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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

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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I had made my way bright and early to a large shopping centre nearby. There were two things I needed and I was definitely focussed on finding these quickly, then scuttling home. As I passed a particular clothing store selling ‘intimate apparel’, however, I gasped out loud and stopped dead. No, it was not the very skimpy garments in the window that caught my eye first off. Instead, it was a bold sign there written in large letters:

I COME FIRST

Really? Is that how we are supposed to live our lives? Despite my slightly shocked state, I realised this could be a mere marketing slogan, an overstatement aimed at making potential customers decide they deserve to pamper themselves or buy this or that expensive, perhaps frivolous item, rather than something for someone else or something a little more practical. And maybe there are times when we should do such things. For some of us at least, it may be the right thing to care for ourselves better and put ourselves first more at times, so we can regain our strength or our health. But… ‘I come first’ all the time? Really? Is that what God wants us to do?

I remembered then a recent TV ad I had seen for a reality series that apparently ‘all Australia is waiting to see’, according to the promoters! I had gasped when I heard one of the contestants declare something to the effect that she likes to make all the decisions because ‘it always has to be my way!’ Imagine living or even be friends with someone with such a selfish, arrogant attitude where everything has to suit them and where their needs always come before the needs of others!

Somehow, I think God calls us to march to the beat of a different drum, don’t you? Even in the middle of the shopping centre that morning, I thought of the parable Jesus told on one occasion when he went to eat at the home of a prominent Pharisee and noticed how the guests chose the places of honour at the table (Luke 14). Instead, he urged those present to take the lowest place and leave it to the host to invite them to move up to a better spot. Then he ended with the following:

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:11 NLT

I remembered too some challenging words the Apostle Paul wrote about putting others’ welfare before our own:

 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:3-4 NLT

Paul then urges us to remember Jesus, who put everything aside for us, became a man and humbled himself completely, even to the point of dying on a cross.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave… Philippians 2:5-11 NLT

Really? What a challenge! And what a different attitude from the one that declares ‘I come first!’

Let’s choose it anyway. Let’s dare to be different. Let’s remember Jesus’ example. And let’s do our best to put others first—always.

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I watched with interest and a little heart in mouth on Christmas Day, as our younger grandchildren opened their presents from us. I had spent a lot of time tracking down things I thought they might like, but had I made the right choices? Besides, they had already received wonderful gifts from their aunties and uncles. What were our contributions in comparison?

They opened their main presents from us first, followed by the bulging Christmas stocking we give our grandchildren each year. Yes, our almost-ten-year-old seemed to like the game we gave him and the books. But it was the much cheaper T-shirt that delighted him most—all because of one word on the pocket and a few symbols scattered elsewhere on it.

‘Oh, a Minecraft T-shirt!’ he exclaimed in an excited voice.

Yep, I had made the right choice!

I then watched our seven-year-old granddaughter open her gifts. Suddenly, joy lit up her face when she saw that pesky Mousetrap game—yay, it seemed I had again made the right choice. Then both children attacked their Christmas stockings. And how delighted they were to discover their favourite chocolatey things ever inside! Other little gifts I had included paled into insignificance when compared to those Smarties… and M and Ms… and chocolate frogs… and Cherry Ripe… and little jars of Nutella, as well as other sweet treats. Hmm.

During the course of that Christmas Day, I watched various adults too, as they opened their presents. Again, there were some delighted reactions, especially from one of our daughters when her husband surprised her with a brand-new phone. But other responses were a little more muted and restrained. In each case, the recipients might well have greatly appreciated their gifts, yet in some instances, I was left wondering. Did this person really get the gift she had wanted? Was that other person disappointed with theirs too? Had I made a big blunder with some of the presents we gave?

Then my mind turned to the reason we give and receive all these gifts. Supposedly, they serve as a symbol of our earthly love for one another that mirrors the heavenly love God showed us in sending Jesus—a kind of joyful reminder of the greatest Gift of all. But… well… how easily that reason can be lost! And how easily I myself had overlooked it, in my flurry of getting and giving! Surely, at Christmas—and at least before I step into another year—I needed to reflect so much more on the amazing God-given Gift at the core of Christmas.

We live in uncertain times, for sure. Who knows what 2022 will hold? Only God. Yet we have each been offered the wonderful privilege of stepping into this new year hand in hand with our Saviour who will always watch over us in love. May you and I not place this priceless Gift to one side, preferring other cheaper, more enticing things. May Jesus not receive any mixed reactions from us. Instead, may we welcome him into our lives with great joy and thankfulness and follow him wholeheartedly into whatever the future holds.

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God… John 1:11-12 NLT

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I wonder how you have found the whole experience of coming out of hibernation, so to speak, now some of our COVID restrictions have lifted. It has been wonderful to re-engage with family and friends again at home and in public places after so long, hasn’t it? But I have also heard comments from others that have reassured me I am not the only one finding this re-emerging experience a little challenging at times.

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a Probus Club where over a hundred people turned up. It was their first meeting back after lockdown and everyone seemed so eager and happy to see one another again. Yet it all felt a little surreal … was it truly okay for everyone to be gathering again publicly like this? I didn’t even have to wear a mask while speaking—such liberty indeed! I enjoyed my time there, but how lovely it was too to get back in my car afterwards and head home to my own quiet haven!

A few days later, I attended my first ‘live’ church service for many months. Again, it felt surreal, as I looked around and tried to recognise everyone behind their masks. It was lovely to sing those worship songs again, albeit in a muffled way, and connect with a few people afterwards. But it was also a joy to return to the quietness of our home later.

