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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Jo 23Recently, I overheard the following conversation:

‘Would you like some coffee?’

‘I usually don’t drink coffee. I’ve never liked it much, but I’m trying to get used to it.’

‘Um … why would you want to make yourself like coffee?’

‘Well … well, I want to be accepted!’

I tried to hide my smile because I would expect this type of behaviour amongst children, not grown adults, which these two definitely were! Our young grandson, for example, refuses to wear a particular beanie in his school colours anywhere—especially to school! And our youngest granddaughter, at four years of age, has very definite tastes in clothes and other attire—which usually means pink things or things that have pink in them. Recently too, she cried, covered her ears and ran and hid, after she managed to lose one of her pink earrings. When I tried to comfort her, she sobbed, ‘I can’t let anyone see me with only one earring in!’

Being accepted matters when you are four or six—and it matters even more for our two older granddaughters who are fifteen and twelve. Yet it doesn’t stop there, does it? At times, and in certain situations in particular, we all desire to be accepted by those around us. None of us wants to feel rejected, pushed to the fringes, not interesting enough or attractive enough or good enough to fit the bill. So we may choose to act differently or say what we think those around us want to hear—and close our mouths on the words we truly want to speak out but are afraid to, for fear of rejection.

Recently, I came across a situation just like this in John’s Gospel. In Chapter 9, Jesus heals a man born blind and, soon after, his parents are summoned to appear before the Jewish leaders to verify he was indeed blind and to explain how he can now see (18-23). They know that, if they say Jesus healed their son, they will be thrown out of the synagogue, so they feign ignorance. They do not want to risk acknowledging Jesus as the Christ, the coming Messiah, so leave their son to speak for himself. In that culture at that time, it would have been a fearsome thing indeed to have been thrown out of the synagogue, to be outcasts, unaccepted in their own community, so I empathise with them.

But I am aware I can also behave like them at times. I may choose to stay quiet when I know I should stand up for the things of God. Or I may decide to water down what I plan to say somewhere, in order to be more accepted. Yet in my heart, I know my worth does not come from pleasing others. Instead, it comes from God, who tells me deep down who I am, who knows everything about me, yet loves and accepts me because I belong to Jesus and believe he died for me.

He (Jesus) came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God … John 1:11-12

Now that would have to be best acceptance of all, don’t you think?

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Jo 23One evening recently, our four-year-old granddaughter honoured me by inviting me to a special, imaginary event. Soon I found myself immersed in her pretend world and utterly charmed by the magic of the moment.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ Maxine asks in her best ladylike voice, as she looks up at me with her beautiful, brown eyes.

‘That would be lovely!’ I respond, stifling a laugh as she carefully arranges her little, metal tea set just how she wants it on the arm of the lounge, while trying to hold up her pyjama pants that insist on falling down.

She selects cups, saucers and plates for us, telling me she will sit next to me while we drink our tea and eat our food. I watch as she pours our imaginary tea into those little cups and wonder what she is doing when she places two small stones on each of our plates. But Maxine’s running commentary on everything soon fills me in.

‘This is our food. Do you like egg? This one here is egg. It’s not the right shape, but it’s still an egg. And this little one is a ‘wadish’ (Maxine has yet to master those initial ‘r’s’). Do you like wadishes?’

‘I haven’t had one for a while, but they look pretty, don’t they, with their pink skin and white on the inside?’

‘Yes, these are very nice. Here you are!’

So together we sit, sipping our pretend tea and enjoying our pretend eggs and radishes. Maxine chatters on—and as I listen, my heart melts and almost hurts for her.

But her imagination—and that of her brother—also serve another purpose. One afternoon a few weeks ago, Maxine asked out of the blue, ‘Nanna, do you know what heaven is like?’ An interesting discussion ensued—almost as interesting as the one we had with Zain on another occasion, when he asked, ‘Granddad, are you older than God?’(!)  Yes, our grandchildren’s vivid imaginations not only enable them to play wonderful, pretend games, but also help them get their heads around such huge concepts as God and heaven. Right now, they may not grasp all the theological ramifications involved—but they sure are adept at imagining what God and heaven look like.

I hope Zain and Maxine never lose their wonderful imaginations. Perhaps they will become the writers or artists or inventors or business innovators of the future—who knows? But I hope and pray God and heaven become firm realities for them and that they never consider them to be mere figments of human imagination. I hope and pray they both come to know Jesus Christ, God become man, and experience the amazing reality of being born again as a child of God. And I hope and pray that one day they will see Jesus face to face—and be in absolute awe of his splendour and majesty that will surely far exceed even their wildest imaginations.

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honour and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.” Revelation 5:13 New Living Translation

Can you imagine being part of that gathering? I hope you can.

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Jo 23From time to time, I meet people who make me sit up and take notice. Somehow, they seem to march to the beat of a different drum—and I want to find out what that drum sounds like and how they keep in step with it.

