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Posts Tagged ‘New Living Translation’

Jo 23‘Nanna, why do you say ‘love’ all the time when you talk to me?’ our six-year-old granddaughter challenged me last week.

‘Pardon?’ I asked, wondering what Maxine could mean.

‘Why do you call me ‘love’ all the time?’

Before I had a chance to respond, she answered her own question.

‘Maybe it’s because you love me!’ she said in a satisfied tone.

‘Yes, I do!’ I told her, ‘so I like to tell you that.’

She went on with her day then, quite happy with herself and the world in general. But this little interlude set me thinking. Yes, I do love her—and her brother, who was also often called ‘love’ that day, as we looked after them. But I know too it has been a habit of mine for years to call lots of people ‘love’. Now the word slips out without my even realising. And now too, on those occasional ‘seniors’ moments’ when I forget someone’s name, it can be a handy substitute—as long as it’s appropriate enough!

Later, as I thought more about it all, my mind jumped back to the beautiful way my special ‘soul friend’ Joy used to greet me, each time I arrived at her door:

‘Oh, hello, Jo-Anne—dear friend! So lovely to see you!’

On the odd occasions too when she would email me, she would often begin with the words, ‘Dear friend’ or perhaps ‘My very dear Jo-Anne’. Somehow, those simple words touched and encouraged me, even before I read on. By them alone, I knew she loved me and valued our friendship. I felt treasured. I felt significant. And I also knew that, whatever her email was about, her words would have been written with much thought and care and with a heart to bless me.

The way we address each other can be so important, don’t you think? But I wonder if you have thought about how important it is to know how God addresses us—to hear and take into our hearts the words God loves to use when speaking to you and me. If others can touch our hearts and encourage us via a few loving words, how much more can God do the same for each one of us?

One evening many years ago, when I was in quite an exhausted state, I believe God gave me a picture of Jesus, holding me in his arms as a baby and looking down at me with the most amazing love and delight shining from his face. And all he kept saying was, ‘Wow—Jo-Anne! Wow!’ Through that simple yet utterly profound experience, I knew deep in my heart that Jesus saw me as his precious creation, that he was so delighted in me, that he valued me and that he would always love and care for me. I can hear his voice even now, as I write this—and that beautiful voice still has the power to speak such love and grace into my spirit.

May you too, even today, hear that gentle voice speaking clearly to you, calling you by name and letting you know you are indeed God’s much-loved child, so valued and treasured.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1 NLT

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Jo 17At first when the person phoning me told me her name, I thought it was someone else. But as I listened further, I was catapulted back to a time around thirty years ago when I worked as an assistant editor. Back then, this person had been one of my colleagues and we had spent many lunchtimes chatting together.

It was good to catch up with what had happened in her life, but also sad. Her husband had passed away and she herself has faced many health battles. But afterwards, as the memories swirled around in my brain, I began to feel quite sad for another reason. In that role, I learnt much about writing and editing. Back then, I had no idea I would become a writer many years later—but God knew. Yet instead of dwelling on these positives, I began to think how much better I could have done that job. Back then, I lacked confidence. Back then, I was afraid to say what I thought and unwilling at times to make good and necessary decisions. Yes, if I were given that role again, I decided, I would do things differently.

Around a week later, the phone rang again. This time, it was another work colleague from that exact same job! He had no idea our other colleague had called and we had a wonderful conversation, catching up on what had happened to us both since then. But again afterwards, I could not get the memories of that job out of my mind. While it was good to laugh along with this second caller about the mistakes I had made and how long it had taken to edit certain jobs, I found that sad feeling slowly creeping over me again. Back then, I was such a perfectionist. Back then, I did not know enough. If I had my time there again, I would work so much faster.

Eventually, as I reflected on all that regret, God enabled me to see things in a different and much healthier light. I had done my best in that role, after all, and the staff seemed sad when I left. I also grew emotionally and spiritually in that time. And God used that role to equip me not only for my next job but also for my whole writing journey. Back then, God had loved me and cared for me—mistakes and all!

