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Posts Tagged ‘Parramatta Baptist Church’

I am a writer. I play with words—a lot. I rearrange them. I delete them and replace with more suitable ones. I shape them into phrases and sentences for hours on end. I love to tell stories and paint pictures with them, hopefully touching others’ hearts in the process and giving them a small glimpse at least of the loving heart of God. I am so grateful for this gift of writing, yet I also find myself in awe of those who can create via some form of visual art, in all its infinite variety.

This year at our church, Parramatta Baptist, our pastors have sensed God calling us to focus on the theme of ‘Ask, Seek, Knock’, as Jesus invites us to do in Matthew 7:7-8:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

So recently, they invited us all to commit ourselves to ask—to pray by name for God’s transforming presence in others; to seek—to pursue more of God’s transforming presence in our own lives; and to knockto appeal for the places and lives that we long to see open more to God. As I listened, I realised this was no man-made challenge they were giving us all—there was nothing of the ‘You should do this’ or ‘You must do better’ about it. Instead, we were being freely and joyfully invited to be part of God’s purposes for us as a body and for others. And what a unique, creative way they found to do just that!

One Sunday, we arrived to find several tables dotted around the chapel and on each were a pile of small, oval-shaped pieces of vinyl in grey and brown shades, along with some felt pens. As well, right in the centre of the church was a bright red wheelbarrow, decorated with fairy lights. As the service progressed, we were invited to commit ourselves to ‘ask, seek and knock’ by writing our name on one of these vinyl pieces and placing it in the wheelbarrow.

IMG_20190303_101333209That day, and on two further Sundays, around four hundred people did just that. Then last Sunday we arrived to find this beautiful piece of artwork installed in our chapel, with all those signed pieces of vinyl arranged to form the soil from which the tree of God’s kingdom would grow, flourish and bear fruit. It was created by our ministry assistant, Jo Sterland, a gifted artist and graphic designer, who blesses us and others in so many ways with her God-given gifts and abilities. Yes, now we could see, depicted clearly and beautifully for us, what a vital role we each play in providing that fertile soil of prayer to grow God’s kingdom more in our own lives and that of others. Truly, a picture paints a thousand words, don’t you think?

Yes, it’s a privilege to write or paint or create in any way for God. But it’s also a great privilege to be part of that living soil of prayer, as we focus on our amazing God who can do so much more than we can ever ask or imagine!

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Jo 12I wonder if you can remember a time when you felt so frustrated that you could not get on with what you truly wanted to do because of other pressing commitments in your life. Perhaps you had to work while others were enjoying holidays. Perhaps you had to be at home minding young children or caring for someone with ill-health while colleagues pursued their careers. Or perhaps you had to put study aside, in order to pay the mortgage and support a family. It can be hard, can’t it, to see others doing exactly what you yourself would like to be doing?

For the past four months, my husband and I have been supporting our church’s pastoral team while our two lead pastors (husband and wife) have been on sabbatical leave. We have felt so privileged to be able to work alongside our team and so many wonderful volunteers. Yet even though it was such a positive experience, at times I felt a little rebellious about where I found myself. I am a writer, after all, but in these months, I have not touched my current manuscript. In fact, I can barely remember my characters and what they have been up to! So why was I there ministering, instead of writing? Besides, I have missed my times of solitude, sitting at my laptop, lost in another world as I churn out those words.

Then it dawned on me that, for someone who belongs to God and is committed to doing what God wants, this is a rather silly way to think. After all, if I truly believed God called us to support our pastoral team, then surely I need not worry about what is not getting done—or written! Instead, I can be at peace and do what I have been given to do.

As I realised this, a second thought emerged. Could God possibly have had some further purpose in drawing me back into a pastoral role for a season? Through it all, what did God want to show me or teach me that could not happen any other way?

I decided to journal my responses. Firstly, I felt God wanted to point out how far I have come in those sixteen years since laying down a formal ministry role. I have grown so much, as I have gone on my writing and speaking journey—and I realised how thankful to God I need to be for that. Secondly, as a result of this growth, I believe I have approached this temporary pastoral role in an entirely different way. My trust in God has grown and I have gained greater confidence in using my God-given gifts. Thirdly, as I have ministered this time around, I have felt God’s deep love and affirmation and also a kind of healing from any regrets or sense of failure I may still have felt at leaving ministry all those years ago.

What a lesson, to realise I would have missed out on all this, if I had not helped out for these four months! God is so gracious and long-suffering with us, don’t you think?

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. Psalm 42:11

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Jo 17I watched my neighbour’s eyes fill with tears as she told me a story about her great-grandson. His grandfather recently passed away and, in order to explain this sad event, his family told him his grandfather had gone to ‘the sky’.

‘I want to go and see him,’ was his natural reply.

‘But we can’t do that,’ he was told.

‘Well, you get him to come here.’

‘We can’t do that either.’

Because this little boy’s parents have separated, he is used to packing his bag and staying for a week with one parent, then the other. So he apparently decided to fetch his bag and head for the front door, ready to find his grandfather himself.

