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Posts Tagged ‘The Message’

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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I wonder if you remember Madame Defarge, the infamous character created by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. I studied this novel at high school and still feel chilled at the image of this woman weaving the names of those French aristocrats condemned to death by the republicans into her knitting and watching with satisfaction as that guillotine comes crashing down on each of them in turn.

Thankfully, I am no Madam Defarge, with her deep-seated desire for revenge against those who had caused her family such grief. Besides, weaving anyone’s names into my knitting would be way beyond my ability! However, from time to time, I do love to sit and knit little garments for our grandchildren. Mostly, this is a pleasant, relaxing pursuit for me—unless I am up to a patterned section. Then I am obliged to count carefully and focus or disaster will strike—at which point I may well moan and wail with some vehemence.

When all is going smoothly knitting-wise, I find there is something very fulfilling about watching a little garment grow beneath my fingers. Eventually, the moment arrives when I knit that last stitch and cut through the wool with a satisfying snip. Yay, I’ve finished! But then I realise I still need to sew this part to that part and complete other jobs like adding buttons—tedious tasks which seem to take so long.

Recently, P1040088however, while completing a little cardigan for our youngest granddaughter, I decided to do something much more positive than griping when I made a mistake or complaining about those final, tedious tasks. No, I did not attempt to weave her name into it. Instead, I decided put my energy into praying for our precious little Maxine as I backstitched those final seams together. Then, as I attached the buttons, pushing my needle through the four holes of each one to form an ‘x’ shape, I pictured that ‘x’ standing not only for my love for Maxine but also for God’s amazing love for her. I prayed she would come to know that love of God for herself and that we would faithfully mirror this to her through all our words and actions. And I prayed she would step into all God has for her in her life and fulfil her unique place in this world with great joy.

It’s so important, don’t you think, to grasp these opportunities to pray in the course of our everyday life? Whether in a quiet, private place or surrounded by people and noise and activity in a very public setting, we can reach out to God in our hearts and minds, even if only for a few conscious moments. Recently, I read a simple but lovely description of prayer in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out. According to him, prayer is ‘a creative contact with the source of all life’ (p 91). What a privilege to be connected to the Source of All Life every moment of the day!

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul urges us to ‘pray continually’, or to ‘pray all the time’, as Peterson puts it in The Message. May we never forget our loving, Creator God is present, ready and willing to listen, to communicate and to do life with us, wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

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We had been waiting for that text message for a couple of hours by the time we finally heard. There had been some delay in our son-in-law’s being able to use his phone. ‘It’s a girl!’ the text told us—and the next minute we were off to the hospital, along with the new baby’s two-year-old brother.

I walked into the Special Care Unit and there was our daughter, still looking somewhat dazed after her caesarean but proudly holding her new baby. We later learnt the baby had been wedged up under her ribs in a perpendicular position, so had needed some firm extricating. But there our daughter was, so grateful this little bundle of joy was now outside rather than inside her still! I walked up to the bed and gazed at our new little granddaughter—our fourth grandchild. At first, I found myself merely thinking Oh that’s lovely—the baby’s well and it’s a girl. But as I stood there, I realised I was looking down at another unique and absolutely amazing example of God’s incomparable handiwork. Here was a brand new little person, created in the image of God to live and do and be in a way no one else on this planet ever could.

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Maxine Marie Antwi Konadu

This past week, I have been able to cuddle little Maxine quite a few times and examine her more closely. Her little fingers attract me first—lovely long ones with beautifully shaped fingernails. Her toes too, so minuscule. I love her sweet, button mouth—such a pretty shape—and her cute little ears, tinged on the top with darker skin. Her father is from Ghana and has beautiful, deep black skin and we have been told that the colour on Maxine’s ears is the colour she will end up. We found this to be true with her brother Zain, whose skin is now a lovely, milk chocolate colour. I gently stroke her mop of black, straight hair and cup her head in my hand. I know much of this hair will soon go or change to a lighter colour. Then eventually, those gorgeous tight curls, just like her brother’s, will hopefully appear and her mother will be delighted!

For a moment, little Maxine opens her eyes and seems to want to work out who is holding her and where she is. A puzzled look appears on her face and then her eyelids droop closed again, as if it is all too much effort. I stand looking down at her, smiling and rocking her gently. And all the while, I marvel. How amazing that our God can create such an exquisite little creature, down to the minutest detail of exact skin colour and curl of hair! How wonderful that right now, God is doing this same thing all over the world for all sorts of families this very moment!

I love Psalm 139 in any shape or form, but here are verses 13-14 from The Message version of the bible:

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvellously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation!

