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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’ disciples’

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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At the moment, I am making my way yet again through my current novel, checking for errors and tweaking this and that to make it the best I can. It is painstaking work—and it seems to have gone on forever. But each morning, as I open my laptop and go to the relevant document, I am cheered by the polite, little greeting that awaits me there. On the right of my screen, I always see a little box that says happily:

Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.

How encouraging is that? But recently, that little message did more than cheer me up and inspire me to pick up where I left off with even more determination. It also alerted me to open my ears to hear what God might want to say to me. It was as if God highlighted that little box on my screen so that I could not miss a much more important message it contained.

Then it hit me. In an instant, I sensed God saying: ‘That’s exactly what I’ve said to you so many times over the years, Jo-Anne. Whenever you have pulled back from following me for a while and gone your own way, but then turned around and repented, I have always been there waiting for you with open arms. Time and time again, like your laptop does each day, I have said to you, “Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.” What a joy it has been to offer you forgiveness each time—and how good it is to pick you up and help you stand firm again!’

Then my mind went to the Apostle Peter’s story in the bible. I love Peter. He seems such a full-on person—always the leader, opening his mouth on behalf of the other disciples and stepping out when others might well have feared to. I love how he was brave enough to get out of that boat and walk towards Jesus on the water (Matthew 14). I love how he realised early on that Jesus was the only one worth following and the only one who could offer eternal life.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. John 6:68-69

I love too how he declared he would never deny Jesus, fully thinking that was true—and I always feel sad when I read how he did deny him, then wept bitterly over it (Matthew 26:75). But later, when the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore as Peter is fishing with the other disciples and proceeds to provide them with breakfast, I hold my breath at what unfolds. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loves him. And three times, Peter replies, Lord, you know that I love you (John 21).

Can you imagine how Peter must have felt, as Jesus treated him in such a loving way and reinstated him to be the strong shepherd and leader he had called him to be? What grace Jesus showed him that day! And what grace Jesus shows each of us today, whenever we turn back to him, as he says with such love: ‘Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.’

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Jo 17No one seemed to be around, as I drove through our village on my way home from shopping. But as I turned into our lane, I saw someone in the distance. He was standing out on the road, all by himself, but when he saw my car, he slowly moved to one side. It was one of our neighbours who recently turned 101! And he looked so dapper, all dressed up in a long-sleeved shirt and tie, fawn trousers and a sportscoat, as if he was heading somewhere important.

‘Hello!’ I said loudly—he often has trouble hearing as he is very deaf.

‘Good morning—or rather, good afternoon!’ he replied in his gentlemanly way.

I did not have the heart to tell him it was still only the middle of the morning!

‘Are you going somewhere special?’ I asked him, concerned that he might be confused and think the mid-week service he often attends at his church was still on, despite our coronavirus isolation rules. Was he waiting for his lift there? But he soon put my mind at ease.

‘Oh no. I just came outside for a bit of sunshine!’ he said.

‘Well, you look very smart indeed!’ I told him.

He simply shrugged, as if to say, ‘Well, why not get dressed up?’ and ambled off up the lane.

I felt so sorry for him then. Over and over, the words ‘All dressed up and nowhere to go’ kept coming to mind. You see, this man’s wife is actually 103, but she is now in the nursing home on the far side of our village. Usually, he walks all the way across to visit her each day, but with the current restrictions, he has been unable to, even on her recent birthday. No doubt the staff would have arranged for him to talk to her using technology, but this is difficult for him, since he is so deaf.

Later, the thought came to me that, even if our neighbour is all dressed up with nowhere to go right now, one day soon, he and his wife will no doubt step right into their heavenly home where their Lord will be waiting to welcome them with open arms—whatever they are wearing! You see, this couple have a deep faith in God. They planted a church over seventy-five years ago now that is still going today—and up until the last year or two, we would often see them all dressed up, waiting for their lift to church each Sunday morning. Then, they had somewhere to go, for sure. And soon they will both have somewhere even better to go—that special place that Jesus himself has prepared for them.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. John 14:1-2

Jesus spoke these words to his own disciples, but surely they can encourage us today too. When we follow him, we know that, whatever happens in this crazy world, we are headed somewhere wonderful where we will see Jesus face to face at last. And what a day of celebration that will be!

