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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Jo 12Recently, while strolling through our local shopping centre filled with glitzy Christmas decorations, I noticed a large, boxlike structure in the middle of the main walkway. What could it be? It seemed that whatever was in it was facing shoppers coming from the opposite direction. I went to look—and found a beautiful, big manger scene there, with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men all grouped around the baby Jesus. Imagine that! Fancy seeing such a clear reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, right in the middle of all the commercialism the season brings with it!

Yet as I stood there, feeling thankful for such a reminder and grateful to those who had put it there (I think a group of local churches), I also realised this was not my initial response. Instead, I had felt deeply surprised—perhaps even shocked and fearful—that this nativity scene could be where it was. Was anyone really allowed to do such things these days? Who had given permission for this to go ahead? Would people be offended to be reminded about the religious aspect of Christmas?

Wow! As I stopped and reflected a little more, I was shocked all over again at these thoughts that had immediately popped unbidden into my mind. How could someone like me who has been a follower of Jesus for over fifty-five years end up being so easily be influenced by the culture around me and the prevailing anti-Christian stance in our society in general? How had I allowed fear and misgiving to be my first response in this instance, rather than joy and thankfulness?

What a challenge, right there in the middle of the shopping centre! At that point, I felt a determination rise up in me to honour that baby in the manger and to grasp every opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas with others. I can write about God’s love via this blog and my Christmas letter. I can look for openings in everyday conversations to do that. I can pray for God’s love and grace to touch those around me. I can invite others to our special Christmas church services. I can be generous in my giving, not only to family and friends, but also to those in need—the homeless in nearby Parramatta via the gift bags our church arranges, others doing it tough in our community via our Christmas hampers, those affected by drought and fire, those with barely nothing in other parts of the world. I am allowed to do this! I can do this! I must do this!

This Christmas, whatever our society tells us, let’s all be determined, in God’s strength, to do what we can to share the love of God with others—that amazing love shown so clearly in the fact that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, humbled himself and became a man for us.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Let’s celebrate this Christmas with hope and joy in our hearts. And let’s be at peace too, as we pray for that peace to permeate our world more and more.

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Jo 17Let’s say that one day, through no fault of your own, you damaged someone else’s car when they were not around. Assuming you yourself were unhurt, would you immediately look for the owner so you could discuss things face to face with them? If they couldn’t be found, would you leave a note with your contact details? Or would you hope no one had seen what you did and quickly scurry away, breathing a sigh of relief?

Recently, I backed into someone’s car in a shopping centre carpark because a floor mat in my car had somehow covered the brakes. After I collected my wits, I looked around for the owner, but also began writing my details on a page from a notebook I had with me. Whenever someone came by, I asked if the car was theirs–and I was more than a little shocked at their responses. Most looked at me as if I was weird to bother writing a note. One man even said to me straight out, ‘Oh, you’re good, leaving your details!’ Obviously, there was no way he would have!

When I told a friend about this experience, she mentioned how she had once managed to put a scratch on the side of an older utility, so she too left her details on the windscreen. The owner was utterly amazed that she bothered to leave a note—he could not get over her honesty and thanked her profusely, telling her the scratch did not matter. And when the owner of the vehicle I damaged contacted me, his nice, polite message also said in part, ‘I appreciate that you left a note’.

It seems to me many people in our society today feel it’s okay to disappear in such situations, without owning up to what has happened. After all, nothing can be proved, if there were no witnesses. Yet … well, what happened to the old rule that honesty is the best policy? Or, for that matter, the words of Jesus himself that many call ‘The Golden Rule’ and quote blithely from time to time:

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 New International Version

One day years ago now, I returned to my parked car only to discover that someone apparently driving some sort of truck had reversed into it and over the top of the bonnet, resulting in considerable damage—but no note! Did this person not realise what had happened? Perhaps. Did they not have a pen and paper? Perhaps. Did they know they would be unable to pay for the damage or afford to lose their insurance excess? Quite likely. Whatever the reason, they had decided to disappear while the going was good. I have never forgotten how this made me feel way back then—and now it was my turn to decide whether to do the same to someone else or listen to those words of Jesus.

