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Posts Tagged ‘The family of God’

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 17Recently, the funeral an elderly gentleman who had never married and whose closest relative was a sister living in the USA was held at our church. He was a quiet, unassuming man who had worked with a Christian organisation in various parts of the world. Each Sunday, he would catch two buses to get to our church from his home a few suburbs away. But one Sunday a few weeks ago, he apparently fell over at home while getting ready and it was two or three days before friends or neighbours realised something must be wrong. The police broke in—and he was taken to hospital.

As soon as our church heard about his plight, various people started visiting him. Some helped by getting things he needed from home. Others washed his clothes. Still others prayed for and with him. Our pastors liaised with medical staff and kept his sister informed. And when the difficult decision had to be made to turn off his life support system, his Christian friends gathered around his bed, surrounded him in prayer and farewelled him in the most godly, dignified way possible.

At one stage, a nurse commented how sad it was that no family members could be with him at the end of his life.

‘But we are his family—we’re his church family!’ one of those present exclaimed.

Perhaps most moving of all, however, were the words of the head ICU doctor, after noting the love, care and respect shown to his patient by those who visited.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it!’ he said with feeling.

Now that was both a wonderful but sad comment, don’t you think? It was wonderful that the loving, sincere, Christlike care given to this elderly man seemed to amaze this doctor, but sad too that he had never before experienced people who were not biological family acting in this deeply caring way. Perhaps he may have come from a culture where such tasks are shouldered by family members only. Who knows? Yet what a reminder to us of the importance of caring for those alone and in need, not only for their sakes but also for any who might be watching and wondering!

For me, it was also a sobering reminder of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 about gathering the nations together, putting the ‘sheep’ on the right and the ‘goats’ on the left, then welcoming those on the right to take their kingdom inheritance, on the basis of having helped him when he was hungry or thirsty, in need of clothes or shelter, ill or in prison. He goes on to explain how the ‘righteous’ hypocrites will argue that they never saw him in such situations—and then adds some words that always cut me to the heart:

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (40)

How thankful I am that that elderly gentleman, who surely qualifies as one of those whom Jesus called ‘brothers of mine’, with no biological family close by to help, had his church family around him who treated him in a way that honoured both Jesus and him! May I have the grace to follow their example, show the same love and be true family to others.

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Jo 17‘So what do you think Christmas is all about, Zain?’ my husband asked our five-year-old grandson, as we drove him home from school last week.

There was silence for a while in the back of the car, but eventually he responded.

‘It’s about peace,’ he said in a very definite tone.

‘That’s an excellent answer, Zain!’ I told him—but then the moment passed and we left it at that.

Later, however, I reflected on his simple response. Why would he have chosen to say what he did? Was he repeating something he had heard at school? At kids’ church? At home? Did he even understand what the word ‘peace’ meant? Yet wherever he had heard it and whatever he thought it meant, in one word he had got to the heart of the matter, don’t you think?

Christmas is about peace—on various levels, it seems to me. It is about peace with God. It is about peace within our own hearts. It is about peace with those around us. And all of these seem to be intertwined.

Peace with God. What an incredible gift, made possible through the coming of Jesus into our world who showed us what God is like! Through Jesus’ death, we have a way back into close relationship with God. And by faith in him, we become part of the family of God—forever!

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. Romans 5:1-2

Peace within our own hearts—that deep, personal peace only God can give. That perfect peace that will sustain us through all the ups and downs of life, as we rest in God’s amazing love and trust God to guide and provide for us. That is the peace Jesus promised his disciples—and that same peace is available for us today too.

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

Peace with those around us. Once we truly know the love of God and have deep peace within ourselves, it seems to me this wider peace is easier to achieve. We don’t have to compete with or be envious of others. We don’t have to score points off them. Instead, we can focus on who God is calling us to be—and allow others to do the same. Yet obviously this is easier said than done on a worldwide scale where prejudices rage that have been in place for centuries. How much we need the reign of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, in the hearts of men and women across our world right now!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

So … may the peace of God reign in your hearts and homes this Christmas. And may 2018 see so much more of that peace on earth that Jesus Christ alone can bring!

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As a young child, I loved it when relatives came to visit or when we visited them. These people belonged to us and we belonged to them. We didn’t choose one another—that was decided for us. And yes, as I grew up, I did discover that some relatives were perhaps less enjoyable to be with than others! Come to think of it, they probably thought much the same about me!

I was (and am) fortunate enough to have a great older sister, yet it felt good to have that extended family out there as well. I remember one cousin in particular who was happy to play with my sister and me whenever we visited their family or they us. Together, we would have wonderful, imaginative adventures and plan out special concerts which our longsuffering parents had to endure as we shared our talents with them!

But I am so thankful I belong to another special, extremely extended family. Recently, I took a friend with me to a group some distance from Sydney where I was to speak. This group was from a different church denomination and my friend knew none of the women there. Yet as we drove home, she commented:

‘It’s amazing, isn’t it, how even though I hadn’t met any of these women before, there was an instant connection. It makes a real difference when we are all part of God’s family.’

Since then, I have had cause to think about her statement further as I have spoken at several other venues, inside and outside our own denomination, as well as at one interdenominational group. At the meeting with this latter group, people came to chat to me who remembered me from past connections or who knew one of our children or some mutual friend. One lady, on reading my latest book Soul Friend, had discovered it was about my relationship with my spiritual mentor Joy, whom she had known many, many years ago in another Christian context. She was so delighted to meet me as a result. In this instance in particular, but also in the other connections made that day, I realised again how blessed I am to belong to the huge, multi-faceted family of God. We might have our different ways of worshipping or meeting together. We might even sadly disagree about various issues at times within our own local church family. Yet despite that, something very deep and lasting binds us together in a unique way. And that something—or rather Someone—is the very Spirit of God who lives in each one of us through our faith in Jesus Christ. We are brothers and sisters. We are family.

I love Paul’s heart for this family of God and for the passionate way he challenges us to care for one another and stay united. In Ephesians 4:3-6, we read:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

It is a precious thing to belong to God’s family. May we never take this lightly but do all we can to continue loving, caring for and building one another up as we are able and as God has gifted us to do.

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