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Posts Tagged ‘sharing the Gospel’

Jo 12Recently, while strolling through our local shopping centre filled with glitzy Christmas decorations, I noticed a large, boxlike structure in the middle of the main walkway. What could it be? It seemed that whatever was in it was facing shoppers coming from the opposite direction. I went to look—and found a beautiful, big manger scene there, with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men all grouped around the baby Jesus. Imagine that! Fancy seeing such a clear reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, right in the middle of all the commercialism the season brings with it!

Yet as I stood there, feeling thankful for such a reminder and grateful to those who had put it there (I think a group of local churches), I also realised this was not my initial response. Instead, I had felt deeply surprised—perhaps even shocked and fearful—that this nativity scene could be where it was. Was anyone really allowed to do such things these days? Who had given permission for this to go ahead? Would people be offended to be reminded about the religious aspect of Christmas?

Wow! As I stopped and reflected a little more, I was shocked all over again at these thoughts that had immediately popped unbidden into my mind. How could someone like me who has been a follower of Jesus for over fifty-five years end up being so easily be influenced by the culture around me and the prevailing anti-Christian stance in our society in general? How had I allowed fear and misgiving to be my first response in this instance, rather than joy and thankfulness?

What a challenge, right there in the middle of the shopping centre! At that point, I felt a determination rise up in me to honour that baby in the manger and to grasp every opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas with others. I can write about God’s love via this blog and my Christmas letter. I can look for openings in everyday conversations to do that. I can pray for God’s love and grace to touch those around me. I can invite others to our special Christmas church services. I can be generous in my giving, not only to family and friends, but also to those in need—the homeless in nearby Parramatta via the gift bags our church arranges, others doing it tough in our community via our Christmas hampers, those affected by drought and fire, those with barely nothing in other parts of the world. I am allowed to do this! I can do this! I must do this!

This Christmas, whatever our society tells us, let’s all be determined, in God’s strength, to do what we can to share the love of God with others—that amazing love shown so clearly in the fact that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, humbled himself and became a man for us.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Let’s celebrate this Christmas with hope and joy in our hearts. And let’s be at peace too, as we pray for that peace to permeate our world more and more.

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Jo 12It was the second last day of our wonderful holiday in the South Island of New Zealand. We had arrived at the wharf in Picton for our ferry trip to Wellington, only to discover the ferry was cancelled. So … what to do during those extra hours until the afternoon ferry arrived? At that point, I admit I felt a little miffed that our plans for our afternoon in Wellington were foiled.

In the end, we visited a museum and enjoyed a delicious morning tea. Then I noticed a jewellery store I had not previously explored.

‘I’ll read my book in the car,’ my husband speedily volunteered. ‘But make sure you buy something for yourself!’

After wandering around the shop for ages, I chose an inexpensive pair of paua shell earrings.

‘This is all part of our Golden Wedding anniversary celebrations,’ I told the young girl serving me. ‘They’ll always remind me of our beautiful time here.’

‘You don’t look old enough to have a Golden Wedding anniversary!’ the store manager/owner who had joined us by then commented.

‘I’m seventy-one,’ I told her, all the while thinking what a good salesperson she was.

No!’ she responded, shocked. ‘Your skin’s so smooth. You look about fifty-eight to me! What’s your secret?’

I laughed and was about to give some flippant answer, but felt a clear check in my spirit. In that moment, I saw my opportunity to say something of much more lasting value instead.

‘Well,’ I began, ‘my husband has been a minister all our married life. Both of us have a firm faith in God and are connected closely with a church community—so I think when you are at peace inside you, then that makes a big difference overall.’

The older lady nodded, her eyes big.

‘But what have you yourself done in your life?’ she asked then.

I told her briefly about my various occupations, that I myself had trained for ministry in my late forties and also had become a writer in my late fifties. We talked then about how important it is to keep learning and growing in our lives, to which she strongly agreed.

‘And what books do you write? Do you have a card or something, so we can look you up?’ the younger girl burst out then.

I explained how my books have a lot of ‘faith content’, then fished in my bag and found two business cards, hoping and praying both women would indeed look me up and read what I write the books I do write. After chatting for a while longer, I eventually left, in awe of how God had managed to use this little window of time in my life when I was feeling quite miffed to share something at least with these women of the difference faith in our loving God can make in our lives. My words were no doubt inadequate, yet I was sure God could still use them in some way.

We have a wonderful ‘secret’ to share, don’t you think? So let’s endeavour, in all gentleness and grace, to do just that.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect … 1 Peter 3:15

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IJo 23t was 1968 and I was in my busy, final year at university, but I decided I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to be a counsellor at the upcoming Billy Graham Crusade. This involved several training sessions, then attending as many crusade meetings as we could at the Brisbane Showgrounds. I was new to it all—and in both the training and the actual meetings, I learnt some lessons I have never forgotten.

