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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

IMG_20170609_143813167I sit at my desk, enjoying the sunshine that streams through my study window. I can see shrubs close by, then taller trees beyond. Today, their leaves are rippling in the wind—it feels somehow soothing to watch them and to note how their shapes are etched against the bright blue sky. It is cool outside, but I am warm and snug, as I try to find words to describe what I am seeing and feeling. I love writing about my beautiful surroundings, but I so much want to do justice to it all.

As I reflect, I realise I am feeling a twinge of what could only be called guilt. How did we end up here, after living in our little, wooden house for thirty-two years? How come that old house sold for such a good price, enabling us to afford our comfortable, spacious unit? Perhaps it’s all a dream, I think to myself. Perhaps I’ll wake up one morning and find myself back in our old home, instead of in this lovely, quiet place where the only sounds are the birds outside, twittering and singing to one another. I know there are people nearby, but we are on the edge of our Village, where our peace is largely undisturbed, unless we choose to venture out somewhere.

In the quietness, I try to slow my racing mind. God is here with me, I know—and I choose to stop, be still and settle into that warm, loving Presence all around me. Yet, for some reason, I feel unworthy at this point in time. God, why have you chosen to give us all this beauty and comfort, my heart cries out. What have we done to deserve so much material blessing? Could it be … maybe you meant it for someone else, God? Has it all been a big mistake?

Then I sense God’s loving arms around me and feel the Spirit’s warmth and fullness flooding my being. I open my Bible, but even before I do, I seem to hear God’s gentle, reassuring voice: This is no mistake, Jo-Anne. This is just a picture in the natural of the grace I have poured out on you in the spiritual. As you look around and enjoy what you have received, know it is my delight to give you a place where you can flourish and where you can serve me with a heart at peace and overflowing with my love for others. And as you do, may you be reminded of the abundance of my grace that called you to be part of my family forever—that grace beyond measure that you can never earn or buy.

I turn the pages then and read one of my favourite verses written by the Apostle John, then another from the Apostle Paul:

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! 1 John 3:1

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God …. Ephesians 2:8

Then I sit back and relax. Yes, Lord, it is all gift. Everything we have, everything we are. Thank you, from the depths of my heart, for your amazing, overwhelming grace.

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We have a dilemma in our household. I am the archetypal, introverted, rather reclusive author, who is happy to sit alone at her computer all day and write. Now don’t get me wrong. I love popping up to speak and to promote my books from time to time. And I really enjoy good conversations with family and friends—including our beautiful grandchildren. But mostly, I am content with my own company—and God’s!

My husband also spends many hours at his computer, but he’s definitely more extroverted than I am. He becomes restless much more quickly than I ever would and, at times, heads off to our local shopping centre merely for a change of scene—and for that milk shake or cup of coffee!

Lately, however, he has found another reason to get out of the house. You see, we have a very active two year old grandson, Zain, who loves his granddad. Recently, his mum caught Zain singing a song he had made up for Granddad—using a little vase he found somewhere as his microphone! So one day last week, my husband decided to call our daughter:

‘Mummy, can Zain please come out to play with me?’(!!!)

IMG_20140614_152530Sometimes they go to a nearby park and have all sorts of adventures, chasing each other or sitting down wherever Zain chooses or picking up interesting things. And sometimes, that route home just happens to take them past a certain fast food chain where they can buy an ice cream and enjoy eating it together.

But my husband’s enjoyment of his grandkids doesn’t stop at Zain or his baby sister, Maxine, who is too little yet to interact much with Granddad, except to smile at him. This past week, even though we did not need to pick up our two older granddaughters, Amy and Olivia, as usual on a Friday after school because their father was able to instead, their doting granddad chose to drive across town to meet them anyway. His excuse?

‘I’d like to get out of the house—and it would be a surprise for the girls.’

Oh, and they just happened to swing by another of those certain fast food chains on their way home, in order to have a sundae each ‘to celebrate the end of term’!

I love to see my husband’s kind heart in it all and the good relationships he has with our grandkids. But as I think about it, this reflects so much of God’s heart for each one of us too. How often does our loving Father invite us to ‘come out and play’—to spend time with him, talking about all that’s happening in our lives and simply enjoying each other’s company? How often does God want to surprise us with such grace and blessing, yet we don’t show up to receive it? We are too busy, shut away in our own little lives, trying to hide from our loving Father, who longs to give us such joy and fulfilment.

I want to have that innocent heart of a child who is so happy and at home in God’s company—don’t you?

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Matt 18:3-4

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I have been interviewed twice for radio in recent times. The first was for Jenny Baxter’s Sunday morning show on FM106Five in Hobart and the second for ‘Sunday Night with Kel Richards’ on 2CH in Sydney. Both were phone interviews and I was given prior warning when they would take place. All I had to do was be available, well prepared and as alert as possible.

