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Posts Tagged ‘theological colleges’

Jo 23Last week, it was wonderful to cross paths again with two men who graduated from theological college the same year as I did—exactly twenty years ago this month. Back then, I was in my late forties. I had wanted to train for ministry for years, but thought this was an opportunity long gone, until God made it clear it was time to return to study once again.

One of these men reminded us that we were the three students in our year who aimed for an honours degree, which involved undertaking three extra subjects, as well as achieving a high overall grade in all subjects. We managed it, but I had not remembered this at all. In fact, I wondered what he was talking about at first.

I had not forgotten I ended up dux of our year, however. I remember how vindicated I felt as I received my award. After all, I was old enough to be the mum of many of the students in my year! Besides, I was a woman—surely I couldn’t have done better than those other bright young men I studied alongside? On top of that, I had struggled with big family issues in my final year, including my husband’s job loss and a daughter’s severe illness. It had been hard going, but God had sustained me in amazing ways and kept me motivated.

That day, as I talked with my two college friends, each of us had stories to tell of great years in ministry—but also of times of difficulty and differences of opinion. For each of us, our journeys had taken more than a few twists and turns, from one role to another and even from one denomination to another, until we have ended up where we are today. With great faithfulness, God had picked us up, time and time again, strengthening us, challenging us to move on.

Later at home, as I reflected on our special catch-up conversation, I remembered a psalm I had recently read:

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. Psalm 77:11-12

God had not always rescued us from various life situations in the way we thought needed to happen. For each of us there were ‘times of no miracles’—at least from our perspective. But God had not left us. God was always there, watching over us, never letting us stray too far, weaving the strands of our lives together as only God can.

Twenty years down the track, I can honestly say my college honours degree and academic achievements have by and large lost the huge significance they once had. Of course, for some, this is how God has gifted them to make a difference in this world, which is wonderful. But for me now, it is much more about listening to God, about being faithful in doing what God gives me to do, about touching hearts and lives with God’s love, as God guides and empowers.

And that’s something within the reach of all of us, don’t you think?

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Jo 17What fun we are having in our house right now, as we prepare to move soon! In every room, there is a growing pile of boxes filled with photo albums, music, framed pictures, board games and other paraphernalia—not to mention books, books and more books! But outside, our rubbish and recycling bins are also being filled to the brim with reams of old files, books no one else would want to read and music very few would recognise now.

I suspect my husband’s part in all this activity has proved to be more challenging than mine. You see, he has a whole wall of built-in bookshelves in his study. So, of course, much culling of books has had to take place. But perhaps the hardest part for him has been dispensing with all those bulging folders of notes from courses he undertook as part of his Doctor of Ministry studies many years ago, along with his resulting three-volume dissertation.

‘I feel as if I am throwing a key part of my life away!’ he commented at one point.

I understand his sense of loss, to some degree at least. I too have dispensed with many folders containing courses I helped devise and run, manuals from other programs I attended, as well as many sermon notes. Yes, it is sad at times, but I have found there are ways of approaching this culling and packing adventure that have helped me not to become too overwhelmed by it all.

Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge any grief we feel, as we throw out work that represents a significant part of our life or significant personal growth experiences. Yes, we put our whole selves into preparing this course or that or completing some challenging ministry task. And yes, those days are gone. But God knows this—and God is right there with us, bringing comfort, as well as whispering, I believe, a  gentle ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ into our hearts.

Secondly, while not ignoring any sense of loss felt, we can try to take a more positive approach. We can thank God for the variety of opportunities we have been afforded in our lives to learn about so many things and to serve others by sharing these resources with them. We can remember how fulfilling it was to use our gifts in these ways and how others grew closer to God as a result. What a privilege to be entrusted with these tasks in God’s kingdom!

But I think the most positive approach to this culling of material and impending move can be found in a wonderful, insightful question a friend asked me recently:

‘So … what is the invitation God is extending to you for the next part of your life?’

