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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’ parables’

There are always new things to learn in life, aren’t there? At times, I hear or read of some author or composer or artist and realise I have never explored any of their work, despite how interesting it sounds. At other times, I see glimpses of intriguing places on TV I know little about. Then occasionally, I poke my head into the inner workings of my website and quickly retreat. How true it is that, the more we learn, the more we realise we don’t know!

I discovered this again recently when helping a granddaughter with her art assignment. Now, I am a writer—definitely not an artist. In fact, I know nothing about art. Granted, I was helping because of my writing experience, but one does need to know something about a topic before writing about it! And so began my journey of reading how the 16th century artist Titian, the 20th century artist Picasso and the present-day artist/photographer Morimura have portrayed the female form!

To my surprise, I soon became truly interested. It was fascinating to discover what certain symbols meant in their artworks and how these artists connected with issues in society. As a result, I am now keen to find out about other artists too and learn to appreciate their works more.

Then, last week, our oldest granddaughter asked my advice about her religion assignment for the Catholic teachers’ college she attends. She was simply checking she understood what she had to do, but our conversation set me thinking. This assignment involved the parable of the lost or ‘prodigal’ son—or, as some call it, the parable of the forgiving father—and one task was to explain the main theological point of this story. So, I decided to try it for myself—I was sure I could write five hundred words on the topic easily and quickly.

I turned to Luke 15—but, as I began writing, the whole profound nature of this parable Jesus told began to impact me more and more. Soon, I had to stop and reflect on it all over again. How arrogant and uncaring was that younger son, in asking his father for his inheritance then and there? Then how could he have gone off and wasted it all? In the light of all that, how could the father in the story keep watching out for him, then embrace him and welcome him home with such joy and compassion? But … I wouldn’t have been as resentful as that older son was—or would I?

As I sat there, I was overwhelmed once again with the enormity of our heavenly Father’s love for us in seeking us out, running to embrace us and welcome us into his family, as we too return home and believe in Jesus. I did nothing to deserve such compassion and forgiveness. Instead, it is all about grace—the most amazing, wonderful grace.

I did not anticipate such a profound and humbling experience that morning, as I sat thinking about our granddaughter’s assignment. Yet what a joy to be reminded in such an expected way of the incredible richness I have in God!

I too am loved. I too have come home.

… this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Luke 15:24

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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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Recently, I scattered some parsley seeds in the garden near our front door. The seeds were quite old, but I scattered them anyway, thinking I might as well try. Lo and behold, now I can see tiny, green shoots poking through the soil there. It is a miracle they have survived, but I suspect some moisture from the underground watering system nearby has helped, along with the recent rain.

It never ceases to amaze me how the trees and shrubs and plants around us spring from such tiny, nondescript seeds. This thought came to mind again last week when I attended the funeral of my lovely ‘soul friend’ Joy. It was a special time, made even more special by the unique gift each person received—a piece of soft, thick paper containing various flower seeds (see photo). Attached was a label bearing Joy’s name on one side. And on the other was a thank you note from the family, along with the following explanation: Embedded in the paper are seeds of summer flowers so that you can plant a bit of joy at your place—cosmos, love-in-a-mist, Californian poppy.

I am looking forward to planting my seeds and seeing which flowers hopefully emerge. In the past, Joy often gave me various plants and cuttings from her interesting cottage garden, including one I particularly loved growing. It was an old-fashioned plant whose round, filmy seed pods were often used in dried flower arrangements—and this plant was called ‘honesty’. I loved its purple flowers and also those filmy seed pods. But most of all, I loved the idea that I could actually cultivate a plant called honesty in my garden. To me, it symbolised the virtues of honesty and integrity that I value in others’ lives and seek to maintain in my own and was to me a gentle reminder from God of how important these qualities are.

Joy planted many other seeds in my life too—seeds of courage, seeds of love, seeds of strength in God. And as I reflected on these God-given seeds this week, both literal and spiritual, I began to wonder how well I had allowed them all to take root and grow and whether some had been neglected of late.

In the process, Jesus’ parable about the farmer who went out to plant some seeds also came to mind (Luke 8). Some seeds ended up being trampled underfoot and eaten by birds. Some died in rocky ground through lack of moisture. Some were choked by thorns. But some landed in fertile soil and went on to produce an amazing harvest. As Jesus explained, this is a picture of what can happen with the Word of God. I can listen to what God says—or I can turn away and let those precious words fall by the wayside. I can nurture them carefully and allow growth to take place—or I can let them die. I can give them space in my heart and mind—or I can crowd them out.

