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Posts Tagged ‘God’s love’

One day recently, in the middle of writing, I thought of something I needed to do in the kitchen. Yet there was one slight problem. After heading there, I could not remember what that ‘something’ was! Feeling distinctly foolish, I returned to my writing, hoping enlightenment would soon come.

Not long after, my husband charged into my study to tell me two things. He remembered the first, but the second eluded him completely. Later that day, however, he informed me he had remembered what that second thing was—but had forgotten it again! Oh dear.

A day or so later, that pesky piece of information he had forgotten twice finally surfaced. This time, he remembered it long enough to relay it to me—although whether it was worth the effort is another matter, since I cannot now recall what it was!

This phenomenon of forgetting things has nothing to do with old age, of course. My personal excuse is that I have so many writing ideas in my head there is very little room for other pieces of information, particularly mundane ones. That is why I take great care in recording the various details for my speaking engagements on my laptop—and in my paper diary. After all, I do need to remember such things as what topic I have been asked to speak on, what time I need to arrive, where I am able to park and other necessary bits and pieces of information. This helps counteract the feeling of dread I occasionally experience of one day turning up at the wrong venue or at the wrong time or even on the wrong day!

I think God understands how good we are at forgetting, don’t you? In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites various feasts and rituals which enabled them to reflect together on God’s goodness and remember how God wanted them to live. Even then, God often had to encourage them, via strong words from their leaders, to remember where they had come from and who had saved them.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Deuteronomy 24:18

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced … 1 Chronicles 16:12, Psalm 105:5

You have forgotten God your Saviour; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Isaiah 17:10

We cannot judge them, however, because how quickly we too can forget what God has done for us! I for one know how easily I can slip over into thinking I am in charge of my own life and fail to remember who I belong to. No wonder Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper for his disciples—and for us—as one tangible way at least of remembering him.  

This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. … This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians j11:24-25

We may forget many things, but let’s never forget the Lord. Let’s remember his amazing love and grace and mercy towards us—and be so thankful.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:1-2

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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.

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There we were, our granddaughter and I, chatting away as she bounced on the trampoline. Maxine had turned seven that day, so was particularly excited. We talked about all sorts of things, but at one stage, when she was trying to tell me something I didn’t understand, she looked at me with pity in her big, brown eyes and proceeded to climb off the trampoline.

‘Nanna, let me explain!’ she told me. ‘Now … this is what I mean.’

What followed was a detailed description of a certain game, complete with an energetic re-enactment for my benefit. With great enthusiasm, Maxine swooped back and forth, outlining the parameters of where everyone could run, with such patience and gusto that I did not have the heart to tell her I had no idea what she talking about. Instead, I nodded enthusiastically and said ‘Wow!’—and she seemed satisfied.

Yes, at the ripe old age of seven, Maxine is definitely good at is picturing whole scenes in her mind, then describing them vividly, complete with blow-by-blow actions. Sometimes I find it hard not to smile as I watch her in action with such an earnest expression on her face, while she enters fully into making me understand.

Now that might seem a far cry from anything to do with Lent and the weeks leading up to Easter. Yet later, as I thought about how intent Maxine was on helping me enter into this whole experience, my mind went to God’s ultimate action in reaching out to us through Jesus Christ. For so many centuries, God’s nature and ways had been made clear to the Israelites. Yet eventually, by sending Jesus, God showed them—and us—beyond the shadow of a doubt how deeply we are loved.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Yet as the first disciples began following Jesus, they were still puzzled about who he was. And they were often slow to understand, despite listening to him and seeing him perform many miracles. Once, after Jesus rescues them by rebuking the wind and waves, they cry out:

What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8:27

A few chapters later, we read how Simon Peter at least has realised who Jesus actually is:

But what about you?” he {Jesus) asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

Simon Peter answered. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  Matthew 16:15-16

And this is the question we all are called to answer, isn’t it? In our heart of hearts, who do we truly say Jesus is?

God’s amazing love for us could not have been made any clearer. In Jesus, we see it played out in how he lived and died—for us. Jesus not only talked about God’s love, but also acted it out to the bitter end, despite the cost and the agony involved.

Let’s not take Jesus’ words or actions lightly. As Easter approaches, let’s look at that love of God, played out on the cross for us. Let’s not just smile or pretend to understand, as I did with Maxine. Instead, let’s allow that amazing love to change us—forever.

