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Posts Tagged ‘theological college’

Around four years ago, while attending a women’s event at our church, I began talking with a young mum sitting nearby. Her face and manner were so open and honest, as she shared the good things happening in her life but also the challenges of balancing all the demands of managing her young family with work and other responsibilities. As we finished talking, I felt God prompted me to bless her with one simple, little phrase. ‘Peace on your home’, I said to her—and immediately saw how moved she was.

Since then, each time I see her leading worship or notice her chatting to someone after church, I repeat quietly in my heart, ‘Peace on your home—peace on your home.’ What a joy to be able to ask God to do this for her and her little family!

Recently too, I was reminded of the lovely, gentle words of farewell my dear mentor and ‘soul friend’ Joy used to say to me when I had finished pouring out all my troubles and questions during my visits to her, especially during my years at theological college. Sometimes, it would just be a simple sentence like, ‘Go gently, dear friend, in God’s love.’ Sometimes, merely a short phrase like ‘God’s peace to you’. Or sometimes, she would quote a line from a favourite poet to me or perhaps the well-known words of Julian of Norwich, written way back in the fourteenth century:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Through this quote, I knew Joy was encouraging me to keep on trusting God, in the midst of all the busyness and stresses of life. Whether things turned out the way I expected them to or not, God was still there, holding me close, and always would be. Therefore, I could be at peace.

These instances of giving and receiving words of peace resurfaced for me while writing another chapter of my work-in-progress, warming my heart and encouraging me to continue. But this past week, I have been encouraged even further, as I have explored the countless references in Scripture to God’s peace —that peace God longs to give us, both on a personal and corporate level. What a privilege to reflect on such verses as those below and breathe in God’s deep comfort and peace in the process!

And as you read them now, may the Lord bless you so much and speak deep peace into your heart too.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ Numbers 6:24-26

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

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In recent days, as I have begun writing another non-fiction book, I have been thinking about various words or phrases spoken to me that have had a lasting impact in my life. Sometimes, these have been negative, sowing doubts in my mind about my ability to do something or undermining my self-worth. Yet thankfully, I can remember many positive ones too. These gave me hope for the future and reassurance that I could do the things I sensed God wanted me to do and, as I have reflected on them, I have felt so grateful all over again for them.

I wonder if there are some that immediately spring to mind for you from your own experience. Perhaps you remember some things your parents or your teachers said when you were growing up. Perhaps a friend has spoken words of encouragement into your life just when you needed them. How did you feel when you heard those words? And how did you feel afterwards, as they still rang inside your head?

I can remember my father teasing me at times when I was young by saying, ‘Oh Jo—she should have been a boy!’ I knew he was only joking and that he said it just to see my reaction. And I admit I was quite an untidy tomboy at times. Yet these words caused me to doubt myself too. Was I somehow wrong? Was I a disappointment to him?

Much later, in my forties, I remember excitedly sharing with someone that I was heading to theological college. Instead of the positive response I had expected, her words were withering and scornful. ‘What would you want to do that for? I don’t have to prove myself!’ she almost sneered. I was shocked and began questioning my motives—but also wondered why my decision had aroused such anger in her.    

Thankfully, I can remember so many more wonderful, positive words that have encouraged me over the years. I think of a time early on in my writing journey when I was so unsure about my whole approach to creating a novel.

‘Do you think this is all okay?’ I asked my lovely soul friend Joy one day.

‘Oh, I think it’s wonderful!’ she said, so delighted to be part of this new thing I was attempting.

Just a little comment, yet it encouraged me so much to keep going and keep holding onto my dream.

Or I think of an email I received only recently from a lovely new contact I have made overseas. My dear new friend, she had written—and those few, simple words stirred my heart. Yes, I thought, this person values me already as a friend. And, even at my age, I find that so encouraging and reassuring.

I wonder if I have said—or written—any unforgettable words to others lately. If I have, I hope and pray they have been of the encouraging kind, not only because they are the sort I like to receive myself but because these are the sort God wants us to say to one another. So, let’s do it—and may your heart be encouraged too in the process.

… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 NLT

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Let me tell you a wonderful, true story.

Recently, a writer friend in country NSW messaged me via Facebook to ask if I knew of any accommodation available near us in Sydney for a Christian couple planning to move here from Melbourne. They needed somewhere long-term, as the husband will be studying at Bible college, but would be happy initially to board with someone for two weeks or rent.

