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Posts Tagged ‘the love 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 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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Jo 17Recently, my brother-in-law turned seventy-five—and in that same week, retired from an active ministry role in his denomination. For his last sermon, he was delighted to be given the story of the prodigal son on which to base his message, along with 2 Corinthians 5, which focusses on ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ and includes the following:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (20)

What a good way to sum up a life of ministry! This surely needs to be the central focus, not only of those in such roles but of anyone who, as a ‘new creation’ in Christ (17), seeks to live a life that honours God. How it plays out in our lives will be different for each of us, but what a wonderful ‘message of reconciliation’ (19) we all have to share with others!

We need reconciliation on so many levels in our world, don’t we—between nations, political factions, neighbourhoods, families, individuals—and even within ourselves. Perhaps it is on this latter level that we need it most because, when we are at peace in our own hearts, our whole perspective changes. We no longer need to defend ourselves so strongly and win against others at all costs. We no longer need to destroy others or grasp what others have to feel better about ourselves. Rather than striving within ourselves, we are at rest—and the best way I know to experience this is to receive the amazing love of God and to allow that love to change us deep down. In short, the best way to be reconciled within ourselves is to be reconciled with God.

At Easter, we have the perfect opportunity to reflect once again on the the depth of God’s love for us in sending Jesus to die in our place. I love it when I can have a very quiet Easter, with plenty of time to remember Jesus’ death on my behalf and then to truly be able to rejoice that this was not the end—that Jesus rose again and is now at God’s right hand, ready to welcome us to be with him forever. How privileged we are to know this amazing love of God! We did not deserve it or earn it in any way. We are no better than anyone else—Jesus’ death was for all. So how can it be okay to keep this amazing love to ourselves alone?

This Easter, let’s take time as best we can to reflect on Jesus’ love for us all over again. Then let’s allow it to impact how we live our lives each day, as believers reconciled with God, with others and within ourselves. Let’s allow it to inspire us to remember others in prayer and in practical ways. In fact, like the Apostle Paul and his co-worker Timothy, let’s allow it to compel us to live for God in any and every way we can.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

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Jo 12Our grandson has a wonderful way of keeping me humble—and this skill of his came to the fore recently when I tried to help him complete his Maths homework. He is only in Year 2, yet sadly I had great trouble understanding some of the questions he had to answer about shapes. What on earth were ‘cuboids’, ‘vertices’ and ‘edges’? I had no idea!

‘I don’t think you have that answer right,’ I told Zain at one stage, as I stared at the cube alongside the first question. ‘I think it has six edges.’

‘No,’ he told me firmly. ‘You’re counting the faces, not the edges!’

I was unconvinced, but decided to go along with him. We counted those edges together and somehow I came up with eight, while he found twelve—or was it sixteen? Another interesting discussion ensued but, in the end, he wrote down my answer of eight. Later, we wrote the same answer for a cuboid—which of course Zain knew straight away was a rectangular prism! Surely everyone knows that, his look implied.

We proceeded then to travel through what for me was the even rockier, more dangerous territory of cylinders and cones and square-based triangles. But when it came to answering an interesting question about whether cylindrical shapes could be stacked, we differed again. While Zain maintained they could not, if they were lying with their curved surfaces lengthwise, as they were on his homework sheet, I maintained they could if they were standing upright on their flat bases. In the end, I felt Zain worked out a clever answer to this one—‘Maybe!’

Eventually, I enlisted my mathematician husband’s help and asked him to check our work. And guess what his first comment was?

‘You have two answers wrong here!’

Yes, I had been wrong about those ‘edges’—and Zain had, I think, been right from the beginning. But, when I told Zain this, to add insult to injury, he responded: ‘Well, you’re just an old lady!’

Now that put me firmly in my place.

Later, as I pondered Zain’s words, I decided that, while I may be ‘just an old lady’ to him—and there is nothing wrong with being an ‘old lady’—I know I am more than that too. I have done many things in my life. I have two tertiary degrees and a couple of diplomas. I have worked in a variety of occupations, including high school teacher, editor and pastor. I have written eight books. I have spoken publicly well over two hundred times in recent years. Along with my pastor husband, I have raised three children. I have had an interesting and varied life and am grateful for that.

But the best thought that came to me was this. Even if I had done none of that in my life, I would still be of such worth in God’s eyes. Whatever my age, I am still God’s precious child. Through Jesus, I have been born again into God’s family. I belong to God. Jesus loves me, this I know.

That’s what really counts in the end, don’t you think?

