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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Recently, after waiting several months, I finally took delivery of a brand-new car. Now I thought my trusty, twenty-two-year-old Ford Fairmont was luxurious enough, but my mind has been boggled by all those amazingly clever features my Toyota Corolla has. I mean, how did I ever drive before without keyless ignition? And how did I ever get by without being able to lock and unlock the car even if my key is still in my handbag?

Sometimes I suspect my new car could be smarter than I am, especially when it refuses to lock if a window is down a fraction or when it winks at me from those little lights in my outside mirror, if a car is near my blind spot. Even during school holidays, whenever I drive near a school, a bell dings and that very polite lady hidden in my car somewhere says in a state of mild panic: ‘Caution! You are approaching a school zone!’ And when she later informs me I have now left the zone, I feel I have been given an early mark for good behaviour.

However, this lady completely floored me when I discovered she can read every speed sign around. I mean, I had barely erred a few kilometres over the fifty kph limit near where we live when her voice startled me almost out of my wits. ‘Please obey all traffic regulations!’ she boomed in a highly accusatory tone. It was as if she were saying, ‘What on earth do you think you’re doing, Jo-Anne? How dare you go over the speed limit! Stop it this instant!’

I was shocked and embarrassed. I do not normally speed and, if I did, it was probably because I was distracted by all the bells and whistles in my new car. However, not wishing to upset her again, I immediately slowed down and toed the line.

This experience helped me drive more safely, which is a good thing. But, as soon as I heard that lady’s urgent, reproving voice, it somehow reminded me of my old view of God. As a young person and even on into my adult years, I used to think of God as being much more of a judge than a friend.  Often, I would picture God as frowning at me and as disappointed in me, if I failed to reach those high standards I was required to meet. If I behaved, God would love me and be pleased with me, I thought. But otherwise…

Imagine my relief then when I experienced how gracious and loving and accepting God is! Gradually I saw too that I need to love God in return with all my heart and soul and others as well (Luke 10:27-28). And that involves living in a way that pleases God and brings God honour—which includes obeying the road rules! But I do not need to fear being told off by a harsh, disapproving, heavenly judge. Instead, I can step into each day at peace with God, rejoicing that Jesus has bridged the gap between us and ready to love and serve God and others as the Spirit leads.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood… to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. Revelation 1:6

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I wonder if you can remember a time when you thought you knew someone well, then realised you didn’t at all. Perhaps you were delighted to discover they had done or could do something amazing. Or perhaps your experience was not so joyful. It can be quite a rude awakening, can’t it, when someone we thought we could depend on lets us down or disappoints us?

I can well remember the time years ago when I told some friends I was heading to theological college. This had long been a dream of mine and I thought they would be delighted for me. Yet instead, they seemed offended and asked me bluntly, ‘What would you want to do that for?’ I can’t remember how I responded—but I know I did not say much. I knew they would not be receptive—and by then, they had come crashing down off that pedestal I had put them on where they could do no wrong, in my eyes. Later, I realised they were at least being honest—and we remained friends. But that day, I certainly came to know them a little better.

Yet new revelations can happen even in our own families too. Recently, I mentioned something to my husband about a particular, ongoing difficulty our granddaughter was facing.

‘Oh, I used to have that trouble back in my teens myself!’ he told me immediately, to my great surprise.

He then described an actual setting where this had happened once and how he felt at the time. Yet, in all our fifty-two years of marriage, for whatever reason, I had never heard this personal story of his before. I was amazed—and it also made me wonder what other things I have yet to discover about my husband!

Recently, however, as I read in John 1 how Jesus called his early disciples to follow him, I realised my amazement paled into insignificance when compared with how Nathanael must have felt, when he first met Jesus. After hearing about Jesus from his friend Philip, he was reluctant at first to believe anything good could come from Nazareth, but went with Philip anyway to see for himself (44-46). And he was in for quite a shock.

