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Posts Tagged ‘the grace of God’

This might sound strange, but I love spending time staring at certain things. For example, I used to sit in front of our open fire when the children were little and stare into those flames for ages. I still enjoy gazing at the washing as it flaps on the clothesline. And I also love watching the leaves in the trees as they are tossed about in the wind—or even their tiny movements as a gentle breeze stirs them. On a slightly more normal note, I love looking at the various types of foliage on the shrubs and bushes outside my study window and the different shapes and colours and textures of their leaves. And of course, I love the shapes and colours of the beautiful flowers, large and small, growing in the garden right at our front door and on the nearby trees and shrubs.

Now these trees and shrubs and flowers do not say anything out loud that I can hear at least—although I have a neighbour who believes in talking to her plants to encourage them to grow, so maybe they do! Nevertheless, surely they speak volumes in their own beautiful, silent way of the heart of God for our world and for us all, don’t you think?

This past weekend, I presented a writing workshop to help others get started on a project for our church’s Art Installation to be held next month. The theme for this year’s Installation is ‘Creation Speaks His Name’—and what fun I had preparing my input! The more I thought about it all and the more I gathered bits and pieces together to inspire us on the day, the more in awe of God I became. I know there are places in our world right now that are crying out for rain, where nothing much will grow. But in general, as we look around us, creation does indeed speak God’s name, telling us something about God’s nature and personality, shouting aloud to all who listen that God is indeed the all-powerful and all-loving creator of the universe.

As I selected various nature photos taken over the years to use in my workshop, I found myself in awe of the beauty of creation depicted in them. I heard them speak loudly of God’s own beauty and glory and God’s abundant grace in surrounding us with such splendour. Some photos I included of rugged, snow-covered mountains, swiftly flowing streams and unique rock formations also spoke to my heart of God’s awesome power and strength and majesty. I noticed too, in the flowers and fruit and vegetables I gathered together to inspire our writing, the amazing variety in creation, which surely mirrors God’s boundless creativity and endless resources. And, in those tiny, perfectly formed blossoms and leaves I had collecteIMG_20190807_120901938d, I saw God’s generous, extravagant love that would bother to make even a little wildflower no one may ever see or an insignificant leaf on a common, household pot plant into a miniature work of art.

Yes, surely creation speaks God’s name, loud and clear. In response, may we join with those winged creatures Isaiah describes around the Lord’s throne and shout out our praises too!

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

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Jo 12One morning around two years ago, I spoke to a group of women at a church on the other side of town. Afterwards, I was introduced to a lady who I discovered had really come to catch up with friends before heading home to Sweden a couple of days later. However, having heard me speak, she told me she was particularly interested in my book Soul Friend and in the whole concept of mentoring or being a spiritual companion. She then shared her desire to set up a program in her church to equip people to mentor others, so I offered to send her some material on the subject.

The next day, I emailed her a basic mentoring course a friend had written and I had edited, after checking that he was happy for it to be shared in this way. Then I thought no more about it—until last week, when an email arrived from this lady. In it, she wrote:

Hi Jo-Anne,

You may not remember me but I attended a meeting at Miranda Congregational church in April 2017 where you were speaking and selling your books. I spoke to you afterwards and mentioned my interest for Christian mentoring in Sweden where I live. You very kindly emailed me your manual.

This was the encouragement I needed to start a course in Christian mentoring in my church, the Lutheran church of Sweden in my area Stockholm. I gathered a team of four people including myself and we organised a one day course for those who would like to be mentors or have a mentor … One of our team members is a skilled translator and translated your manual into clear simple Swedish. We gave each of the 18 participants a print copy of the manual at the end of the course. 

The team then matched up mentors and mentorees during the months that followed … The result was very exciting with the present number of mentors being 11 and mentorees around 15. … Our team will meet again in September to decide if we will run the course again in January 2020 and widen the participants to the three other Lutheran churches in our parish and 5 other denominations.

So, I just wanted to express my thanks to you for being so generous in sharing the manual and for your books …

Isn’t God amazing? As soon as I read this, I thought of the little parable Jesus told about the mustard seed:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the bird of the air come and perch in its branches. Matthew 13:32.

God builds the kingdom using our faltering efforts with such grace, don’t you think? Surely, as we plant whatever little seeds we have, which are a gift from God anyway, God will step in, watch over them well and enable them to bear fruit just at the right time.

