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Posts Tagged ‘the Apostle Paul’

Jo 12I was chatting to a friend who had come to visit, as we walked along a paved ramp near our unit. The gardens to our left were beautiful, but instead, our eyes were drawn to some stains on those pavers beneath our feet.

‘These need attending to,’ my friend who likes to get in and fix things commented. ‘Who is responsible for cleaning common walkways like this here?’

‘I don’t know,’ I told her. ‘But I think I’ll get out here myself and scrub them off, as they annoy me too!’

The next day, I filled a bucket with soapy water, took my scrubbing brush and tried to clean those messy marks off the walkway. Yet, despite my best efforts and much bending over, some spots did not budge. I stretched my sore back and sighed, but in the end, decided to leave it at that.

A few days later, my husband and I heard a loud, whirring sound nearby. We poked our heads out—and there was a workman with not one but two large machines, washing down the pavers and blasting away all those dirty marks! Being new to our village, we did not realise that this event apparently happens every six months or so—the outside cleaning is all done for us.

Soon after, a neighbour told me another similar story.

‘We’re only quite new here too and, a few months ago, I decided to clean our outside windows. I took the screens off, then couldn’t get them back on, so had to ask the maintenance man for help. But when he came, he told us that contractors clean our outside windows, so we don’t have to do them ourselves at all!’

Now that’s two lovely cleaning tasks I will be very happy to leave to the professionals in future!

Years ago now, I also discovered how foolish it usually is for me to try to fix anything that goes wrong with my trusty laptop. I have a wonderful husband who is a whiz at all things computer-related, so I have learnt it’s much better to consult him in the first place, rather than press this or that button or click on this or that with my mouse. I do try at times—but that tends to complicate things even further rather than fix anything.

I suspect I need to apply these lessons in other areas of my life too. I can try to fix aspects of my behaviour that do not honour God. But unless I stop relying so much on myself and instead, learn to rely more and more on God’s strength on a daily basis, I will no doubt fail again. In the end, God is the Expert, the Master Designer, the only one who can ultimately fix things in our lives. And God has chosen to do this in the most amazing way, through sending our Saviour Jesus Christ into our broken world. Like the Apostle Paul, I know I need to declare from the bottom of my heart:

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

How about you? Is that your heart cry too?

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Jo 17‘What day is it today?’ I ask my husband.

‘It’s Thursday,’ he tells me, without comment. He is used to my strange ways.

‘It can’t be!’ I say, aghast. ‘What happened to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday? Before we know it, another week will be over!’

It seems I am not the only one in our family who is familiar with this ‘before we know it’ feeling. Recently, after picking up our three-year-old granddaughter from day care, we chatted together as we drove along.

‘I fell over at my brother’s school and hurt my knee,’ she told us at one stage.

‘Oh, that’s sad,’ her grandad said. ‘Did you cry?’

‘Yes, I did,’ she replied, ‘but before I knew it, it didn’t hurt anymore!’

This concept of time passing so quickly seemed such an adult thing for a young child to grasp—but obviously Maxine knew what it meant. One minute that pain was there and the next, it was gone. And that’s the case with so many things in life, don’t you think? We think and act as if a particular stage of our lives will last forever—but it doesn’t. At times, we cannot see beyond the now. Yet when we step back and view things with a wider perspective, we realise everything is finite.

One of my favourite movies from years ago now is Dead Poets Society. A key thought the main character, innovative teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams), often expressed resonated strongly with me—‘Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.’ I suspect I saw this movie at a time in my life when I felt a little restless and was wondering what God had ahead for me. I wanted to make my life count, in whatever way God had gifted me to do so. But time was passing, so I needed to grasp hold of those ‘God opportunities’ that arose, however challenging they might be. And I’m so glad God enabled me to do just that. Not long after this movie was first released, I changed jobs—and this change eventually led to my being able to attend theological college fulltime in my late forties and obtain my Bachelor of Theology degree, a dream I had had ever since I was around nineteen years old.

Now at this stage of my life, I wonder again what God has for me to do. Should I persevere with my writing and speaking? Or is God leading me into a different kind of ministry? Whatever the answers to those questions might turn out to be, I know I still want to ‘seize the moment’ and make my life count, because, before I know it, I will no longer have these opportunities. Even though we live in different times from the Apostle Paul, I want to heed his commands to do just that.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:16-17

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:4

May God guide us all as we seize those moments we have been given and make the most of them.

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Jo 23‘Do you think a visit to IKEA might be in order soon?’ a friend texted me.

‘Great!’ I texted back. ‘I’ll look around here and see if I can think of anything we need.’

Then it struck me how ironic my response was.  If I had to work hard at thinking of something I might need, then the chances are I do not truly need whatever it might be at all! If I have to wrack my brains to come up with something that would make life better or easier for us, then it’s more than possible we can well do without it.

A few days later, after visiting a nearby weekend market, I sat down and enjoyed a lovely cup of coffee my husband had bought for me.

‘I really needed that!’ I told him, as I swallowed those last few drops.

