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Posts Tagged ‘the Apostle Paul’

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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P1040053Recently, while digging out my old high school magazines from the sixties for a friend, I noticed again our school motto, ‘Scientia est potestas’—‘Knowledge is power’. The school had an excellent academic record and, as a result, there were plenty of high achievers who later made it into all sorts of fields—education, politics, business and so on—including a Governor-General and a few other people of note. While I might not have ended up a person of any great note, I did my best to acquire lots of knowledge and succeed in all my studies.

Seeing that old high school motto reminded me of my primary school one as well—‘Striving to progress’. And, digging a little further, I found my old primary school reports, glued inside an ancient exercise book. Yes, I certainly did ‘strive to progress’, always taking great pride in being top of the class.

I am so thankful for my sound academic background. But I suspect that, in all of the striving towards progress and gaining of knowledge and aiming for excellence, I became more than a tad perfectionist in my approach to things. Perhaps that’s one reason I now find the whole idea of inner peace from God so attractive and write about it often. And perhaps that’s why I resonated with a little phrase I read recently in Emily Freeman’s book Grace for the Good Girl. After sharing about a talk she heard on Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha’s home (Luke 10), which included encouragement to receive the gift of rest, she writes:

I wanted to give myself permission to sit down on the inside and live like I have a God who knows what he’s doing. (p 65)

Isn’t that a wonderful phrase—‘sit down on the inside’? Does that concept resonate with you? To me, it speaks of heaving a big sigh and relaxing every part of me, knowing I am totally accepted and loved by God. To me, it’s the opposite of letting my mind dart here and there, worrying about all sorts of possibilities, and, instead, resting in God with complete trust. Yes, I need to strive to move forward with my writing and speaking, but there is a way of doing this, I believe, that is characterised by peace and trust in God rather than inner angst.

These days too, I seem drawn to those verses about peace in the Bible with enough regularity to cause me to think God wants me to take good note of them. Recently, I noted Jesus’ wonderful words to his disciples—words I believe that are meant for all of us:

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

Then this past week, I came across the Apostle Paul’s final blessing to the Thessalonians:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. 2 Thessalonians 3:16

May we all know that peace-giving presence of the Lord with us as we practise the art of sitting down on the inside.

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There we were, the whole family seated at the restaurant, waiting for our meals to arrive. The moment had come for me to open my birthday gifts. The first was a small, slim parcel in purple tissue paper and ribbon—my favourite colour. Inside, I discovered a beautiful, handcrafted pair of earrings, chosen for me by one of our daughters—a special gift I now wear with pride. The second was from our son and his family—an intriguing looking box with a brightly striped ribbon keeping the lid in place.

As soon as I lifted that lid, my senses were assailed by a wonderful mix of interesting perfumes. I peeked inside—and there lay an array of beautiful soaps, bath salts and other similar items, of all different shapes, sizes and bright, contrasting colours. It was a delight to pick them up one by one and enjoy those different aromas—mango, orange, peppermint, vanilla, rose, lime, lavender. I loved them all—each one was so intriguing and unique. Again, I had been given a gift I truly love.

‘I chose all them,’ our big, burly Maths teacher son told me then. ‘I spent ages in the shop—the ladies there were laughing at me because I took so long to decide! And did you notice the purple and black tissue paper in the bottom of the box? I had to find just the right colours to go with it all. The box had to be the exact right size as well–and I wanted the ribbon to match all the different colours of the soap too. It looks good, don’t you think?’

I assured him I loved it all. Yes, I laughed, along with everyone else, at the way he was so proud of his gift and the story of how long he had taken to choose it all. But I was touched as well at his labour of love on my behalf.

I open that box again now and admire all those special little gifts it contains. I wonder then if I will have the heart to use them. At the moment, my carefully chosen gift is just that little bit too precious—precious in that it speaks not only of a human love that will go to such trouble to select a special gift for me but also of God’s extravagant love for each one of us. It reminds me how God created us with such care and intricacy—each unique, with our own special shape, size, aroma and flavour to offer this world as only we can.

You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14

And God has given each of us gifts with which to bless others, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12, and to enable them to function as God intended them to. As God’s children, created in God’s own image with God’s own Spirit living within us, we have all we need to make a difference in this world and to take that light and love of the Lord everywhere we go—surely a labour of love we can all approach with thankfulness and joy.

