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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

I wonder if any of you tend to feel a little low at this time of year, despite all those lovely Christmas celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. This is something I have often experienced, especially if my year has been particularly busy or particularly draining in some way.

I remember how my special ‘soul friend’ Joy used to encourage me at such times to listen to my body and take note of what it was telling me. Perhaps I needed physical rest. Perhaps mental relaxation. Perhaps a lifting of emotional burdens—those I carried for others as well as my own. Perhaps I needed spiritual refreshment. Or perhaps it was all of the above. Some of us keep going, don’t we, always tackling that next job or seeing things we feel we should do? No wonder we can end up a little exhausted and spent as our year draws to a close.

So, each year around this time, I try to step back a little and view my year past from a distance, so to speak. Yes, there were those many things I could have done better. And yes, there were those opportunities I did not fully grasp or take up at all, for some reason. Yet there were also those times when I did listen and do what I sensed God was calling me to do. There were those many rewarding moments when I spoke somewhere and sensed God used me in the process, when I completed writing or editing a manuscript after much effort, when I wrote blogs that touched others, when I was able to bless others by serving them in some way. What a relief, however, to know God longs to reach out to me with forgiveness and compassion, despite those apparent failures of mine, and also delights to celebrate and rejoice with me in my successes and achievements!

Whatever has happened this past year then, I can be at peace. And I can stay in that place of peace too as I step into whatever God has for me in the new year. After all, God’s heart in sending Jesus Christ to us was indeed to give us deep peace, not only in our lives here and now but also concerning the life to come. In Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:76-79, we see that John the Baptist’s role was to prepare the way for Jesus through calling the people to repent and receive God’s mercy—that mercy that would culminate in sending Jesus, the ‘rising sun’ to us from heaven:

 … to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Then there are also the angels’ wonderful words of declaration to the shepherds, speaking out hope and peace for us all:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” Luke 2:14

As we contemplate the year that has passed then, may we each sense God’s favour and peace deep in our hearts. And in the new year to come, may our feet easily find that path of peace God has for each one of us to take.

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A few weeks ago, someone pointed out to me how the immediate response many of us seem to give these days when asked how we are is not, ‘Good, thanks!’ or ‘I’m fine!’ Instead, what we often say is ‘Oh, I’ve been so busy!’ or ‘I’m actually so tired—I’ve had so much to do!’ or some other phrase that indicates life is currently a little too full or perhaps even overwhelming for us.

It seems to be a badge of honour, in some circles at least, to be able to point out how many tasks and activities we manage to pack into our lives. Yet, in the midst of it all, how are we ourselves truly surviving? What is happening deep down inside us—to our soul or our spirit? Have we perhaps lost sight a little of who we are, apart from all that we manage to do and achieve? Have we forgotten how to sit and simply be? And, beyond that, have we perhaps allowed our faith to recede into the background somewhere, as if there is no room for God in our heads and our hearts, in all the busyness of life?

No room. Those words have such a sad, empty ring, don’t you think? Centuries ago, it seems to me, I used to sing a Christmas solo occasionally by John Peterson that began with the words:

No room, only a manger of hay,
No room, He is a stranger today,
No room, here in His world turned away,
No room, no room.

Perhaps nothing has changed really since that time over two thousand years ago when Jesus came as a baby to live among us. And perhaps nothing has changed since those days when Jesus, despite the many amazing miracles he performed and despite his wise teaching, was rejected as an adult either. Recently, I read some strong words Jesus spoke as he challenged the Jewish leaders to honestly believe in him in their hearts.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Yet, they kept arguing with him, which resulted in Jesus speaking even more strongly to them.

I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word.  John 8:37

Wow—there are those sad words ‘no room’ once again. These people back then seem to have been so proud of their heritage and position in society and so bent on disproving Jesus’ claims that they would not even let Jesus’ words truly enter their hearts and minds at all.

But what about us right here and now? To my shame and regret, I know there are times when I say a rude and disrespectful, ‘No room!’ to Jesus—times when I am just too busy to bother to leave any space for him in my life. How much wiser it would be to let Jesus order my days and lead me through them, as I listen to him and make room in my heart for his loving words!

No room. Let’s not say that to Jesus this Christmas—or at any time, for that matter.