I could not think of anyone and, to be honest, was a little reluctant to spend time on the matter, but posted the request on our church’s Facebook page anyway. Lo and behold, two lovely ladies responded. One offered their unit while they themselves were on holidays, but the dates did not match up. And the other offered her basically furnished granny flat at reasonable cost for either short or long term.

I let the couple know about the granny flat and they tentatively asked for more information, as well as a contact number. But around the same time, another friend of mine who has recently returned from serving God overseas happened to mention she had been offered a house in our area for minimal rent but had to turn it down, as she already has somewhere to live.

Even as I continued pursuing more information about the granny flat, I kept thinking of this house my friend had mentioned. Could I be bold enough to try to find out if it was still available? And would the person managing it on behalf of his mother consider letting this couple have it? I had known the contact person years ago, but had lost touch after he moved to a country town.

In the end, feeling rather pushy, I asked my friend for this man’s number, took a deep breath and phoned. He greeted me warmly—and yes, the house was still available at minimal rent!

‘Give these folk my number,’ he told me. ‘I’ll consult with my family, but I know my mother would like someone serving God to have it.’

Straight away, I passed on both lots of contact details to the couple. And that very afternoon, I received an excited phone call from the husband.

‘It’s 95% sure we’ll be able to have the house!’ he told me. ‘They’ve checked with our referees and that’s all fine. It’s all so amazing! We would much prefer a house, as we’re expecting our first child in February. God bless you so, so much, sister.’

Then the next day, a text arrived that simply said, ‘We got the house—praise Father God!’

I am still gobsmacked at how God arranged everything so perfectly for this couple. Who else but God could manage to connect such disparate people living so far apart and enable us all to help them—my writer friend in a country town, the contact person for the house in yet another country town, the couple themselves in Melbourne and I and others in Sydney? Truly, God’s ways are so much higher and more amazing than anything we could ever devise.

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. Isaiah 55:8 NLT

I’m so glad of that, aren’t you? And so is that lovely couple from Melbourne I hope to meet soon!

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This past week, I received the news that my lovely ‘soul friend’ of previous years, Joy Crawford, had passed away at age ninety-one. On my last visit to the nursing home where she had been for some time, she did not stir or recognise me. Wondering what to do, I wrote her a little note which was eventually found on her bedside table by her daughter. And I sat and prayed and remembered, just as I have this week, after hearing of her death.

Joy and I met together once a month, first during my time at theological college when I needed a mentor—or spiritual companion, as Joy much preferred to be called—and then on into my years in local church ministry. After that, we kept meeting when we could, until she became too frail and unwell. Joy made a huge impact on my life, so much so that the dedication in my very first novel, Heléna, published in 2007, reads: ‘To Joy Crawford—my lifesaver’. I still also have a card Joy sent the day I finished the very first draft of that novel where she wrote: The Book! Well done, dear Jo-Anne. Congratulations—and my prayers and love for the next phase. Joy. Joy always believed in me, encouraged me and supported me in prayer and practical ways—and it was an absolute delight when, in 2012, she was able to share in the launch of what we called ‘our’ book, Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, an account of our years of meeting together and the many ways Joy helped and encouraged me in that time.

Joy was doubtful at first about putting parts of our many conversations into print, but I think she would be delighted to know Soul Friend is still selling today and ministering to those who read it. Just last week, a friend told me how much Soul Friend had impacted her and how glad she was it had been written. I am so thankful Joy’s voice can still be heard in this way and that her gracious wisdom can go on blessing others.

On occasions, Joy would email me, although she was much more comfortable sharing face-to-face in her beautiful study at her home in the Blue Mountains. I included some of these emails in Soul Friend and have just glanced through them again. Even her greetings there speak such love and grace to me—‘Very dear Jo-Anne’; ‘Dearest Jo-Anne’; ‘Dear friend’.  What a privilege to be called a ‘dear friend’—especially by someone who we know truly means it. Joy would also use these words often as we parted at her front door. ‘Go well, dear friend!’ she would say in her gentle voice, as she gave me a warm hug—words of blessing, words of comfort, words of love.

Yes, Joy was my lifesaver, in the midst of some choppy seas in my life. But above all, she was my dear friend—a friend who truly mirrored to me the deep friendship Jesus offers each of us.

Lord, may I be such a friend to others too.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. 1 John 4:7

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. I John 4:11

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I wonder if you can remember a time when you thought you knew someone well, then realised you didn’t at all. Perhaps you were delighted to discover they had done or could do something amazing. Or perhaps your experience was not so joyful. It can be quite a rude awakening, can’t it, when someone we thought we could depend on lets us down or disappoints us?