The following week, I drove to a large shopping centre to meet a friend. As I approached the coffee shop where we were to meet, those niggling doubts surfaced again. Were we truly allowed to spend quality time in a place like this, enjoying each other’s company? When we finished talking over two hours later, it was lunchtime and the nearby food hall area was crammed with diners. What a shock to see and hear so many people eating and talking together in the one big area—where had they all come from? I quickly donned my mask and scuttled to the car park.  What a relief to head home, back to my safe cocoon!

It’s so easy for those of us who are more introverted to hide away and not connect with others, isn’t it? Yet I know when I do make the effort, there are lovely conversations and special connections with others to be had that I would otherwise miss out on. I would be the poorer as a result—and others may be too.

God has gifted each of us to serve others and touch others’ lives in some unique way. Yes, it may be through being alone for long periods as we write or compose or create some unique work of art—or even pray for the world around us. But it’s important, as we are able, to take courage and make those face-to-face connections too.

Each one should use whatever gift he (or she) has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

As we step into the new year, may we remember well how Jesus chose to come to earth to engage with each one of us in a deep, life-changing way. May we have that same gracious heart and freely choose to reach out in love to those around us.

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This week, one of our daughters is moving house. She will have more room where she is going, so already she has bought more pieces of furniture to fill this space and that. She is looking forward to making her new place feel like home and to tidying up the messy garden that was neglected by previous tenants. Soon this house will feel warm and welcoming to her. And soon, no doubt, she will truly enjoy have guests over to visit and possibly even to stay for a while.

It has been some time since those of us in Sydney have been able to have guests come and stay, especially from interstate. It can be a lovely experience, can’t it, having visitors in our home? But it can also become irksome, if that sharing of our home goes on for a little too long. Some time ago, I heard of someone whose adult child needed a home, ostensibly just for a few weeks. But those weeks turned into months and months until, one joyous day, she finally moved out to a place of her own. What a challenge, especially for introverts like me, to share our personal space with others for that length of time!

I love our home—a spacious, ground floor unit that is comfortable in every way—and the quietness here that enables me to write without distractions. But I also do enjoy sharing our home with others and making them comfortable while they are with us. Yet I wonder if this extended period of COVID restrictions has made me less able or perhaps even less willing to do so. I suspect in some ways in this time, I have come to guard this personal space of mine too strongly, to see my home as a place of safety where I can hole up from the outside world and wait out this crazy time in splendid isolation. And I suspect there may be times too when I try to do the same thing with God.

Recently, I read some words of Jesus where he tries to comfort his disciples before leaving them. In reply to a question from one of them, Jesus says:

If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:23

At first, these words almost shocked me. Wow, I thought, do I really want God the Father and Jesus around all the time? What about when I want to have some space to do my own thing? But then I realised how silly such thinking is! Years and years ago, I gladly and freely invited them into my heart and life, to be with me forever. And what a joy that was—and still is. More than that, what an amazing privilege it is to have God, the Creator of the universe, willing to move into my life and take up residence in me, to live in me and through me each day! And what loving patience God must have to stay on, even when things get messy!

I’m so grateful God moved in all those years ago. May my wonderful House Guest always feel welcome and at home here, until that day when we actually meet face to face.

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I can’t quite believe it. This week, we celebrated a special birthday in our family, albeit in different times and places, for COVID reasons. Our oldest child turned fifty. Yes—fifty! She looks nothing like that age, which makes it even more unbelievable for me. Anyway, how could I have a fifty-year-old daughter? Such a thing simply cannot be possible, at least not quite yet—could it?

Fifty years seems such a long time, in one way. Yet, in another, it feels as if those years have flown. In that time, our daughter has lived in many different places and done many different things. She has faced difficult challenges too, particularly health-wise, yet here she still is, determined to keep moving on in life, still ready to try new things and take risks, as she steps into a further phase of her journey. Yes, our daughter is a very capable, compassionate and courageous woman who tries her best at everything she does. It is a joy to honour her as we celebrate, yet this milestone has certainly caused me to reflect on my own life too.

Only weeks after our daughter was born, we moved interstate. Around two years later, a son was added to our family and we moved interstate again, this time to South Australia, where another daughter eventually joined our family. We lived near the beach at beautiful Victor Harbor, a wonderful place for our young children to grow up. A brief stint in Adelaide followed, then we were on the move again, back to Sydney to another ministry role at a local church. In this time, I decided to return to study to gain my teaching diploma and, when another move across Sydney followed, I was able to teach and thus help buy our own home. Season by season, God unfolded the next thing for me, often in such unexpected ways, and I am so grateful. Later, I took on an editing role, then a secretarial role and finally a ministry role, after gaining a theology degree. And when that concluded, my wonderful adventure of writing and speaking began.

Over the years, we can pack so much into our lives. And in the midst of it all, sometimes it’s easy to forget the bigger picture, isn’t it? In reality, our time here on earth is a mere speck when compared to eternity. Surely then, that means I need to hold onto things more lightly than I tend to do? And surely it also means I need to use my time here well and share the love of God with others however I can? I often think of Jesus’ parable about the rich man who built bigger barns to store his grain and other goods in so he could take life easy and ‘eat, drink and be merry’ (Luke 12:13-21). Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t provide for the future or celebrate happy times together. But, as Jesus tells us, it does mean we need to be wise in the way we live.

Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. Luke 12:21 NLT  

Let’s continue to live life to the full. But let’s treasure that rich relationship with God that lasts for eternity above everything else.

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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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