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Posts Tagged ‘the good news’

One night recently, I received a phone call from a distraught friend.

‘I’m in a terrible pickle!’ she gasped. ‘We filled in a form on my computer and now I’ve been scammed. Please pray!’

The next morning, I received a text from another friend. She has been quite unwell and was facing a scary doctor’s appointment.

‘Would appreciate prayer,’ she wrote. ‘I don’t want to cough in the middle of my eye injection!’

My heart went out to these friends who both needed God’s protection—and the courage to keep trusting God in their scary situations.

I began to pray for them, yet soon found myself almost overwhelmed with fear and so doubtful God would be able to rescue them. Then I realised I was falling for one of those old traps the enemy loves to set for us. I could almost hear him sniggering at my lack of faith and, at that point, I became determined not to let him win—over me or my friends. So, I prayed again, entrusting them and their situations to our loving, all-powerful Lord.

We all need courage, not only to face life’s challenges but also to stand firm in our faith, resist the enemy and be prayerful at all times. Recently, I started reading Acts again. And again, I marvelled at the change in the disciples, particularly Peter, when the Holy Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost (Acts 2). Immediately after, Peter does not hesitate to address the crowd who have gathered and call them to repentance (2:38). Then, after the lame man at the temple gates is healed, Peter boldly preaches to a huge crowd (3). And when he and John are jailed and hauled before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law, he again does not hold back.

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 4:10

I find the religious leaders’ baffled response so interesting too:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 4:17

But this is not the end. After Peter and John are commanded not to speak or teach in Jesus’ name again, they boldly declare they simply have to (4:20). They are threatened further but finally released—at which point they head back to the other believers. Then a wonderful time of prayer ensues, during which the Holy Spirit fills everyone present, enabling them to share the word of God with great boldness (4:31). And on it goes, with Peter and the apostles continuing to proclaim the good news of Jesus day after day with amazing courage (5:12-41).

I want to face life with more of this same courage and boldness, don’t you? Although we cannot be with Jesus in human form, as Peter and John were, we can still talk with him and learn from him each day. And, like those early believers, we also have God’s Spirit within us who will fill and empower us to face whatever comes our way. So … let’s trust God and go for it!

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT

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Recently, I could not resist buying a non-fiction book by one of my favourite fiction authors, Charles Martin. I wanted to see how he went about writing non-fiction and how the book compared with his novels. But as well, for some reason, its title simply caught my attention.

The book is What If It’s True? and is sub-titled A Storyteller’s journey with Jesus.

At first, I silently scoffed at using a question like this for a title. Of course it’s true, I thought—I’ve believed that for ages! Yet as I reflected further, I realised it is not only a good, honest question for anyone new to understanding who Jesus is to grapple with, but also a good, honest question for those of us who have believed for years to consider—because, over time, we can become almost blasé about it all, can’t we? Over time, we can even become immune to such deep truths, like that frog who starts off in cold water but, as the water gets hotter and hotter, simply stays there, oblivious to the fact that it is slowly being boiled to death.

My memory of Good Friday in our household during my growing-up years is that it was a day of sadness and reverence. Somehow, it didn’t seem quite right to have fun or make too many loud noises. For a time in my early teens, I would head to our local Anglican church for the special three-hour service from midday. Then on Easter Sunday, we would usually make it to Sunday School or church—and I remember the relief I felt that Jesus had won, that death was not the end for him, even though I did not understand the significance of it all back then.

Thankfully, in my mid-teenage years, I came to understand the love and grace of God so much more. One night, after hearing the good news of Jesus clearly proclaimed, I welcomed it with open arms. I was overwhelmed to realise Jesus Christ knew me and loved me and died for me—and my life changed from that moment on. Today, by God’s grace, I still know these truths deep in my heart, but … well … have I somehow allowed the significance of the events we remember at Easter to become blunted in my life?

In his introduction, Charles Martin writes:

What if the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the singular most important event in the history of mankind, and what if one drop of His blood is the most powerful thing in this universe or any other? What if dead and crucified Jesus came back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and He is alive today? …

What if His story is true?

What if this Jesus, the One who walked out of the tomb shining like the sun, holding the keys of death and hades, is alive—in you? In me? I write fiction for a living, and that’s either the craziest thing I’ve ever heard or it’s the most important word ever spoken.

It is indeed true—all of it. May we never forget that—and may it change our lives forever.

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies… John 11:25

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Jo 12I am an expert at feeling sorry for people. Just ask my husband, who simply sighs and shakes his head at me, after fifty years of marriage. Last year, during a road trip interstate when we passed through various little country towns where everything looked more than a little down-at-heel, he knew what I would be likely to say next.

‘Oh, this all looks so quiet—and everything seems so old! How do the shops here survive? I feel so sorry for them. Even the pub looks deserted! Oh dear!’

Sometimes too when I spy a small, corner store right here in Sydney somewhere, I can easily feel sorry for its owner, who must find it so hard to compete with the bigger shopping centres. And when I see shop after shop all crammed together in close proximity to its competitors in one of our more heavily populated suburbs, I can manage to feel sorry for those owners too.

‘How do they all make a bean?’ I ask in a worried voice. ‘They must have to work such long hours seven days a week to survive!’