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Jo 23Isn’t it wonderful when we meet people who seem to be so at peace with God, with themselves and with the world at large? I can think of a number of folk I have met over the years who could be described in this way. And the reason I have noticed them is, no doubt, that I have longed to be so much more like them.

I grew up with a very caring mum who always did more that she should have for me. She worked hard in every area of her life—but she also worked hard at worrying. I’m sure I often gave her plenty of scope to do just that—yet sometimes it seemed to me she worried about nothing. Sadly, her fears about what might happen robbed her of her enjoyment of many things, often bringing a worried frown to her face and uncertain questions to her lips.

When our children were growing up, one of their favourite ‘Mr Men’ books was Mr Worry. Poor Mr Worry worries about everyone and everything—until he meets a wizard who promises to make sure none of the things Mr Worry is worried about will ever happen. For a whole week, Mr Worry can’t think of a single thing to worry about. But then all that changes. And, on the last page of this little book, we discover that Mr Worry, after seeing the wizard again, goes home ‘to worry about not having anything to worry about!

Now I’d be interested to know how that wizard could ensure none of those things that worried Mr Worry so much would ever happen! It’s a nice thought—but hardly realistic, after all. How much more realistic, in contrast, are the Apostle Paul’s words:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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

This does not mean that those of us who pray and trust God with our future will never encounter difficulties. In John 17:33, we read Jesus’ words to his disciples not long before he is crucified:

“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.”

This is what it’s about—peace in the midst of whatever is happening around us, knowing our God is with us and is bigger than anything the world can throw at us. Yes, at times God does rescue us out of difficult situations while, at other times, our path seems to lie through them instead. Yet we are not alone. God is with us, strengthening us and watching over us. ‘And the God of peace will be with you’, Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:9.

This is my prayer for myself for 2015—that, whatever happens with my writing and speaking, my family, my friends and the world at large, I will remain in that place of deep peace with God.

May you too find this place of deep, deep peace in God as you face the year ahead.

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Jo 23It is a well-known fact in our family that I am quite skilled at being clumsy. Even I admit I qualify well for the title of ‘klutz’ that my children have readily bestowed on me over the years. But one recent Sunday afternoon, I excelled myself. While out walking on a completely flat bike track near our home, I managed to turn my ankle and, unable to right myself, landed full length on that very hard surface with a resounding splat.

I sat there for some time, waiting for the shock to wear off and that wave of sickness to go. Then I turned around and noticed a small section of tree branch lying nearby on the path. Was this what had made my left foot roll onto its side? It looked so harmless and insignificant—no wonder I had missed seeing it. Then again, I had been walking along, thinking about all sorts of things, instead of watching where I put my feet.

With the help of a passing cyclist, I managed to stand up. But as soon as I tried to walk, I knew something was wrong. On top of that, my right arm did not feel the best either. I limped to the next street and sank down on a nearby wall, before phoning my husband to come and rescue me.

The next morning, we headed to Concord Hospital and discovered that, while my arm had no breaks, I had chipped some bone off the base of my ankle. My foot was duly put in plaster and I hobbled out to the car on crutches, feeling somewhat sorry for myself.

It had taken only a small piece of wood lying on a wide, flat path to bring me down—literally. Yet, as I thought about it, I realised how often that same thing happens in my life on a different level as well. While I might remember to look to God to help me face those bigger challenges that come my way, it is so often the little, daily challenges I regard as unimportant or overlook entirely that can cause me to stumble. How many times do I look to God for strength to speak somewhere, for example—just as I had when preaching in the morning service at our church on the same day I fell over? Yet how many more times do I ignore or not even notice those little things in my life that dishonour God on a daily basis? How often do I choose to pass on that piece of gossip or tell that half truth or be jealous of another’s success or stay angry or lose patience with someone?

Next time I walk along that bike track near us, I plan to watch out for those little bits of branch that have fallen onto it. And next time I am in danger of stumbling in one of these ‘small’ ways Paul mentions in both Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4, I hope I will choose a better path. After all, I don’t want to break any more bones. But, much more importantly, I don’t want to hurt God either.

How about you? Are you watching how and where you walk?

Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Col 3:12

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