I can well remember the time years ago when I told some friends I was heading to theological college. This had long been a dream of mine and I thought they would be delighted for me. Yet instead, they seemed offended and asked me bluntly, ‘What would you want to do that for?’ I can’t remember how I responded—but I know I did not say much. I knew they would not be receptive—and by then, they had come crashing down off that pedestal I had put them on where they could do no wrong, in my eyes. Later, I realised they were at least being honest—and we remained friends. But that day, I certainly came to know them a little better.

Yet new revelations can happen even in our own families too. Recently, I mentioned something to my husband about a particular, ongoing difficulty our granddaughter was facing.

‘Oh, I used to have that trouble back in my teens myself!’ he told me immediately, to my great surprise.

He then described an actual setting where this had happened once and how he felt at the time. Yet, in all our fifty-two years of marriage, for whatever reason, I had never heard this personal story of his before. I was amazed—and it also made me wonder what other things I have yet to discover about my husband!

Recently, however, as I read in John 1 how Jesus called his early disciples to follow him, I realised my amazement paled into insignificance when compared with how Nathanael must have felt, when he first met Jesus. After hearing about Jesus from his friend Philip, he was reluctant at first to believe anything good could come from Nazareth, but went with Philip anyway to see for himself (44-46). And he was in for quite a shock.

 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (47-49)

Nathanael believed immediately because he realised Jesus knew all about him, even though they had never met. And we see a similar response in John 4 from the Samaritan woman at the well, after her amazing conversation with Jesus there.

Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (29)

There is something freeing, don’t you think, in the fact that Jesus knows all about us too? We don’t have explain anything to him. And we don’t have to justify ourselves or pretend either. Instead, we can be at peace in his presence. We are loved. We are accepted. We are valued. We are known—truly known. Let’s praise God for that!

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Have you ever found yourself singing a worship song in church, then realising with a start what the words actually said? Sometimes when this has happened to me, I have stopped singing, as I felt my life did not honestly reflect the truths those words contained.

Recently, I had to pause while singing a worship song that repeated the words ‘Here’s my life, Lord’ several times over. Whoa—what a huge commitment, to offer God our lives wholeheartedly and to ask God to speak to us! I know I belong to God, that God has cleansed me and set me free and given me new life, as this song went on to remind us. Yet was I still truly willing to commit my whole life to serving God, rather than doing whatever I pleased?

This same day, I had already been challenged along these lines via a conversation at our church door.

‘Are you preaching today?’ I asked one of our pastors.

‘Yes, at all three services, but it feels like a light day to me, as I don’t have any other meetings in between, which is wonderful!’

I sat down, my mind reeling. Preaching three times in the one day? Once or twice years ago, I had to do such a thing and could still remember how exhausting it was. I would definitely think twice before doing that again. As for meetings in between, no way! Yet soon we began singing, ‘Here’s my life, Lord’—and I blithely joined in. Hmm.

My mind then went to a friend who has served overseas for more than twenty years and is soon coming home here to live. What an uprooting to leave all her special friends behind in that faraway country! And what a challenge it will be to reorientate her life here at home, after serving God elsewhere for so long! I know God gifts us differently and calls us to do different things in life, yet my friend gave up so much to do what she believed God wanted. Was I prepared to say with all my heart, as I know she will be doing again soon, ‘Here’s my life, Lord …’?

As our service continued, the preacher reminded us of a verse that was very meaningful to me at a particularly challenging stage of my life:

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. Zechariah 4:6

God had shown Zechariah a gold lampstand in a vision, with a bowl on the top and seven lamps or lights—and nearby, two olive trees, which would seem to indicate a good supply of oil for those lamps. Back then, God’s people needed to be reminded that they were not to rely on their own strength but rather on the Spirit’s power—and I had needed to be reminded of that too in my mid-forties when I began studying at theological college. God did enable me so much throughout those years of intense study, I reflected—and also in my ensuing ministry role, then on into my writing and speaking journey.

How grateful I am for God’s empowering thus far in my life! Yes surely, Lord, I can still worship you with a full heart. Surely, I can sing all over again, ‘Here’s my life, Lord’—and mean it.