But did I? Yes, it gave me that temporary energy boost I was looking for—and yes, it made me feel less thirsty. But I think I might have been able to survive without it. I wanted it, but I didn’t really need it—unlike people lost in the desert need water or a newborn baby needs milk to survive.

Then yesterday, I found myself using that little word ‘need’ in yet another context.

‘I need to fit in a swim this afternoon,’ I told my husband. ‘I’m heading up to the pool now.’

Yes, I do need to swim to help my back recover from past damage. So I am grateful for that heated pool in our village—and that I had it all to myself yesterday! But did I really need to relax in that beautiful, warm spa right next to the pool for as long as I did afterwards? Still, it was wonderful—and, all the while, I felt God was smiling and saying to me, ‘It’s okay to relax, Jo-Anne, and enjoy my company in the process!’ Sometimes we do need those moments of pure relaxation, don’t we—doing nothing except letting those ideas flow in and out of our minds and talking to God in the process, as I did while the water bubbled around me in that spa?

I’m so glad God knows what I need and is always there, ready to supply just that. In fact, all the resources I have, material and otherwise, are gifts from our generous and loving God, who, as Paul assured the early believers, is able to meet all my needs ‘according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19). So how can I continually grasp at things, wanting this and that? Instead, I am trying to hold everything more lightly and to be much more willing to supply what is lacking for others.

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18

For me, it’s about walking hand in hand with God each day, listening well, opening my eyes to see the real needs around me—then doing something about them. And because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need to do just that (Psalm 23).

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Jo 12There we were, our youngest granddaughter and I, chilling out together on a beautiful, sunny day. She had come to visit, complete with her pink, plastic, three-wheeled scooter, so we decided to explore the nearby paths together. She is only three, so I was genuinely surprised at how well she could manage that little scooter of hers.

‘Wow, that’s excellent, Maxine!’ I told her. ‘You ride your scooter so well!’

‘I can only do my very best,’ she replied in a cute little matter-of-fact way.

‘Pardon?’ I said, taken aback.

‘I can only do my very best,’ she repeated in her most satisfied tone.

I was more than a little impressed. Where had she learnt such wisdom at her young age? From her parents? Her teachers at day care? One of her little friends? Some TV program? I could only guess—but I knew she hadn’t learnt it from me.

You see, I think I developed a rather warped idea of what doing one’s best meant as I grew up. I am sure my parents encouraged me to do just that in all sorts of things—keeping my room tidy, clearing the table after meals, doing homework, piano practice, choir practice and so many other areas of my life. But somewhere along the line, I managed to decide that doing my very best was not enough. Instead, I wanted to be the best. I needed to beat all those other children in my class when it came to those term exams. I had to come top. I had to be on that prize-winners’ list. And I needed to get that honours mark in practical music and theory exams too. In short, I became a bit of a perfectionist all round.

While I believe there are pluses in aiming high, even perhaps aiming for perfection, there are down sides too. We can become too hard on ourselves. We can become dissatisfied with our efforts. We may find ourselves unable to enjoy any of our excellent achievements. And we can also become far too hard on those around us, as we put our own expectations onto them. So what a joy to hear how our Maxine already seems to have grasped the concept of doing one’s very best and being content with that!

Some of you, like me, might have grown up with a parent who asserted that ‘if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’. Yet, over the years, I have come to prefer the words of Paul in Colossians 3:23-24 so much more:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

I prefer these because I now know the Lord Paul talks about here. I have experienced his amazing heart of love, his grace, his forgiveness, his understanding. Yes, truly he deserves our very best. Yet, whatever happens, I know he will accept me. His yoke is easy and his burden is light, as the Lord himself has told us (Matthew 10:30)—and I know he will strengthen me and help me grow, as I seek to serve him.

Now that’s the best news any perfectionist can hear!

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IMG_20170609_143813167I sit at my desk, enjoying the sunshine that streams through my study window. I can see shrubs close by, then taller trees beyond. Today, their leaves are rippling in the wind—it feels somehow soothing to watch them and to note how their shapes are etched against the bright blue sky. It is cool outside, but I am warm and snug, as I try to find words to describe what I am seeing and feeling. I love writing about my beautiful surroundings, but I so much want to do justice to it all.

As I reflect, I realise I am feeling a twinge of what could only be called guilt. How did we end up here, after living in our little, wooden house for thirty-two years? How come that old house sold for such a good price, enabling us to afford our comfortable, spacious unit? Perhaps it’s all a dream, I think to myself. Perhaps I’ll wake up one morning and find myself back in our old home, instead of in this lovely, quiet place where the only sounds are the birds outside, twittering and singing to one another. I know there are people nearby, but we are on the edge of our Village, where our peace is largely undisturbed, unless we choose to venture out somewhere.

In the quietness, I try to slow my racing mind. God is here with me, I know—and I choose to stop, be still and settle into that warm, loving Presence all around me. Yet, for some reason, I feel unworthy at this point in time. God, why have you chosen to give us all this beauty and comfort, my heart cries out. What have we done to deserve so much material blessing? Could it be … maybe you meant it for someone else, God? Has it all been a big mistake?

