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Posts Tagged ‘the children of Israel’

It’s strange, isn’t it, how easily we can become creatures of habit? Sometimes this is a good thing. After all, for years, my husband has got up before I have and made a cup of tea for us both! But sometimes we can stick to those old ways, without thinking whether something else might work better all round. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’, we sometimes say. But maybe, from time to time, some things do need fixing—or at least adjusting a little.

In our family circle, we realised recently we had somehow settled into the habit of celebrating family birthdays at our place over a Sunday evening dinner—the only time everyone could be there. It worked well, yet for our youngest grandchildren, that means a rather late bedtime, which does not help them to be ready for school on Monday morning. So … what to do?

In the end, we tried a Sunday afternoon tea at our home, which everyone enjoyed. So, for our next celebration, we decided to do it again, only this time at our younger daughter’s home. And wow—what a special spread awaited us there!

IMG_20191020_150656090On arrival, we found a beautifully laid out table, complete with a charcuterie board containing all sorts of interesting fare—four different cheeses, spicy cold cuts, nuts, olives, blueberries, dried fruits and various crackers and other nibbles. I added my ‘old faithful’ egg sandwiches I had been asked to bring, thinking no one would ever choose them over all those other tempting morsels. Yet, lo and behold, they soon disappeared, along with much of everything else.

Later, the charcuterie board was whisked away and fresh fruit, plus two homemade cakes were put before us—a luscious chocolate cherry ripe mud cake and a to-die-foIMG_20191020_161525972_BURST001r, gluten-free mandarin and almond meal cake, complete with warm syrup and whipped cream. I added my own offering of old-style small cakes and chocolate slices, and yep—soon too much of that yummy food, old and new, had been eagerly devoured.

As I reflected on our birthday feast, I realised what we could have missed out on if we had stuck to our old routine of dinner at our place. But more than that, I thought about those times when I have missed out on the wonderful feast of good things God wants to offer me—new things to try and savour, as well as the more familiar, satisfying fare that always sustains me. At times, I have been like God’s people in the past who so often sadly missed out on the wonderful provisions God had for them:

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies … But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. Psalm 81:13-16

Let’s not ignore such a heartfelt plea to allow God to provide for us in all sorts of ways—physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are each invited to God’s table—and I for one don’t want to miss out on God’s gracious offer. So let’s accept that invitation, turn up to dine with the King of Kings and be fed with the finest of fare beyond anything we could ever imagine!

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Jo 23Of course I could never relate to the following (!), but I wonder if you are the sort of person who often tends to be just that little bit harder on yourself than God would ever consider being. Where God would choose to treat you with grace and kindness, you instead choose to drive yourself on and to berate yourself that you have not done enough or been perfect enough. You may even find it difficult to admit you are only human, after all, and not superwoman—or superman!

Yep, somehow that sounds all too familiar to me—at least at times. There are so many things I may want to do and can do. And so many things I may need to do that are merely part of life. Yet, unless I listen to God, learn to trust God’s guidance and rely on God’s enabling, I can easily run myself ragged.

Recently, I read again the very long Psalm 78, where the psalmist challenges God’s people to look back in their history and see how many times God rescued them and had mercy on them, yet how many times they chose to go their own way. As I read, I began to apply it to my own life—to remember the numerous difficult patches God has brought me through, to recall all the wonderful gifts God has given me along the way in the form of special people or amazing experiences or achievements beyond anything I ever expected. And as I did, I sensed things somehow falling into place deep in my spirit and heard God’s calming voice, reassuring me, as Julian of Norwich once wrote, that ‘all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’.

In Psalm 78, we read how God’s people at one stage did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law. They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them’ (10-11). Further on in their history, they apparently ‘did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance’ (22). Things seem to look up at another later stage, however:

They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. (35)

Yet sadly, we find a big let-down once again in the very next two verses:

But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with them tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant. (36-37)

Wow! Am I like that at times, I had to ask myself? Hmm.

What a relief then to come to the two following verses, right in the middle of the psalm:

Yet he was merciful, he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. (38-39)

How much we need to remember, like God’s people way back then, that God is our Rock and our Redeemer—that we, who are like that momentary, passing breeze, need to rely so much on God’s strength and love and mercy and forgiveness and grace! Then, and only then, will we be at rest deep down, living out of that place of peace each day.

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Jo 23I wonder what traditions have emerged in your family or among your friends over the years. Perhaps they involve doing something together at a particular time each year or celebrating birthdays or some other special event in a particular way. And if or when these traditions are overlooked or cannot be continued for some reason, we feel their loss keenly.

Almost every school holidays, my husband takes our two older granddaughters out separately for dinner. They are free to choose where they want to go and what they will eat—but, would you believe, most times, they choose the same restaurant and exactly the same meal they chose the previous time? So …  is it still really their favourite restaurant and favourite meal? Or is it that the power of tradition is so strong that it wouldn’t feel right if they chose something different when out with Granddad?

Recently when my husband came home from taking our thirteen-year-old granddaughter out, I asked him how it had gone.

‘Oh, lovely, as usual! We chatted about all sorts of things!’