My interviewers were wonderful. Jenny was warm and relaxed and quickly put me at my ease. And when I mixed up the date of a speaking engagement, I was reassured that would be edited out anyway. Kel Richards was equally warm and friendly, but I knew I could not mess up my answers, since I understand studio time for his popular show is at a premium and there would be minimal editing, if any. As our phone interview drew near, I spread out ‘prompt sheets’ around me with answers to questions I thought he might ask. I also had my novels nearby – just in case, in the heat of the moment, I forgot what I had written about!

Kel asked me around seven questions. I ‘um-ed’ and ‘ah-ed’ my way through the first couple a little, but there was no time even for a quick glance at my ‘prompt sheets’. This was ‘sudden death’ – and a very public death at that!!  I consoled myself, however, with the thought that at 11.10pm on a cold, wet Sunday evening, perhaps there would not be too many people wide awake enough to witness my demise.

But then I drew a deep breath and realised this was not the moment to be hesitant in any way. I knew what my novels were about. I knew why I wrote what I had and who I hoped would read my novels. I even knew how I would encourage young novelists in their writing journey. These were the sorts of questions that were unfolding as we talked. Besides, I wanted at least one person to phone in and win the copy of my latest novel ‘Helena’s Legacy’ Kel was offering as a prize for the listener who answered his bible quiz question correctly!

After our call finished, I thought about the responses I gave and how differently I would have answered the questions second time around. But in the end, I decided I had done my best – I had responded as honestly and promptly as possible. So all I had to do now was trust God with the outcome.

But the whole experience also made me think about how I need to be equally prepared on a daily basis to answer questions about my faith in God in that same eager, truthful, prompt way. In 1 Peter 3: 15-16 we read:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

We have to be ready and willing at a moment’s notice – chances are there won’t be any prior warning or prompt sheets. But we will have God’s Spirit with us who will give us just the right words to say and all the grace and sensitivity we need.

Now that puts me much more at ease than even the best interviewer possibly could. How about you?

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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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The discussion flowed back and forth in our lounge room. Our son had just maintained to us that he does not fear God. What he meant, he hastily assured us, was that while he does stand in awe of God, he does not ‘fear’ God in the way we usually understand this word. God for him is a loving, forgiving Father and a close Friend whom he can approach at any time.

Also present in our lounge room was our new son-in-law, who comes from Ghana. And Kofi was determined to have his say too. He and our daughter Tina had just returned from a few weeks in Ghana, so the memory of what they had seen there was fresh in their minds. In Kofi’s hometown, all the houses have bars around them to stop people breaking in. And any showers, toilets etc outside the houses have locks on them – otherwise if you go out there at night, people can hide there and attack you. Yet virtually the whole town closes down on Sundays as most people go to church – and there are plenty of churches to choose from.

So what is going on here? Kofi explained that when his people still had their old gods, everyone could leave their houses unlocked and nothing would disappear. You see, the people were really scared of these gods and the power they had to bring down curses on you and punish you if you did wrong. But once they had their ‘new’ God, things changed. This new God was, and is, different – this new God is loving and kind and forgiving and understanding. So it seems the people aren’t scared to do wrong things because they know if they confess them, they will be forgiven. In their new-found freedom, they have forgotten about the fear of the Lord – and they have also overlooked what Paul says in Romans 6:1-2:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

But I suspect it isn’t only some people in Kofi’s hometown who live this way. How often have I myself had thoughts such as ‘Well, I’ll just go ahead and say that cutting comment or pass on that juicy bit of gossip. God won’t mind!’? Of course it’s wonderful that when we do repent and ask for forgiveness, God freely gives it to us. Yet surely it is right for us to remember who God is and that one day we will all stand before this awesome God and be called upon to give account for our lives?

Recently I read a comment written by Australian man working in the Middle East: In the West we’ve largely forgotten God’s wrath and chosen to focus on His love. We’ve created a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out God, who can only have one emotion at a time – and only the emotion we like. Yet the Bible continually reminds us that God is angry with those who rebel against Him. Hmm …  And I am also reminded of Hebrews 12:28-29:

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire”.

So may we all continue to live our lives filled with awe of God – but also with the grace of God.  Let’s ‘fear’ – but not fear. And hopefully one day in heaven we will understand fully how God holds both of these in perfect tension.

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I received a very special gift this past week. It might not seem wonderful to others, but I absolutely love it. I am looking at it now as it sits beside my desk – and even as I do, I feel blessed all over again. So … it is just an old chair, some might say! The cover looks a little worn and ‘pre-loved’ and is in need of being tacked on again in one spot, while the seat itself is definitely lumpy in places. And yet I chose it from my dear friend’s possessions above other things that were freely offered to me.