May these be Maxine’s own words of praise from her heart too in the years to come, by God’s grace!

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I love Easter and the lead-up to it. It’s a fun time of the year, with Easter eggs and family celebrations and extra days to relax. But it’s much more than that. For me, this is where the rubber meets the road—where we get to the kernel of what it’s all about to be a Christian.

I remember attending a special three hour long service at our local church one Good Friday when I was about twelve. The service was built around the ‘stations of the cross’, which were depicted in various paintings on the walls of that old stone church. Every so often, we would be invited to gather around the next ‘station’ and listen to special readings and prayers. Somehow, even though I was so young, the awesome events we were remembering touched my heart. While I did not fully comprehend it all at that stage, I knew something earth-shattering had happened when Jesus was crucified.

Since then, in the days leading up to Easter, I have always liked to follow Jesus’ journey to the cross by reading one of the Gospel accounts of the events involved, stopping often to reflect. Time and time again, I have been deeply moved by what I have found there—and inevitably, something in particular challenges me, demanding a response. This year, it was the conversation Jesus has his disciples just prior to the Lord’s Supper. In Matthew 26:20-22 we read:

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?”

Eventually it comes to Judas’s turn. As I read his own “Surely not I, Rabbi?’ (25), I began to wonder what was in his heart as he said those words. Was he aghast at himself at what he knew he was about to do? He had already been paid thirty silver coins to hand Jesus over to the authorities (15). Was he feeling ambivalent about the whole deal by this point? Or was he just plain pretending?

Then comes Jesus’ simple but confronting ‘Yes, it is you.” Or, as some translations put it, “You yourself have said it. From such a brief response, it is hard to tell what he must have been feeling. No doubt there was love as well as deep grief in his eyes as he looked at Judas and uttered those words. But could there also have been deep disappointment and even anger in his words? Was he trying to challenge Judas to the very end?

In ‘The Message’ version of the Bible, Eugene Peterson expresses Jesus’ response this way: “Don’t play games with me, Judas!” Whoa!! Now that certainly caused me to stop and think. Do I ever try to fool myself when God’s Spirit convicts me of something and come back with the same smart rejoinder, ‘Surely not I?’ Does Jesus have cause to say to me at times ‘Don’t play games with me, Jo-Anne’? What an affront to my Saviour, who loves me and gave his life for me!

This Easter, may you and I find time to stop, reflect and be real with God. May we put aside our little games and our ‘Surely not I?’s once and for all and kneel with contrite hearts before Jesus, the Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

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I wonder how you feel when you hear or see the word ‘ambition’. Is your response positive or negative? Whichever is your answer, can you figure out why that is the case?

Recently I read an excellent blog and also a two part article that both touch on the topic of women and ambition—in particular, Christian women and ambition. I am not about to attempt to emulate or repeat the excellent material in these writings, but if you are interested in reading them, please check out the following links:

http://rachelheldevans.com/is-ambition-sin

http://www.giftedforleadership.com/2012/09/how_pride_destroys_leadership.html

http://www.giftedforleadership.com/2012/09/how_pride_destroys_leadership_1.html

Instead, I wanted to share with you something of the dilemma I myself face at times in the process of trying to promote both my novels and my newly released non-fiction book, Soul Friend. Earlier in my writing journey, I found it hard to contact places where I might be able to speak and hopefully sell my books—I still do, to some extent. To put it bluntly, at times I felt I had tickets on myself and was being far too pushy for my own comfort. Where was the humility in what I was doing? How come I thought I had the right to be heard by the people, churches or groups I was approaching?

At the same time, I felt God was with me as I wrote those emails and made those calls. I still do. Even as I write this, I can sense God’s Spirit saying, ‘It’s okay to put yourself out there, Jo-Anne! I gifted you to write and speak. I have given you things to say and write. This is part of the task I have entrusted to you—to find those places where you can pass on the things I have given you and to reach those people who need to hear what you have to say!

It stands to reason too that if I believe in my books and in the strong Christian faith themes contained in them, why would I not want to follow through and share them with the world out there? What sort of an author—and Christian—would I be if I spent months and even years writing my books, only to let them sit there because I couldn’t be bothered or couldn’t find the courage to get out there and try to promote them?

I have come to the conclusion that there are two different sorts of ambition—godly ambition and selfish ambition. If I am ambitious to live fully for God, to do the best I can to use my gifts, to write the things that honour God and to want to speak about these to people as well, then I feel I am going about things with the right attitude. But if I am doing it all to fulfil some need in me, to boost my own ego and bolster my pride, then I don’t want to be a part of it at all. This to me is indeed ambition with attitude—the wrong attitude. As John says (1 John 2:16-17 The Message version):

Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

I have an ambition to do what God wants. Do you have that ambition too?

