked at the end of what by then was a massive line of cars and ran as fast as I could to Maxine’s classroom, arriving in the nick of time. Phew!

But alas, that was not the end of the story. As our granddaughter sat calmly in her car seat, I much less calmly managed to get lost again en route to her home! Everything seemed back to front to me. So out came that phone again and in went our daughter’s address, as I blithely explained to Maxine that I was ‘just making sure we were on the right road’! And yes, after several more stops to check, that blue dot finally kept moving in the direction it needed to go and we arrived home safely.

After I recovered and was able to reflect on these interesting experiences, it occurred to me that sometimes I can be like that blue dot on the map, as I live my life. My heart is to keep focussing on God in all I do, yet sometimes I make unwise decisions that lead me away from God’s loving presence rather than closer. Sometimes I too go round and round in circles and up dead end roads before I come to my senses, stop, refocus on God and get my bearings again in my life. Does that describe you too?

In these times, may we all remember to listen again to those wise words from Proverbs 3:5-6—and do what they say!

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. (The Message version)

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pexels-photo-461252There we were on Christmas day, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. I had put some cherries out for us to enjoy and offered one to our three-year-old granddaughter.

‘These are lovely, Maxine. Would you like one?’ I said.

She gazed at them for a moment, then came out with this profound statement.

‘I don’t like cherries because I’ve never had them before!’

Now that obviously made complete sense to her. After all, surely if her parents hadn’t given them to her before this, then those funny red things with stems must be yucky! I remembered too the response of one of our own children, when faced with eating something they hadn’t tasted previously. ‘I won’t like it!’ they would say, obviously fearful of what lay ahead.

Sadly, I suspect I can be like Maxine at times, or that child of ours.  Often I can be very picky—but more so with books than food.  I may find myself turned off by a cover I dislike or the quality of the paper or the size of the print. I don’t mind small print, but I do object when a large font is used and those lines are spread so far apart and the margins are so wide, making that book too insubstantial for me and not worth the money I paid for it! Yet some smaller books I own have turned out to be absolute gems, such as Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude or Eugene Petersen’s The Wisdom of Each Other.

Much sadder than pre-judging books, however, are the times I have pre-judged people because of their appearance or something different about them. The biggest lesson I learnt in this regard occurred around twenty-five years ago when I met a young woman at a prayer training course. At first, after discovering she was blind, I avoided her. I felt I would not know how to relate to someone who could not see. And, to my shame, I was reluctant to put myself out to help her. Yet God drew us together—and that young woman taught me so much about myself, about courage, about perseverance, about relating to those who suffer from any degree of vision impairment.

A few years later, I found myself at another course where most participants were from a different part of the Body of Christ. ‘They won’t be able to teach me anything much,’ I decided in complete arrogance. Yet their kind acceptance, attentiveness and intelligent conversation turned out to be a wonderful, healing gift from God for me.

Now I’m hoping there aren’t too many others of you out there like me who are practised pre-judgers.  I hope you taste those cherries or look carefully at those smaller books before making up your mind. I hope you listen to and accept others, however different they are. And I hope I do too more and more. But above all, if Jesus Christ is someone unfamiliar to you, I hope and pray that, in the coming year, you may not pre-judge or write him off too quickly but instead take time to get to know him, to experience his amazing love and to taste his absolute goodness for yourself.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

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Jo 12I am so thankful for computers and the internet–for enabling me to email others so easily, maintain a website so people can find out about my books, write a blog each week and link it to Facebook, and also research all sorts of weird and wonderful topics—including how to deal with that pesky wasp’s nest under our back steps right now!

But last week, I came to appreciate another whole aspect of the internet, after my husband spoke at our church on Sunday. As is the custom there, his sermon was made available on the church’s website immediately after as a podcast for anyone to listen to (please click here).  Now I had not considered to any great degree how useful this might be in a church context, in this day and age when some people might be unable to get to church because of work commitments or the busyness of life or any other reason. In fact, at times, I had even wondered if anyone listened to such podcasts. How wrong I was.

You see, last Monday, a very special email was forwarded to my husband from our church office—and what an encouraging email it was! Someone had taken the time to listen to his sermon podcast and then give some wonderful feedback. Here is part of what this lady wrote:

Recently I have taken to listening to your weekly presentations on your website. Yesterday’s “When God Is Silent” was especially relevant in my life at the moment and I am so pleased I was not in church as it was being said as I would have just fallen apart. …

The writer went on to thank my husband for what he had said and the power and healing she found in it. She then continued:

Although I still have no idea why I am going through what I am going through, I now can acknowledge that it is not because I have been forsaken, but I must wait for God’s plan to be revealed to me and rejoice in all the little encouragements I receive. …

Thank you again. Just thought you would want to know.