During our training, we were asked to memorise some key Bible verses in order to counsel someone better—Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, John 3:16, John 1:12, Ephesians 2:8-9 and others. Those verses remain clear in my mind, fifty years on.

But one day during our training, I learnt another key lesson. Some, it seemed, were questioning others’ fitness as counsellors because they were not baptised or not taking communion in a certain way or not following some other church practice these critics regarded as essential. I remember the gracious way our trainer handled the matter, gently warning us all against being judgmental.

Later, he asked if any of us had been able to put into practice what we had learnt the previous week about sharing Christ with someone. There was silence—until a little, old Salvation Army lady stood and, with a beaming face, told us about how she had talked about Jesus with someone on the train that day. What a profound and salutary lesson! This lady represented a group of Christians who do not usually practise baptism or take communion—yet she was apparently the only one present who had shared Christ with someone that week. Hmm.

But I was to learn an even more profound lesson in not being judgmental one Sunday afternoon at the crusade itself. I had made my way to the old ‘Machinery Hill’ section of the grounds, proudly wearing my counsellor badge, and was waiting for the meeting to begin. Two men were sitting in front of me and one of them was smoking. I could tell he was nervous—he was fidgeting around and his friend was obviously trying to put him at ease. Then a man wearing an usher’s badge approached them, red in the face.

‘Excuse me!’ he said loudly to the man smoking. ‘Would you please put your cigarette out? This is a religious meeting!’

The man seemed stunned, then apologised and did as asked.

Right then, crusade or no crusade, I wanted to get up and punch that usher! I could not believe what I had witnessed—after all, it was an open air meeting and no one else seemed to mind that the man was smoking. At least he was there! I could feel the deep embarrassment of both men seated in front of me—I was sure neither would hear a thing Billy Graham said that day because of that officious usher. Surely he could have been more discerning and prayed quietly for the man instead?

Yes, one of those verses we learnt mentions grace—and that is what we all need, don’t you think? Tons and tons of it!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

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Jo 23It is so true that, just when we might least expect it, an opportunity can present itself to say a gentle word in season that someone needs to hear.

A few weeks ago, my husband was waiting for our order at a local pizza shop on a Friday night. He noticed a man nearby sitting forward with his head in his hands.

‘Glad the week’s over, are you?’ my husband commented.

They went on to exchange a few pleasantries.

‘Tell me, how you cope with stress in your life?’ the man then asked, out of the blue.

‘Well, it helps me to know I’m doing what God wants me to do,’ my husband replied.

They chatted on for a while. It turned out the man was from Rumania and works in IT. And soon he discovered my husband is a retired minister.

‘My uncle was a sort of minister in a Pentecostal church back in Rumania—I used to go to church then,’ he admitted. ‘Tell me … how do you see the Holy Spirit manifesting himself today?’

Not quite the sort of question one expects to be asked in a pizza shop! Nevertheless, my husband happily responded. Then our pizza was ready and the man thanked him sincerely for their conversation. Only God knows what might ensue in his life as a result.

But this past week, it was my turn. As I waited to have an x-ray at the hospital, I glanced at the other people around me and decided to pray for them. I particularly noticed an elderly couple sitting nearby who seemed quite nervous. They got up several times, once returning with a form to fill out, which they seemed to have trouble doing. The wife tried to help her husband, speaking to him in a language I did not understand and several times reaching in her handbag to find this or that document. Eventually his name was called and off he went. I looked across at his wife and smiled. She smiled in return and then began talking.

‘I’m so worried!’ she told me, a perfect stranger, as she started to cry. ‘My husband … he not well. He got cancer.’

I reached over and held her hand, then moved to sit beside her. Out came her story of migrating to Australia from Italy in the fifties, starting work at fourteen, missing her homeland, marrying a man from her own village, having children. I listened—and my heart went out to her. Then my name was called and I had to leave her.

When my x-ray was over, however, I saw she was still waiting and went over to her.

‘I’m going to be praying for you,’ I told her. ‘I believe in God—God will look after you.’

‘I believe in God too,’ she whispered, as she clung to my hand and the tears began falling again. ‘Thank you so very much!’

In Col 4:6, Paul writes:

Let you conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

What a privilege to be able to take part in these two entirely unexpected conversations! I hope they were grace-filled enough. I hope these two needy ones sensed God’s love reaching out to them, bringing refreshment and comfort. That’s what it’s all about, don’t you think?

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