God has graciously planted so many seeds in my life through the Word and through people like Joy. So Lord, as I plant my little paper-embedded seeds, may I in gratitude allow those other seeds to grow too and flourish, blessing others in turn.

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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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Have you noticed in this COVID time when there is so much bad news around how wonderful it is to hear good news? It can feel like soothing ointment on a raw wound or a cold, thirst-quenching drink on a boiling hot day, can’t it?

One Saturday recently, I received an excited text from a friend. She had just discovered she did not have to pay a certain bill she owed—and it was for a sizeable amount. Way back, I had read something online that suggested she might not have to and mentioned this to her. Then, as soon as she could, she investigated further and stated her case. Many enquiries, pleasant/unpleasant phone calls and requests for various documents followed, but my friend is determined and did not give up. And finally, her perseverance had been rewarded.

She was so relieved that she could not help sharing her good news with me straight away—and I was so glad she did. At first, I could not believe that some little idea I had suggested to her way back, without much faith, had actually borne fruit. After all, I did not know much about the matter and am no expert when it comes to understanding various financial technicalities. Yet it had happened. It was true. And the fact that God had used me, even in my ignorance, to play a small part in bringing this good news to my friend added even more to my joy.

Later, as I reflected on this whole event, I could not help thinking of Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and lost coin, where he comments how natural it is for the owners involved to want to share their joy when their search pays off:

Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ Luke 15:6

And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin. Luke 15:9

That is exactly what my friend was doing via her text, I realised. And how wonderful it was to rejoice together and shake our heads over God’s amazing grace and provision for her!

But then I realised Jesus’ aim in telling these stories was to point out something so much more wonderful than that even:

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents … Luke 15:7

I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:10

I marvelled again then that, when I experienced the love and grace of God in my life, repented and believed in Jesus with all my heart, joy erupted in heaven. Just as Jesus taught in his parable about the lost son, there had to be a party held in heaven to celebrate the moment:

… we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:32

Wow! Just as I loved sharing in my friend’s joy, so God lovingly celebrated my new birth. What an amazing reminder of how much I matter to God—and of how much you do too!

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‘What was it like when you were at school, Nanna?’ our youngest granddaughter asked me recently. Apparently, her Year Two school work that day involved talking to ‘someone older’ about such things and she had chosen me.

‘Well, we had to be very quiet in class, otherwise we would get into trouble,’ I told her. ‘Sometimes, children would be hit a wooden ruler if they were naughty—or they might even get the cane! We had long, wooden desks, with holes for inkwells—we dipped our pens in ink to write in our copybooks.’

Maxine became quite animated then.

‘Nanna, did you write with a feather?’

I tried not to laugh, as I responded. No doubt she must have seen someone writing with a quill in a TV show or book.

‘Hmm, I’m not that old, but a pen and nib were a bit like a feather!’

So much was strange to her. How come we didn’t get driven to school and picked up afterwards? What did we wear? What did we have for lunch? The more she asked, the more those memories surfaced. ‘Canteen’ was called ‘tuckshop’ back then. No compulsory uniforms in primary school, but I wore a hat, gloves and black stockings at high school, in Brisbane’s stifling, summer weather. On it went—so different from now.

Later, I began to reflect on the positives as well as the negatives of those school years. In primary school, we learnt how to write that lovely Queensland cursive our grandchildren cannot read today. We recited our times tables. We were drilled in mental arithmetic. In English, we did analysis and parsing, so useful to me as a writer today. We marked towns and rivers on maps. All up, I am so grateful for that firm foundation laid in my education back then.

In my early years too, I went to piano lessons twice a week before school, where, as well as mastering pieces and practising sightreading for those scary exams, I learnt music theory. Again, all this laid such a good foundation for those many times in later years when I was suddenly given unfamiliar music to play at church or elsewhere.

As children, we were also sent to Sunday school, but I was fifteen before I came to experience the wonderful, close relationship God offers us. Over the years, my faith grew firmer, as I read Scripture and connected with other Christians. And by God’s grace, I came to experience more of God and more of the Spirit’s leading in my life, sometimes slowly and sometimes in big jumps. Yet in it all, for me, the bottom line was—and still is—that the Lord who called me into his family is himself my firm foundation, my rock, the cornerstone of my life. Without him, I am on shaky ground, like that man Jesus talked about who built his house on sand (Matthew 7:24-27).