It’s a no-brainer really, isn’t it? Why would we think our standards are better than our Creator’s, who knows how we function best, both as individuals and as a society? It may cost us financially to be honest, but surely the joy of living how God wants us to live is worth so much more than that, don’t you think?

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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.

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Jo 23One of our daughters works at a charitable organisation and occasionally gets to deal with people who phone up to make a donation. She has had some interesting conversations as a result, but one memorable one went something like this:

‘Good morning! How can I help you?’

‘I’d like to donate a thousand dollars to the foundation.’

‘Did you say one thousand dollars?’

‘Um … is that enough?’

What a strange question! Was this gentleman honestly thinking this might be too low an amount for them to accept? My daughter suspects he had given more in previous years and felt bad he could not now do the same. Or perhaps he was actually questioning his own level of generosity. Perhaps to him, a thousand dollars was a mere pittance—he would never miss it. So was it indeed enough?

Sadly, this question is all too familiar to me. As a people-pleaser from way back, I have often asked it, either aloud or in my head. For example, if someone at our dinner table eats everything on their plate, I wonder if I gave them enough. Are they still hungry? Are they thinking what a mean hostess I am? If this happens at a family gathering, usually one of my children, just to tease me, pipes up with what they know I will say next: ‘Did you have enough? Would you like some more, love?’! In other contexts too, even when I have given my best to some task, I can still ask myself, over and over: ‘Was that enough? What did people think of it?’

People-pleasers want everyone to think well of them. They cannot bear to let anyone down or upset anyone—after all, it’s up to them to keep everyone happy. Yet how wearing that can become—and how impossible to achieve anyway!

Of course, this can affect our view of God too. When I was in my early teens, I thought that, if I went to church on any given Sunday, surely this would put me in God’s good books. Surely I would have a great week all round, because God was so pleased with me. Thankfully, a few years later, I came to experience the amazing love and grace of God in my life and to see there is no point in trying to impress God. My ‘good’ will never be enough. But Jesus, the perfect, sinless Son of God, who lives in me by his Spirit, has taken care of that for me on the cross and become all the ‘enough’ I need.

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8 New Living Translation

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

It’s not about striving to measure up. It’s not about making sure we have done enough or given enough to get in God’s good books. Instead, it’s about doing our best to honour God because of the grace we have been shown through Jesus. And that’s an entirely different and wonderful thing, don’t you think?

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Jo 12In this season of State of Origin Rugby League, we hear much good-humoured and not so good-humoured ribbing of Queenslanders by those from south of the border—and vice versa. It brings back memories of a comment made years ago as we drove over the border from New South Wales to see our families in Brisbane during daylight saving: ‘You are now entering Queensland. Turn your watch back ten years and one hour!’ I never quite knew whether to laugh at this or not, since I was born in Brisbane, as was my husband. And, despite having lived elsewhere for years, we still remember our home state with affection.

Recently, memories of our Queensland years returned in force when we drove to Toowoomba for me to speak at a writers’ retreat. My husband spent many of his growing-up years in Toowoomba, so what fun he had, checking out his old home, school and church, as well as catching up with friends!

Meanwhile, as I chatted with the warm and welcoming group of writers at the retreat, I wondered why I felt particularly relaxed and at home. Then I began to notice those interesting little nuances in speech that we hear only from Queenslanders—things like ‘hey’ being added either to the beginning or the end of a sentence or certain vowels being pronounced a little differently or even certain words I had not heard for a long time being used freely. For example, when had I last heard a case referred to as a ‘port’? Such a refreshing, little word to hear again! How many memories were stirred of my growing-up years when, for some time at least, I did in fact carry a ‘port’ to school each day!

From time to time, we need such clear reminders of where we came from in our lives, don’t we—if for no other reason than to be thankful for those earlier years and for the lessons we learnt back then. After all, they helped make us who we are today. But another reason it is good to remember our past is so that we can be truly thankful for the journey God has taken us on since then and how God has guided and sustained us through all the twists and turns of our lives. We can so easily forget God’s part in all that has happened for us, don’t you think? In particular, we can so easily take for granted the amazing grace shown to us in being offered a place in God’s family at all—a place where we truly belong, whatever our background.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” … remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13

So am I a Queenslander or a New South Welshman now, after all these years? I don’t know. But I do know I am part of God’s family. I remember how Jesus Christ made that all possible. I remember where I came from—and I am so grateful.