Who would have thought that brief, ‘accidental’ contact with this lady would have resulted in our little mentoring course blessing folk in faraway Sweden? But that’s just like God, isn’t it!

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Jo 12I am tempted to write a book one day about the many interesting experiences I have had during my journey of speaking at all sorts of venues as a published author or promoting my books. It could also include those occasional moments in every-day life when someone discovers I am a writer—at which point the ensuing conversation usually has to do with what sort of books I write or what their titles are. But occasionally these interesting exchanges take a little more challenging turn, as happened recently.

‘So … you’re a writer. Um … should I know you? Are you famous? What books have you written that I might have come across?’

Fortunately, I managed to laugh and answer in a light-hearted enough way. After all, I could understand the person’s confusion. Is she really a writer? … I don’t recognise her—but maybe I should. I’m sure I haven’t heard her name before though. … I wonder what she writes? Probably nothing I’ve read anyway. Mostly, they are simply blurting out the first thing that comes to mind—although sometimes I do wonder if such questions are actually an attempt to shut me up or put me in my place! But whatever the motive, I never quite know how to respond. What would you say in such a situation?

In the end, I opted for what was probably a rather lame response.

‘Well … it depends what sort of books you read! I’ve written six novels and two non-fiction books—but no, I can’t say I’m famous. Here, I’ll give you my card—then you can look up my books on my website.’

I am so thankful for those business cards I carry around. Many times, they have extricated me from similar situations where I am at a loss to know what to say about my books. If the person asking the questions is really interested, they can look me up. If not, then they are at liberty to throw my card into the nearest bin!

No, I am not famous by any means—and I’m fine with that. You see, I have done my best in both writing and promoting my books for some years now. And I have tried in each one to write the things God put on my heart to write about—the love of God, the grace of God, forgiveness, holding onto our faith in God, using our God-given gifts, encouraging others in their journey with God. Now, as I attempt to write my seventh novel, I find I still have so much to learn in an ever-changing market. However well or otherwise I have written in the past, I can hopefully improve. Besides, God is still God—and as I write, I plan to listen to that gentle whisper of the Spirit, inspiring me and urging me on. This writing journey of mine has never been my idea alone—to me, the whole thing has been an amazing gift from God. And that, above all else, should keep me humble, don’t you think?

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12

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IMG_20181121_121203912Recently, I found myself wondering whether our four-year-old granddaughter truly is only four and not a hundred and four! There we were, sitting on the floor, trying to set up some wooden train tracks together. I could see on the box that those train tracks were meant to link up in a certain way, forming three intertwining loops, yet I could not seem to make them do what they were supposed to do.

‘Oh dear!’ I told Maxine at last. ‘I think I’ve made a big mistake somewhere. These tracks aren’t going to connect up at all.’

Thankfully, Maxine did not show any disappointment or frustration.

Don’t worry, Nanna!’ she said in a lovely, compassionate tone. ‘Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone!Even I made a mistake once!’

I tried not to laugh or even smile—I knew she would be highly embarrassed and offended if I did. Besides, she had meant it so kindly. And there was so much wisdom in the first part at least of what she had said. As for her last sentence—well, even it was meant to be kind and generous! At that point, I let her know I appreciated her words. And I realised too how weirdly comforting they had been, because I was feeling a little silly that I could not put a simple train track together.

Eventually, I found some instructions in the box and, after my husband and Maxine disappeared to the playground, I managed to work them out. What a sense of accomplishment I felt, as that train track came together!

Maxine’s gracious response, however, led me to reflect on the many other much more serious mistakes I have made in my life, some more accidental than others. Sometimes I have said or done things out of ignorance, thinking I was right and even, in fact, acting in a godly manner. On those occasions, God has known my heart, seen my sorrow and graciously picked me up, strengthening me to do better. Yet on other occasions, to my regret, I have deliberately chosen a wrong course of action, knowing full well I am making a huge mistake—sinning, in fact. Many times, I have said that hasty, angry word or judged someone harshly or refused to listen to God and do some kind act or speak those life-giving words to someone. Yet each time, God has still reached out to me, shown me my wilful mistakes and in kindness led me to repentance, setting my feet on solid ground once again (Romans 2:4). What a loving, patient God we have!