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Jo 17I could not believe it. Early one morning, I went to check out our little garden just beyond our balcony. At least, it isn’t really ‘our’ garden, because the village gardeners look after it and have planted shrubs there. But I recently added some small, purple lobelia plants a neighbour gave me when some of her garden was dug up to allow for plumbing repairs nearby. I felt sorry for her and wanted those little plants to flourish, for her sake. But this particular morning, I discovered three of them had been dug up and were lying on top of the ground looking extremely forlorn, their roots dangling in mid-air.

How could this happen? I knew it hadn’t been our grandchildren—or the gardeners—or any of our neighbours. Then I noticed our big, local water dragon nearby, scratching the ground with its sharp claws. Could he (or she) be the culprit? Perhaps it was my imagination, but I suspected that cheeky lizard looked a tad guilty as I glared at it! Or could the real culprit be that even cheekier brush turkey who occasionally struts along the bushland corridor beside our unit? One day, my husband even saw it head upstairs to the units above ours, as if it owned the place!

Whoever the culprit might have been, those little plants needed rescuing. I stuck them back in the ground, held up their limp leaves and watered them carefully. And as I watched their progress (or lack thereof) in the ensuing days, I was reminded forcibly of the parable Jesus told about the farmer who went out one day to sow seed (Luke 8:1-15). Some fell along the path and was trampled or eaten by birds. Some fell on rocks, but the resulting plants soon withered because there was no water. Some fell among thorns, which also grew and choked those new plants. But some fell on good soil and yielded an amazing crop.

Jesus explains to his disciples that the seed along the path represents those who hear the word of God, yet never truly believe, because the enemy quickly tramples on their faith or snatches it away. The seed on the rock represents those who receive the word with joy, yet their faith soon withers, like my plants did when their roots were exposed. The seed that falls among thorns represents those whose faith does not mature because their worries, along with the riches and pleasures of life, choke it. Then Jesus says:

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (15)

How quickly that new life drained out of my little plants, as they lay in that hot sun! One day they were happily growing—and the next, they were not. What a stark reminder to me how easily we can die spiritually when, for one reason or another, our roots do not go down deep into God, so that we can withstand any attempts to trample on or snatch away or dry up or crowd out our faith!

May we not only hear the word, but retain it well—and may we persevere, ever maturing and producing the most abundant harvest possible, as God enables.

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I wonder if you have ever experienced one of God’s gentle but firm ‘ambushes’. There you are, getting on with your life, when you read some words of Scripture or someone shares a deep thought with you and—kapow! In an instant, you know God is reaching out to you, longing for you to pay attention.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with someone about an issue she was facing.

‘Lately, I’ve sensed God is asking me, “Do you trust me? Do you really trust me?”’ she said, almost as a throw-away line.

Even as I continued listening, I felt a definite nudge in my spirit and knew God was challenging me with this same question. But inwardly, I blustered a little. Of course I trust you, God! I don’t need this reminder. This person is talking with me to glean wisdom for her own life—not vice versa!

Then we put our house on the market. Hmm … did I really trust God to find that one person who would pay a good price for it? If I did, why did I have so many ‘what if’ questions in my mind? Why did I occupy my time inventing those worst case scenarios where everyone would think the house was too small or too old and where we might not have the money to make our own next purchase?

Then came Easter—and this year, I decided to read the account of the crucifixion and resurrection from John’s Gospel. Of course, John was writing in an entirely different context about an entirely different situation, but as I read, I realised God was speaking into my own life as well.

On the evening of the first Resurrection Sunday, we are told in John 20:19, as the disciples huddle in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus joins them.

Peace be with you!’ he says, as he shows them his hands and side.

In an instant, I sensed those words were for me too.

‘Yes, Lord,’ I admitted at last, ‘My situation is nothing like what the disciples had just experienced, but I know I need that same peace right now too.’

I read on and came to the account of another meeting Jesus had with his disciples a week later, when Thomas was also present.

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you! Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  John 20: 26-27

Hmm—‘StopIMG_20170421_145112767 doubting and believe.’ Those words speared straight into my spirit. There was no way around it. I had certainly doubted God was able to look after us in the whole process of selling our house. I felt rebuked—and rightly so. But I also felt deeply comforted. Yes, God knew our situation. Yes, God could indeed be trusted, even in the face of my unbelief. And yes, God was forgiving too!

Then last Friday, even before going to auction, our little house sold for a very good price indeed—and only twelve days after being put on the market. Thank you, Lord, for your unending faithfulness to us in so many ways!

