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Posts Tagged ‘the Apostle Paul’

Jo 12Whenever we mind our two young grandchildren after school at their home, we go armed with various games, plus something yummy for afternoon tea, of course! On top of that, they have an amazing variety of games and toys and books of their own available. There is a great playground nearby where we can head too. And another option is watching TV, but it is rarely one they choose. Anyway, we can never find the remote!

Each week, we wonder what game or idea will grab them. Will our grandson tackle the ‘Expert’ level of our own son’s ‘Rush Hour’ puzzle again? Will he want to increase his skills at Chinese Checkers, a new game to him? Will our granddaughter beat me at Uno again or play that old card game ‘Donkey’? Or will she want to play ‘Trouble’, a morphed version of Ludo that we loved to play as children?

This past week, however, I was floored when our granddaughter Maxine did not want to do or play anything we suggested. Instead, she chose an imaginary game of her own, with imaginary goodies and baddies—and oh so much imaginary action that stunned me. I was invited/told to sit in a certain spot while she, the heroine, came to my aid after some horrible, imaginary person stole my purse. And, as I looked at her big, trusting, brown eyes, willing me to join in with all my heart, how could I do otherwise? There was much wailing and gesticulating and explaining, as she assured me she knew who the baddies were and would find my money. And to her satisfaction, she did—although I was left wondering where on earth the various story-lines she invented were taking us!

How could she possibly think up such things? Even the names she gave her imaginary characters were intriguing, with some being different people with the same name, just to trick us! For me, the whole experience provided an amazing insight into the intricacies of a child’s wonderful, fertile, unspoilt imagination where everything was possible and where Maxine knew, as the heroine, that she would win through in the end.

It seems a shame that, as the years pass, such joyful imagination tends to be squashed out of us, don’t you think, as we mature and become more logical and pragmatic? So often too, we lose that childlike sense of wonder and excitement I saw in Maxine’s eyes as I played her game with all the enthusiasm and imagination I could muster. And what about our childlike sense of trust that invites grandmothers to join in such games and is positive she will know what to do and say next? How easily that can disappear too!

We all need to grow up and manage our lives well. And we all need to grow and mature in our faith in God too and put childish ways of thinking behind us, as the Apostle Paul explains (1 Corinthians 13:11). Nevertheless, on one occasion, Jesus called a little child to join him and said the following:

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3

Imagine what our world would be like if more of us became humble children again and truly believed. Just imagine!

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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 17Recently, my brother-in-law turned seventy-five—and in that same week, retired from an active ministry role in his denomination. For his last sermon, he was delighted to be given the story of the prodigal son on which to base his message, along with 2 Corinthians 5, which focusses on ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ and includes the following:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (20)

What a good way to sum up a life of ministry! This surely needs to be the central focus, not only of those in such roles but of anyone who, as a ‘new creation’ in Christ (17), seeks to live a life that honours God. How it plays out in our lives will be different for each of us, but what a wonderful ‘message of reconciliation’ (19) we all have to share with others!

We need reconciliation on so many levels in our world, don’t we—between nations, political factions, neighbourhoods, families, individuals—and even within ourselves. Perhaps it is on this latter level that we need it most because, when we are at peace in our own hearts, our whole perspective changes. We no longer need to defend ourselves so strongly and win against others at all costs. We no longer need to destroy others or grasp what others have to feel better about ourselves. Rather than striving within ourselves, we are at rest—and the best way I know to experience this is to receive the amazing love of God and to allow that love to change us deep down. In short, the best way to be reconciled within ourselves is to be reconciled with God.

At Easter, we have the perfect opportunity to reflect once again on the the depth of God’s love for us in sending Jesus to die in our place. I love it when I can have a very quiet Easter, with plenty of time to remember Jesus’ death on my behalf and then to truly be able to rejoice that this was not the end—that Jesus rose again and is now at God’s right hand, ready to welcome us to be with him forever. How privileged we are to know this amazing love of God! We did not deserve it or earn it in any way. We are no better than anyone else—Jesus’ death was for all. So how can it be okay to keep this amazing love to ourselves alone?