And now, God is doing the exact same thing in this season of my life—and yours. It can be good to learn from the past, but God longs to pick us up and move us on too. Thousands of years ago, this is what God told the Israelites to do:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19

The Apostle Paul also writes:

but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race … Philippians 3:13-14 New Living Translation

May God strengthen us all to forget those former things and, instead, grasp hold of what God has for us to do in this new season facing us in our world right now.

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Jo 12It’s a strange experience, isn’t it, to try to avoid others or have them avoid us as we go about outside at the moment? Yes, those social isolation measures are important, but to me, keeping our distance definitely feels weird, however much we might smile at each other in the process.

Recently, I was walking along a nearby footpath, enjoying the beautiful weather, when I noticed a couple coming towards me. Suddenly, they veered off onto the edge of the road. At first, forgetting our distancing rules, I wondered why they were doing such a thing. For a moment, they reminded me of the priest and Levite who crossed to the opposite side of the road to avoid the person in need, in the story of the Good Samaritan! But no, they were only being considerate of me, as well as careful on their own behalf.

And in the supermarket that same week, when there was a bit of a ‘log-jam’ in one aisle, some of us back-pedalled furiously to keep those social distancing rules and waited more or less patiently, while others continued on with their shopping in blissful ignorance. One lady even tut-tutted and shook her head in disgust at everyone. For a moment, I felt I had no right to be there—that I was ‘barred’ from that aisle and should take myself off elsewhere. How good it was to reach that cheery checkout person at last and be on my way home again!

As I thought about these experiences, I began to wonder if they might be showing me something about my attitude towards God at times. How often have I cringed from meeting with God and stepped off the footpath, so to speak, in order to avoid facing up to things in my life? How often do I choose even now to reject that gentle voice in my spirit, urging me to listen and to change my ways, and want God to keep a respectable distance from me?

Many years ago, at a very busy stage of my life, I pushed God aside for a while and chose instead to focus on things I needed—and wanted—to do. But one Sunday, I heard a story from Scripture read aloud in church that contained the words ‘Give me time …’. These words, taken completely out of context, nevertheless pierced my heart, as I realised that was exactly what I had been saying to God: ‘Oh, just give me time! I’ll come back to you when I’m good and ready!’ I felt so convicted that I had been treating our most holy and loving Lord in such a proud and careless way. Each day, I had been rejecting the Lord’s outstretched hand to me, offering me a wonderful, close relationship with him again. But I wanted him to keep his distance. I wanted him to move aside. I did not want him anywhere near.

How blessed we are when we realise how foolish it is to try to keep our distance from the Lord and instead, choose to welcome him into our lives each day with open arms!

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. … Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honour. James 4:8,10 New Living Translation

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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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Jo 23I have had some notable cooking disasters in my life. Several times, I have baked cakes that were well-browned on the outside but, alas, still gooey in the middle. I also remember roasting a chicken once as a newlywed, only to find that when I cut into it, the middle was still pink. Then as I tried to put it back in the oven, I dropped it in a sink full of washing-up water instead! Yes, sometimes things might look good on the outside, yet turn out to be far less desirable on the inside.

Or perhaps you have had the opposite experience of something appearing not so good on the outside, yet once you delved a little deeper, it turned out to be surprisingly palatable. When our daughter was little, if she did not like the appearance of something I served up for dinner that she had not tasted before, she would say, ‘I won’t like it!’ She had already made up her mind, merely on the strength of how that particular food item looked.

Recently, our youngest granddaughter and I had an interesting experience. Someone we did not know was rude to us because we had unwittingly inconvenienced them. This person’s plans were messed up—and she let us know that in no uncertain terms. Now, I did not know quite what to say to our granddaughter to explain this person’s behaviour, so I just said something like, ‘I think she was a little bit mean, don’t you?’

Sometime later, when we saw this person again, Maxine waved to her in her usual friendly way—and, lo and behold, this person waved back enthusiastically, as if we were her long-lost friends! Maxine then said to me, ‘Well, they’re a little bit nice—and a little bit mean!’

