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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

I thought I was seeing things, as I drove to our local shopping centre. Could that possibly be jacaranda trees blossoming everywhere? Even today, I feel nervous whenever I see them, as these were always a reminder in earlier years that exam time had come! Then I noticed some other trees nearby covered in small, smoky-red flowers. No … surely that could not be Christmas bushes in bloom already?

As I made my way into the shopping centre a few moments later, I looked up and saw Christmas decorations dangling from the ceiling everywhere. But … Christmas was months away yet—wasn’t it?

Still bemused, I went to buy a birthday card, only to discover most of the display had been given over to Christmas cards. Then I walked on further and came face to face with a large, fenced-off area where helpers were busy putting the final touches to a big throne at one end. Surely it wasn’t time for children to have their photos taken with Santa? What had happened to all those months since last Christmas?

I headed to the supermarket then—and yep, there near the bread section I saw Christmas puddings and fruit mince pies, while nearby were special shelves of Christmas chocolates. Was this just some ploy to distract or cheer everyone up during COVID19? It couldn’t be time for all that Christmas fare yet. Were we all being duped?

Feeling a little confused and dismayed, I started to head out of the shopping centre. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something nearby in the main thoroughfare. In the midst of all that other Christmas paraphernalia beginning to appear, could that … could that truly be a large nativity scene?

As I stood staring at it, I felt my whole body relax and found myself smiling. In a world that seemed to have gone a little mad, there in front of me was the age-old scene that depicts the true heart of Christmas and speaks of things with eternal significance. With no words at all, it was declaring the truth that the King of Kings came into this world as a humble child, born in a manger, to save us and show us God’s heart of love for this world.

Then it was as if God whispered to me, as I stood there, ‘I’m still here, in the midst of the chaos and confusion in the world right now. I haven’t changed. And I haven’t forgotten you. Don’t worry—don’t be dismayed. I am still the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. It’s time for everyone to know this and to remember it this Christmas.’

Yes, maybe we do need to start thinking about preparing for Christmas—soon at least. But as we do, let’s keep our eyes focussed on Jesus, the babe in that manger but also the Son of God, who alone can bring peace to our chaotic world and to us. This difficult and uncertain time will soon pass, but Jesus, our eternal King, will remain—and reign—forever.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

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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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This week marks a big milestone in our family, as we celebrate my husband’s eightieth birthday! To keep things COVID-safe, we are staging ‘The Festival of Lionel’, several small get-togethers over ten days or so with friends and family members. It all seems a little surreal—as one kind friend wrote when invited to come and celebrate with us, ‘But … are you sure he’s eighty?’

Yes, Lionel was born in 1940—a very long time ago indeed, although in some ways, it seems to have flown. And what a lot he has packed into those many years! After ministering at a small church in Brisbane where our first daughter, Jane, was born, Lionel accepted a call to a church in Sydney, where our son Andrew came along.  A lecturing role at the Bible College of South Australia in beautiful Victor Harbor followed. We loved those six years of living near the beach and surrounding farms and our third child, Tina, was born there.

But then the college relocated to Adelaide, where we lived until Lionel’s role there finished a year later. We returned to Sydney, where he became a local church pastor again, until he was offered another lecturing role, this time at our theological college, which necessitated a move across town for us. Twelve years later, after that role ended, Lionel joined our church’s pastoral team full-time, before training as an intentional interim minister. He then worked in this capacity at several different churches, helping them find their feet again, and trained others in this ministry too.

Can you imagine the number of sermons Lionel has preached down through the years, often two different sermons each Sunday? And what about all those lectures—and the thousands of hours of preparation that went into them? Lionel already knew his bible well when I met him way back in 1968, during his own time at theological college, but along the way, he added to that knowledge with further study in the USA. He was—and still is—convinced of the truth of the gospel. His desire was to equip others well for their own ministries, whatever shape or form these might take, and to this day, even at the ripe old age of eighty, he still enjoys doing that.

Lionel has touched many lives through the years—college students, those who made up the church congregations where he ministered and also friends along the way, as well as family. His life has been well spent, serving the Lord and equipping others to do the same—and we hope and pray he can continue doing such things for quite some years yet.