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Jo 23Well, who would have thought? Just last week, I heard the term ‘buddy bench’ for the first time. I discovered it is a seat in the school grounds where you can go and sit if you are sad and/or in need of a friend. So instead of wandering around feeling lost and lonely, any student can go there and know someone kind and understanding will come along soon to keep them company. Now how good is that?

One recent afternoon, our youngest granddaughter Maxine put her school’s buddy bench to good use when she could not find her mother or her brother anywhere. She had already been picked up from her classroom and the whole family was walking towards the school gate. But then Maxine became lost in the midst of all the other students when her mum was momentarily distracted as she tried to read something our grandson was showing her. Our daughter looked everywhere for her—even down the road towards their car. She asked the school janitor who stands at the gate and always gives Maxine a friendly wave. Then she phoned Maxine’s teacher and they all began searching. And at last another teacher found her, sitting on that buddy bench in the school yard and crying, so she took her by the hand and brought her back to her mum. Phew!

Now I might not have been familiar with the term ‘buddy bench’, but I can think of various challenging times in my life when I needed someone to come alongside me who would listen and understand and empathise. And thankfully, God provided those wonderful ‘buddies’ for me when I needed them most, including my lovely soul friend Joy, to whom I poured my heart out so often. Yet sometimes, especially earlier on in my life, I can remember feeling there was no one around with whom I would be comfortable to share what was going on for me. Sometimes, I suspect the problem was that I was unwilling to be vulnerable enough to admit my need and ask for help. Sometimes, my pride and sense of shame got in the way and kept me isolated, when others would have helped. But thankfully, God reached out and persevered with me, bringing much healing and renewal.

Yes, whatever our age, we still need those buddy benches at times where we can find those who understand and are able to help us—or at least point us to where we can find that help. But whatever our age too, we all need that wonderfully wise and perfect ‘Buddy’ even more, the one Jesus said would be sent from God to be available and alongside us at all times, the helper and encourager and comforter par excellence who will never leave us or forsake us.

But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 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. John 14:25-27

What a privilege to have such a Friend on our buddy bench every moment of the day!

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Jo 17Recently, my brother-in-law turned seventy-five—and in that same week, retired from an active ministry role in his denomination. For his last sermon, he was delighted to be given the story of the prodigal son on which to base his message, along with 2 Corinthians 5, which focusses on ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ and includes the following:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (20)

What a good way to sum up a life of ministry! This surely needs to be the central focus, not only of those in such roles but of anyone who, as a ‘new creation’ in Christ (17), seeks to live a life that honours God. How it plays out in our lives will be different for each of us, but what a wonderful ‘message of reconciliation’ (19) we all have to share with others!

We need reconciliation on so many levels in our world, don’t we—between nations, political factions, neighbourhoods, families, individuals—and even within ourselves. Perhaps it is on this latter level that we need it most because, when we are at peace in our own hearts, our whole perspective changes. We no longer need to defend ourselves so strongly and win against others at all costs. We no longer need to destroy others or grasp what others have to feel better about ourselves. Rather than striving within ourselves, we are at rest—and the best way I know to experience this is to receive the amazing love of God and to allow that love to change us deep down. In short, the best way to be reconciled within ourselves is to be reconciled with God.

At Easter, we have the perfect opportunity to reflect once again on the the depth of God’s love for us in sending Jesus to die in our place. I love it when I can have a very quiet Easter, with plenty of time to remember Jesus’ death on my behalf and then to truly be able to rejoice that this was not the end—that Jesus rose again and is now at God’s right hand, ready to welcome us to be with him forever. How privileged we are to know this amazing love of God! We did not deserve it or earn it in any way. We are no better than anyone else—Jesus’ death was for all. So how can it be okay to keep this amazing love to ourselves alone?

This Easter, let’s take time as best we can to reflect on Jesus’ love for us all over again. Then let’s allow it to impact how we live our lives each day, as believers reconciled with God, with others and within ourselves. Let’s allow it to inspire us to remember others in prayer and in practical ways. In fact, like the Apostle Paul and his co-worker Timothy, let’s allow it to compel us to live for God in any and every way we can.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

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