While reflecting on the image of this little boy holding his case at the door, I remembered some words the Apostle Paul wrote, as he warned Timothy about those who see godliness as a way to obtain financial gain:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:7

My neighbour’s great-grandson sadly cannot visit his grandfather or take that little bag of his with him. And neither can we take anything with us, when our own time comes, whatever our particular bag might contain. What a reminder to look at the things we spend most time and effort pursuing in life!

Recently at our church, a lady told us about something that happened to her and her husband while overseas. They were in Rome and had to wait a couple of hours until their B and B accommodation was available. So they parked their hire car at a shopping centre and looked around for a while. When they returned to their car, however, it had been broken into—and everything they owned had gone. All they were left with were the clothes and money and whatever else they had with them.

That evening, the B and B owner kindly contacted the police for them to try to get some of their property back, but to no avail. Yet this lady was calm through it all, because, just that morning, she felt God had told her that, whatever happened that day, he was watching over her. In fact, she was so calm that the B and B owner became quite puzzled.

‘You seem kind of “zen-like”,’ he told her—at which point she explained what she felt God had said to her!

Eventually, this lady and her husband continued their trip, with only a couple of much smaller bags between them. And as she told us this, she commented how free it felt to travel so much lighter!

This story caused me to reflect even more on what baggage I myself am carrying right now through this world. Is it light? Is it something I can let go of without being destroyed? More importantly, am I putting my time and energy into those things that really matter and that Paul goes on to mention to Timothy?

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:11

May our bags be packed full to overflowing with all these things when our time comes to meet God face to face!

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Jo 23I wake up feeling tired, after a rather restless night. As my mind begins to clear and I work out what day it is, I realise I need to head to our church office for the morning. For four months, my husband and I are helping to support our wonderful ministry team, while our two lead pastors (husband and wife) are on sabbatical leave. It is an honour to do this—yet today, I feel decidedly less than adequate for the task.

I get ready, all the while thinking of the many jobs waiting to be done at home while I am out. So … why am I doing what I am doing? I have more than enough to occupy me, without any added responsibilities. What was I thinking, to say yes when asked? I have moved on. I left a ministry role many years ago and, since then, God has unfolded such a fulfilling writing and speaking journey for me. How could I have agreed to put my current novel aside for these months? Besides, some of my ministry gifts and skills are quite rusty. Surely there are others who could do these things so much better?

I grumble to myself as I eat breakfast and leave home, feeling so unsure about the day ahead. I plan to work on some training material for the pastoral team, preparing input I have been asked to give on a topic I myself originally suggested. Yet as I arrive and open up those documents on my laptop, I wonder how what I have already prepared will connect with our team members. I don’t know them very well yet—will they understand where I’m coming from? Will they feel that giving up their precious time in the middle of the day to sit and listen to my input is a big waste? Will they decide it is irrelevant for them in their particular area of ministry?

Eventually, I turn to a sermon I am currently working on. I thought what I have already written was what God wanted me to say. Yet, as I look at it again, I begin to wonder. Today, it seems a little trite—perhaps too simple, too fanciful even. I want to honour God in what I share on the day—and also honour the trust our leadership has shown in asking me to speak. But am I making a huge mistake with all that input I see on the screen before me?

Then I stop and reach for my Bible, turning to some verses I read earlier before heading out. In these, the Apostle Paul lists the many sufferings he has endured in his ministry, then writes:

But he (the Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   1 Corinthians 12:9-10

Yes, I may be weak—but I am also strong, because I have an amazing God whose grace and power are able to shine through my weaknesses. How wonderfully reassuring is that?

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Jo 23I have discovered we own an extremely polite washing machine. On those rare occasions when I happen to be standing nearby when a wash load finishes, it sends me a sweet, little message via the control panel: ‘Finished! Have a nice day!’ But recently, I found a much more distressing message there. After hearing a little musical summons emanating from our laundry, I went to investigate and found the following: ‘Help! My load is out of balance. Please redistribute load, then press start.’

Of course I did as instructed. I hauled those wet towels around, spread them out more evenly—and my trusty washing machine went spinning on its merry way.

Yet that desperate message my washing machine had sent stayed in my mind long after. Could God perhaps be prompting me to apply this to my own life right now? After all, there have been many times when my ‘load’ has indeed been severely out of balance. Hmm …

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to throw ourselves into all those tasks and responsibilities we have, forgetting key things like rest, like self-care, like close relationships—and like close connectedness with God? Sometimes we need that moment of shuddering to a standstill, as my washing machine did, before we realise we need help to change and somehow redistribute the load in our lives.

For quite a while, I have missed nurturing that more creative side of me that is fed by losing myself for hours in writing my next novel. I know the time will come later this year when I will hopefully find those hours again. But meanwhile, I need some sort of creative outlet. So for that reason, and also to prepare something that could be displayed at our church’s upcoming Art Installation, I decided to create a piece of writing based on John 9. I then used a special bronze metallic pen to handwrite these words on black cardboard and, as I did, I could feel that peace and calm I so desperately needed enfold me once again. God was so wonderfully near, as I recreated that amazing account of how Jesus healed the man who had been born blind.