Later, I wondered whether she had said something quite profound. Perhaps she was right. What’s more, could this be true of us all, including me? Are there times when I too can be ‘a little bit nice—and a little bit mean’? Hmm!

This seems to be what even the Apostle Paul experienced at times as well.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. Romans 7:18-19 New Living Translation

I can relate to that, can’t you? But thankfully, there is a way out for us, as Paul goes on to say:

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 7:24-25

But wait—there’s more!

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:1-2

Phew! What a relief that we can have God’s Spirit within us to empower us—that we can belong to the one who is more than able to help us be a little less mean and a whole lot nicer!

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Jo 17Recently, I did something I have never done before. Each day for one whole week, I deliberately chose to do some special activity I have wanted to do for some time but always had a reason not to. On top of that, I did not cook dinner any night that week. Instead, we ate out or bought takeaway. You see, the whole thing was a unique birthday present for me—and what fun it all was!

Originally, my husband had wanted me to enjoy a few days away somewhere by myself—to relax, recharge and spend time with God. I thought about this lovely idea and even looked up various venues online but did not feel settled about any of them. Then one night, it came to me. I did not want to go away anywhere. Instead, I wanted to enjoy different, interesting experiences within reach of our own beautiful unit, then come home and not have to cook dinner! A win-win situation, don’t you think?

In the end, we called this wondrous week ‘The Festival of Jo-Anne’ (!)—and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I went shopping, twice over. I went to the movies. I had coffee out. I had a massage. I read. And in between, I had time simply to sit and be and reconnect with God. Yes, it was all very good indeed.

But one reason I enjoyed it even more was that, two weeks earlier, I had finally finished the first draft of my latest novel that had languished on my laptop for over three years, waiting patiently for me to unfold the rest of the story. This special week of mine then was also for me a time when I came up for air, so to speak, when I allowed my poor brain to rest, when I graced myself a little more than usual—and when I sensed God’s love and grace being showered on me from every angle. It was a lovely, hiatus period—a time to gain clearer perspective, not only on my novel, before I plunged into all that necessary editing, but on my life in general.

At one stage in writing this particular novel, I wondered if I should keep going. Should I be content with the eight books of mine that have already been published? Was that where God wanted me to stop? But one day, I sensed God saying gently to me, ‘Jo-Anne, whether you write this book or don’t write it, remember I’ll be just as delighted with you either way!’ What gracious, loving, freeing words to hear! I did not need to feel pressured to produce in any way. Instead, I had permission to write the sort of novel I have wanted to write for some time and to leave the outcome in God’s hands.

Yet I think God was saying more than that too. I think God wanted to remind me that, all the time, whether celebrating the Festival of Jo-Anne or writing or speaking or whatever, I can rest fully in this amazing love of God that accepts me, no matter what.

How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7 New Living Translation

Maybe you too need to hear this reminder right now?

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IMG_20190915_165700397I own an interesting, old sewing machine, a Husqvarna 3610 model I must have bought sometime in the seventies. I used it to make our younger daughter’s uniform when she began school—and now she is over forty! It sat relatively idle for some years after that, until I lent it to our older daughter who eventually returned to me. But alas, there is one slight problem with it—it is determined only to sew backwards! However much I might clean and oil and wiggle and jiggle that reverse button, it stubbornly remains stuck fast.

As I reflected on this phenomenon, I remembered how I too have at times become stuck in life, unwilling or unable to make any changes that might help me move forward. Sometimes I have not wanted to let go of the past or put aside some dream that has little chance of coming to fruition. Sometimes I have been afraid to move on or launch out in a new direction. I remember thinking at one stage I could never give up high school teaching because that was what I had studied hard to do. Yet, by the grace of God, the opportunity to move into editing school curriculum material presented itself and my working life took a whole new turn. Not only did I enjoy that job, but, unbeknown to me, God was preparing me through this editing experience to become a writer myself many years later.