Not all of us have our words recorded a podcast for anyone to listen to. But almost all of us talk every day—some of us quite a lot! Wherever we have an audience, even if only an audience of one, our words have power to impart hope and healing, wisdom and comfort—but also power to hurt or shame or discourage or anger.  People—especially our children and grandchildren, I have discovered—seem to remember so much of what we say and take things to heart in ways we would never have imagined. How careful we need to be with all those words that flow so easily from our mouths!

So this week, may the words you and I say in whatever context be spoken with great care. May they bring life and not death, hope and not discouragement. And may each one of them reflect our gracious, loving God, just as is needed, to those who hear.

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Words are powerful; take them seriously. Matthew 12:36 The Message

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I wonder if you remember Madame Defarge, the infamous character created by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. I studied this novel at high school and still feel chilled at the image of this woman weaving the names of those French aristocrats condemned to death by the republicans into her knitting and watching with satisfaction as that guillotine comes crashing down on each of them in turn.

Thankfully, I am no Madam Defarge, with her deep-seated desire for revenge against those who had caused her family such grief. Besides, weaving anyone’s names into my knitting would be way beyond my ability! However, from time to time, I do love to sit and knit little garments for our grandchildren. Mostly, this is a pleasant, relaxing pursuit for me—unless I am up to a patterned section. Then I am obliged to count carefully and focus or disaster will strike—at which point I may well moan and wail with some vehemence.

When all is going smoothly knitting-wise, I find there is something very fulfilling about watching a little garment grow beneath my fingers. Eventually, the moment arrives when I knit that last stitch and cut through the wool with a satisfying snip. Yay, I’ve finished! But then I realise I still need to sew this part to that part and complete other jobs like adding buttons—tedious tasks which seem to take so long.

Recently, P1040088however, while completing a little cardigan for our youngest granddaughter, I decided to do something much more positive than griping when I made a mistake or complaining about those final, tedious tasks. No, I did not attempt to weave her name into it. Instead, I decided put my energy into praying for our precious little Maxine as I backstitched those final seams together. Then, as I attached the buttons, pushing my needle through the four holes of each one to form an ‘x’ shape, I pictured that ‘x’ standing not only for my love for Maxine but also for God’s amazing love for her. I prayed she would come to know that love of God for herself and that we would faithfully mirror this to her through all our words and actions. And I prayed she would step into all God has for her in her life and fulfil her unique place in this world with great joy.

It’s so important, don’t you think, to grasp these opportunities to pray in the course of our everyday life? Whether in a quiet, private place or surrounded by people and noise and activity in a very public setting, we can reach out to God in our hearts and minds, even if only for a few conscious moments. Recently, I read a simple but lovely description of prayer in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out. According to him, prayer is ‘a creative contact with the source of all life’ (p 91). What a privilege to be connected to the Source of All Life every moment of the day!

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul urges us to ‘pray continually’, or to ‘pray all the time’, as Peterson puts it in The Message. May we never forget our loving, Creator God is present, ready and willing to listen, to communicate and to do life with us, wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

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Jo 17This past week, I found myself more than once in complaining mode. There were various events, large and small, ongoing and one-off, that brought this on. For the most part, I stewed in silence. But in the end, after venting my feelings to someone close to me at great length, I began to surface from my morass of self-pity and see things in a more reasonable light.

Yes, I decided, I had good reason to complain about some things that had occurred and some decisions others had made. I was right in feeling a little ripped off. As for some of the ongoing situations, I decided it was okay to be honest and acknowledge the difficulty these were causing me. But what was my response to be from this point on? Where was the healthy and godly way forward for me?

You see, it had dawned on me at last that God was still there in the midst of everything. God knew all my muddled, confused thoughts and mixed emotions. Not only that, God still loved me with the most amazing, tender, caring love and wanted me to remember that. I know this was the case for two reasons. Firstly, by that time, I had calmed down enough to recognise the Spirit’s gentle voice within, whispering this truth to me. But secondly, only that morning, I had received a beautiful email from a friend who told me she was praying for God’s encouragement and love to surround me and wanted to share with me some words from Ephesians 1 in The Message version of the Bible:

“Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ (What pleasure He took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of His beloved Son.”

I had a clear choice at that point. I could continue to grumble and stew and feel sorry for myself, ignoring what God might be saying to me through these words and through the situations in my life, as well as my responses to them. Or I could change my focus, step back a little and begin to allow God to widen my perspective and show me the way forward. A ‘no-brainer’, wouldn’t you agree?