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

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Jo 17I love the Psalms. Time and time again, I come back to them—particularly when I am busy. In my old Bible that I am reluctant to pension off because I know where everything is in it, there are many verses in the Psalms I have highlighted via a wiggly line drawn beside them. And many of these are now etched in my mind, so that they feel like old friends when I come across them again.

Yet I often still find surprises along the way. One morning recently, we needed leave home earlier than usual, in order to mind our grandchildren for the day. I rushed around, organising this and that, but then found myself with a few minutes spare before we actually had to walk out our door. So I decided I could read at least a few verses of the psalm I was up to and thus have it in my mind as we drove to our daughter’s house. I opened my Bible to Psalm 116—yes, I had read that yesterday. I turned the page and there before me was Psalm 117—all two verses of it!

Praise the Lord, all your nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

That was it! I was sure I had never seen this tiny psalm before, yet I must have. Despite its brevity, I decided it packed quite a punch. And it was just the right length for me to remember, as we hurried out to begin a day full of interesting activities with our two young grandchildren.

Later that evening, as I sat down to re-read my huge psalm of the day and ponder on it some more, I decided it pretty much sums up in a nutshell what our amazing God is like and how we are called to respond to him.

Great is his love toward us’—that to me surely gets straight to the heart of the gospel. In my own life, it was God’s love that first drew me to him as a fifteen-year-old. Even after all these years, I can still remember thinking, ‘Wow! God knows me! And God loves me!’ Then many years later in my life, I believe God gave me a glimpse of his amazing love for me all over again one New Year’s Eve. I saw in my mind a picture of someone whom I knew was Jesus holding me as a baby and looking down at me with the most incredible love shining from his face. He was speaking tenderly and saying over and over again, ‘Wow—Jo-Anne!’—and I knew I would remain loved and secure in his arms forever, just as this psalm goes on to say. Whatever happened in my life, the Lord would remain faithful.

And, after more than fifty-five years, that is still my testimony. God has rescued me so many times, picked me up and held me close until I was strong enough to stand again. So what can I do but praise the Lord from my heart, as The Message version of this psalm encourages us all to do?

Praise God, everybody! Applaud God, all people! His love has taken over our lives; God’s faithful ways are eternal. Hallelujah!

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Jo 12I can’t quite put my finger on why, but something interesting happens to me whenever I walk into a Bunnings store. Of course, that friendly aroma of sausages cooking outside the main entrance is always enticing! But besides that, there seems to be some sort of inviting sense of creativity and of making things better or brighter or tidier that sets my heart and mind buzzing whenever I walk in the door. Somehow I feel at home—as if I belong. And there are so many interesting things to discover in those never-ending aisles. What could this or that be? Who would ever use or need that? Somebody must!

Recently, I went there to buy a gift card. I lingered much longer than I needed to, walking up and down several aisles and thinking of my dad as I did. My dad was a great handyman, always fixing things around our house when I was a child. His workshop was in the cool under our Brisbane ‘house on stilts’, where he fashioned all sorts of intriguing things. Occasionally too, he would try his hand at bigger projects, such as building a sun deck on top of our garage. But his greatest passion was our garden, where he worked tirelessly. If he were still with us, I suspect Bunnings would be akin to heaven for him.

On this same visit, I inevitably made my way towards the gardening section. Surely I could fit one more nice pot plant on our balcony? On my way, I passed aisles stacked with bags of potting mix, compost and moist garden soil—and immediately their unmistakeable aromas brought back more memories of my dad working in our garden. Eventually, I reached aisles filled with different seedlings and pots containing a range of beautiful flowers, including gerberas—my dad’s speciality. In fact, way back before gerberas became popular in bouquets, Dad managed to create a hardy, double gerbera variety of his own, with pretty pale pink and yellow blooms.

Then it dawned on me to wonder whether that sense of belonging I often feel at Bunnings may have something to do with those childhood memories of my dad, tinkering away at his work bench under our house or labouring in the back yard in the hot sun. Such memories from years ago are powerful, aren’t they? Whatever my father’s failings—and they were there, alongside many positives—I knew I belonged in my childhood home, where I was always loved and well cared for.

Recently, I was minding our four-year-old granddaughter when she suddenly stopped playing, sat still for a moment, then began to sing the following in such a cute voice, as she looked up at me with her big, brown eyes:

In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
*

My heart melted. Yes, my earthly family may no longer be here, but I know I am part of the family of God and that I belong in my amazing heavenly Father’s house. I prayed Maxine would always know this too, deep in her heart—and I pray you do too.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

Who You Say I Am Hillsong Worship

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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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