My friend wanted me to have something of hers with all her heart before she moves out of her very large, old home – and I did not want to disappoint her. Besides, I was delighted at the thought of having something to remember the many times we had met there together. This dear friend has been my ‘spiritual companion’ for a long time now – I know I would not have achieved what I have in my writing journey these past few years, were it not for her wisdom, support and encouragement. But what would be best, we wondered, as we sat drinking our favourite Lady Grey tea and reminiscing? Perhaps one of her precious, old books or some cuttings from the wonderful array of treasured plants in her cottage garden? Or perhaps something else I had admired over the years?

We wandered then along the winding path towards the tiny chapel her husband built many years ago. We stepped across the threshold and I gazed around – this truly was a sacred space that had been lovingly set aside and used for prayer and worship through the years by men and women from a variety of backgrounds. Again my friend asked if there was anything I would like and I shook my head. But then she lifted a cover off an old chair that stood in one corner – and I knew this was what I wanted.

I carefully carried the chair to my car, but whichever way I manoeuvred it, it would not fit in the boot. As a last resort, I flung open the back door and tried sliding it in there – and to my surprise, it fitted perfectly.

My friend and I flung our arms around each other. We were both so happy – she, that she could give me something that had been a precious part of worship for her for so long, and I, that this old chair would continue to be used well by those I now talk and pray with. I am honoured to have it in my study. It symbolises to me all the richness of the loving relationship my friend and I have enjoyed – and beyond that, the relationship of love and grace that God holds out to me – and hopefully to any who may come to talk and pray.

God’s presence is not dependent on particular chairs or any other piece of furniture, I know. But at this stage of the year when tiredness seems to have taken hold, it is so good to have a tangible reminder nearby of the one who is always with me, who knows my heart, who knows everything I have tried to achieve this past year, who knows all the coming year holds and who says to me lovingly: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.’ (John 14:27)

May God bless you too with deep peace as you celebrate the birth of our Saviour Jesus, the Prince of Peace!

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A few Saturday evenings ago, I had to pick my husband up from the airport here in Sydney.  When I arrived, I discovered he had a gentleman with him who wanted a lift.  Apparently this man lived in an outlying suburb, but was content to be dropped at a station not far from us, so that he could catch a train home from there. I noticed the enormous amount of luggage this gentleman had, however, and briefly wondered how he would manage on the train later.

We had not gone far before our new friend said he would actually like to be driven all the way home!  We hesitated, but he then offered to pay us twenty dollars if we would do so!  We had to make up our minds quickly, since taking him right home would involve heading through the M5 tunnel rather than driving home via our usual route.  My husband and I glanced ruefully at each other – we were tired and hungry and just wanted to get home.  But what could we do?  This man would not take kindly, I felt, to being turned down.  After all, he was big and burly, and was wearing a jumper that had ‘Security Guard’ printed on it in bold letters!

So we acquiesced – and then proceeded to try to chat with him, a task that was made quite difficult, owing to his rather poor grasp of the English language.  He tried hard, however.  I smiled at how much he talked about pleasing God and praising him, after he discovered my husband is a church pastor!  But I listened carefully when he began to talk about his own Pacific culture, which he told us was ‘one big family’ where everyone helps everyone else.

After that, I was determined not to take a cent of the twenty dollars he had promised us.  What kind of impression would it give him about the ‘family of God’ if we weren’t prepared to help him out as his own community would?  We eventually pulled up outside his home, where he obviously wanted us to be quiet, since he was going to surprise his wife and children.  He had been away from them for six months, working in another city.  And when he did try to give us the twenty dollars, my husband refused it, telling him we just wanted to bless him.

Had we been ‘set up’, I wondered?  And shouldn’t this man have been up front with us in the first place?  But then it occurred to me that probably he had acted just as his culture dictated – a culture in which the ‘rules of engagement’ were understood by everyone.  In his books, there was probably nothing unusual in what he had asked of us and how he had gone about it – that was what you did for people.  So I couldn’t help feeling ashamed at my reluctance to help.  And after all, what had it cost us?  Just a bit of a detour and a few extra dollars.

Well, what would Jesus have done?  I think he would have taken the man home without hesitation, don’t you?  I think he would have gone the second – or the third – or the fourth mile, just to show that man what God’s grace is like.  I think he would have been more ‘pro-active’ himself in talking about God, instead of judging what this man said.  And I think he would have prayed for this man, for a wonderful time with his family.  How do I know this?  Because that’s how he treats me on a daily basis – and you – with such patience, grace and love!

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