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‘I can’t believe I’m getting a piano!’ our daughter commented at her recent birthday celebration.

A piano of her own was something our daughter had wanted for a long time. There has always been one in our home and, as a child, she had music lessons. Then as a teenager, she had chosen to have more, this time just to enjoy learning to play certain songs she loved. Soon, however, she moved out of home and eventually married and had children, yet she still loved to sit down at our piano from time to time when she visited and play.

Then one day recently, a friend of mine put a post on Facebook, asking if anyone would be interested in having her piano, as she planned to move and could not take it with her. At first, I hesitated. I knew our daughter could not afford to pay anything for it. And surely my friend would not be prepared to give it away?

Yet that is exactly what happened.

‘I just want my piano to go to a good home,’ she explained. ‘Someone kindly left it to me in her will, so I’d like to pass it on now in the same spirit it was passed onto me.’

Eventually, a removalist was engaged and that piano wended its way to our daughter’s home, where it fitted in a corner of her living room as if it belonged. After a tuning, it will sound even better. And one day, our grandchildren will hopefully learn to play as well.

Recently too, I witnessed another happy moment in our daughter’s life when our daughter-in-law passed on several boxes of girls’ clothes to her that her own daughters had long grown out of.

‘Oh, that’s so good!’ our daughter exclaimed. ‘The other day, my friend passed on lots of excellent boys’ clothes to us too.’

As it happens, many of these have hardly been worn and are designer label clothes our daughter could not afford to buy. So, once her son and daughter have grown out of them, she passes them on in turn to other friends who are always grateful to receive them for their children.

Seeing these events unfold in our daughter’s life caused me to reflect on my own attitude towards passing on not only material possessions that may benefit others but also all those spiritual blessings I have received. Sometimes, I suspect I like to cling to things that have been and are precious to me, rather than think of others’ needs. Sometimes, I can be stingy rather than generous. In particular, sometimes I can forget how someone bothered to share the good news of Jesus with me, rather than keep it to themselves. And sometimes, I can even forget how freely God’s love and grace were poured out on me and how this love and grace needs to flow on through me to others.

May I always remember that generosity of heart I witnessed recently and pay it forward myself with joy and gratitude.

Freely you have received, freely give. Matthew 10:8

The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller. The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped. Proverbs 11:24-25 The Message

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Jo 17I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with a certain TV show on at the moment that pits one singer against another. I enjoy hearing the contestants sing, but I fear for them as they put themselves in such a vulnerable position, slap bang in front of thousands of viewers, not to mention a live audience and those judges who will choose between them. I hate to see so many head home disappointed, with their dream of success shattered.

You might not be about to get on a stage and sing, but perhaps you can think of a time when you had to put yourself out there in some way and risk being judged. Perhaps you had drawn or painted a picture. Perhaps you had to play a musical instrument in public. Perhaps you had to read aloud something you had written. Can you remember how you felt?

I suspect I relate to these music show contestants so strongly because of my many experiences when younger of playing the piano for scary music examiners and also playing or singing in eisteddfods, while the judges busily wrote notes about my performance. Yes, these experiences made me feel so vulnerable, but they stood me in good stead for playing and singing in churches in later years—and also for getting up and speaking in public, as I still often do. And I believe that, by the grace of God, they have also armed me well for my current writing journey.

Yes, giving your new manuscript to others to critique can be a daunting prospect. And having books published can be even more daunting. It has been said that, to be an author, you need a sensitive heart, but the hide of an elephant! Yet, if we know God has called us and gifted us to write—or paint or sing or play or dance or bake or create in some other way—how important it is to keep putting ourselves out there, whatever others might say or think!

That certainly applies too when speaking about the things of God, whether in a formal setting or informally in our daily lives. Right now, when so many in our world are particularly vulnerable, there are opportunities all around us to share that encouraging word with others and to show them God’s love. But sometimes it can be hard, can’t it? Sometimes, sadly, I still choose to keep quiet and stay in my comfort zone, rather than risk being rejected.

Years ago, when I was about to start theological college and feeling very vulnerable as an older student in my late forties, a visiting speaker came to our church and, prompted by God, gave me the following verse:

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT

So many times, these words kept me going through all the challenges of college, helping me focus on the final goal. But these words speak to us at every stage of our lives, don’t you think? So, whatever is happening around us right now, may we all stand firm, knowing we are secure in God’s love. Then let’s step out, put ourselves out there and grasp hold of the things God has given us to do with courage and strength!