Right now, in the midst of these strange, uncertain times, let’s remember who forms that firm foundation of our lives. Let’s remember that, whatever is happening around us, the Lord is always there and will never let us down. Let’s remember—and be so thankful.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. Psalm 18:2

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‘My tomato bushes have started blooming again!’ our daughter announced recently with glee.

‘Well, I don’t think my one poor plant’s going to do anything more,’ I told her. ‘I’ll pull it out soon.’

IMG_20200207_093825904Somehow, that ‘soon’ of mine did not happen—and just as well, because last week, when I went to check how my other pot plants had fared in the recent heat, I discovered that tomato plant had taken on a new lease of life. There it was, standing tall and proud again, its new green leaves reaching high and with several yellow flowers on display as well!

As I looked closer, I saw how some of the dead branches that had already borne juicy, little tomatoes were still there, but had shrivelled up and given way to new, strong, green ones that had emerged from the main stem. Could this be possible? I checked online—and, sure enough, I discovered there actually are tomato bushes that produce more than one crop a season. I remembered buying my plant at a nearby market, with no idea what I was actually getting, except that it was some dwarf tomato. Now I discovered I must have bought what is called an ‘indeterminate’ variety, as opposed to a ‘determinate’ one that is programmed to bloom and fruit in abundance just once a season. So it seems I can look forward again to walking out onto our balcony and picking even more of those flavoursome, little tomatoes to add to our salads from time to time!

As I thought about my rejuvenated plant, however, it seemed to me that God wanted to show me something more through it. How many times in my own life, when I felt as if I had died inside after some bad experience or deep disappointment or loss, has God drawn me close, comforted me and given me strength to go on and keep being fruitful? How many times in my life, when I felt so disgusted with myself at making some sinful choice and ignoring the Spirit’s voice within, has God picked me up, forgiven me and set my feet on solid ground again? How many times even now, each day, does God lovingly continue to encourage and inspire me when I feel I have nothing much more to give?

I love the story of the lost son Jesus told to the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ who had gathered around him, as well as the critical Pharisees and teachers of the law listening in (Luke 15). The story ends on a gently rebuking but joyous note, as the father reasons with his older son:

‘My son,’ the father said, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Luke 15:31-32

Yes, when I too was dead, God gave me new life, as I was born anew through the Spirit. And now, each day, God continues with such love and grace to restore and renew me, as I seek to bear more fruit. I am so grateful for that second chance in my life—but also for that third and fourth and fifth and …

Is that how you feel too?

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IMG_20180918_071052560I think I must be the Queen of Lost Earring Land. I lose all shapes and sizes of them with great regularity—just ask my family! I even have a little jewellery bag where I keep the one sad, remaining earring left behind, in the hope that someday it might be reunited with its partner.

Believe it or not, I have managed to lose one of my earrings pictured here three times over! They are not valuable, but I like their colour and shape. So whenever I have lost one, a big treasure hunt has ensued. The first time, my granddaughter found it behind the driver’s seat in my car. I’m not sure who was the most excited, but she was definitely quite pleased with herself.

On another occasion, as I went to get into my car one day and head out, I realised I had lost one of these same earrings again. So back I went to our unit, looking carefully everywhere. Finally, I gave up and walked rather disconsolately to my car again. And at that point, when I was not even really looking for my earring, I spied it lying on the footpath right in front of me! What a joyful moment—I could not believe I had missed seeing it earlier.

Then recently, I managed to lose one of these earrings for the third time. I searched everywhere at home, to no avail. When the granddaughter who had previously found my earring visited soon after, I even offered her five dollars if she could find it, but in the end, she too gave up. The next day, I decided to search down at our church, with no real hope of finding my errant earring. But just as I was about to abandon my quest, I checked one last room I had briefly entered the previous day—and there it was. Someone must have picked it up and put it on a table there so I could see it clearly. What a relief!

Each time I have lost and found my earring, I have remembered with feeling the parable Jesus told about the woman who loses a silver coin:

Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me, I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:8-10

This coin the woman lost must have been very valuable to her, so no wonder she searches so diligently, using precious oil to light her lamp and sweeping until she finds her lost treasure. And that is exactly how God searches for us too. God sent his own Son Jesus ‘to seek and to save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10). How easily we can forget how valuable we are to God! And how lovingly God continues to seek us out, however far away we might stray, then celebrates with great joy when we are found!