Many years ago, after moving across Sydney, we met some people whose Christian commitment and experience of God seemed so much more real and vital than mine was at the time. One day, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer to find out more.

‘What is it you’ve got that I haven’t got?’ I asked them point blank.

They looked at each other, as if unsure how to answer me. In the end, all they said was ‘Just wait. Just wait. God will show you when the time is right!’

Now I found their response frustrating, if not plain annoying, but they were right. Not long after, God broke into my life in a fresh and sovereign way, overwhelming me with such deep love and opening up a whole new journey of being led by the Spirit in my life and ministry.

I was reminded of this recently when farewelling a friend at the airport. The person at the check-in counter thought she had found an issue with my friend’s visa, so went to check it out with her boss. When she returned, she told my friend it ‘should all be okay’, which didn’t sound so reassuring to me. But my friend stayed calm and seemed to take everything in her stride.

‘You’re so calm about it all!’ this lady finally blurted out, as if she couldn’t help it. ‘It makes me want to say “I’ll have what she’s having!”’

My friend and I looked at each other and laughed. You see, we had prayed for God’s peace to fill her as she said goodbye to family and friends. And here was this staff member wondering why my friend was so calm! I mumbled something about how we had prayed for peace, but there was no time to explain further, with that queue lengthening behind us.

Recently too, I met someone who decided to attend church again one Sunday, after an absence of many years because of having all sorts of doubts about the Christian faith. As the service ended, the pastors announced they would be delighted for anyone with questions about God and Jesus to come and spend time chatting with them about it all.

‘What church ever does anything like that?’ this person thought, amazed—and promptly took them up on the offer.

But the best example of amazement I have ever seen or heard is one I read recently in John 7. Here, the people of Jerusalem are trying to work out who Jesus is and how he could do the things he did. Some want to seize him, but ‘no one laid a hand on him’ (5:44). Finally, the temple guards return to those in authority, who ask why they haven’t arrested Jesus. Then comes this amazing statement:

No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared. John 7:46

How could this be? Could Jesus truly be the Messiah, the Son of God? Should we sit up and take notice of him?

I think we should—don’t you?

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Jo 17I have discovered that, unless I am vigilant, I can sometimes become a lot more self-focussed and self-serving than I like to think I am. I may gladly agree to do something, but soon those selfish questions I am loath to acknowledge resound in my brain. What will I get out of this? How can I impress others as I complete this task? What if nobody sees all my effort?

Hmm!

One recent Saturday morning, I was ahead of schedule to get to a speaking engagement some distance away, so sat down to check over my input and read my Bible before leaving. I found I was up to the story in John 5 of how Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. This takes place on the Sabbath, so the Jews begin to persecute Jesus—and even more so after Jesus refers to God as his Father (5:17). Yet Jesus still proceeds to explain how he does only what he sees the Father doing and how he has received authority as the Son of  God to give life and to judge others (5:19ff).

Then the following words caught my eye:

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. John 5:30

Okay, I found myself thinking—Jesus chose to listen to his Father and not step out in his own strength. And he chose to please his Father rather than think only about his own wellbeing. What a challenge! If Jesus had that attitude in his life and ministry, then surely I should aim to do likewise—especially as I set out to speak somewhere.

I read on, admiring Jesus’ boldness as he addressed those Jews seeking to kill him: ‘But I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.’ (5:42) Wow—how confronting that must have been for them to hear! Yet I personally found his next statement even more challenging:

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? John 5:44

As I drove to my speaking engagement, I found myself hoping I had heard my Father God well and prepared the message God wanted me to give. But then I asked myself: What are my real motives in it all? Is it just to receive praise from others—or is it to hear that ‘Well done!’ from God deep in my spirit and to know that is enough? Usually after I speak, someone will come and say something positive about my input—and I hope I have learnt to accept this with grace and not let it add to my pride. But if I begin to care more about that than about whether I have pleased God in it all, then something is sadly out of balance in my whole approach.

Sometimes our real motives for doing what we do can be well hidden, don’t you think? Let’s bring them into the light of day and check them out with our loving, caring, gracious God, who does not want to see us go astray.

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Jo 17As an introverted writer, there is nothing I like more than sitting at my desk, typing away in perfect peace and quiet. As I do, I can look out my window at the trees and shrubs and beyond them to the sky. I hear birds chirping and the occasional bark of a dog, yet these sounds are pleasant and somehow reassuring. In these moments, I feel so blessed—and spoilt! I have peace, both inside and out—and I am so grateful for God’s gracious hand on my life.

Yes, sometimes that outer peace of mine disappears when little grandchildren arrive and run around excitedly or when we mind them at their house until mum or dad finish work. Sometimes too, we have visitors for meals or for a longer period. Sometimes I venture out to speak at various events or promote my books, which always involves much relating to others. And each week I attend church and happily mix with the family of God there. I also meet with others one-on-one for coffee and truly value these intimate conversations. Yet afterwards, I scuttle back home to my place of peace, where I sit and process everything—and thank God again for my lovely, quiet space where I can reflect and be refreshed in my spirit.