Yes, I am a champion at feeling sorry for all sorts of people—probably unnecessarily, most of the time! That is one reason I do not watch those current affairs shows that often feature some poor person who is being picked on by a neighbour or who has been duped by some dodgy, unscrupulous builder or tree-lopper or who is at odds with a hard-hearted insurance company who refuses to pay up. I cannot bear to see their need—and to be unable to do anything about it. All I can do is hope and pray the story has a good ending and that someone else who can do something about it takes action.

There is a sensible limit, I suspect, in how much energy we should expend in feeling sorry for others in this unproductive way. And there is a difference too, I think, in feeling sorry for someone and having true empathy or compassion for them. So perhaps those of us who can so easily feel sorry for others would do better if we realised this and modelled ourselves more on our great God of compassion, who not only empathises perfectly, but can actually do something about our situation.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

The Lord did not simply wring his hands and say, ‘Oh dear—what a mess my children are in!’ Instead, because of his great compassion for us, he sent his Son Jesus to rescue us. And we see that same compassion in Jesus himself in the way he reached out to those around him, healing so many and preaching the good news of the kingdom.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

What a wonderful, powerful, compassionate God we have who does not simply feel sorry for us but reaches out in love, rescuing us, restoring us and drawing us ever closer to himself!

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P1030779You might find this hard to believe, but my husband and I are both getting a little older as each year passes—at least, he is! Occasionally, in my smug state of being a number of years younger, I remind him of this. Whenever we pass an elderly driver doing something a little dangerous on our roads, I have been known to comment, ‘Oh, don’t worry. He’s just an old guy of about seventy-four!’—which is, of course, is my husband’s age!

But last week marked a different sort of milestone for him. Fifty years ago, in March, 1965, Lionel began theological college, which involved a student ministry placement as part of the training. He has been in some ministry role or other ever since, including several local church ministries but also two longer periods as a theological college lecturer and registrar, firstly at the Bible College of South Australia and later at what is now the Australian College of Ministries.

Yet that is not all. Even now, he mentors several pastors, meets with others for coffee and a good dose of encouragement and understanding, occasionally preaches, and pastorally cares for various friends via visits, phone calls and emails. Also, he still provides background support in training others for intentional interim ministry. On top of that, he continues to support me in my writing and speaking ministry as my bookkeeper, computer expert and general ‘roadie’, as he likes to call himself!

During those fifty years of ministry, there have been many interesting experiences, both encouraging and discouraging. Many sermons have been preached. Many lectures have been given. Many people’s lives have been touched. Only God knows the end result of all Lionel’s efforts in sharing the Good News, in caring for others and in training others to minister. Through it all, Lionel has remained faithful. He has kept going when I would have wanted to give up. He has persevered when I would have lost interest in doing so. He has kept the main thing the main thing. And I honour him for that.

Recently, a man in our street became seriously ill. Since then, Lionel has made a point of visiting him, talking with him, praying with him and sharing about God with him, both at home and then in hospital—to the point that now he has been asked to take this man’s funeral when the time comes. He has spoken with this man’s wife too because he cares about them and about their eternal destiny. That to me is the mark of a true pastor and man of God.

So I would say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ to my husband for staying the course and completing that ministry marathon of fifty years. More importantly, however, I know this is what God will say to him one day—a day I know Lionel is looking forward to as he continues even now to run the race marked out for him until the very end.

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

May the Lord strengthen us all to remain faithful and finish our own, unique races well.

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Jo 23Early on in my writing journey, I discovered the unpalatable truth that not everyone is going to love all my literary creations. I remember well how, not long after my first novel was released in 2007, I walked into a small meeting to be welcomed loudly with the following words:

‘Jo-Anne, I’m sorry to tell you, but I couldn’t get past Chapter Two of your book!’

It so happened, however, that this person’s daughter was standing nearby. Her greeting was somewhat different.

‘Oh, I loved it! When’s your next book coming out?’

What could I do but laugh? I look back now and am so thankful to God for helping me realise I cannot please everyone. It stood me in good stead for those times when my other books have elicited entirely opposite responses from readers—or potential readers.

Recently, I finished my ‘final’ draft of my second non-fiction book. I think it’s worth reading. But by this stage, as with all my books, I tend to lose perspective. Maybe it’s okay. Maybe it’s my best writing yet. Maybe it’s awful. Maybe I’ve said it all before. No doubt I will soon find this out via the opinions of my manuscript readers and editors. But, while the situations do not bear comparison, perhaps it was this recent book experience that caused me to take particular notice of something I read recently in Matthew 11.

Here, John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus tells them to report back to John in prison about the miracles they have seen and goes on to speak to the crowd about John, the man who was ‘more than a prophet’ (9). Then, using the lovely image of children playing make-believe weddings and funerals and wanting others to join in, he proceeds to challenge the crowd—and us:

To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”.’ Matt 11:17-19

It’s not a matter of life and death at all if people don’t like what I have to offer. But it definitely is a matter of life and death if they reject Jesus and what he offers. Yet Jesus could not please everyone—and neither could John. Some listened well, accepted their message and acted. Some were in two minds. Some disbelieved and could only scoff and criticise.

I don’t want to be among those who refuse to dance or sing. I don’t want to be among those who do not hear or accept what God says because it doesn’t tick the right boxes, in their opinion. I don’t want to have a closed mind that does not value what Jesus offers. Instead, I want to do just what he suggests I do. I want to join in that dance or sing that sad song wherever and however Jesus leads.

How about you? Is this your heart too?

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