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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Jo 12I wonder if you are like me and consistently put off certain jobs around the house as long as you can because they are way too time-consuming or too messy or too back-breaking or too whatever. There are several I detest for all these reasons, but one is definitely cleaning that grotty oven of ours.

Since moving over a year ago, I have scrubbed the oven shelves and base several times. But I knew the whole oven needed a thorough clean, because one day, to my horror, I discovered black splatter marks everywhere, especially on the top surface where the element is. We suspect the previous occupants used the oven grill often—something I rarely do—so this grime was well and truly baked on.

Now I could still see at least some of this mess, even though our oven light wasn’t working. In fact, I had decided we mustn’t have a light and had complained often about this to my husband. I could see a square piece of metal on one oven wall, but thought it was merely part of either the element or the shelf structure.

Finally the day came when I took the plunge and sprayed some powerful oven cleaner on all that built-up grease and grime. Half an hour later, I began wiping off copious amounts of gunk—and imagine my surprise when I discovered that that square piece of metal I had seen was actually a light! It didn’t work, however, so the next day, our handyman came and fixed the blown bulb. He turned the light on—and lo and behold, just like that, every corner of that oven was illuminated!

What a miracle! I could actually see clearly now whether my cakes were cooking as I hoped they would. But the downside was I could now also see all those parts I hadn’t managed to get clean in my first attack on that oven!

Around the same time, I happened to read some verses in John’s Gospel about, of all things, light and darkness:

This is the verdict. Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. John 3:19-20

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12

I am well aware it might seem almost sacrilegious to compare Jesus, the Light of the World, to a little old oven light. Yet this whole mundane oven-cleaning event has shown me once again the huge difference between letting Jesus’ light show up the mess that accumulates in my life at times and pretending that mess simply isn’t there—between allowing God to remove that blackness in me and continuing to operate under layers of gunk, unable to see the way ahead or to function as God intended.

What strange creatures we are, to hide from that wonderful Light that can make all the difference in our lives, both now and forever! Let’s stop doing that. Instead, let’s risk exposing that darkness in us to the light of our loving Lord, who sees all things anyway.

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Jo 17I am always amazed at the power of memory. At times, only a slight aroma of something or the sound of a particular piece of music or even the atmosphere in a room can thrust us back in time to places and events we thought we had forgotten forever.

I cannot smell the distinctive perfume of the yellow and white blossoms on our frangipani tree without remembering the two frangipani trees in the front yard of our grandparents’ home in Brisbane and the fun we had as kids, making leis from those fragrant flowers. I cannot eat black grapes without remembering the delicious, old Isabella grapes our grandfather grew. And occasionally towards evening, when I go to turn on the lights in our kitchen, for a fleeting moment I am back the dimness of our grandparents’ dining room as I remember how our grandfather would leave the lights off until really necessary, in order not to waste electricity.

Whenever I handle a ball of wool, I remember with almost painful clarity how beautifully my grandmother knitted and how patiently she would unravel those mistakes I made as a child or pick up my many dropped stitches. And whenever I sit down at the piano I inherited from her and play those old Scottish and Irish ballads my grandfather used to sing, even the musty smell of the sheet music brings the memories flooding back. In an instant, I am a twelve-year-old again, sitting at that same piano in my grandparents’ dark lounge room, trying my best not to ruin those same beautiful, old melodies.

If all these childhood memories can return so readily, why is it not the same with God’s gracious workings in my life over the years?  Why are those times when God spoke to me so clearly or rescued me from some situation or was just there so close for me in such power and strength so easily forgotten?

Yes, I well remember the night as a fifteen-year-old when I was blown away to discover God is real and alive and that God knows and loves me. I remember too that morning as young mum when Jesus challenged me to walk more closely with him. I remember the clear picture years later one New Year’s Eve when I saw Jesus holding me as a baby, gazing at me with such delight, loving me before I had achieved anything. But how easily I forget those many, many other times God has spoken or reached out to me in some way or intervened in my life! How often the enemy, I believe, snatches away these memories so that we lose sight of God’s gracious and ever-present hand on us!