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P1040053Recently, while digging out my old high school magazines from the sixties for a friend, I noticed again our school motto, ‘Scientia est potestas’—‘Knowledge is power’. The school had an excellent academic record and, as a result, there were plenty of high achievers who later made it into all sorts of fields—education, politics, business and so on—including a Governor-General and a few other people of note. While I might not have ended up a person of any great note, I did my best to acquire lots of knowledge and succeed in all my studies.

Seeing that old high school motto reminded me of my primary school one as well—‘Striving to progress’. And, digging a little further, I found my old primary school reports, glued inside an ancient exercise book. Yes, I certainly did ‘strive to progress’, always taking great pride in being top of the class.

I am so thankful for my sound academic background. But I suspect that, in all of the striving towards progress and gaining of knowledge and aiming for excellence, I became more than a tad perfectionist in my approach to things. Perhaps that’s one reason I now find the whole idea of inner peace from God so attractive and write about it often. And perhaps that’s why I resonated with a little phrase I read recently in Emily Freeman’s book Grace for the Good Girl. After sharing about a talk she heard on Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha’s home (Luke 10), which included encouragement to receive the gift of rest, she writes:

I wanted to give myself permission to sit down on the inside and live like I have a God who knows what he’s doing. (p 65)

Isn’t that a wonderful phrase—‘sit down on the inside’? Does that concept resonate with you? To me, it speaks of heaving a big sigh and relaxing every part of me, knowing I am totally accepted and loved by God. To me, it’s the opposite of letting my mind dart here and there, worrying about all sorts of possibilities, and, instead, resting in God with complete trust. Yes, I need to strive to move forward with my writing and speaking, but there is a way of doing this, I believe, that is characterised by peace and trust in God rather than inner angst.

These days too, I seem drawn to those verses about peace in the Bible with enough regularity to cause me to think God wants me to take good note of them. Recently, I noted Jesus’ wonderful words to his disciples—words I believe that are meant for all of us:

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

Then this past week, I came across the Apostle Paul’s final blessing to the Thessalonians:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. 2 Thessalonians 3:16

May we all know that peace-giving presence of the Lord with us as we practise the art of sitting down on the inside.

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I wonder if you have ever played that game in an airport arrivals area of deciding who is waiting for whom and what the reason is for the traveller’s visit? It’s fun to try to work out such things, isn’t it, from what people look like and how they are reacting?

Or perhaps, like me, you enjoy letting your imagination run riot as you concoct an entire scenario about something you know nothing about. Recently, while my husband and I were out driving, we saw two people scurrying across a main road, laden down with luggage. When my husband wondered aloud where they might be heading, I immediately came up with a long, animated, involved explanation.

‘I get the picture. This could go on forever—no wonder you write novels!’ he eventually yelled.

And it would be hard to forget the eccentric looking, older Asian gentleman we saw standing with his little dog on a small traffic island at a busy intersection on Christmas Day and waving a big sign. On one side of this sign was a wish for peace for all at Christmas—but on the other an angry message maligning some people in authority. You can imagine the fun I had, making up a veritable trilogy about this particular character!

Now I have been taught it is usually unwise to include lots of back story at the beginning of a novel. Readers don’t have to know everything at once. Much better to provide little glimpses of past history or events naturally as the story unfolds—and then only what is needed. In my earlier novels, I couldn’t resist immediately sharing all there was to know about my main characters. After all, I was trained as a teacher to take students from the known to the unknown and to make sure they understood things well, before moving on. These days, I try to let those juicy bits of back story pop out only where necessary. But it’s still a battle. You see, I love my characters and want to make sure my readers understand why they act in a certain way. My characters become like family to me—‘real’ people I have created and hopefully brought to life in my book. And I feel responsible for them.

Often as I reflect on this, however, my mind turns to my own Creator. There is no doubt God knows all about me, including my entire ‘back story’. Psalm 139:1 states simply:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

We see in the Gospels this is also true of Jesus. In calling his first disciples, he didn’t need Philip to tell him anything about Nathaniel (John 2:43-49).  He already knew him and could see what was in his heart. Jesus knew everything about the Samaritan woman he met at the well without her saying a word (John 4). He was also quite aware Judas was the one who would betray him (John 13:21-28). And Jesus knows everything about me too—back story, thoughts, plans, the lot. Yet, just as he did with Peter after the disciple’s drastic denial of his Lord, Jesus forgives me, loves me, accepts me, ‘reinstates’ me and promises to be with me forever.

Jesus understands perfectly this business of back story. And I’m so thankful for that.

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