I left it at that. Obviously, he had enjoyed their time together—and I trust our granddaughter did too. Yes, the day might well come soon when our granddaughters may have other interests and be less willing to accept such invitations. And no doubt one day, my husband will no longer be able to do such things with them. But when those times come, I hope they remember how much he enjoyed listening to them, providing for them and treating them as young ladies.

As I reflected further, I began to wonder how many times I myself have been less than willing to accept a dinner invitation with the most perfect and gracious host of all. How often have I acted like those ungrateful Israelites who forgot how the Lord had set them free and ignored his pleas to submit to him so that he could rescue them from their enemies and fill their mouths with good food?

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! … But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. Psalm 81:13-16

The beautiful words of Psalm 23 came to mind too, where David writes how the Lord our Shepherd delights to provide a wonderful spread for us, anointing our heads as a host would anoint an honoured guest, and providing us with more than enough food and drink, as well as the space and time to enjoy it, even in the face of our enemies:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

I hope and pray in this coming year, I will value those precious times of being in the Lord’s presence and sharing my life with him each day so that they become a tradition I cannot do without.  And I hope and pray you can too.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

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One morning recently, I heard a soft knock on our front door. And there was our neighbour, holding something out to me.

‘I wanted you to have these’ she explained. ‘They’re my “first fruits”—and I like the whole idea of that!’

green-beans-2707996_1920I glanced down and saw around eight green beans in her hand. Not only does this lady produce a beautiful array of flowers around her unit but also a few vegetables, herbs and even some fruit. Her garden gives her much joy—a joy she was now sharing with us. And because I know my neighbour is very grateful to God for all she has and can still do, I understood her gift was a thanksgiving offering as well.

While those fresh, crunchy beans did not last long in our house, my neighbour’s words stayed with me, causing me to reflect on the whole idea of ‘first fruits’ and research it for myself. And as I did, I discovered that the concept stems from the belief that everything we have originates from God, the Creator of the universe. After all, Psalm 24:1-2 says:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

Then, in Deuteronomy 26 in the Old Testament, we find Moses reminding God’s people, as they were at last about to enter the Promised Land, to be sure to give God the first fruits from all their future crops. They were to bring these to the priest on duty, declare out loud how God had delivered them and their forefathers from slavery in Egypt and brought them to a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ (9), and place their offering before the Lord. Finally, we read in verse 11:

And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

So today, deliberately giving up those first fruits of our earthly endeavours, whether things we grow or other items we produce or money we earn, may still well be a great way of thanking God for all we have received. We may not present them to a priest, as in Old Testament times, although some churches still have a harvest festival which incorporates this idea. But as my neighbour did, perhaps we too can express our thanks to God and our joy in all we have been given, by passing on our own unique version of first fruits, thus blessing someone else as well.

Hmm—now that’s a challenge for me! Yes, I do give away a few copies of any new book I write when they first arrive fresh from the printer. But I also tend to cling onto what is mine because, after all, I worked jolly hard to produce it or earn it!  Yet I know in my heart any gift or ability I have is from God—and it is only by God’s grace that I write anything or have anything published. So why be so stingy?

I think that first fruits idea has a lot going for it, don’t you? And I hope I remember my green beans lesson for a long time to come.

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Maxine4We have a certain one-year-old granddaughter who has a knack of getting her own way—especially with her Nanna! Yes, our Maxine can now walk or climb or even run places. But sometimes it’s a different story. Sometimes she decides she wants to be picked up and carried—or simply held and cuddled, cheek to cheek, to her heart’s content!

At times, I can be working in the kitchen when she will come around the corner, whimpering a little, arms raised. Whatever I’m doing, she wants to be up there with me, seeing what is happening or merely being held. And when I try to meet her eyes, she carefully averts them, as if to say ‘There’s nothing wrong—I just wanted to be picked up! And I got my way—yay!’

There is one problem, however. I have yet to perfect the art of picking up Maxine in a way that does not damage my back any further. Yes, I know one is supposed to use one’s knees rather than bend at the waist. But … well, in the heat of the moment, I tend to forget. I bend and lift and bend and lift because … well, this is my granddaughter we’re talking about! Besides, she’s just so cute and cuddly!

There’s a lot of bending down involved in caring for young children, isn’t there? If it’s not picking them up, it’s getting them into car seats or helping take their shoes off or changing nappies or tidying up toys or cleaning up messes or doing any number of other tasks. One day they will be able to look after themselves—but not quite yet.

It was perhaps because of all this that I particularly noticed some beautiful, poetic words in Hosea 11:1-4 this past week about God’s amazing love for the children of Israel. God called them out of Egypt, strengthening them, teaching them and healing them so they could stand on their own two feet. Yet they still went astray and worshipped other gods. In verses 3-4, we read:

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.

What beautiful images these are of God’s ‘bending down’, as it were, in order to offer such patient nurturing to these Israelites! Here is God, the Creator and Lord of the Universe, pouring out such love on them, leading them to the Promised Land, setting them free, going to great lengths to feed them. And surely this is the same heart God still longs to show to each of us as we journey through life? How many times does God bend down to pick me up on a daily basis, hold me close, clean me up, set me on my feet again and help me walk forward in much greater freedom?

I hope I never take for granted God’s patient, loving nurture of me. This week, every time I bend down to pick up Maxine or care for her in some other way, may I remember to thank God for doing the same—and more—for me.

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