Recently, I came again to Psalm 136, which pans through Israel’s history and includes in each verse the refrain, His love endures forever. Yes, I realised, that is what I need to do constantly too. I need to remember—really remember—and be so thankful for God’s amazing love and for what God has done for me in so many ways. Is that your heart too?

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of gods.  His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords.  His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1-3

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Not long after my early novels were published, someone said to me: ‘What a wonderful legacy to leave behind for others!’ Such a thought had never occurred to me—I was so focused on the moment, wondering what my current market would be like. Anyway, if my books did survive for another generation, they would probably be tucked away in some dark corner, regarded as hopelessly old-fashioned and not worth reading.

But this week, this idea of touching a generation other than our own was brought home to me in two quite different ways.

The first occurred when I was researching some authors mentioned in my current non-fiction book. There was the English woman mystic, Julian of Norwich, who lived from around 1342 to 1416. At thirty years of age, she had a series of visions or ‘showings’ which she recorded soon after. Then, having reflected on them for twenty years, she wrote an expanded version called Revelations of Divine Love, which is still available and read today, along with many of her sayings such as ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ And there was also Teresa of Avila, a Spanish nun who lived a little later (1515 – 1582) and founded a Carmelite order. Her sayings are also often quoted, such as ‘Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes away except God’—or, as it is sometimes translated, ‘All things pass away; God never changes.’ Now in no way do I claim to be a Julian or a Teresa (!)—yet I was encouraged to see that all these centuries later, their words still speak to so many people.

And the second occurred on Australia Day, which was also my grandfather’s birthday. I remembered how he used to tell us grandchildren that the public holiday was really to commemorate his birthday! But I remembered other things too then—how my grandfather left each grandchild a special letter, written in his beautiful copperplate handwriting, urging us, among other things, to have faith in God. And I also remembered how I loved to sit on the floor near where he was reading and go through all the old things in a nearby cupboard on which a large bookcase rested. I was fascinated by the old hardcover books I found there—books like Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and of course Lorna Doone. You see, R D Blackmore, the author of Lorna Doone, was my grandfather’s great-great-uncle! These books seemed so mysterious and almost other worldly—I can still remember their musty smell and how I would turn their pages almost reverently. They impacted me and no doubt fostered my love of books, even though I found them difficult to read at that age.

Yes, my books will get musty and crumble away too and no doubt end their days in some recycling bin. All things do pass away, except God, as Teresa of Avila wrote. And as Jesus himself declared:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matt 24:35)

Unlike mine, Jesus’ words will ring out down through eternity and will never lose their impact. But I like to think that one day some young girl will sit in front of a cupboard and find my old books there—and maybe even see in their pages something that draws her closer to her heavenly Father and touches her heart. What a privilege that would be!

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I have a friend who is very good at losing things. I had thought of basing my next novel on my friend’s exciting exploits but figure people would probably not believe the half of it!

It all started when my friend was seven. She was given a gold signet ring as a special Christmas gift—something she had long set her heart on. However, it was a little too big and one day not long after, while she was playing at the beach, it slipped off and was lost in the sand. She and others searched in vain, praying they would find it, but it was impossible. The next morning, my friend went back to the beach, no doubt a little disconsolately. She began building a sandcastle, letting the dry sand run through her fingers over the top of the castle, when lo and behold, the ring appeared! It had lain in the sand there for a whole day, even when the tide flowed in and out over it.

Years later, my friend lost a beautiful, little butterfly brooch she cherished, given to her by an older relative. More years passed, until one day when she visited a second-hand shop with a friend, she happened to see a brooch exactly the same as the one she lost. Needless to say, she bought it then and there, redeeming ‘her’ brooch for some relatively small amount. Was it perhaps the very one she lost? We will never know.

Then more recently, while my friend was moving into a new home that is situated at the top of a long, steep driveway, a ring she was wearing came off and rolled down … and down … and down … quickly disappearing from sight. Certain she would never see it again but desperate to find it, my friend slowly walked down her driveway late that night with a torch to look one more time. And then she saw it, lying right at the bottom between two rubbish bins on the footpath, gleaming in the light of her small torch! It could have disappeared in the grass anywhere along the way, rolled into two large drains nearby or bounced right across the road. Instead, it apparently rolled in a perfectly straight line as it went on its merry way down to the road below.