 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (47-49)

Nathanael believed immediately because he realised Jesus knew all about him, even though they had never met. And we see a similar response in John 4 from the Samaritan woman at the well, after her amazing conversation with Jesus there.

Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (29)

There is something freeing, don’t you think, in the fact that Jesus knows all about us too? We don’t have explain anything to him. And we don’t have to justify ourselves or pretend either. Instead, we can be at peace in his presence. We are loved. We are accepted. We are valued. We are known—truly known. Let’s praise God for that!

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I received an email recently that gave me much food for thought. It was from someone who had just read my first two novels, Heléna and All the Days of My Life. This reader had found them among a pile of second-hand books a friend had been given and now wanted another novel of mine, Heléna’s Legacy, which explores the journey of a minor character in my second novel, then continues Heléna’s story.

I laughed out loud. The day before, I had found my lone, second-hand copy of this novel in my cupboard and thought, ‘No one will want that.’ Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, I discovered someone did!

My contact then told me some friends are now waiting to borrow these novels from her. This was gratifying news, yet I also found it somewhat disconcerting. You see, my first two novels were published back in 2007 and 2008—and I like to think I have learnt much more about writing since then. This reader might have enjoyed them, but would her friends?

In the end, I decided I could do nothing about that. Besides, back then, I wrote as best I could, with my whole heart and soul—and how fulfilling that was!

Then came another thought. I might have learnt much more about writing in those intervening years, but did I still write with that same heart and soul now? Back then, I wanted to write stories that would highlight themes I believed were vital for us all to grasp and experience. I wanted to write about the importance of holding onto our faith in God, whatever happens. I wanted to write about experiencing God’s amazing love and grace, about forgiveness and about becoming all God purposes us to be. Did I still feel so passionately about such themes now?

Since 2004, when I began my first novel, I have written nine books and around 650 blogs and have also spoken over 250 times at all sorts of gatherings. Through it all, I have learnt much more about God and experienced God’s amazing faithfulness and enabling in so many ways. Yes, I am still passionate about those same important themes, yet some things I held dear back in 2004 have fallen by the wayside. Some needed to be discarded—others did not. Some changes in my life and faith have been for the better, I believe, yet others have not. Looking back, I am sad about those times when I may have failed God, others and myself in different ways. But I am so thankful God is merciful and forgiving, always persevering with us and always lovingly pointing us to higher ground.

Yes, I’m still the same person I was back in 2004, yet different too. I want to change what needs to be changed. I want to grow where I need to grow. And I want to keep drawing closer to God, don’t you?

Let’s hold onto those key themes of our faith in God, but let’s keep humbly learning and growing too, as we seek to become more like Jesus each day.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

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I wonder if you can recall a time when you felt very much on the edge of a group somewhere. Perhaps this describes your situation right now. Or perhaps, like me, your mind went to some setting years ago where you found you did not entirely belong.

At one stage, my husband returned to pastoral ministry, after some years of lecturing. Our new church welcomed us warmly, but I soon discovered the women had plans for me. You see, this church fielded a large number of netball teams in an inter-church competition, so it was assumed I would happily coach some of these players. Yet there was one small problem. I had never, ever played netball—or even basketball, which was more popular where I grew up!

‘Well—never mind,’ one lady told me, her disappointment obvious. ‘You can give out the oranges at half time instead!’

I knew this was not me, however. Instead, I taught three Scripture classes each week at the local primary school, played the piano at church and hosted various events in our home. I even spoke and sang once when the Sunday School anniversary guest speaker dropped out at the last minute! Yet none of this seemed to matter. I did not join in the business of netball, so never quite fitted in.

Perhaps this is part of the reason I have hated to see people left out in any church communities we have joined—or anywhere else either. And perhaps too this is why my heart went out to our seven-year-old granddaughter, when I heard about a recent conversation that took place at her home. Apparently, Maxine had tried to cheat a little, while playing a game with her mum.

‘If you’re going to do that, I won’t play with you again,’ her mum told her firmly—at which point, Maxine became very upset.