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It never ceases to amaze me how often words of Scripture can jump out at us and impact us all over again, even if we have read them many times before. They may challenge us deeply and perhaps even make us a little uncomfortable, but what a privilege to receive these reminders over and over and know they come from the hand of our loving, patient Lord!

One day recently, I finished reading Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well but decided to continue a little further in the same chapter. And there I found the wonderful story of the royal official in Cana in Galilee who asks Jesus to come and heal his son (John 4:43-54). At first, Jesus seems reluctant, but the official still insists he do just that.

Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” John 4:49

Jesus then responds with a brief but huge statement of promise—and, lo and behold, the official takes him at his word and immediately leaves.

Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. John 4:50

Wow! Jesus’ few words hold such power and authority—but the official’s simple, unquestioning obedience made me sit up as well. Perhaps he was among those who had witnessed Jesus in action in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast when he cleared the traders and moneychangers out of the temple and also performed miracles (John 2; 4:45). Yet, whether this is true or not, to me, this official’s firm belief in Jesus’ promise that his son will be healed speaks volumes. Would I have been as ready to trust Jesus as he was? Would I have perhaps still begged him to come and actually lay hands on my son? Or would I have headed home heart-in-mouth, half-filled with hope and half with huge doubts?

He does not get far, however, before his servants meet him with the news that his son is now better. Then he also discovers that the boy became well at the exact time Jesus had said his son would live.

And this is the point in the story where I received my second simple yet huge challenge that morning. All John writes in the next sentence is the following:

So he and his whole household believed. John 4:53b

Just like that, this official and his family believe in Jesus. Would that have been my response? Or would I have perhaps been tempted to rationalise things and not be too hasty about it all?

Somehow, I think this whole event has jolted me into remembering how powerful and trustworthy Jesus truly is and how much more I need to take him at his word. If he says something will happen, it will happen. He does not lie or break his promise. If he tells us to do something, we had better do it—because Jesus, after all, is the Son of God. If Jesus says it, that settles it!

And when he answers our requests today for healing or provision or whatever else, as he always does, it surely is up to us to believe and give him our love and full allegiance, all over again, don’t you think?

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This past week, my husband and I had the privilege of conducting a brief funeral service for a friend’s mother at a nearby crematorium. We had not expected to be doing this, yet, as things unfolded and the minister conducting the larger memorial service later in the day could not manage both, we knew this was what we should do.

The whole idea of offering to help began as one of those strong nudges inside me and, when I talked about it with my husband, he immediately agreed. God was in it—and we should do it. It was as simple as that really. Besides, we could see how much this little effort on our part would greatly help our friend and her family. In the end, it did seem to—and we felt very blessed.

After the memorial service later in the day, I chatted with an acquaintance present about a mutual friend who is working overseas with a Christian aid organisation. She brought me up-to-date with the latest news about our friend and mentioned how she phones her each week—and, at that point, I remembered what this friend working overseas had told me about these same phone calls.

‘The work here is so rewarding,’ she had said, ‘and I know we’re making a huge difference in the lives of the families we care for. But I wouldn’t have stayed here as long as I have, without my friend’s weekly phone calls—I wouldn’t have been able to. At times, they were the only thing that kept me going.’

When I told this lady what my friend had said, she seemed embarrassed and played down her efforts. ‘Oh, it’s nothing really—just a weekly phone call.’ And I understood what she meant. Just a simple, little act on her part, the same as my husband and I felt about our own efforts. Yet, what a huge difference her encouraging calls have made in our friend’s life—and indirectly in the lives of so many others too who may well have starved, without the food and shelter my friend helps provide in the remote area where she is based!

Sometimes, we can all too easily be talked out of doing things we know in our heart God wants us to do. Yet, when we listen to God, step out in obedience and act, we often find God uses our little efforts in more ways than we would ever have imagined. God can do so much, even with something so little, just as Jesus points out when teaching about the Kingdom of God:

Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it?  It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”

He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like?  It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” Luke 13:18-21 NLT

Let’s keep being faithful with our tiny mustard seeds and grams of yeast. They may not cost us much but, in God’s hands, they can truly become invaluable.

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Do you remember a time when you had to blow your own trumpet, so to speak, and convince others you could handle a particular task or fulfil a particular role well, perhaps when applying for a job you truly wanted? It can feel very awkward, can’t it—not to mention downright pushy! 