Right now, however, what fun we are having, celebrating this milestone birthday! Yet it’s wonderful to know that one day a much more joyful celebration will take place for him when he meets Jesus face to face. On that day, I’m sure he will hear the same words the faithful servant who used his talents well heard when his master returned:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21

What a celebration that will be, sharing in the Lord’s happiness! Are you looking forward to that for yourself too?

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Jo 23‘I enjoy the challenge of learning new things,’ one of our pastors told me, as he settled me in front of those glaring lights, ready to record a segment for our online church service last Sunday.

I agreed—albeit a little weakly. You see, I was about to do something I had never done before. I had been asked to pray out loud for our church while being filmed, with just the two of us present. And that felt a little weird to me.

I decided I would begin with a few verses from Psalm 40. I had thought of writing my prayer out in full, but felt that was not me. Usually, I like to be more spontaneous when I pray. Yet now, with that camera on me and those glaring lights shining in my face, I wondered if I had made the right decision. I had jotted down some things I had been asked to pray about, but that was it. Would my mind go blank? Could I truly trust God to show me how to pray?

The first time through, I stumbled a few times but soon became immersed in praying. There are so many urgent needs in people’s lives right now. Some have big financial concerns facing them. Others are seriously ill and undergoing tricky medical procedures or in the midst of long-term cancer treatment. Then there are those who are not in a good place mentally and emotionally who need to know God does indeed hear their cry, as Psalm 40:1 says. I feel for them all and meant every word I prayed. But at the end, we decided we should film it one more time—and make it a little shorter too.

We started again. Soon I was in the midst of praying for the same people and situations once more, although in a slightly briefer and more restrained way. But afterwards, I felt unsettled and even worried. Had I truly prayed from the heart that second time around? It had sounded a little flat to me and I hoped no one would feel short-changed as a result, particularly those I had prayed for in such difficult situations.

Later, however, as I reflected on the whole experience, I almost laughed out loud. What a silly way of thinking! After all, God knew it was my desire to pray earnestly for our church and for those going through challenging times. God saw my heart. And, judging by what Jesus said about those hypocrites who wanted everyone to notice how well they prayed or the pagans who used so many words (Matthew 6), surely what I said or how I looked was irrelevant?

Yes, there is always something new to learn or something different to experience. But there is nothing like that old, familiar experience for me of being held in God’s loving arms, knowing my prayers have been heard and feeling that firm rock once again beneath my feet.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:1-2

God hears. God understands. God cares. And we can be at peace.

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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 17One morning this past week, I was woken by a chorus of birds chirping loudly outside our bedroom window. I went out onto our balcony to investigate, as I have discovered that this can sometimes signal the presence of a bush turkey proudly stalking along near our garden, eating whatever he (or she) likes, including our lovely roses! But no—this time, there was no bush turkey in sight. I looked up at the birds in the nearby trees. There they were, chirping their little hearts out like a well-trained choir, all lined up to perform their best for their conductor. I stood there for some time, but could not see anything that was upsetting them. And in the end, I concluded they were merely welcoming the beginning of another day with gladness.

But often at dusk as well, we can hear other beautiful birdsongs floating into our lounge, even through our thick balcony doors. The cadences are so varied and musical that I have come to see why a songwriter I once heard speak maintained that he based most of his songs on birdcalls. And a short walk away any time of day, we can hear the bellbirds loud and clear—a lovely, tinkling sound like no other.

On occasions too, I see those amazingly-coloured rainbow lorikeets feasting on the grevillea flowers nearby. And now and then, a kookaburra perches on the railing just outside my study window, much to the consternation of the resident noisy miners who sit squawking at a safe distance! Yes, even though we live in a village in busy western Sydney, we still have ample opportunity to observe nature close up and to enjoy the amazing diversity of God’s creation everywhere, including the bird life around us.

And as I stood there the other morning watching and listening to that bird chorus nearby, I believe I heard something else from God too: If I can care for each one of these birds so well and have the ability to give them such distinct songs of their own, why are you weighed down with worry about this and that? Here I was, feeling so burdened about the world during this coronavirus time and concerned in particular for our children and grandchildren. Yet here was God, waking me up in a way I could not ignore and reminding me, in no uncertain terms, of some words Jesus himself said:

Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Luke 12:24 New Living Translation

Yes, God had my attention well and truly by then. I remembered Jesus’ next words too:

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things? Luke 12:25-26 NLT

Of course I need to help others in this difficult time, including in practical ways. And of course I need to pray for God’s provision for those near and dear to us and for our hurting world in general. But I am valuable to God. We all are. I can trust in God at this time and rest in God’s love, instead of worrying. And so can you.