And then there were the gold earrings my friend’s daughter gave her. She had no idea where she could have lost them, so eventually her daughter gave her another pair. Then one day when my friend was tidying some linen in a cupboard, she found a folded over placemat. Wondering why it was folded the way it was, she investigated—and yes, there were the earrings, neatly lying just where she must have left them.

My friend well knows the meaning of rejoicing when something she has lost is found and relates very easily to the woman Jesus tells us about in Luke 15 who loses a coin. But I am sure she understands God’s heart well too for his lost children and shares in the wonderful rejoicing in heaven when one of them turns back to the Father.

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

This Christmas, let’s rejoice in our ‘found’ state as we remember our Saviour’s birth. And for those of you who still feel lost, may you too find peace and joy this Christmas as you welcome the Christ Child into your heart.

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In my life, I’ve had three real babies and five ‘book babies’. Even now, I can remember the challenges of deciding on names for our real children. And I can certainly remember the dilemmas of what to call my ‘book babies’ too. With three of them, I opted for the names of their main characters. For another, I chose a phrase from Psalm 23, All the Days of My Life. And for my most recent novel, I decided on the name Heléna’s Legacy¸ since this summed up the main thrust of the plot. Besides, it has a nice rhythm to it – plus a bit of alliteration and assonance thrown in!

There’s a lot to think about, isn’t there, in choosing a name? Just this week I witnessed firsthand two people’s struggles with choosing names for their babies. In the first instance, our daughter Tina is struggling to find just the right name for their first child. She likes a certain girl’s name, but her husband thinks it’s a little old-fashioned. And as for a boy’s name, they are tossing up between two options. To complicate matters, her husband is Ghanaian—and it’s common practice amongst Ghanaians to choose the day of the week on which a child is born as one of the names for that child. Hence our son-in-law’s name is Kofi, which means Friday.

The second instance involves an author whose book I have just finished editing. I thought the current title of the manuscript was not the best and he agreed. It was a friend’s suggestion, but he himself had always had something different in mind. The only trouble with his ‘something different’ is that, while many of his potential readers will relate to this title, a good proportion, in my opinion, won’t. In fact, they might even be somewhat offended by it. So what to do? Will this author go with his initial idea?  Or will he play it safe for the sake of possibly gaining more book sales?

While thinking about these dilemmas this week, I noticed a manger scene featured in a large shopping centre. Yes, with Christmas approaching, these sometimes still do pop up, despite some people apparently feeling that mentioning the real meaning of Christmas spoils it all for everyone! Later I reflected on the fact that Mary and Joseph were left in no doubt what their baby was to be called. In Matthew 1:20-21, we read how the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and made it clear:

She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Jesus, we are told, is the Greek form of Joshua, which means ‘The Lord saves’. But in the same chapter, we read that Jesus will also be called ‘Immanuel’, which means ‘God with us’ (1:23)—a name given to the Son of God hundreds of years earlier by God himself through the prophet Isaiah (Is 7:14). Well, they are both wonderful names, don’t you think? Yet many people at the time rejected this man called Jesus, their Messiah, the one anointed by God to be their Saviour. Some acknowledged the truth of the name ‘Immanuel’—but others refused to believe God was indeed amongst them.

I hear such love in both these names – Jesus and Immanuel. They epitomise God’s heart for us—God reaching out to us, knowing full well these beautiful names might be ridiculed and even used as curses. But God chose the best names ever, from my perspective. I need a Saviour. I need God with me.  Those names for me are so full of meaning—and I think they’re absolutely perfect.

How about you?

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I wonder if you have ever had the experience of not being fully listened to, just when you really needed someone else to understand how you felt? It can be annoying, can’t it—not to mention downright disappointing. Such experiences usually make me feel quite cranky—even to the extent of wanting to shake the other person and yell “Listen to me!” But so far I’ve managed to shut my mouth in time and smile more or less sweetly. And just as well, because I have a sneaking suspicion I might have done exactly the same thing to many others in the course of my life.