Ever since my first novel was published, I have had to promote myself in ways I would never have dreamed of doing earlier on. I thought I was becoming more used to it and beginning to see it as merely a necessary part of the writing journey. Yet, recently, I felt daunted all over again when I filled in an author submission ‘pitch’ for a potential publisher of my next non-fiction book I am currently completing. This form consisted of only five questions, but each one necessitated much thought and re-writing. And two in particular made me cringe as I tried to answer them as best I could.

The first of these asked, ‘How will new readers benefit from your book?’ Now, I am indeed passionate about this book I am writing. It deals with the many words we all speak and write throughout our lives and urges us to leave a life-giving legacy behind us when we share them with others. I believe one hundred per cent in the thoughts it contains and sincerely hope and pray they will indeed benefit and build up many of my readers. Yet, it still seems presumptuous to me to declare with certainty, in black and white, ‘My readers will benefit from this book in the following ways …’. What happened to any humility I might have gained over the years?

Another question I sighed over asked, ‘Why are you qualified to be the person to write this book?’ Hmm! I do have a couple of tertiary degrees and diplomas in the areas of language, education, theology and ministry. I have written nine other books and hundreds of blogs. I have also spoken in all sorts of meetings in recent years, had many conversations with people and written countless emails. Yet, surely in stating all this on that form, I would be loudly blowing my own trumpet?

This strange saying ‘blowing our own trumpet’ apparently refers to past days when heralds sounded trumpets to let everyone know the king was coming! Instead, Jesus, our King, set us such a perfect example of true humility and grace when he put everything aside, came to this earth in human form for us and died a criminal’s death (Philippians 2:6-8). What a contrast! And we too are called to have that same heart of humility today.

 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves … You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Philippians 2:3, 5 NLT

This is the attitude I indeed want to have in all my writing and speaking and in life in general. Yet, we are also called to use our God-given gifts to their fullest extent to bless others and draw them closer to God—and I want to be faithful in doing that too. It can be tricky, to step out in confidence yet also to remain humble—but let’s keep trusting God to show us how.

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Some mornings can go smoothly, as we set out to conquer whatever the day may hold for us, can’t they? Then there are other mornings when we may think we have plenty of time to get ready and be wherever we need to be or take children wherever we need to take them, yet, at the last minute, everything unravels.

This happened to our daughter recently, as she hurried to take the children to school on her way to work. She knows our grandson hates the sound of the kitchen blender—he has ADHD and finds it hard to cope with such a noise at that time in the morning. Usually, she makes sure he is somewhere else before she uses it, but this time, she was in a hurry and a huge meltdown ensued.

When they finally arrived at the school gates, our grandson was still very unhappy and angry, but apparently calmed down and made it through the day. And that night, he apologised to his mum, without even having to be prompted. But I loved how our daughter then talked more about it all with him in a calm, reasoned way. She asked him what he thought she should do to help him calm down and not be so angry, next time something like this happened. Would there be a code word she could use that would remind him she is on his side? He soon thought of one and, hopefully, this will indeed help next time! Yet, whatever happens, I believe she gave our grandson the most important gift ever through the wonderful, merciful, forgiving message contained in those four simple, little words she said to him, ‘I’m on your side!’

Our grandson knows his mother loves him unreservedly. He knows she has advocated for him so much through the years at school, where judgments and misunderstandings of his behaviour have abounded at times. He knows she will always be there for him and believe in him. And he loves her deeply in return. But sometimes, when his impulses get the better of him, he forgets all that in an instant, loses control and fights her. And so, time and time again, she asks him how she can help him better and reminds him, with such love and grace, ‘I’m on your side.’

And that, to me, is exactly what God has said and still says to us all each day. In sending Jesus Christ to live amongst us and die for us, God declared in no uncertain terms, ‘I’m on your side! I love you. I am for you, not against you! Yes, your wrongdoing matters so much—it has separated you from me and spoilt our relationship. But come, believe in my son, receive my love and forgiveness and let me welcome you with open arms into my family—forever!’

Every day, it fills me with such joy and relief to know God is watching over me, strengthening me and restoring me when I fail. I may forget and fight that love, just as our grandson does at times, yet God is still there for me and on my side—forever.

See what great 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

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One recent crisp, sunny morning, my husband happened to chat briefly with our elderly neighbour.