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This week marks a big milestone in our family, as we celebrate my husband’s eightieth birthday! To keep things COVID-safe, we are staging ‘The Festival of Lionel’, several small get-togethers over ten days or so with friends and family members. It all seems a little surreal—as one kind friend wrote when invited to come and celebrate with us, ‘But … are you sure he’s eighty?’

Yes, Lionel was born in 1940—a very long time ago indeed, although in some ways, it seems to have flown. And what a lot he has packed into those many years! After ministering at a small church in Brisbane where our first daughter, Jane, was born, Lionel accepted a call to a church in Sydney, where our son Andrew came along.  A lecturing role at the Bible College of South Australia in beautiful Victor Harbor followed. We loved those six years of living near the beach and surrounding farms and our third child, Tina, was born there.

But then the college relocated to Adelaide, where we lived until Lionel’s role there finished a year later. We returned to Sydney, where he became a local church pastor again, until he was offered another lecturing role, this time at our theological college, which necessitated a move across town for us. Twelve years later, after that role ended, Lionel joined our church’s pastoral team full-time, before training as an intentional interim minister. He then worked in this capacity at several different churches, helping them find their feet again, and trained others in this ministry too.

Can you imagine the number of sermons Lionel has preached down through the years, often two different sermons each Sunday? And what about all those lectures—and the thousands of hours of preparation that went into them? Lionel already knew his bible well when I met him way back in 1968, during his own time at theological college, but along the way, he added to that knowledge with further study in the USA. He was—and still is—convinced of the truth of the gospel. His desire was to equip others well for their own ministries, whatever shape or form these might take, and to this day, even at the ripe old age of eighty, he still enjoys doing that.

Lionel has touched many lives through the years—college students, those who made up the church congregations where he ministered and also friends along the way, as well as family. His life has been well spent, serving the Lord and equipping others to do the same—and we hope and pray he can continue doing such things for quite some years yet.

Right now, however, what fun we are having, celebrating this milestone birthday! Yet it’s wonderful to know that one day a much more joyful celebration will take place for him when he meets Jesus face to face. On that day, I’m sure he will hear the same words the faithful servant who used his talents well heard when his master returned:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21

What a celebration that will be, sharing in the Lord’s happiness! Are you looking forward to that for yourself too?

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Jo 12Isn’t it strange how we sometimes gain a perception of a role or occupation in society, then refuse to budge from there? Take ministers of religion, for instance. Over fifty years ago, when I introduced my husband, then training for ministry, to an aunt of mine, she burst out with the following comment: ‘Oh, so you are nice, after all!’ Did she expect him to look a particular way or be boring or not smile and joke, because he was at theological college? Hmm.

But only two weeks ago, I had a similar experience. I had just spoken at a particular club about my author journey and was standing at my book table, when two ladies came to chat.

‘I love your beautiful jumper,’ one of them said. ‘Where did you get it? It looks very jazzy indeed!’

‘Actually, it’s an op shop buy passed onto me by my sister!’ I told her.

But it was what the other lady said next that left me speechless.

‘Yes—and you don’t look anything at all like a minister’s wife!’

I was sorely tempted to ask her what she thought a minister’s wife looked like! However, I refrained, thinking I might embarrass her. Instead, I laughed and left it at that, yet her comment made me feel sad too. What had she meant? Did she think ministers’ wives always looked dowdy or old-fashioned or stern or colourless or such like? If so, where had she gained her perception of these poor, sad women? Of course, in old movies and even now on TV, ministers are often portrayed as weak and old-fashioned and prosy (think some Mr Bean-type character!). But what of their wives? I felt quite indignant when I thought about the many ministers’ wives I know (not to mention women ministers themselves!) who are always neatly and attractively dressed, have wonderful personalities and are interesting and able women all round.

I know God does not judge us by how we look, as Samuel tells us, and I am so thankful for that:

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

But because I also know how I myself often judge others by their outward appearance, just like those two women had, I always try to look as good as I can, particularly when speaking somewhere. To help with that, I frequent a great second-hand clothing shop that also sells brand new ‘ends of lines’, with labels still attached! I want my money to stretch as far as it can but, much more importantly, I want to honour God even through the way I look. I do not want my appearance to be a stumbling-block for my audience or anyone I will chat to on the day who does not as yet know God—I do not want them to judge God in any negative way because of how I present myself.

I’m so thankful for my lovely, ‘third-hand’, black and gold jumper that apparently helped smash those ladies’ image of what ministers’ wives look like! But more than that, I hope and pray it might have helped them begin to see God in a more attractive light too.

Sometimes appearances do matter, don’t you think?

