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Posts Tagged ‘the Apostle Paul’

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 12Have you ever noticed how some English words that have an unpleasant, negative kind of meaning seem to sound unpleasant as well? Take for example the words ‘gloat’, ‘brag’, ‘skite’ and ‘boast’, with their rather hard, guttural consonants. Or does the meaning of these words merely colour how I hear them? Would someone unfamiliar with English still think they sound unpleasant?

A few months ago, I spoke at a meeting in a club. My topic was focussed on the lessons we learn throughout our lives and how, as we grow, we hopefully become more of the person we were created to be. While talking about my own school years, I showed a photo of an old report card of mine and mentioned my determination to come first in every exam in primary school—which I managed to do. But then I heard a lady at a nearby table say in quite a nasty tone, ‘Well, why don’t you skite about it!’ Now I had not meant to boast in any way. In fact, my aim was to point out how foolish I was to try to impress others with my academic achievements and thus make me more popular. That night, that little word ‘skite’ I overheard sounded particularly ugly to me. And, rightly or wrongly, I decided to respond.

‘That’s the very point I’m making,’ I told this lady, who now seemed just a little embarrassed. ‘Why skite about such things? There’s so much more to us than what we can achieve or do well. And it’s foolish to depend on these things to win friends and impress others.’

Maybe I should have let the comment pass, but words like ‘skite’, ‘brag’ and ‘boast’ do not go down well with me! And that might be why some words Paul wrote on the topic caught my eye recently:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the word to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Paul then quotes the prophet Jeremiah:

Therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (31)

I then checked out the passage in Jeremiah where these words come from—and what treasure I found there!

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23-24

Wow—what a wonderful Lord we are privileged to know! Who else could ever treat us with such perfect justice and righteousness or delight to show us such kindness? Only our Lord—and I’m happy to be accused of boasting about him anytime.

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Jo 17Who would have thought? Way back in July 2009, I started my personal blog journey, wondering whether I would continue to have enough things to write about. Yet here I am, five hundred blogs later, still finding something each week to share with others.  Also during this time, I have written over ninety blogs for various Christian author groups, sharing lessons from my writing journey and encouraging other authors. Phew!

Now that represents a lot of words cobbled together—around 325,000 in fact. If I had decided not to blog and instead shaped all those words into full-length books, I could have produced three and a half more novels in that time, to add to those I did manage to complete and see through to publication. No one made me choose to churn out those blogs each week, but I continued doing it for various reasons.

Firstly on a practical level, committing myself to producing a blog each week—or perhaps several ahead of time, if I planned to be away or had a busy schedule coming up—has kept me writing consistently, even if that meant less time to spend on bigger writing projects. Also, for wordy writers like me, it is good discipline to restrict myself to around 550 words, while attempting to say something worthwhile each week!

But perhaps more importantly, writing my blogs has become a little ministry that seems to suit my particular gifts and personality well and provides a way for me to connect with those I have known in past years, as well as many readers I don’t know personally at all. It is a way I can encourage others via sharing something God has done in my life or some lesson I have taken to heart from God’s Word or perhaps something God seems to highlight in the people, places or events in the world around me. And in the process, I often encourage myself all over again, as I reflect on what I feel God wants me to say and crystallise those thoughts running around in my brain.

Recently, I chatted with a friend who was preparing a eulogy for the funeral of a close relative. I shared with her how some of Jesus’ words as he prays to his heavenly Father, just prior to being arrested, had challenged me that morning:

I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. John 17:4

How wonderful it would be, we decided, if we, like Jesus, could truly say that at the end of our time here on earth! It is what we both aim for in our lives—to do the work God has given us to do, however big or small that might be. And I feel that my writing, including my little effort with my blogs, has been part of that work God has gifted and enabled me to do.

Recently when I spoke at an event, I mentioned some similar words that the Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy and that I would like at my own funeral:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

I hope I can say that when my time comes. Is that your hope too?

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Jo 17As an introverted writer, there is nothing I like more than sitting at my desk, typing away in perfect peace and quiet. As I do, I can look out my window at the trees and shrubs and beyond them to the sky. I hear birds chirping and the occasional bark of a dog, yet these sounds are pleasant and somehow reassuring. In these moments, I feel so blessed—and spoilt! I have peace, both inside and out—and I am so grateful for God’s gracious hand on my life.

Yes, sometimes that outer peace of mine disappears when little grandchildren arrive and run around excitedly or when we mind them at their house until mum or dad finish work. Sometimes too, we have visitors for meals or for a longer period. Sometimes I venture out to speak at various events or promote my books, which always involves much relating to others. And each week I attend church and happily mix with the family of God there. I also meet with others one-on-one for coffee and truly value these intimate conversations. Yet afterwards, I scuttle back home to my place of peace, where I sit and process everything—and thank God again for my lovely, quiet space where I can reflect and be refreshed in my spirit.

But sometimes that inner peace of mine can also disappear, which is much more alarming. Sometimes I take my eyes off God and refuse to listen to the Spirit’s voice, urging me to be still, to become aware of God’s presence in me and around me, to remember God knows all about my issues and those facing anyone near and dear to me, as well as those in the world at large. Sometimes I choose to worry so much about this and that, instead of handing it all over to God. Sometimes I fret over situations when it is way beyond my ability to sort it all out for those involved. Sometimes I foolishly ignore that peace God is holding out to me with such love and grace and instead decide to cling onto that deep turmoil within.

How important it is in these times to stop and read again Jesus’ words to his disciples—and to me:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

And how important the Apostle Paul’s words are too:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Whatever is happening in your life right now, may you too be able to turn to God, be still and rest in that peace only God can give.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

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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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