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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus the Good Shepherd’

I had arrived bright and early at a nearby bookstore to promote my books. As I settled in, I wondered what adventures awaited me. From past experience—and also because I and others had prayed—I knew there would be at least one special ‘God appointment’ with someone that day. And that is exactly what happened. Four or five times as I chatted with various customers, I sensed God connecting our spirits in a way that is hard to describe. It might have been for only a fleeting moment, but I knew something was happening outside of or beyond the words I was saying.

At one stage, I began talking with a young woman who was a little hard to understand at first. Her voice was soft and she wore a mask, but English was obviously quite a challenge for her too. I explained about my books, but could see she was still mystified. Eventually, she picked up a copy of Becoming Me and we talked about receiving God’s love and about understanding who God created us to be. She opened up a little more then, telling me in her faltering English about her husband who suffered from depression but was now doing better. Then she took the book to a spot where she could sit down and glance through it.

Later, however, she returned it, telling me she wanted something that would explain things more or teach her about it all. But then, as she went to leave, she thanked me sincerely in her soft, gentle voice for listening to her—for simply listening! Even though her eyes just peeked over her mask, I could see such gratitude in them and also that she was trying hard not to cry. I will never forget those pleading eyes and my heart went out to her yet again, as I silently prayed for God’s love and grace to fill her and meet her needs.

We can’t all be in bookstores, promoting our books, but most of us at least connect with others during our weeks, however fleetingly, either in person or by phone or some other way. I certainly do, not only in my own home but also in the village where we live, as well as wider afield. So… how do I act then when talking with others? How well do I show respect for them by truly listening? How carefully do I take note of their tone of voice, their manner, their facial expression—and particularly their eyes? How often do I put their needs first, instead of thinking of my own or of what clever comment I myself might make next?

This week, I came across the following blunt proverb in my Bible:

 He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13

What an important warning—to me and to us all! How much better if we were to be ‘quick to listen and slow to speak’ instead (James 1:19). And how much better too if we were to listen more to the voice of Jesus our Shepherd as we engage with others and follow the leading of the one who knows us all so well (John 10:27). Perhaps then we would remember to give that gift of listening more often, don’t you think?

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It can be so easy at times, can’t it, to criticise others? I would never say anything so silly or so rude, I may decide, as I listen to someone talk nonsense. Or I may watch someone act in a certain way and think, I would never do that. Yes, I am adept at such thoughts. And my pride will often not allow me to realise I may be just the same.

I had my critic’s hat well and truly on recently as I read Jesus’ words about being the good shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep and give them eternal life (John 10:1-30). This divided those present who then tried to stone Jesus.

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” John 10:31-33

Then I noticed I had put two little exclamation marks in the margin beside these verses on some previous occasion. Yes, I thought, I must have found these verses staggering then, just as I do now. What a weird response from those Jews! How could they possibly not believe in Jesus, after seeing his miracles firsthand? They couldn’t deny them, but, somehow, they simply ignored them and pushed on with their charges against him. How crazy is that?

The next day, I came to the account of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and how many Jews put their faith in Jesus as a result (11:1-45).  Yes, surely this is to be expected, I thought. But then I read how some still did not believe and indeed went to the Pharisees to tell them what Jesus had done. And what did these Pharisees do then? They called a meeting—of course! And what a dilemma they had.

What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him …” (47-48)

How ridiculous, I thought again. They could not deny Jesus’ miracles, yet they could not bring themselves to believe in him either. What a stupid and dangerous way to respond!

Then it was that I heard that gentle rebuke from God somewhere inside me. Would you have been any different, Jo-Anne? And … what about the miracles I perform each day in your own life that you miss entirely?

I sat back and reflected. Yes, there just outside my window were those trees gently swaying in the breeze and that beautiful, blue sky. Yes, this past week, we saw two of our grandchildren and marvelled at how much they had grown. Yes, this past while, God had enabled me to finish editing someone’s manuscript in time. Yes, there was this. Yes, there was that. So many miracles came to mind then—so many I had overlooked or taken for granted or explained away.

I may not have seen any resurrections or physical healings this past week—but I saw miracles, just the same. May I never miss them again. And may I always be so thankful to God for them.