‘Well, Daddy’s too busy working and doing things and my brother’s always playing on his devices and … and because you’re angry at me now, I feel alienated from the whole family!’ she sobbed.

Poor Maxine—although it was her fault, partly at least! Yet where on earth had she learnt the word ‘alienated’? And how did she know exactly what it meant or how it felt?

Most of us, even introverts like me, do not want to feel alienated. We are created to connect, to support one another, to do life together. At times, our church communities may disappoint us in this regard—we are all still works in progress. And at times too, as believers, we may feel alienated from others in the wider community. After all, we are now ‘aliens and strangers in this world’ (1 Peter 2:11), marching to the beat of a different drum. Yet however alienated we might feel from others, we can find such comfort in the fact that we are no longer alienated from God. Instead, through Jesus, we who were far off have been drawn near and warmly welcomed into God’s family with loving, open arms.

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! I John 3:1

We belong in God’s family. We are accepted. We are known. We are loved—deeply and forever.

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As an eighteen-year-old in my first year at university, I remember studying a play called Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett for our English course. I can still recall where I was sitting in the sloping lecture theatre, the day we all watched a live performance of this play. And I can well remember how confused and ignorant I felt. What was I missing? Did everyone else understand what was happening—or not happening?

I looked around and, to my relief, many others seemed bemused too. We were all wriggling in our seats. And we were bored, oh so bored, as we waited and waited for the person who seemed to be expected to turn up in the play. But even more, we were waiting for that performance to end! If nothing else, Samuel Beckett clearly conveyed to us the hopeless feeling we can get when we have to wait forever for something.

There are different sorts of waiting, it seems to me. I remember what it was like to wait for exam results at school and university. I would be filled with excitement as I anticipated those good marks for the subjects I loved. Yet I felt distinctly nervous at the prospect of seeing a big ‘F’ for ‘Fail’ beside those subjects I did not care for.

And I well remember waiting for our three children to be born, each one of them overdue by around a week. We were so excited to welcome them into the world. Would we have a boy or a girl? Who would they look like? Yet I dreaded the thought of those hours of labour that I knew awaited me. I was not looking forward to that, yet it was part of what needed to happen for the baby to arrive.

These various waiting experiences came to mind this past Easter as I read again what happened after Jesus was crucified.

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Luke 23:50-51

The phrase ‘waiting for the kingdom of God’ caught my attention. Joseph, it seems, was a just and godly man—but he was more than that too. John’s Gospel tells us he was actually ‘a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.’ (John 19:38) Yet at this point, he found the courage to go to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body, along with Nicodemus, the Pharisee who had earlier visited Jesus at night. Joseph was looking for the coming Messiah. He was expectant. He was ready and waiting to believe and follow him. And, despite his fear and the danger he and Nicodemus might face from their fellow Jews, he acted, treating Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, with true dignity and reverence (19:39-42).

I wonder if that is how I am treating Jesus right now. Am I focussed on living for the Messiah who died for me? Am I filled with hope and expectancy, as I wait for that day when I will see him face to face?

I hope I, like Joseph of Arimathea, am waiting well for Jesus in a way that honours him.

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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 was in our local shopping centre again, not far from the large nativity scene in the middle of the main walkway, when I heard some children calling out in excitement. They were running here and there and seemed to be by themselves. Then one of them, a little girl, discovered the porcelain figure of the baby Jesus in the manger.

‘Oh look, a baby doll!’ she yelled. ‘I’m going to pick it up.’

Just then, her mum appeared and told her not to, after sending a quick, embarrassed glance my way. I am glad she was not close enough to hear my gasp at what her daughter had started to do, but I’m sure she saw my slightly horrified look. I wanted to tell her it was fine and quite a natural thing for a child to want to do, but they scurried away.

I was not worried that the doll the little girl wanted to pick up represented the baby Jesus, although I suspect that mum felt she might have offended me and others nearby. It is just that—a representation, not some sacred relic. Rather, I was more concerned the doll would smash if the little girl dropped it—and that would have been embarrassing indeed for her mum. But as I continued shopping, my reaction kept niggling me. Had I somehow acted a little like the disciples who rebuked those who brought children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them? But Jesus’ response had been so gracious.