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It helps to have a sense of humour, I’ve discovered, when you’re an author. Being able to laugh at ourselves and the dilemmas we find ourselves in at times somehow helps to connect us to the ‘real world’ – at least for a moment. And it also helps us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Authors can have a unique, rather strange way of thinking. And an example of such thinking from my own life led to my first ‘author joke’ that I often tell others. One day quite early in my writing journey, my husband thought I needed a break from the computer and suggested we go out for coffee. I reluctantly agreed – after all, I had just reached an interesting part of the plot in my current work in progress. We duly had our coffee, but on our way home, I felt my husband was driving a little too slowly, for once.

‘Hurry up!’ I told him. ‘I want to get home and find out what my characters have been up to while I’ve been out!’

Needless to say, my husband shot me a slightly strange look. Was I really joking – or had I finally lost it altogether?

On another occasion, I was talking with a group of friends, when one of them shared something they had done recently. I opened my mouth to respond by saying ‘Oh, Jenna just did that too!’ but thankfully caught myself in time. You see, Jenna was – and is – a character in one of my novels! She’s not a real person at all – or is she?

My third ‘author’ joke is on a slightly different tack. Yesterday I was explaining to a friend how I need to mention a few books by other authors in the non-fiction book I am currently writing. I would like to quote some of their exact words, but understand I would need to get permission from the copyright owner.

“It’s a lot easier when I can quote things I’ve written myself,” I told my friend. “I’ve just included some thoughts of mine from a journal I kept years ago. … Maybe I should charge for the privilege!”

“Yes,” my friend replied. “You could write to yourself to ask permission and then send yourself the bill! Perhaps you could even write something about how to make money out of writing by paying yourself to quote yourself! At least that way you might make some money out of writing!”

We were talking nonsense, I agree. But later, our conversation set me thinking along much more sober lines. I would never pay to use something I myself had created – that is, if I still owned the copyright for it. I would never buy something I already own. But that’s what God did for us. God created us in the first place in his image, as Genesis 1:27 tells us. He certainly owns the copyright for us all. But we chose to walk away from God and run our own lives. Yet God loved us enough to do something about it – God bought us back.

It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. (1 Peter 1:18-20 – The Message)

We were God’s children once, created in our Father’s image. Now through faith in Jesus we can be God’s children again, part of God’s family – forever. Now that’s the greatest story ever told!

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I have discovered that our granddaughter Olivia is becoming very wise in her old age. After all, she turns five this week! Recently when minding her and her sister Amy at their home, I suggested we tidy things up a little before Mummy came home. This comment was greeted very airily by Olivia, however, who announced with a wave of her hand in a somewhat exasperated tone:  Oh, don’t worry! It doesn’t matter!

I am sure she has heard older family members say this many times – including her grandmother! And yes, she’s probably right that some things don’t matter and aren’t worth ‘worrying’ about. I come from a line of great worriers, actually. My mother, bless her heart, spent a lifetime worrying about so many things that never eventuated. I used to think of her often when reading the final page of the Mr Men book ‘Mr Worry’ to our children. The author declares there that Mr Worry, having got rid of all his worries, is now worried again. And why is that? Because now he no longer has anything to worry about!

Well, I definitely don’t want to be like Mr Worry. Yet sometimes I do find myself tending that way a little – particularly when it comes to decisions about my novels and future directions with my writing. Thankfully, however, God steps in then, reminding me of certain Scripture passages on the topic. This happened in church just last Sunday, when one of our ministers preached from Philippians 2:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.

In Matthew 6, we find that Jesus also had some things to say on the matter. Why worry all the time about food and clothing? Since we are so valuable to God, these will be provided. And can we add a single hour to our lives through worrying? No, of course not, he implies. I love how Eugene Peterson puts verses 31-33 of this chapter in ‘The Message’:

What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? It’s about looking to God first and foremost, then seeing the world and living our lives from that place of deep security in our loving God – from that place of ‘rest’, as I heard last Sunday. Yes, these everyday things are important – but keeping our focus on God and not fussing over this and that or getting lost in it all is how we need to live.

Well, Olivia probably should have helped tidy up when I suggested it – but then again, I suspect the salutary reminder she gave me about not worrying was of much more lasting value! I hope and pray both our granddaughters will go through life functioning from that place of rest in God. And I hope and pray that, whatever concerns you may have right now, you too will know God’s deep peace in your heart in the midst of it all.

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