Then I sense God’s loving arms around me and feel the Spirit’s warmth and fullness flooding my being. I open my Bible, but even before I do, I seem to hear God’s gentle, reassuring voice: This is no mistake, Jo-Anne. This is just a picture in the natural of the grace I have poured out on you in the spiritual. As you look around and enjoy what you have received, know it is my delight to give you a place where you can flourish and where you can serve me with a heart at peace and overflowing with my love for others. And as you do, may you be reminded of the abundance of my grace that called you to be part of my family forever—that grace beyond measure that you can never earn or buy.

I turn the pages then and read one of my favourite verses written by the Apostle John, then another from the Apostle Paul:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God …. Ephesians 2:8

Then I sit back and relax. Yes, Lord, it is all gift. Everything we have, everything we are. Thank you, from the depths of my heart, for your amazing, overwhelming grace.

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There is something quite therapeutic, I have discovered, about throwing things out—or perhaps I should change that statement to some things! Yes, I admit I do still have trouble parting with my beloved books and old music. So, as we prepare to move soon, those precious items are packed tightly away, in the hope I can find a spot for them in our next home.

It has amazed me how much extraneous stuff I have found everywhere that I have had no trouble getting rid of, however—forgotten things, things I have rarely used, things I had always thought were ugly but, for various reasons, had kept them in the corner of a cupboard. Somehow it is kind of freeing to place them in that bulging bin outside or give them to someone who truly likes them or can see a use for them.

IMG_20170507_162156393Then there are those larger items we have used for so many years that are now too shabby or too big to be taken with us to our next home. I had thought I would feel some pangs of grief as we put certain of these items out on the footpath this past weekend for the council clean-up. Yet instead, what fun it was to watch some of them disappear, as various passers-by decided they would like this or that!

First off, I watched as the metal scrap dealer wheeled away our daughter’s ancient bike, along with another daughter’s very heavy, old vacuum cleaner. Then I smiled as I saw two young men take an old bedside chest of drawers. My husband had kept lots of paperwork in those drawers throughout our married life—what would those drawers hold next? And how good it felt to give away our old, art deco sideboard to someone who plans to do it up! We bought it second-hand around forty-five years ago for twenty dollars when we first moved to Sydney—it owes us nothing and will hopefully take on a whole new lease of life as a trendy, art deco piece of furniture in someone’s lounge room.

It seems to me that our whole house has become lighter, as we have gradually got rid of all these possessions of ours. Of course, we still have more than enough left—embarrassingly more than enough. As I pack, I keep thinking of those in other countries who would feel wealthy beyond measure to own this or that item or so much stuff in general. Perhaps this move has been a good exercise in itself to remind me of that and to nudge me towards sharing what I do have with others in a much more generous manner.

But beyond that, I have also been reminded of a sermon illustration my husband saw as a young man. The preacher took a bowl of water, dipped his hand in it and then shook the drips of water off his fingers. ‘That’s how lightly we need to hold onto our possessions in this world,’ he told his congregation.

And that’s an important lesson I need to learn too.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 1 Timothy 6:6-8

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Maxine's 1st bday 2015 073eI know. I should never have tried to feed our little granddaughter while sitting on the lounge, but I thought it might work. Besides, her dinner was yummy spaghetti Bolognese—she was bound to like it. I tried to pop that first spoonful into her mouth, but she knocked it flying. I got the message. She was not interested—at all.

I decided to play a game with her. I picked up one long strand and dangled it into her mouth, but she was still unhappy. What she wanted, I realised, was to put her hands right in the middle of that spaghetti Bolognese and shovel it all in herself! She refused every other tricky manoeuvre I could think of to feed her and stubbornly hung out for what she really wanted to do.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. Her Nanna caved in! And a few strands did make it to her mouth. But lots more ended up on us both—as well as the lounge and carpet!

Not long after, it was story time. Our three year old grandson Zain picked out two books and was soon seated on the lounge listening intently as Granddad read the first one. I thought Maxine would happily play by herself for a while, but no. With an affronted yell, she grabbed the other book and, after glancing at me as if to say, ‘Ha! I’ve got a book too now!’, she ensconced herself beside her brother and howled. No, she was not happy sharing Zain’s storybook. She wanted Nanna to read her one of her own. And she stubbornly hung in there till Nanna once again caved in.

Now one might well say I should have let Maxine know at that point who was really in charge and not indulge her. After all, she needs to know she can’t always get her own way. Yet for some strange, perverse reason, I admired her strong determination to go for what she wanted and to persevere, despite my best efforts to deter or distract her. Part of me cheered her along—You go for it, girl! Make it clear to us what’s going on inside that little head of yours so we understand. Grow and learn!

You see, such thinking at certain times in my life has enabled me to overcome so many obstacles, return to study twice and get those necessary qualifications, as well as persevere in my writing journey of recent years. I know I could not have achieved all this apart from God. I would have fallen in a heap many times over, had God’s Spirit not strengthened me to stay focussed on what I believed I had been called to do. Yet I had a choice as well—to give in to the enemy’s lies and taunts or to stubbornly stand firm and resist, as the Apostle Paul urges us to do:

Therefore, put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place. Ephesians 6:13-14

Hmm—I think stubbornness has its place at times, don’t you?

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