In recent weeks I have been unable to get out of the house much because of lower back trouble. Family members have been wonderful, doing many things I normally do and looking after me. And two friends in particular have visited and phoned regularly. I value both these women so highly. They went out of their way to spend time with me. And they truly listened and empathised. They put their own issues aside—of which they both have quite a number—and gave of themselves to me, for which I am very grateful.

A few days ago, I decided to try my back out and make the effort to mingle again with friends and acquaintances at a particular gathering. One or two had noticed I had not been around and welcomed me back. And another began to do the same, but our conversation soon morphed into a major litany of her own back issues. After listening for some time and becoming increasingly tired and sore, I expressed my concern for her and moved off. I then noticed another lady sitting at an awkward angle and enquired if she had back trouble. Sure enough, she did—and thus began another sad litany about her health issues. I told her I had noticed her because I had a sore back too, but this hardly seemed to register. And as I headed home, I found myself wondering if we had lost the art altogether of really listening and caring for others in their troubles rather than being so caught up in our own.

But as I lay down again with relief and prepared to wallow in my self-pity, some uncomfortable thoughts occurred to me. While I had been so busy searching for sympathy, how many others in even greater need had I missed noticing? Yes, one lady had caught my eye, but did my experience with her make me blind to others in equal need of empathy? And were those ones who had shared their troubles with me in much more need of comfort and understanding than I was? Maybe they didn’t have a loving family or two caring friends as I did.

And then I remembered the words of Philippians 2:4-5 that always seem to wake me up to myself:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus …

That pretty much takes care of my wanting to shake people because they aren’t listening to all my woes, don’t you think? Perhaps instead if I humbled myself more often and made myself nothing, just as Jesus did, things would change around me.

Perhaps if we all did it, whole communities would change and believe.

Perhaps it truly is worth learning the art of being there for others, don’t you think?

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Last night, I had the pleasure of playing a game of ‘I spy’ with our two granddaughters when they decided to keep me company in my study. Amy is eight, but Olivia is only five, so I wondered how she would go with working out which letters started some of the words. Much to my amazement, they both did brilliantly. And whenever I was allowed to have a turn at ‘spying’, in most cases I had no sooner said my letter than one or other of them would immediately pounce and guess it correctly.

As our game wore on, I found it increasingly harder to ‘spy’ something different in the room. Yet time after time, Amy and Olivia managed to come up with new ideas – objects I would never have thought of or that had completely escaped my notice, despite my spending hours each day writing in this same study. How did Amy think of ‘b’ for ‘building’ in a picture on my wall I had not looked closely at for ages, for example? And how did it occur to Olivia to try using ‘w’ for ‘words’ she had noticed typed on a sheet of paper and placed in a frame in one corner of the room? It was an amazing experience to see my study afresh through my granddaughters’ eyes. But even more amazing were the excellent observation skills they exhibited. They searched the whole room for something tricky – not one nook or cranny seemed to escape their notice.

Later as I reflected on this experience, it occurred to me that while my granddaughters’ ability to see so much truly amazed me, God’s powers of observation are so much more amazing still. There is not one thing I do, one place I go, one word I write that God does not notice. Nothing escapes God’s eyes. No corner of my heart is ever hidden from God. And nothing that befalls me escapes the one who sees all things. Yet this is by no means a scary thing for me. Instead, I find it so comforting that God can see at all times exactly what I am going through. And just as Hagar called the Lord ‘the God who sees me’ so long ago (see Genesis 16:13), so I am blessed to be able to give God that same title still today.

Jesus himself clearly showed us this all-seeing aspect of his Father in heaven. He notices Nathanael under the fig tree and knows all about him before Phillip calls him (John 1:48). He sees the man who was born blind sitting beside the roadside and heals him (John 9:1-7). He does not miss Zacchaeus way up in that sycamore tree and speedily invites himself for a visit (Luke 19:5). And even on the cross, he is aware of his mother nearby and makes sure she will be looked after (John 19:26-27).

I’m so glad I’m just as visible to God today as these people were to Jesus. I can be at peace, knowing God’s big, all-seeing eye is on me every moment of the day, watching over my welfare with loving concern. Right now, God is smiling at me and saying ‘I spy with my big eye, someone beginning with J’. And I know for sure that ‘J’ stands for Jo-Anne.

How about you? Can you hear God lovingly saying your initial too?

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