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17

I prayed for that little family then. The mother had seemed so harassed and overwhelmed, but it all happened so quickly, there was nothing I could have said to her or done for her. Yet later, as I thought more about this event, I wondered if God had been teaching me a big lesson through it all.

How many times have I figuratively ‘picked up’ Jesus, listened to his words and connected closely with him, only to discard him after a while and rush off to something more exciting or interesting? How many times have I treated Jesus as if he were some mere effigy, instead of someone alive and powerful who loves me and wants to walk with me each day in my life? Even now, am I still like that little girl at times, not understanding or forgetting what that manger scene is all about? Have I truly grasped the enormity of the fact that God sent his Son Jesus Christ into our world out of love for us to save us and restore our broken relationship—forever?

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

This Christmas, let’s all carefully ‘pick up’ that baby Jesus, our Saviour, take him into our hearts once again and truly value the gift we have been given—freedom, peace, joy, a loving relationship with God, forever.

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Jo 17One night last week, I went to bed early to read, but in the end, did not feel like concentrating on all those words. Instead, I decided to relax and try to stop recycling the disturbing issues in my mind that had been fuelled by the many negative news reports I had heard on TV. And these days, that can be a little hard, don’t you find?

I lay there in the half dark, listening to the sound of our TV from the lounge. Often all I can hear is the monotone voice of some expert on planes or machines or battles that my husband enjoys listening to—surely enough to send anyone to sleep? Or it might be the sound of laughter from some comedy show. But this time, it was neither of these things. This time, it was a simple but beautiful old hymn, written by Charlotte Elliott in 1835:

Just as I am, without one plea,

but that Thy blood was shed for me,

and that Thou bidst me come to Thee,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

When I first heard these lines as a fifteen-year-old, I am sure I did not understand fully what they meant. One way of putting them today might be: ‘Jesus, the only grounds I have for coming to you are that you died for me and that you tell me to. I have nothing else of my own to plead my cause.’ But back then, all I knew was that I had to get to the front of the meeting room as fast as I could, because Jesus was calling me and I wanted with all my heart to be close to him. In that moment, I was overwhelmed by the truth that I mattered to Jesus—that he knew me and loved me so much, exactly as another verse of this hymn says:

Just as I am, Thy love unknown

has broken every barrier down.

Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

What a joy then, having felt so tired and disheartened, to lie in bed and hear this wonderful reminder of how Jesus’ love drew me to him all those years ago—to be taken back to the beginning of my journey as a Christian in an instant and to realise how faithful God has been to me through the years!

I realised too that, in one way, nothing has changed since then. Jesus certainly hasn’t—and here I am, still so thankful he loves me and that I belong to him. Yet, in another way, everything has changed. That day, I was made new. That day, my life took on a clear purpose—to live for God. And over the years, Jesus has been so patient with me, as I have sought to grow in my faith and know him better.

… anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

Today, as so many disturbing things are happening in the world around us, may you too be able to rest in the simple truths that Jesus loves you, that you belong to him and that he will never let you go.

 

 

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Jo 12



I had obviously failed bigtime in our grandson’s eyes. There he was, excitedly commenting on his favourite superheroes characters in a puzzle book I had given him, while I stood beside him, blank and befuddled. Now, I know my basic superheroes like Spiderman and Iron Man and The Hulk, but alas, there were so many others I did not recognise. As for how they ended up with their various superpowers, it was clear to our eight-year-old grandson that I did not have the foggiest idea.

‘What? Don’t you know anything, Nanna? Everyone knows that!’ Zain told me in a tone dripping with disgust, as he launched into an exasperated explanation of how Spiderman came to be Spiderman and The Hulk came to be … well, hulky.

Later that day, as I sat eating dinner with our granddaughter, she suggested we might watch something on YouTube at the same time.