But we can also become stuck in our spiritual journeys—and that to me is even sadder. Sometimes we power on, growing rapidly in our knowledge and experience of God and hungry to learn so much more about spiritual things. I can remember many exciting periods in my own Christian journey, when I felt as if I was almost bursting with all the wonderful truths I was learning about God—as a new Christian in my teenage years, later as a young mum, then even later as I understood more of the Holy Spirit’s role in my life. But then there may come times when everything seems so much harder, when we become discouraged or disillusioned with other Christians, when the busyness and pressures of life cause us to take our eyes off God and stop growing in our faith. When that happens, we may even find ourselves going backwards, like my sewing machine, perhaps doubting God, becoming critical of others, unwilling to change and even deciding we do not need God at all.

Yes, things may happen that cause us to stray into such dangerous territory. Yet, whether we feel like it or not, that’s when we need to seek help and encouragement from someone we trust whose faith is real and honest. I’m so glad God has always provided me with such people to talk to—and I hope you know such folk too. But wherever we are at, may we all continue to press on, just as the Apostle Paul chose to do, ever moving forwards rather than backwards in our spiritual journeys.

But I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13 (New Living Translation)

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Jo 23One of our daughters works at a charitable organisation and occasionally gets to deal with people who phone up to make a donation. She has had some interesting conversations as a result, but one memorable one went something like this:

‘Good morning! How can I help you?’

‘I’d like to donate a thousand dollars to the foundation.’

‘Did you say one thousand dollars?’

‘Um … is that enough?’

What a strange question! Was this gentleman honestly thinking this might be too low an amount for them to accept? My daughter suspects he had given more in previous years and felt bad he could not now do the same. Or perhaps he was actually questioning his own level of generosity. Perhaps to him, a thousand dollars was a mere pittance—he would never miss it. So was it indeed enough?

Sadly, this question is all too familiar to me. As a people-pleaser from way back, I have often asked it, either aloud or in my head. For example, if someone at our dinner table eats everything on their plate, I wonder if I gave them enough. Are they still hungry? Are they thinking what a mean hostess I am? If this happens at a family gathering, usually one of my children, just to tease me, pipes up with what they know I will say next: ‘Did you have enough? Would you like some more, love?’! In other contexts too, even when I have given my best to some task, I can still ask myself, over and over: ‘Was that enough? What did people think of it?’

People-pleasers want everyone to think well of them. They cannot bear to let anyone down or upset anyone—after all, it’s up to them to keep everyone happy. Yet how wearing that can become—and how impossible to achieve anyway!

Of course, this can affect our view of God too. When I was in my early teens, I thought that, if I went to church on any given Sunday, surely this would put me in God’s good books. Surely I would have a great week all round, because God was so pleased with me. Thankfully, a few years later, I came to experience the amazing love and grace of God in my life and to see there is no point in trying to impress God. My ‘good’ will never be enough. But Jesus, the perfect, sinless Son of God, who lives in me by his Spirit, has taken care of that for me on the cross and become all the ‘enough’ I need.

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8 New Living Translation

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

It’s not about striving to measure up. It’s not about making sure we have done enough or given enough to get in God’s good books. Instead, it’s about doing our best to honour God because of the grace we have been shown through Jesus. And that’s an entirely different and wonderful thing, don’t you think?

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Jo 23One evening recently, our four-year-old granddaughter honoured me by inviting me to a special, imaginary event. Soon I found myself immersed in her pretend world and utterly charmed by the magic of the moment.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ Maxine asks in her best ladylike voice, as she looks up at me with her beautiful, brown eyes.

‘That would be lovely!’ I respond, stifling a laugh as she carefully arranges her little, metal tea set just how she wants it on the arm of the lounge, while trying to hold up her pyjama pants that insist on falling down.

She selects cups, saucers and plates for us, telling me she will sit next to me while we drink our tea and eat our food. I watch as she pours our imaginary tea into those little cups and wonder what she is doing when she places two small stones on each of our plates. But Maxine’s running commentary on everything soon fills me in.