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him: as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:8-12

Yes, Maxine is bound to make more than that one mistake in her life, but I hope and pray she will always know her loving, compassionate Lord is with her to comfort her and enable her to move on in his strength.

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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 23I wonder if you’re like me and find airports fascinating. As a writer, I enjoy looking around at everyone and dreaming up all sorts of stories about who is waiting for whom and what the connection is—and even why they might perhaps look sad or glad or bored or excited as they wait.

Recently, however, I had a slightly different airport experience—in more ways than one. We were there to meet a friend who needed to return home suddenly from overseas because her father had passed away. So even though her flight was not due in until after 10.00 pm, we were happy to be there for her. We arrived a little early, so my husband suggested we buy coffee.

Now I have a reputation for being miserly at times and therefore objected.

‘The coffee’s bound to be so dear here. If it costs $5.00, let’s not have any!’

It turned out to be $4.50 per small cup, so my much more generous husband handed over that $9.00. And I admit I did enjoy that cup of coffee!

In the end, our friend did not take long getting through customs and we were soon heading to our car. My husband paid via credit card at a parking ticket machine, but it was not until we arrived home that he looked at the docket. Instead of the $19.00 he expected to see there and that he is positive flashed up on the machine, he had been charged only the half hour fee of $9.50.

At that point, we laughed as we realised that meant we had recouped that $9.00 we had paid for our coffee that I had been so concerned about!

‘And that still leaves us fifty cents better off,’ my husband added. ‘Perhaps that should be our “tithe” to God!’

Immediately, I felt we owed God so much more than that fifty cents from this whole experience. To me, it was as if God was smiling at us lovingly and saying, ‘This is a little touch of my grace to you both, so please just receive it. You have gone the extra mile to pick your friend up late on a cold winter’s night—and I’m delighted to bless you as you serve her.’

What a humbling experience! And what a wonderful, gracious God we have! We can never outdo God with our giving of ourselves to others—or with our material giving either.

Yet I think I learnt a further lesson that night too. It was no real problem for us to meet our friend at the airport. In fact, it was a privilege. We love her and were deeply concerned that she has had to make this sudden, long trip back home. We were happy to be there for her. But in a weird way, there was something about all these feelings of mine that reinforced or mirrored God’s own loving heart towards me. As we loved and cared for our friend, I experienced God’s own amazing love that is so deep and wide and will never, ever fail me. What an unexpected, ‘left-field’ lesson in love!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:23

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Jo 12I love my old car. It is a 1999 model Ford Fairmont that has done quite a few kilometres—over 255,000 in fact! No doubt it chews up more petrol than a small, newer car would—but it requires only a gentle touch on the steering wheel to point it where I want to go and it still soars up those hills like a bird.

Sadly, however, little things have begun to go wrong with it. The numbers and symbols on the dashboard telling me what setting the air-con is on stopped working a while back. The remote unlocks the boot, but refuses to either lock or unlock the car itself. And (ahem) certain parts of the car do not lock properly at all anymore! I can live with all that, but I found it hard on a long trip recently when my poor old car refused to warm up inside at all, so that I arrived at my speaking engagement in a slightly frozen state!

As I drove home afterwards, I suspect it was God who reminded me how, back when our children were young, we had no car air-conditioning at all and no fancy numbers and symbols on the dashboard. To cool ourselves, we wound the windows down. To warm up, we wore jumpers. And we certainly didn’t own a remote to lock and unlock the car. Yet now I took for granted and felt entitled to a car that could deliver so much more.

Then it dawned on me to wonder whether God was also pointing out other things I had taken for granted that day—like the fact that I had been invited to speak somewhere at all; or the fact that I was able to drive myself there—and through such beautiful countryside; or the fact that my ability to speak and to thoroughly enjoy doing so comes from God anyway. How grateful I needed to be for all these things—and so very much more!

But then I started to ask myself some even more serious questions. What if I had I begun to take God for granted in my life in general? Had I come to presume too much on God’s grace and patience and long-suffering towards me each day? Was I treating God in too cavalier a fashion, listening only when I felt I needed to, instead of staying in that place of intimacy? Had I forgotten how much I need to thank God for the many blessings poured out on me in all sorts of ways over the years?

I think I need to remember well that recent cold drive to my speaking engagement. I don’t want to take anything in my life for granted, but instead thank God each day with a grateful heart for all I have been given.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100

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