‘It’s a lovely day,’ our neighbour commented. ‘I wouldn’t be dead for quids!’

Now this man is in his mid-nineties, would you believe. So, there is no doubt that, one day soon, he will indeed be dead, whether he likes it or not. Does he have a faith in God? It’s hard to tell from the conversations we have had with him. I hope he indeed is ready to meet God, but that day will surely come soon for him, whatever he believes and however many quids he would be willing to wager to stay here.

Last week, with three funerals to attend in the one week, we were clearly reminded of the need to be ready for that day when our own lives will end. At one of these, that of another lovely neighbour, Ruth, the minister told everyone how he visited her not long before she passed away. While he was there, Ruth apparently managed to say three very important words to him, despite being so weak and ill. And these three words were ‘I love Jesus!’

I cannot think of any better statement to make so close to the end of my life, can you? It’s as simple as that, really, when all is said and done. When we experience the love Jesus has for us and truly believe as a result, then our spirits come alive and we are able to love him in return—and others—as we are called to do.

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 NLT

We love each other because he loved us first. 1 John 4:19 NLT

Out of our love for Jesus who showed us what perfect love is by dying for us, we are empowered to live in a way that honours him and be the faithful servants he has called us to be. Then, having loved and lived for him, we will be ready and waiting when he returns or when our time on earth is over. In fact, while we may not want to leave our loved ones behind here, just as Ruth may not have wanted to, we can look forward with anticipation to that day when we will meet Jesus face to face at last.

And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. 1 John 4:17 NLT

What a privilege to know and love Jesus! And what a privilege to love and serve him and others each day, as we live our lives here to the full! I understand what our neighbour meant when he stated he would so much rather be alive than dead. Our life here has much to offer indeed. Yet I’m so grateful I know death is not the end too—that, one day, I will go to be with Jesus, the one I love the most, who lives and reigns forever.

It’s as simple as that really—and as wonderful.

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Recently, I could not resist buying a non-fiction book by one of my favourite fiction authors, Charles Martin. I wanted to see how he went about writing non-fiction and how the book compared with his novels. But as well, for some reason, its title simply caught my attention.

The book is What If It’s True? and is sub-titled A Storyteller’s journey with Jesus.

At first, I silently scoffed at using a question like this for a title. Of course it’s true, I thought—I’ve believed that for ages! Yet as I reflected further, I realised it is not only a good, honest question for anyone new to understanding who Jesus is to grapple with, but also a good, honest question for those of us who have believed for years to consider—because, over time, we can become almost blasé about it all, can’t we? Over time, we can even become immune to such deep truths, like that frog who starts off in cold water but, as the water gets hotter and hotter, simply stays there, oblivious to the fact that it is slowly being boiled to death.

My memory of Good Friday in our household during my growing-up years is that it was a day of sadness and reverence. Somehow, it didn’t seem quite right to have fun or make too many loud noises. For a time in my early teens, I would head to our local Anglican church for the special three-hour service from midday. Then on Easter Sunday, we would usually make it to Sunday School or church—and I remember the relief I felt that Jesus had won, that death was not the end for him, even though I did not understand the significance of it all back then.

Thankfully, in my mid-teenage years, I came to understand the love and grace of God so much more. One night, after hearing the good news of Jesus clearly proclaimed, I welcomed it with open arms. I was overwhelmed to realise Jesus Christ knew me and loved me and died for me—and my life changed from that moment on. Today, by God’s grace, I still know these truths deep in my heart, but … well … have I somehow allowed the significance of the events we remember at Easter to become blunted in my life?

In his introduction, Charles Martin writes:

What if the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the singular most important event in the history of mankind, and what if one drop of His blood is the most powerful thing in this universe or any other? What if dead and crucified Jesus came back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and He is alive today? …

What if His story is true?

What if this Jesus, the One who walked out of the tomb shining like the sun, holding the keys of death and hades, is alive—in you? In me? I write fiction for a living, and that’s either the craziest thing I’ve ever heard or it’s the most important word ever spoken.

It is indeed true—all of it. May we never forget that—and may it change our lives forever.

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies… John 11:25

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Some years ago, a friend pointed out how I often use a particular little word when writing or speaking about family members. ‘Our Jane changed jobs’ or ‘Our Zain is doing better’ or ‘Our Amy started university’—yes, that little pronoun ‘our’ in these and other similar comments made in an email or while chatting seemed to have captured her attention.