It’s worth losing something, I have decided—even a favourite earring—in order to be reminded of God’s heart for us. And it’s doubly worth it when that something is found again!

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Jo 23I think it would be safe to say not many of us have donkeys tethered in the backyard these days. We do not get them out and saddle them up when we need to go shopping or pick the kids up or travel to another town. But this past week, I heard how a friend has decided to call her car her ‘donkey’—and with good reason.

You see, she often drives others who are unable to drive or don’t have cars to doctors’ appointments, waits there with them, then drives them home again—so much so that she has become a little tired of it. But one day recently, she read the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and was challenged all over again by the way this man cared for the stranger who had been robbed and beaten up. According to this story Jesus told, not only did the Samaritan delay his journey to stop and treat the man’s wounds but he also put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he proceeded to care further for him. Then, when he had to leave, as well as paying the innkeeper to continue caring for the injured man, he promised to pay any further money owed for the man’s care on his return. Amazing!

I guess that is the reason Jesus told such a story—to shock the ‘expert in the law’ (Luke 10:23) who well knew what was written there about loving God and loving one’s neighbour. And that shock value is still there for us today, as my friend can testify. Instead of grumbling about these demands on her time, she has decided to be thankful for her own good health, call her trusty, little car her ‘donkey’ and saddle it up over and over again, out of love for God and for others.

My friend’s response challenged me so much that I came home and read that Good Samaritan story for myself. As I did, I noted the little conversation at the end where the expert of the law has to admit the Samaritan was the true, merciful neighbour to the one who had been robbed. And I also could not ignore Jesus’ final, unequivocal command—Go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).

So … what does my ‘likewise’ involve? What should it look like? Yes, perhaps it might involve driving someone somewhere in my own ‘donkey’ for an appointment at times, but God calls and gifts each one of us in different ways. Perhaps for me, showing mercy to my neighbour might involve taking someone a casserole at times or inviting them to our home for a meal. But it might also involve helping someone with their writing project or being prepared to speak at some event they are organising in order to support them or selling their books alongside my own books somewhere. Whatever shape that ‘donkey’ may take in my life, I need to saddle it up and use it well for the purpose God intended, showing love to others in the same way as I so easily show it to myself every day of my life.

How about you? What will your ‘likewise’ involve? Are you using your own ‘donkey’ well?

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Jo 23‘Savour the moment,’ the little, old nun told me during a time when I was experiencing some deep sadness, ‘because you might not pass this way again.’

I did not know her—our paths crossed for only one session at a conference. Yet, the more I thought about her words, the more I realised what a gift they were to me. In essence, she had encouraged me not to miss out on what God had to teach me right in the midst of that difficult time. I had been given a unique opportunity to experience more of God’s love and grace, to grow in my relationship with God and to learn some important lessons about myself too—and I needed to grasp it fully.

‘That’s not humility—that’s self-protection!’ an insightful pastor friend told me once.

I was a little shocked. Yet I trusted him and knew he was challenging me in love. I had just refused to take up a new role in our church that he felt was so right for me. I thought I was being humble by pointing out how hopeless I would be at it. Yet, in reality, I panicked and wanted to protect myself from any humiliating failure rather than allow God to help me grow and to use me in a different way to bless others. I needed to think again—and respond to the challenge before me.

‘They might not be able to have you,’ my dear spiritual mentor told me gently, as I questioned whether I was truly wanted at the place where I was then employed.

Again, I was shocked. In fact, I found her words quite amusing. Imagine thinking something like that! The privilege of having such a position was all mine, wasn’t it? Surely I had no right to choose to go elsewhere or do something different? Yet I respected my friend and tucked her comment away in my mind to consider at a later date. And when that date arrived, I realised what little sense of self-worth and self-respect I had had for so long and how blind I was to the work of God’s grace and love in my life.

This week, I came across one of the littlest parables Jesus ever told:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches. Matt 13:31-32

So many times, God has given me precious mustard seed moments when one small comment has ended up changing the course of my life in some significant way. With each one, God has shown me a better way to respond to my circumstances or a healthier and more courageous way to live. These brief words have enlarged my heart, leaving more room for God and providing a place of shelter and strengthening. Some have impacted others as well as I have shared them both personally and via my writing. God has been at work, building the kingdom in me and in others, little by little, word by word.

Let’s not downplay those tiny mustard seeds. In God’s hands, the possibilities are infinite.

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