‘I like this show,’ Maxine told me. ‘It tells you what to do in an emergency, like when there’s an earthquake or someone gets hurt. You’d better watch it too, Nanna, because you don’t know!’

Hmm. Once again, I seemed to be a dismal failure, at least in a six-year-old’s eyes. So much for my two university degrees and teaching diploma!

Later, I remembered a response I learnt as a child that might have come in handy in both these instances when our grandchildren seemed to decide I know nothing. It originated from something that happened during my mother’s own growing up years. There were seven children in their family, with the youngest being a boy. One day when he was still quite little, his older siblings teased him about something he did not know or understand. But to put them in their place, his response apparently went something like this:

‘Well, I don’t care—I only just know a good couple of things!’

At my stage of life, I think can say without too much pride that I know a ‘good couple of things’ in some areas at least, as I’m sure you do too. Yet there is so much more I would love to know—so many great works of literature and art and classical music yet to explore, for a start. I would love to learn how to paint too. And I would love to own a violin and know how to play it.

I wonder what things you would like to know more about or be able to do. Yet, whatever knowledge or skills we gain, one day it will all be put aside and forgotten, won’t it? In fact, one day, the only thing that will matter for us all will be whether we know Jesus, the one ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians 2:3). This is the knowing that can truly satisfy us deep down and enable us to stand tall, whatever knowledge we might lack in others’ eyes.

At the end of our lives, may we all, with complete honesty and humble certainty, be able to echo the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy:

… I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return. 2 Timothy 1:12 NLT

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Jo 23‘Nanna, why do you say ‘love’ all the time when you talk to me?’ our six-year-old granddaughter challenged me last week.

‘Pardon?’ I asked, wondering what Maxine could mean.

‘Why do you call me ‘love’ all the time?’

Before I had a chance to respond, she answered her own question.

‘Maybe it’s because you love me!’ she said in a satisfied tone.

‘Yes, I do!’ I told her, ‘so I like to tell you that.’

She went on with her day then, quite happy with herself and the world in general. But this little interlude set me thinking. Yes, I do love her—and her brother, who was also often called ‘love’ that day, as we looked after them. But I know too it has been a habit of mine for years to call lots of people ‘love’. Now the word slips out without my even realising. And now too, on those occasional ‘seniors’ moments’ when I forget someone’s name, it can be a handy substitute—as long as it’s appropriate enough!

Later, as I thought more about it all, my mind jumped back to the beautiful way my special ‘soul friend’ Joy used to greet me, each time I arrived at her door:

‘Oh, hello, Jo-Anne—dear friend! So lovely to see you!’

On the odd occasions too when she would email me, she would often begin with the words, ‘Dear friend’ or perhaps ‘My very dear Jo-Anne’. Somehow, those simple words touched and encouraged me, even before I read on. By them alone, I knew she loved me and valued our friendship. I felt treasured. I felt significant. And I also knew that, whatever her email was about, her words would have been written with much thought and care and with a heart to bless me.

The way we address each other can be so important, don’t you think? But I wonder if you have thought about how important it is to know how God addresses us—to hear and take into our hearts the words God loves to use when speaking to you and me. If others can touch our hearts and encourage us via a few loving words, how much more can God do the same for each one of us?

One evening many years ago, when I was in quite an exhausted state, I believe God gave me a picture of Jesus, holding me in his arms as a baby and looking down at me with the most amazing love and delight shining from his face. And all he kept saying was, ‘Wow—Jo-Anne! Wow!’ Through that simple yet utterly profound experience, I knew deep in my heart that Jesus saw me as his precious creation, that he was so delighted in me, that he valued me and that he would always love and care for me. I can hear his voice even now, as I write this—and that beautiful voice still has the power to speak such love and grace into my spirit.

May you too, even today, hear that gentle voice speaking clearly to you, calling you by name and letting you know you are indeed God’s much-loved child, so valued and treasured.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1 NLT

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