This Easter, let’s take time as best we can to reflect on Jesus’ love for us all over again. Then let’s allow it to impact how we live our lives each day, as believers reconciled with God, with others and within ourselves. Let’s allow it to inspire us to remember others in prayer and in practical ways. In fact, like the Apostle Paul and his co-worker Timothy, let’s allow it to compel us to live for God in any and every way we can.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

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Jo 12We sat on the Manly Ferry together—two couples who have known one another for around fifty years. Our friends were down in Sydney from Brisbane for the weekend, so we joined them in the city and headed for Circular Quay. It’s wonderful, isn’t it, how conversations between old friends can flow on seamlessly from where we left them whenever we last met up!

Our day unfolded beautifully, with a great trip across the harbour and a stroll through the Manly Plaza, with much laughter along the way. We decided to have lunch early to avoid the crowds, so my job was to ‘bag’ a table on the beachfront while the others went to buy lunch. Now we had planned to pay for our friends’ meal, but when they all arrived back with that obligatory fish and chips, I discovered they had got in first. We protested, but in the end, had to accept defeat.

Afterwards, we strolled through nearby market stalls until we saw a coffee shop. This time, we managed to shout our visitors—phew! But not long after, they spied an ice cream shop. Now one cannot go to Manly, we decided, without having an ice cream, so there we were, all in our seventies and even eighties, standing on the footpath, licking our huge ice creams like kids! And you guessed it—our visitors paid again.

Soon after, we headed back on the ferry to Circular Quay and caught the train to near our friends’ hotel. But we could not part without yet another cup of coffee, now could we? When our friends managed to get in first again to pay, we protested, but then gave up, as our friends explained how they had put money aside for this particular weekend and this was how they wanted to spend it. Then the husband made an interesting comment:

‘Don’t worry about it, Jo-Anne!’ he said, his voice kind but a little exasperated. ‘It’s only silly old money! In a couple of years, we won’t even need it anymore!’

I was shocked at first, but then realised the truth of what he was saying. When our time here on earth is over, we can’t take anything with us, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

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

I know for many in great need in our world right now, it is not ‘only silly old money’. For many, those dollars could well mean the difference between life and death, between putting food on the table or not, between paying the bills or bankruptcy, between meeting the monthly mortgage bill or losing the family home. Yet what our friend said is still true and so important to remember. And he himself has taken heed of what Paul goes on to say:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. 1 Timothy 6:10

Our friends might have accrued some money through much hard work and wise investing, but they do not love it and hang onto it. Instead, they are so generous and use it so well to bless others in all sorts of ways—because, after all, ‘it’s only silly old money’!

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Jo 23One morning recently, I found myself setting out with some reluctance to get to a speaking engagement. It was pouring rain—and on top of that, I was tired and had found it hard to get my head around what I planned to say to this particular group. Why am I doing this, I grumbled to myself, as I headed off?

From the moment a gentleman I did not know had asked me to speak, there had been some confusion about this meeting. I offered him the choice of two topics and he decided on one, but also asked me to include some material about writing our life stories. I had therefore tried hard to condense my original talk to give me time to do what he asked. But not long before the date I was to speak, I received another email from him—and somehow now, he had switched to the other topic I had suggested! Hmm. This time, I decided I would simply ‘wing it’ and condense as I went, then try to add my few final points about life stories as asked. But I did not feel gracious about it—at all. Surely God could not bring anything good out of this particular speaking engagement!

As I drove along, a verse I had read earlier that morning came to mind:

I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

I took a deep breath—it would all be fine. But just then, as I carefully negotiated a roundabout at low speed, my trusty old car began to ‘fish tale’ on the wet road. I managed to right it but felt more than a little shaken up. How apt that verse became for me in that moment! I continued on my way, speaking that verse out loud. I could do this. After all, God was with me.

And God certainly was. As soon as I arrived, people came from various directions to help me set up and meet my every need. And as I began to speak, I could sense the audience was ready to hear what I had to say. I relaxed and sailed through my input, even covering the extra points I had been asked to add. And at the end, the questions came thick and fast.

Afterwards, a good number gathered around my book table, some just to say thank you and others to buy a book or two. I had some wonderful conversations and found the whole experience so fulfilling. And to my surprise, I even received a small cheque for my efforts!

I had not wanted to go—and I had certainly not expected God to bring such blessing out of the whole event. Yet despite my negative attitude, God still graciously used me that morning. How thankful I am that God is so much greater than my feelings or circumstances—and how much I need to echo Paul’s words of praise to our wonderful God!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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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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