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Posts Tagged ‘the love of God’

Jo 23In the past few weeks, we have had the joy of reconnecting with various old friends, as we have prepared to move house. Some have emailed, in response to our emails notifying them of our change of address, expressing their delight that we have found somewhere lovely to live. Others have said they will come and visit, once we are fully settled in. Still others called in before we moved out, making their way around boxes and enjoying a final, informal cuppa in our old home.

One couple came with whom we have stayed in contact for over forty years, mainly through email and Facebook. Yet when we met again face to face, the years simply fell away. We had heard they were shipping old but good theological books to an overseas country and asked if they could use my husband’s remaining books that we simply cannot take with us. What a joy to know these volumes will be used yet again by those who truly need such resources! And what a joy too to see how this couple have remained so faithful to God over the years, using the gifts God has given them in amazing, practical ways, with such servant hearts!

Another popped in with homemade slice in hand to visit us one last time in our old home. Many years ago, we were in the same small group at church. As we talked, I realised all over again the journey we had shared during those years and beyond, as this girl went through huge, traumatic life events. Yet here she was, still firmly trusting God, ready to pray with us as we faced our big move. Over the years, we have not seen each other often, yet our friendship has remained as fresh and firm as ever. How deep those roots go when we share those big life experiences with others and with God!

As for those emails from family and friends, I found myself deeply touched by the good wishes in them and especially those assurances of prayer on our behalf, as we said goodbye to our old home. Some emails were only brief, yet I could still feel that heart connection with those who wrote them and picture their faces as they did. One girl I rarely see but with whom I have shared some deep things via email simply wrote: ‘Oh Jo! That’s huge!’ Those four little, heartfelt words almost brought me to tears. Immediately, I could tell she was with me in spirit, feeling for me, praying for me, understanding the depth of emotions I might well be experiencing as we move. What a comfort and privilege to have such constant friends like her who love us and are so concerned for our wellbeing!

Then one morning just before we moved, I ‘happened’ to read Psalm 121. And it was as if the Lord, the greatest Friend of all, reached out to me once again, wrapped his arms around me and lovingly reassured me of his faithful protection:

The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.   Psalm 121:7-8

What more could we want or need? Forever friends—with God and with so many others.

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Jo 23As a small child, I hated being told off. If my mother ever scolded me, I would assert, in no uncertain terms and with many tears, ‘I’m not a naughty girl!’ My pride was injured beyond repair—and besides, I could not bear the thought that I had disappointed her.

All through my growing-up years—and well beyond—I continued to dislike being corrected or rebuked. My fragile self-esteem did not handle such things well and I was always ready with a defensive response. After all, I had to keep that pride of mine intact.

On one occasion around twenty years ago, however, I learnt a valuable lesson in this regard. A minister at our church invited me to take on a task he felt I would do well. At first, I told him I might not be good enough and suggested others who could do a far better job. But, instead of reassuring me, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘That’s not humility, Jo—that’s self-protection!’

Hmm!

Because I respected this minister, I went away and thought about his words—and eventually concluded he was right. I did what he had asked and thoroughly enjoyed it. Through this experience, I learnt to take such correction, given in love and for my ultimate benefit, on board much better than I previously had.

Recently, I was reminded of this lesson when a friend and I visited a dear, mutual friend who is suffering from some degree of dementia. At one point, our friend seemed a bit confused and told us she had once stolen a white hat, so I tried to help her out.

‘Oh, did you? Where did you take it from?’ I asked her gently.

I could hardly believe her quick, clever response.

‘I’m trying to resist correcting you,’ she said with some spirit and a touch of hauteur. ‘It should be “From where did you take it!”’

After a stunned moment, I burst out laughing. With inhibitions gone, our dear friend had simply blurted out her true thoughts—yet I was not offended at all. You see, I know this beautiful, older woman of God. I respect her even now, in her declining years, just as I respected my minister friend who told me the truth all those years ago. And I know her heart of love for me.

This amusing exchange soon set me thinking about my response to God’s corrections and challenges, whether through Scripture, through the words of others or through the Spirit’s whisper deep in my heart. How often do I still bristle a little, become defensive, perhaps pretend I don’t hear anything and decide I can easily justify my words or actions—even to God?

Yes, that old pride of mine still rears its ugly head at times. Yet why do I let this happen? After all, I know God loves and accepts me. I know God is good and kind. I know God has my best interests at heart. And I know God does not make mistakes.

So … next time I hear God’s loving correction, I hope I remember past lessons, swallow my pride—and respond with both alacrity and humility.

He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray. Proverbs 10:17

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Jo 17I am always amazed at the power of memory. At times, only a slight aroma of something or the sound of a particular piece of music or even the atmosphere in a room can thrust us back in time to places and events we thought we had forgotten forever.

I cannot smell the distinctive perfume of the yellow and white blossoms on our frangipani tree without remembering the two frangipani trees in the front yard of our grandparents’ home in Brisbane and the fun we had as kids, making leis from those fragrant flowers. I cannot eat black grapes without remembering the delicious, old Isabella grapes our grandfather grew. And occasionally towards evening, when I go to turn on the lights in our kitchen, for a fleeting moment I am back the dimness of our grandparents’ dining room as I remember how our grandfather would leave the lights off until really necessary, in order not to waste electricity.