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2016-06-05 15.27.04For Christmas, I received one of those digital photo frames that changes the displayed photo every few seconds. My husband painstakingly went through all my photos, chose a random selection and uploaded them to my new device. Now, as I sit at our dining-room table and glance across the room, I am reminded of family and friends, of significant events, of places I have visited and beautiful flowers I have admired. But there is one photo that always sends a little shudder down my spine—and that is the one pictured here of the backyard of our old home in Rydalmere on one of those wonderful occasions years ago when the creek over our back fence suddenly became a raging torrent and spread far and wide.

Thankfully, this did not happen often—but when it did, a major, backbreaking clean-up needed to be undertaken. Yet I was always grateful that, while the flood would leave an incredible amount of mud and rubbish in our yard and even semi-flatten our side fence, we knew the water would not rise high enough to get into our house. And that was because our house was built on a rocky kind of protrusion that formed a little headland and included our neighbour’s land on the upside of our house. Yes, the water would swirl around that headland and flow into our back yard with glee, then onwards into all the other yards lower down our street—but it would never rise further than the bottom of our back steps.

So … can you see why I shudder a little whenever this photo catches my eye now? Yes, we could replace it with one that conjures up much more pleasant memories, yet I am also grateful for the reminder that photo has brought me in recent weeks. And that, of course, is the reminder that, just like our homes need a solid foundation to remain secure when those floods come, we too need a firm foundation on which to base our lives, year in and year out.

I think God wanted to reinforce this reminder because, this past week, as I was reading Luke’s Gospel, I came to the story Jesus told about the wise and foolish builders.

Why do you call me, ’Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete. Luke 6:46-49

At times, I know I can take in God’s words and, sadly, let them flow straight out of my brain a moment later—before I have allowed them to change me at any deep level and stir me to action. What a sobering story Jesus told—and what a salutary reminder not merely to listen to the Lord but to do what he says!

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Jo 12I well remember how, as a child, I was at times particularly averse to being told what to do. If my poor mother wanted me to do something I did not want to do, my response would often be ‘But why?’ I would keep asking this until my mother, in exasperation, would eventually snap, ‘Because I said so!’

Perhaps that’s why a certain phrase jumped out at me recently when I read Luke’s account of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples. After Jesus sits in Simon’s fishing boat and teaches the crowd on the shore of the lake, he tells Simon to head for deep water and let down the nets. Then Simon replies:

Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Luke 5:5

No wonder Simon respected Jesus enough even then to do whatever Jesus told him to do. After all, Jesus had just healed many people while in Simon’s home, including Simon’s own mother-in-law. But Simon soon becomes much more astonished when his fishing nets start to break and both his and his partners’ boats begin to sink from their enormous catch. In fact, in fear, he falls at Jesus’ knees and says “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (8) It’s almost as if he is saying, ‘What have I got myself into? I can’t handle this!’ But Jesus reaches out and reassures him, so much so that he and his partners James and John end up leaving their boats and following him:

Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” (10)

Recently, I learnt how a newcomer to our country heard this story for the first time while fishing in the Parramatta River. He laughed loudly at the idea of catching men—yet now he has begun a journey just like Simon’s and we hope his mind will also soon be boggled by Jesus’ awesome power and authority. But what about my own response to Jesus’ authority? What is Jesus calling me to do in 2020? Am I going to say like Simon, ‘Because you say so, I will do this or that?’ Or will I instead curl up in fear and decide not to let down my own ‘nets’ in the coming year?

I have always felt Jesus’ gentleness and love, as well as his quiet authority, whenever he has challenged me to step out and do something. And this was particularly strong when I began my current novel. Back then, I sensed Jesus saying, ‘I’ll be so delighted if you write this book, Jo-Anne. But I’ll be just as delighted with you if you don’t!’ What wonderful freedom that gave me—simply to write as time permitted and enjoy the process, irrespective of the outcome! Yet surely this is Jesus’ heart for us all in whatever he calls us to do. Jesus has the power and authority to call us to act—and we need to listen and be obedient. Yet it seems to me he also surrounds us with such love and grace and mercy, however we respond.

‘But because you say so …’. May that be my honest response—and yours—as we embrace all God has for us in the coming year.

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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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