‘This is our food. Do you like egg? This one here is egg. It’s not the right shape, but it’s still an egg. And this little one is a ‘wadish’ (Maxine has yet to master those initial ‘r’s’). Do you like wadishes?’

‘I haven’t had one for a while, but they look pretty, don’t they, with their pink skin and white on the inside?’

‘Yes, these are very nice. Here you are!’

So together we sit, sipping our pretend tea and enjoying our pretend eggs and radishes. Maxine chatters on—and as I listen, my heart melts and almost hurts for her.

But her imagination—and that of her brother—also serve another purpose. One afternoon a few weeks ago, Maxine asked out of the blue, ‘Nanna, do you know what heaven is like?’ An interesting discussion ensued—almost as interesting as the one we had with Zain on another occasion, when he asked, ‘Granddad, are you older than God?’(!)  Yes, our grandchildren’s vivid imaginations not only enable them to play wonderful, pretend games, but also help them get their heads around such huge concepts as God and heaven. Right now, they may not grasp all the theological ramifications involved—but they sure are adept at imagining what God and heaven look like.

I hope Zain and Maxine never lose their wonderful imaginations. Perhaps they will become the writers or artists or inventors or business innovators of the future—who knows? But I hope and pray God and heaven become firm realities for them and that they never consider them to be mere figments of human imagination. I hope and pray they both come to know Jesus Christ, God become man, and experience the amazing reality of being born again as a child of God. And I hope and pray that one day they will see Jesus face to face—and be in absolute awe of his splendour and majesty that will surely far exceed even their wildest imaginations.

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honour and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.” Revelation 5:13 New Living Translation

Can you imagine being part of that gathering? I hope you can.

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Jo 17It is some months since I have been able to visit my friend in the nursing home where she now lives. As I make my way to her room, I hope and pray she will recognise me. At the door, I see the nurses have just settled Joy in her special, comfortable wheelchair. She turns towards me—and her whole face lights up.

‘Oh! What a … what a … sur … oh!’

I reach out and grasp her hand, while Joy continues to look at my face in wonderment.

‘I’ll take her to the sunroom,’ a lovely nurse tells me—and soon we are settled there.

Joy continues to search my face with loving eyes. I resist the urge to tell her my name. I suspect it has slipped her mind, but it doesn’t matter—I know she knows who I am. I remind her of our book Soul Friend that I wrote about our journey together during my time at theological college, then on into ministry and writing.

‘Yes, Soul Friend,’ she says softly—and I know she remembers.

I talk to her about her family and mine. I share some little Turkish cookies I used to make often and take to her whenever we met and she remembers those too. It is a little hard for her to hold them now, as they tend to break easily. I see that the crumbs they leave on her clothes concern her a little, so I try to help her brush them off. We look at each other and laugh—a laugh that is beautiful music to my ears because it reminds me so vividly of other shared moments of joy. She has not changed—she is still the same precious person deep inside. Yes, she may now have trouble completing sentences. Yes, she may grope for the words she is trying to say. Yes, she may not remember names so easily. But she is still my lovely ‘soul friend’ Joy, out of whose face the love of God shines.

Eventually, I see she is getting tired. A nurse comes to wheel her to a lounge area and I prepare to say goodbye. I hold her hand and give her a kiss.

‘Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you—there’s nothing like a kiss!’ she says, closing her eyes in ecstasy.

‘Then I’ll give you another one!’ I tell her, dropping a light kiss on her forehead.  Her face is suffused with pure joy.

And as I hold her hand one last time, then turn to leave, I hear her familiar, beautiful words that have always felt like a blessing to me—‘Dear friend!’

As I drive away, the thought comes clearly to me that these two beautiful, little words are what God desires to speak into our hearts each day. I am not in my friend’s situation, but so often, I too become confused. So often, I let life overwhelm me. So often, I forget God. Yet each day, God reaches out to me and talks to me as with a dear friend. Each day, God is there to help me on my journey—and I am so blessed.

So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:11 New Living Translation

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