‘It sounds so nice’, she said, although I cannot remember why she thought that. Perhaps to her it spoke of how we love and value whichever family member I was referring to. Perhaps it conveyed our concern for their welfare or joy at their successes or pride in their decisions. Perhaps it showed we truly identify with that person, believe in them and want the best for them. One day, I will ask her what she meant but, whatever the reason, that little three-letter word of mine seemed to touch her heart.

One morning recently, however, I suspect I caught a glimpse for myself of how my friend might have felt, as I started reading the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians once again. It was not long before I had to pause—in fact, I did not get past Paul’s greeting right at the beginning:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus. To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2

What could be so remarkable about these verses? Why did I stop at that point and sit staring into space? Somehow, that little word ‘our’ in the last sentence had touched my own heart. I knew Paul had written that greeting and that he was no doubt referring to the fact that Timothy and he and the believers in Philippi all belonged to the same heavenly Father. But that morning, it was as if Jesus himself was saying gently to me, ‘Grace and peace to you, Jo-Anne, from God our Father—yes, our Father. I gave you the right to be part of my Father’s family when you believed in me. We will always watch over you, so be at peace today and know you are surrounded with our love and grace.’

How could that little word ‘our’ convey so much to me that morning? Perhaps it was merely my imagination. After all, I am a writer. But something changed inside me as I sat there, reading those words over and over. I had been feeling tired and quite discouraged, yet now I sensed Jesus understood, identified fully with me and had reached out in love to remind me who I belong to. I could be rational and tell myself this is not what those verses actually say or mean—or I could choose to listen with my heart and be reminded deep in my spirit that I am included in the beautiful, warm circle of God’s family, joined to other believers but also to Jesus Christ—forever.

I remembered then too those first words Jesus himself uttered when teaching his disciples how to pray:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. … Matthew 6:9

There is that little word ‘our’ again. Important to Jesus then and now—and so important for us too.

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I am not a seasoned solver of jigsaw puzzles. I enjoy them when I have time—and I enjoyed helping my husband with the two puzzles I gave him last year, even when he did not want or need my help! But the one-thousand-piece puzzle he gave me for Christmas certainly exacted any revenge he might have wished to exact—and then some! Eventually, however, I conquered the challenge and felt quite chuffed when I did. Then I saw that extra puzzle piece lying on the table nearby. I had noticed it on and off while doing the jigsaw and wondered where it could possibly fit. It did not look quite the same as the other foliage pieces in the puzzle, so each time, I put it aside. Now there it still was, with no more spaces available where it could possibly go.

For a while, I gazed at it in disbelief. Surely a jigsaw puzzle company would not make that sort of mistake? I checked the completed puzzle again—nope, definitely no spare spots. Then my mind jumped to the possibility that, somewhere out there, some other poor person was trying to complete their own puzzle, only to find one crucial piece missing! I would certainly hate that to happen to me, after all my efforts. Someone else then suggested the puzzle creators might have put that extra piece in just to make things harder or to tease their poor victims. But again, surely not! Or… could they?

Soon I will pack my completed puzzle away, spare piece and all. And maybe sometime in the future, I will do it again, forgetting about that pesky extra piece! But there is one memory I will never forget that surfaced as I worked on my puzzle. A few times, I tried to put a piece in place that seemed right, yet I did not hear that soft, little ‘click’ that would tell me the piece was a perfect fit there. And those little ‘clicks’ brought back a memory that is almost sixty years old now.

In 1963, a friend invited me to a youth camp run by the then Methodist church. One night, after the speaker had invited us to commit our lives to Christ, I was one of the first to move quickly to the front. I was overwhelmed with the thought that God knew me and loved me—that I mattered to God. And somewhere deep inside, I felt and heard a loud, satisfying ‘click’ like the sound of the last piece of a child’s wooden jigsaw puzzle falling into place. Suddenly, the fact that Jesus Christ loved us and died for us made sense to me. It was as if a veil lifted from my eyes and I knew I had found the reason I was on this earth—to love and serve God.

One day, we will see the whole, completed picture of our lives from God’s perspective. One day, we will understand fully. But for now, let’s keep believing and trusting in the one who loves us totally and can bring all the pieces of our lives together in the best way possible.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

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