In the process, I recalled a warning in Isaiah that has often reminded me in the past to stop rushing hither and thither, relying on my own strength, and instead, to listen to God and live and minister the way God sees is best for me:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15

Like God’s people back then, I have to own to being obstinate at times and wanting to go my own way, so that I am danger of being left desolate, ‘like a flagstaff on mountaintop’ (30:17). Instead, I need to look to God to find the best balance in my life and to walk humbly in God’s love and grace on a daily basis.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! 30:18

That is God’s amazing heart of love for me—and for you too.

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Jo 12My husband and I are entering an extra busy period of our lives this week. Yes, we are yet to discover what that interesting word ‘retirement’ means! Two things are happening simultaneously that should help keep us both out of mischief for the next few months at least.

The first is that, to help our daughter and her husband out, we will be caring for their two young children a little more than we do already. Various things have happened for them in quick succession—the selling of their unit in western Sydney, the buying of a house even further west and also a new accountancy job in the city for our son-in-law, which means he will be unable to pick up our grandchildren from school and day care as much as he has previously.

But the second commitment we have agreed to is to take on a support role at our local church, assisting the ministry team while our two team leaders (husband and wife) are on sabbatical leave. To do this, we have each promised to be available in our church office one day a week to help with different aspects of our church life, particularly in the pastoral care area.

Obviously, these two commitments, while quite different, will no doubt require a fair amount of energy on our part. I am sure God wants us to undertake both ventures, but at times, I must admit I have allowed more than a little anxiety about what we have taken on to creep in. Will we have the energy and strength to see it all through? Will it be too overwhelming? Will I ever get any time to myself to continue writing that next novel I truly want to complete? What if our church commitment in particular grows out of all proportion to the hours we have available in our busy week?

In the midst of these rather fearful thoughts, I ‘happened’ to come to some interesting verses in one of Paul’s letters where he addresses some quarrelling and jealousy that had emerged among the early Corinthian believers. Apparently there was a good deal of ‘one-upmanship’ going on, where some claimed they followed Paul, while others stated they followed Apollos. Paul rebukes them for their worldly way of thinking and points out that both he and Apollos were simply God’s servants doing the tasks they had been given—he to plant the seed and Apollos to water it. But without God, nothing would have taken place among them.

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 1 Corinthians 3:6

I read on, slowly realising why God had arranged for me to read these words at this strategic point.

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:9

Yes, Lord, I get the message. It is our role simply to cooperate and work hand in hand with you in the tasks you have called us to do. And what a partner we have—the almighty God of the universe! As for those at our church, you will continue to nurture them and build them up in their faith, whatever happens. You are in charge, not us!

Lord, may I always remember that. Amen

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Jo 17A couple of weeks ago, our church celebrated its fifth anniversary of being in its renovated and revamped premises. To fill everyone in on the journey taken to get the building to its present state, photos taken at different stages of the remodelling were shown during our services. All up, it was a wonderful testimony to what can be achieved when a community trusts God and works together to bring a shared vision to reality.

Of all those inspiring images I saw that day, one in particular has stayed with me. It was a photo of something that looked like a piece of graffiti scribbled on the floor of the main auditorium. You see, the night before the carpet was due to be laid there, some church members decided they would like to write prayers all over the floor—prayers that God would always be honoured in this space, that all who entered would sense the presence of God’s Spirit and feel welcome and accepted, and that lives would be changed as a result. What a surreal feeling to look down and realise our feet were resting not only on carpet but, more importantly, on all those prayers written and prayed on our behalf!

Later, I remembered a similar but much smaller project I was involved in years ago at a different church. It was in the days when banners were still used on church walls to remind us of certain truths or words from Scripture. I had seen a banner somewhere else that featured a vine covered in fruit and felt we needed one like it in our own church. So some of us created one with a twirling grapevine and lots of bunches of big, purple grapes on it, along with the words ‘Chosen to bear fruit’. Then as we began attaching those grapes, we decided to write the names of all the streets in our area underneath them. We felt this was a way of praying for all those living nearby, that God would touch and transform their lives, so that they would not only become the fruit of our labours but would, in turn, bear fruit for the kingdom themselves.

We prayed and we sewed—then prayed and sewed some more. And that banner hung on our church wall for quite some time, reminding us why we were there in that place and what God could do as we prayed. It was a hard area, but people did come to know God more and see God work in their lives.

Time passed and we moved on—and that banner too disappeared eventually. But I believe God heard those prayers of ours, as well as the ones written beneath the carpet in our current church. Our role is to pray—and God is not deaf to our pleas. That fruit will come, both in our own lives and in the lives of others, as we continue to trust and to share God’s love. How blessed we are that we can pray in all sorts of diverse ways, leaving those requests with our gracious, loving God!

This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Matthew 6:9-10

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