Whenever I handle a ball of wool, I remember with almost painful clarity how beautifully my grandmother knitted and how patiently she would unravel those mistakes I made as a child or pick up my many dropped stitches. And whenever I sit down at the piano I inherited from her and play those old Scottish and Irish ballads my grandfather used to sing, even the musty smell of the sheet music brings the memories flooding back. In an instant, I am a twelve-year-old again, sitting at that same piano in my grandparents’ dark lounge room, trying my best not to ruin those same beautiful, old melodies.

If all these childhood memories can return so readily, why is it not the same with God’s gracious workings in my life over the years?  Why are those times when God spoke to me so clearly or rescued me from some situation or was just there so close for me in such power and strength so easily forgotten?

Yes, I well remember the night as a fifteen-year-old when I was blown away to discover God is real and alive and that God knows and loves me. I remember too that morning as young mum when Jesus challenged me to walk more closely with him. I remember the clear picture years later one New Year’s Eve when I saw Jesus holding me as a baby, gazing at me with such delight, loving me before I had achieved anything. But how easily I forget those many, many other times God has spoken or reached out to me in some way or intervened in my life! How often the enemy, I believe, snatches away these memories so that we lose sight of God’s gracious and ever-present hand on us!

Recently, I came again to Psalm 136, which pans through Israel’s history and includes in each verse the refrain, His love endures forever. Yes, I realised, that is what I need to do constantly too. I need to remember—really remember—and be so thankful for God’s amazing love and for what God has done for me in so many ways. Is that your heart too?

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of gods.  His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords.  His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1-3

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img_20170106_175801393As the years go by, it so interesting to see what captures our grandson’s interest and imagination and what doesn’t. Last week, our Zain turned five and, right now, he has such fun pretending to be one of his two favourite ‘heroes’. Yes, as can be seen from the photo of his special birthday cake his mum made, Michael Jackson currently ranks pretty high in his estimation! Wimg_5707hile in Ghana around a year ago, visiting his father’s family, he heard lots of Michael Jackson songs—and that was that! And of course, with a beautiful Australian mum and a handsome Ghanaian dad, ‘Black or White’ is one of his favourite songs! If Zain can be enticed to sing and dance for us, we soon discover he knows only some of the lyrics—and fortunately only some of those dance moves too! But he has fun trying, especially in his glittery Michael Jackson outfit, complete with sparkly white glove, and especially with the new karaoke toy his aunty, uncle and cousins gave him.

But if you look carefully at the photo below, taken when blowing out his birthday candles, you can see Zain is quite partial to fictional superheroes too—especially Spiderman! So when we reminded him at his party that, when we saw him last, he was convinced he was actually Peter Parkeimg_20170106_194218996r, aka Spiderman, off he went and put on his Spiderman costume over the top of his glittery Michael Jackson one! His imagination is so vivid and all-encompassing that he seems to have no trouble swapping from one to the other—with a good dose of active, normal little boy Zain thrown in as well!

Now while I might laugh at Zain, I wonder at times if I am so different from him. I can easily pretend I am someone other than who I truly am. I might try to be that well-read, experienced author person when promoting my books in a bookstore. I might hope I come across as completely confident and at ease when getting up to speak somewhere. I might pretend to be more extroverted or more patient or more understanding than I am. And—dare I say it—I might pretend to be more Christian than I am at times. I might even think I am fooling God, as well as others, yet in my heart of hearts, I know I can’t. Anyway, why would I want to? After all, I am well aware God not only knows me through and through but loves and accepts me as I am. As David declares:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Psalm 139:1-5

I hope one day our Zain will experience the deep comfort of these words and that amazing love of God for himself. I hope he will realise he doesn’t need to impress God by pretending to be other than he is. And I hope I realise this more and more too in the coming year.

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Jo 12Doesn’t it warm your heart when you see and hear about people quietly helping others in amazing ways?  These people are not looking for any recognition or even for anything in return. They are simply serving someone else with a heart of humility and love.

Recently, I heard of two such instances via two emails, one after the other. The first was from my husband’s cousin, telling us with joy and excitement—and a good dose of humour—about their interesting adventures of the past few weeks. She and her husband had just returned home from a trip to North Queensland when they received a call from a friend, asking if they could possibly head to a quite remote property in Central Queensland for a few weeks, in order to help an eighty-year-old man trying to manage on his own, after his wife’s death. He needed to get to hospital for an operation, followed by rehabilitation—could they look after his property for a while?

Not only did this couple go, but, while there, they thoroughly cleaned inside the house, replaced rotted window sills, painted doors, railings and other bits and pieces, cleaned up the yard and workshop, took old cars to the dump, fixed tractors, put up wire mesh on verandas—and completed so many other difficult jobs. Also, one day, they drove to four other nearby properties, one after the other, to deliver a special gift hamper to each from a lady in their church. In previous years, they had made contact with these folk through helping to deliver truckloads of hay to them during drought time—and now someone from the city was still touching their hearts through this ministry of love.