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Jo 12I am an expert at feeling sorry for people. Just ask my husband, who simply sighs and shakes his head at me, after fifty years of marriage. Last year, during a road trip interstate when we passed through various little country towns where everything looked more than a little down-at-heel, he knew what I would be likely to say next.

‘Oh, this all looks so quiet—and everything seems so old! How do the shops here survive? I feel so sorry for them. Even the pub looks deserted! Oh dear!’

Sometimes too when I spy a small, corner store right here in Sydney somewhere, I can easily feel sorry for its owner, who must find it so hard to compete with the bigger shopping centres. And when I see shop after shop all crammed together in close proximity to its competitors in one of our more heavily populated suburbs, I can manage to feel sorry for those owners too.

‘How do they all make a bean?’ I ask in a worried voice. ‘They must have to work such long hours seven days a week to survive!’

Yes, I am a champion at feeling sorry for all sorts of people—probably unnecessarily, most of the time! That is one reason I do not watch those current affairs shows that often feature some poor person who is being picked on by a neighbour or who has been duped by some dodgy, unscrupulous builder or tree-lopper or who is at odds with a hard-hearted insurance company who refuses to pay up. I cannot bear to see their need—and to be unable to do anything about it. All I can do is hope and pray the story has a good ending and that someone else who can do something about it takes action.

There is a sensible limit, I suspect, in how much energy we should expend in feeling sorry for others in this unproductive way. And there is a difference too, I think, in feeling sorry for someone and having true empathy or compassion for them. So perhaps those of us who can so easily feel sorry for others would do better if we realised this and modelled ourselves more on our great God of compassion, who not only empathises perfectly, but can actually do something about our situation.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

The Lord did not simply wring his hands and say, ‘Oh dear—what a mess my children are in!’ Instead, because of his great compassion for us, he sent his Son Jesus to rescue us. And we see that same compassion in Jesus himself in the way he reached out to those around him, healing so many and preaching the good news of the kingdom.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

What a wonderful, powerful, compassionate God we have who does not simply feel sorry for us but reaches out in love, rescuing us, restoring us and drawing us ever closer to himself!

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Jo 17I wonder if you like the sound of your name. Perhaps it depends on who is saying it or the context in which it is being said! If it’s someone such as a cross schoolteacher singling you out for some misdemeanour, as I well remember happening to me, your name might grate on you a little. But if it’s a good friend greeting you after not seeing or hearing from you for some time, then that might be a different matter.

I look forward to hearing my name spoken whenever I call a dear older friend. ‘Hello, Jo-Anne—how lovely to hear your voice! How are you?’ she always says, with such unfeigned joy and delight that my heart feels as if it is melting. And I remember how, many years ago, a young minister at our church went to the trouble of asking me whether I preferred to be called ‘Jo’ or ‘Jo-Anne’. Now I don’t really mind being called ‘Jo’—after all, that is what my husband and almost everyone else has called me for years! But I told him I preferred ‘Jo-Anne’, because it seems just that bit softer and more feminine to me. From then on, he tried hard to remember to call me that. And when he did, I was touched and felt respected.

I thought of this again recently when I read the story of the resurrection in John 20. As I often try to do, I imagined myself right in the middle of that scene at the tomb when Mary Magdalene discovers Jesus is no longer there. She is devastated because she believes someone has taken his body and, in her distress, does not immediately recognise Jesus when he speaks to her. But what a moment that must have been when she hears him say that one word that must have said so much to her—Mary (20:16)! Can you imagine it?

I wonder what tone of voice Jesus used when he said her name. Was it soft and tender? Was it loud and commanding, concerned to make her realise who he actually was? Did it convey joy and delight that she had come, wanting to attend to his body? Did it show something of his pride in her that she was faithful to the end? Perhaps it conveyed trust as well, because as soon as Mary realises who he is, Jesus goes on to give her a message for the other disciples:

Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17

One thing I know for sure. Jesus spoke Mary’s name with amazing love. And today, two thousand years later, Jesus continues to speak our names with that same love, calling us back into relationship with our heavenly Father and into his own family, the family of God. How privileged we are that he knows our names and that we too can hear our Shepherd’s voice, speaking to us by his Spirit, guiding and strengthening us day by day!

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28

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