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I have a friend who loves photographing doors, particularly ones that look a little weatherworn. And if they are any shade of blue, that’s even better! On one trip together, it became a joke between us to find as many blue doors as we could and decide if they truly warranted being photographed. As a result, whenever I see an interesting door anywhere, I think of her. And this was the case when I recently came across the intriguing door below, about a third of the way down this beautiful, old staircase in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney.

IMG_20181124_102331114
IMG_20181124_102226413I don’t think anyone will open this door in a hurry, do you? Yet how inviting it looks! Could it hide an escape route for those overwhelmed by the expensive clothes, shoes etc sold in the QVB, do you think? Or does it lead to a little room where those tired workers from the endless coffee shops in the building can hide for a brief respite? And what about that interesting Number 417 on it? After all, if I’m correct, that equals three times thirteen squared, so perhaps some superstitious official in the distant past may have decided to block that door right up for good!

Yet my thoughts took a serious turn too as I looked and reflected on those figurative doors barred to me at certain times in my life. When I was nineteen and studying at Queensland University, I tried to change from my Bachelor of Arts degree course to a five-year combined Arts/Divinity course. Way back then, I felt God was calling me to train for some form of ministry, but I soon discovered my Commonwealth Scholarship could not be extended to cover those extra years at university. I knew my parents could not support me through any further study—and I had no part-time job. So I reluctantly abandoned the whole idea.

Then in my middle forties, I felt God again calling me to prepare for some form of ministry, this time at theological college. I left my job and wanted to start studying straight away the following year, but that turned out to be impossible. So instead, I spent that year praying for our church, attending two schools of prayer, auditing two college subjects and reading many books—all of which turned out to be vital for what lay ahead. Then the next year, I began my college course in earnest. Three years later, at the age of forty-nine—thirty years after I first wanted to study divinity/theology—I graduated with that degree, plus a ministry diploma.

Was it a mistake that I did not undertake these studies earlier? I suspect not—because, in those intervening years, God brought so many different experiences across my path, teaching me things I would never otherwise have learnt. In the end, God answered my prayers and those doors I thought would never open for me did indeed open, just as Jesus promised.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10

May those doors that have been barred for you open in God’s time too.

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Jo 23This past week, I have found myself the recipient of some wonderful, warm, welcoming hugs. What a joy! Each time, as those arms have wrapped around me, I felt my heart kind of melt and go to mush. It was as if, in one unguarded moment, we reached out to each other in all our vulnerability and opened a window into our very souls.

Now it’s not as if we did this on a conscious level—at least, not in the case of our four-year-old grandson. I had arrived to pick him up from day care and quietly entered the room where he was busy playing. He turned around and, in an instant, I saw joyful recognition and sheer delight written all over his little, smiling face. The next moment, bits of puzzle scattered everywhere as he raced over to hug me tight. And, of course, I hugged him back. Our Zain can be very strong-minded at times and always full of energy. But he can also be warm, loving and gentle, wanting us to cuddle up close.

My other wonderful welcoming experience occurred after speaking to a seniors’ group in a church on the opposite side of town. As I chatted with people at my book table, I saw a younger man walking towards me. I recognised him immediately—I had known him years earlier when he was still at theological college but knew he was now the senior pastor of this church. How would he greet me in front of all those older members of his congregation? Would he be a little guarded? He smiled at me and, before I knew it, I was enveloped in the biggest bear hug and welcomed warmly to his church.

Then his wife arrived. For some years, I had met with her in a mentoring capacity, as she worked back then to support her husband. Now as we embraced, I could sense our hearts meeting again in a deep and moving way that went far beyond words. Later, I met up with another girl I had mentored—and again received a heartfelt hug. What a delight to see how both these women, now with families of their own, are still serving God in the most amazing ways!

As I reflected on all those wonderful, welcoming hugs, I could not help but think of the father we read about in Luke 15 who welcomes his lost son home with such joy.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (20)

True, my recent hugs were not given because I had returned from having squandered all my inheritance, as the young man in this story had. I was merely picking up our grandson and renewing old friendships. Yet these hugs have enabled me to imagine and appreciate all over again how much that father’s warm, welcoming, forgiving embrace must have meant to his son. And right now too, as I reflect on this wonderful, healing reconnection, I can feel those warm, loving arms of my own heavenly Father, welcoming me into his presence with equal joy and delight.

I am accepted. I am forgiven. I am loved.

And once again, my heart melts.

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