For a little while at least, it had kind of slipped my mind that, because God’s Spirit lives in me, as I know from experience and as Jesus talks about in John 14:17, then God is an integral part of everything that is happening in my life. Nothing takes God by surprise—and God is quite able to use every situation to teach us something and draw us closer. So my best response is to rest back in that amazing love of God, receive the grace and mercy that is always there for me and choose to listen once again to the Shepherd’s voice.

God is always up to something in our lives—and I am so thankful for that.

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I love Easter and the lead-up to it. It’s a fun time of the year, with Easter eggs and family celebrations and extra days to relax. But it’s much more than that. For me, this is where the rubber meets the road—where we get to the kernel of what it’s all about to be a Christian.

I remember attending a special three hour long service at our local church one Good Friday when I was about twelve. The service was built around the ‘stations of the cross’, which were depicted in various paintings on the walls of that old stone church. Every so often, we would be invited to gather around the next ‘station’ and listen to special readings and prayers. Somehow, even though I was so young, the awesome events we were remembering touched my heart. While I did not fully comprehend it all at that stage, I knew something earth-shattering had happened when Jesus was crucified.

Since then, in the days leading up to Easter, I have always liked to follow Jesus’ journey to the cross by reading one of the Gospel accounts of the events involved, stopping often to reflect. Time and time again, I have been deeply moved by what I have found there—and inevitably, something in particular challenges me, demanding a response. This year, it was the conversation Jesus has his disciples just prior to the Lord’s Supper. In Matthew 26:20-22 we read:

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?”

Eventually it comes to Judas’s turn. As I read his own “Surely not I, Rabbi?’ (25), I began to wonder what was in his heart as he said those words. Was he aghast at himself at what he knew he was about to do? He had already been paid thirty silver coins to hand Jesus over to the authorities (15). Was he feeling ambivalent about the whole deal by this point? Or was he just plain pretending?

Then comes Jesus’ simple but confronting ‘Yes, it is you.” Or, as some translations put it, “You yourself have said it. From such a brief response, it is hard to tell what he must have been feeling. No doubt there was love as well as deep grief in his eyes as he looked at Judas and uttered those words. But could there also have been deep disappointment and even anger in his words? Was he trying to challenge Judas to the very end?

In ‘The Message’ version of the Bible, Eugene Peterson expresses Jesus’ response this way: “Don’t play games with me, Judas!” Whoa!! Now that certainly caused me to stop and think. Do I ever try to fool myself when God’s Spirit convicts me of something and come back with the same smart rejoinder, ‘Surely not I?’ Does Jesus have cause to say to me at times ‘Don’t play games with me, Jo-Anne’? What an affront to my Saviour, who loves me and gave his life for me!

This Easter, may you and I find time to stop, reflect and be real with God. May we put aside our little games and our ‘Surely not I?’s once and for all and kneel with contrite hearts before Jesus, the Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

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I have discovered that our granddaughter Olivia is becoming very wise in her old age. After all, she turns five this week! Recently when minding her and her sister Amy at their home, I suggested we tidy things up a little before Mummy came home. This comment was greeted very airily by Olivia, however, who announced with a wave of her hand in a somewhat exasperated tone:  Oh, don’t worry! It doesn’t matter!

I am sure she has heard older family members say this many times – including her grandmother! And yes, she’s probably right that some things don’t matter and aren’t worth ‘worrying’ about. I come from a line of great worriers, actually. My mother, bless her heart, spent a lifetime worrying about so many things that never eventuated. I used to think of her often when reading the final page of the Mr Men book ‘Mr Worry’ to our children. The author declares there that Mr Worry, having got rid of all his worries, is now worried again. And why is that? Because now he no longer has anything to worry about!

Well, I definitely don’t want to be like Mr Worry. Yet sometimes I do find myself tending that way a little – particularly when it comes to decisions about my novels and future directions with my writing. Thankfully, however, God steps in then, reminding me of certain Scripture passages on the topic. This happened in church just last Sunday, when one of our ministers preached from Philippians 2:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In Matthew 6, we find that Jesus also had some things to say on the matter. Why worry all the time about food and clothing? Since we are so valuable to God, these will be provided. And can we add a single hour to our lives through worrying? No, of course not, he implies. I love how Eugene Peterson puts verses 31-33 of this chapter in ‘The Message’:

What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? It’s about looking to God first and foremost, then seeing the world and living our lives from that place of deep security in our loving God – from that place of ‘rest’, as I heard last Sunday. Yes, these everyday things are important – but keeping our focus on God and not fussing over this and that or getting lost in it all is how we need to live.

Well, Olivia probably should have helped tidy up when I suggested it – but then again, I suspect the salutary reminder she gave me about not worrying was of much more lasting value! I hope and pray both our granddaughters will go through life functioning from that place of rest in God. And I hope and pray that, whatever concerns you may have right now, you too will know God’s deep peace in your heart in the midst of it all.

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