But sometimes that inner peace of mine can also disappear, which is much more alarming. Sometimes I take my eyes off God and refuse to listen to the Spirit’s voice, urging me to be still, to become aware of God’s presence in me and around me, to remember God knows all about my issues and those facing anyone near and dear to me, as well as those in the world at large. Sometimes I choose to worry so much about this and that, instead of handing it all over to God. Sometimes I fret over situations when it is way beyond my ability to sort it all out for those involved. Sometimes I foolishly ignore that peace God is holding out to me with such love and grace and instead decide to cling onto that deep turmoil within.

How important it is in these times to stop and read again Jesus’ words to his disciples—and to me:

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 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

And how important the Apostle Paul’s words are too:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Whatever is happening in your life right now, may you too be able to turn to God, be still and rest in that peace only God can give.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

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Jo 12It happens only once in a blue moon that I take myself off to the movies. I am very choosy about what I watch but, given my sister who was visiting from interstate was also interested in seeing The Greatest Showman, I decided to take the plunge and go. And I have to say, this one did not disappoint.

We both truly admired Hugh Jackman in the starring role of P T Barnum, showman extraordinaire. He acts wonderfully. He sings well. And he was supported by an excellent caste. The music was beautiful—and the cinematography breathtaking at times. And, as far as I noticed, there was nothing offensive in the whole movie, which was a pleasant surprise. I held my breath when Mr P T Barnum was tempted to head off in the wrong direction in life and in show business, giving in to the lure of the talented Miss Jenny Lind, but heaved a sigh of relief when he came to his senses and returned home to his wife and daughters. Phew!

As for the main theme of the movie, was it that every person, however ‘different’ he or she is, has intrinsic value and deserves to be respected? Or was it the need to hold onto our dreams and have the courage to bring them into reality? Then there was the reminder to be true to one’s partner in life and care for family members. All these are very worthwhile values to hold onto. But right at the end of the movie, we noticed an interesting quote on the screen:

The noblest art is that of making others happy. P T Barnum

I had to think about that as a theme. How about you? Would you call ‘making others happy’ the noblest art?

I definitely used to be a people-pleaser and a ‘peace at any price’ person. I wanted to keep everyone around me happy. I hated arguments and would usually acquiesce rather than stick to my guns. Yet over the years, I learnt this was not always the best response and that sometimes I needed to find the courage to stand by what I felt was right. So to me, making others happy in this sense is not ‘the noblest art’.

I’m sure, however, this is not what P T Barnum meant. I suspect he was thinking of those times when something we do for or give to others touches their hearts deeply or eases some load they are carrying in life or at least makes them laugh for a while. After all, there is some truth in the old saying, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’.

Yet even then, this kind of happiness can be so short-lived, can’t it? What we all truly need is a real, deeper, long-lasting joy that can withstand the ups and downs of life. And that for me is found in knowing Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I may not smile all the time or even be happy all the time. But beyond that, there is a deep joy and peace in my spirit that no one can take away. And that surely is the noblest thing in the world to share with others, don’t you think?

 … do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

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Jo 17‘So what do you think Christmas is all about, Zain?’ my husband asked our five-year-old grandson, as we drove him home from school last week.

There was silence for a while in the back of the car, but eventually he responded.

‘It’s about peace,’ he said in a very definite tone.

‘That’s an excellent answer, Zain!’ I told him—but then the moment passed and we left it at that.

Later, however, I reflected on his simple response. Why would he have chosen to say what he did? Was he repeating something he had heard at school? At kids’ church? At home? Did he even understand what the word ‘peace’ meant? Yet wherever he had heard it and whatever he thought it meant, in one word he had got to the heart of the matter, don’t you think?

Christmas is about peace—on various levels, it seems to me. It is about peace with God. It is about peace within our own hearts. It is about peace with those around us. And all of these seem to be intertwined.

Peace with God. What an incredible gift, made possible through the coming of Jesus into our world who showed us what God is like! Through Jesus’ death, we have a way back into close relationship with God. And by faith in him, we become part of the family of God—forever!

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. Romans 5:1-2

Peace within our own hearts—that deep, personal peace only God can give. That perfect peace that will sustain us through all the ups and downs of life, as we rest in God’s amazing love and trust God to guide and provide for us. That is the peace Jesus promised his disciples—and that same peace is available for us today too.

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 14:27

Peace with those around us. Once we truly know the love of God and have deep peace within ourselves, it seems to me this wider peace is easier to achieve. We don’t have to compete with or be envious of others. We don’t have to score points off them. Instead, we can focus on who God is calling us to be—and allow others to do the same. Yet obviously this is easier said than done on a worldwide scale where prejudices rage that have been in place for centuries. How much we need the reign of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, in the hearts of men and women across our world right now!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

So … may the peace of God reign in your hearts and homes this Christmas. And may 2018 see so much more of that peace on earth that Jesus Christ alone can bring!

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