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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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‘My tomato bushes have started blooming again!’ our daughter announced recently with glee.

‘Well, I don’t think my one poor plant’s going to do anything more,’ I told her. ‘I’ll pull it out soon.’

IMG_20200207_093825904Somehow, that ‘soon’ of mine did not happen—and just as well, because last week, when I went to check how my other pot plants had fared in the recent heat, I discovered that tomato plant had taken on a new lease of life. There it was, standing tall and proud again, its new green leaves reaching high and with several yellow flowers on display as well!

As I looked closer, I saw how some of the dead branches that had already borne juicy, little tomatoes were still there, but had shrivelled up and given way to new, strong, green ones that had emerged from the main stem. Could this be possible? I checked online—and, sure enough, I discovered there actually are tomato bushes that produce more than one crop a season. I remembered buying my plant at a nearby market, with no idea what I was actually getting, except that it was some dwarf tomato. Now I discovered I must have bought what is called an ‘indeterminate’ variety, as opposed to a ‘determinate’ one that is programmed to bloom and fruit in abundance just once a season. So it seems I can look forward again to walking out onto our balcony and picking even more of those flavoursome, little tomatoes to add to our salads from time to time!

As I thought about my rejuvenated plant, however, it seemed to me that God wanted to show me something more through it. How many times in my own life, when I felt as if I had died inside after some bad experience or deep disappointment or loss, has God drawn me close, comforted me and given me strength to go on and keep being fruitful? How many times in my life, when I felt so disgusted with myself at making some sinful choice and ignoring the Spirit’s voice within, has God picked me up, forgiven me and set my feet on solid ground again? How many times even now, each day, does God lovingly continue to encourage and inspire me when I feel I have nothing much more to give?

I love the story of the lost son Jesus told to the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ who had gathered around him, as well as the critical Pharisees and teachers of the law listening in (Luke 15). The story ends on a gently rebuking but joyous note, as the father reasons with his older son:

‘My son,’ the father said, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Luke 15:31-32

Yes, when I too was dead, God gave me new life, as I was born anew through the Spirit. And now, each day, God continues with such love and grace to restore and renew me, as I seek to bear more fruit. I am so grateful for that second chance in my life—but also for that third and fourth and fifth and …

Is that how you feel too?

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I had it all worked out. We would spend a nice, quiet time at home in December and January, with occasional visits from relatives and friends. I would finally get some more writing done, after speaking so much this past year. And, of course, I would make time somehow to watch the cricket on TV. And the tennis. What bliss! I could even start some knitting, in preparation for our new grandchild. That would mean I wasn’t really wasting my time, watching all that sport!

Alas—it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Instead, I am writing this lying awkwardly on my side in bed, my laptop balanced on a nearby chair. I have severe lower back trouble, with resulting bad sciatica in my left leg, which makes walking and even sitting difficult. Of course, I can still watch that cricket and tennis. But it’s hard to write at any length, typing sideways. Besides, the medication I’m on means I have difficulty finding my brain at times. And has anyone tried knitting, while lying flat on one’s back?

This whole experience has served to remind me well of James 4:13-14:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to 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.”

Needless to say, my natural reaction to all this has been to feel very frustrated. I have so much I want to write. I was sure God wanted me to complete my next non-fiction book by June. Besides, I need to be setting up speaking engagements for the coming year and planning out those months ahead. Yet here I am, doing none of it. I have found it easy to slip into feeling sorry for myself, as I lie here in the one position that is reasonably comfortable, heat pack on my back and wondering what will happen at my next visit to the specialist.

Then I received a little card in the mail, out of the blue, from a lady at our church. Apparently, she had heard about my back troubles from my husband and wanted to let me know she is praying for me. A lovely thing, for sure. But it was the words on the front of the card from Lamentations 3:22-23 that struck me most:

The Lord’s love never ends; his mercies never stop. They are new every morning.

Hmm. If that‘s true, I thought—and it is—then the Lord is still loving and merciful to me right here in the midst of this change of plan and this pain. Surely a good reason to focus on him rather than feel sorry for myself.

That same day, an email arrived unexpectedly from a writer colleague who did not know about my back troubles. To encourage me for the year ahead, she quoted Lamentations 2:22-23 from the NIV:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

I think the Lord’s trying to remind me of something, don’t you?  Even that is a loving act—and i am comforted.

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