My second email was just as moving. This particular friend shared with me how she and her husband had been caring for their adult daughter for weeks, travelling to and from where she lives, in order to bathe and dress some huge ulcers on her feet.  Then when the ulcers had healed a little and she was back at work, they faithfully drove her to work each day and returned in the afternoon to take her home. This couple does all this, despite the fact that my friend is herself in a wheelchair. Her husband has cared for her too for many, many years and continues to do so.  Yet these folk always appear bright and happy—the love of God truly shines through them both.

I am sure you could add many other similar amazing stories to these, just as I can. For example, each week, people from our church put on a barbecue lunch in a park in Parramatta, in order to feed homeless folk or those not doing so well in life. Others I know help rescue and retrain girls overseas who have been trafficked for prostitution. Still others care for orphans in countries where there are few resources. The list goes on. All these people are amazing—and they give of themselves time and time again in extraordinary ways, to reflect God’s love to others with a humble, servant heart.

I want to be like that—don’t you?

… Serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

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Jo 17I wonder if you like the sound of your name. Perhaps it depends on who is saying it or the context in which it is being said! If it’s someone such as a cross schoolteacher singling you out for some misdemeanour, as I well remember happening to me, your name might grate on you a little. But if it’s a good friend greeting you after not seeing or hearing from you for some time, then that might be a different matter.

I look forward to hearing my name spoken whenever I call a dear older friend. ‘Hello, Jo-Anne—how lovely to hear your voice! How are you?’ she always says, with such unfeigned joy and delight that my heart feels as if it is melting. And I remember how, many years ago, a young minister at our church went to the trouble of asking me whether I preferred to be called ‘Jo’ or ‘Jo-Anne’. Now I don’t really mind being called ‘Jo’—after all, that is what my husband and almost everyone else has called me for years! But I told him I preferred ‘Jo-Anne’, because it seems just that bit softer and more feminine to me. From then on, he tried hard to remember to call me that. And when he did, I was touched and felt respected.

I thought of this again recently when I read the story of the resurrection in John 20. As I often try to do, I imagined myself right in the middle of that scene at the tomb when Mary Magdalene discovers Jesus is no longer there. She is devastated because she believes someone has taken his body and, in her distress, does not immediately recognise Jesus when he speaks to her. But what a moment that must have been when she hears him say that one word that must have said so much to her—Mary (20:16)! Can you imagine it?

I wonder what tone of voice Jesus used when he said her name. Was it soft and tender? Was it loud and commanding, concerned to make her realise who he actually was? Did it convey joy and delight that she had come, wanting to attend to his body? Did it show something of his pride in her that she was faithful to the end? Perhaps it conveyed trust as well, because as soon as Mary realises who he is, Jesus goes on to give her a message for the other disciples:

Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17

One thing I know for sure. Jesus spoke Mary’s name with amazing love. And today, two thousand years later, Jesus continues to speak our names with that same love, calling us back into relationship with our heavenly Father and into his own family, the family of God. How privileged we are that he knows our names and that we too can hear our Shepherd’s voice, speaking to us by his Spirit, guiding and strengthening us day by day!

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28

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Jo 17I wonder if you can identify a time in your life when you decided against pursuing a particular career or course of action or when you perhaps closed the door on one part of your life and opted for a different direction. How did you feel as you made that decision?

I still remember the moment I turned my back on high school teaching in the late eighties and opted for an editing job instead. Part of me was relieved, while another part was sorry to walk away from the classroom setting and the opportunity to engage with so many young people. And I can well recollect my sorrow at leaving a ministry position over twelve years ago now, after agreeing to stay for a further four years. I knew God had something else for me to do, which turned out to be my whole writing journey, but I hated disappointing our church and walking away from a role I loved.

These decisions of mine, however, pale in comparison to the one made by the rich, young man we read about in Mark 10. Jesus gives this man the offer of a lifetime, in answer to his question about how he might inherit eternal life:

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (21b)

It was not as if Jesus said this harshly at all. In the first part of that verse we see how much he cared for this young man and longed for him to make the right decision:

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

What beautiful words—so simple, yet so profound! Can you imagine the scene here? Can you perhaps put yourself right in that scene, either as an onlooker or even as that rich, young man for a few moments?

This week I did the latter. I imagined myself coming to Jesus with a sincere question about eternal life. I listened as Jesus responded and I answered him honestly. Then, it was as if I could not believe my eyes and ears. There was Jesus, looking straight at me with such love—and my heart almost turned over. But his words were too much for me. I wanted to follow him, but all the beautiful things I own flashed before my eyes—and I wanted them too. I turned away then from his loving face, but even as I did, my heart felt so, so heavy.

Now in reality, I am not this young man. But this experience of allowing Jesus’ words to come alive for me showed me things within myself even now, I believe. What holds me back from following Jesus with my whole heart each day? Are there areas in my life where I still turn from him and go my own way, unwilling to give him everything in response to his love for me? Or have I forgotten those eyes of love with which Jesus still looks at me today, just as that rich, young man experienced so long ago?

Let’s not walk away from those life-giving offers Jesus extends to each one of us. Let’s look him full in the face, listen—and follow.

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