What a beautiful thought! Why would I keep looking back then when I can turn and accept God’s gracious invitation to move forward into the next part of my life? God knows me. God loves me. And God still has a myriad of ways for me to bless others in the future. We’re not finished yet!

And the same goes for you too.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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The moment had come. For some time, I had planned to clean out a particular bedroom drawer that was stuffed to the limit with precious memorabilia—cards and notes I had received over the years, old school reports, certificates for music and academic achievements, programs from concerts and shows I had attended. It all seemed far too daunting, since I knew I would not want to throw any of it out. But I could not put it off any longer.

First, I tackled all those cards. Many were beautiful thank you notes from groups where I had spoken or from readers who had appreciated my books and taken the time to let me know. Others were special birthday or Mothers’ Day cards from our granddaughters, some handmade, with lovely messages inside written in wobbly letters. After reading them all again, I decided it was pimg_20170211_103120558-2robably time to throw away most of the thank you notes at least … but surely I could keep those precious Mothers’ Day cards?

I dug deeper and found more home-made Mothers’ Day cards from our own children, including one that said: ‘You will like this … and it only cost $1.49!!’ I found some funny notes as well: ‘Dear Mum and Dad … could you please make sure that in the morning Tina does not, I repeat, NOT wake Andrew or me up and play the piano? Thank you. Warning: If Tina does do these offensive things, you will probably not live to regret it—that goes for Tina too!’ From your loving daughter, Jane.’ Still another was in distinctly grovelling mode: ‘Mummy darling dearest, if you are in a fantastic mood, PTO. If not, don’t bother!’ How could I throw such gems out?!

I kept digging and soon found many more cards written to me at key points in my life. Cards for key birthday celebrations. Cards when moving on from jobs. Cards congratulating me on my graduation from theological college. Cards on the death of my mother. Cards on leaving our church. Cards for no reason at all—except simply to encourage me. So many words written just for me. So many words expressing so much love and heartfelt thanks for things I had said or done, some of which I now have no memory of saying or doing.

As I completed my mammoth task, I felt quite sad and nostalgic. I sat still for a while, trying to let all that love and affirmation people had expressed sink in. And in the quiet, I sensed God saying, ‘Remember my words to you too and take them to heart.’ Then those precious snippets came flooding back—words I tend to forget so often:

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Joshua 1:5

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. John 14:1

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. John 15:16

I love reading those heartfelt words from family and friends. But these are the best heartfelt words ever, don’t you think?

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P1030779You might find this hard to believe, but my husband and I are both getting a little older as each year passes—at least, he is! Occasionally, in my smug state of being a number of years younger, I remind him of this. Whenever we pass an elderly driver doing something a little dangerous on our roads, I have been known to comment, ‘Oh, don’t worry. He’s just an old guy of about seventy-four!’—which is, of course, is my husband’s age!

But last week marked a different sort of milestone for him. Fifty years ago, in March, 1965, Lionel began theological college, which involved a student ministry placement as part of the training. He has been in some ministry role or other ever since, including several local church ministries but also two longer periods as a theological college lecturer and registrar, firstly at the Bible College of South Australia and later at what is now the Australian College of Ministries.

Yet that is not all. Even now, he mentors several pastors, meets with others for coffee and a good dose of encouragement and understanding, occasionally preaches, and pastorally cares for various friends via visits, phone calls and emails. Also, he still provides background support in training others for intentional interim ministry. On top of that, he continues to support me in my writing and speaking ministry as my bookkeeper, computer expert and general ‘roadie’, as he likes to call himself!

During those fifty years of ministry, there have been many interesting experiences, both encouraging and discouraging. Many sermons have been preached. Many lectures have been given. Many people’s lives have been touched. Only God knows the end result of all Lionel’s efforts in sharing the Good News, in caring for others and in training others to minister. Through it all, Lionel has remained faithful. He has kept going when I would have wanted to give up. He has persevered when I would have lost interest in doing so. He has kept the main thing the main thing. And I honour him for that.

Recently, a man in our street became seriously ill. Since then, Lionel has made a point of visiting him, talking with him, praying with him and sharing about God with him, both at home and then in hospital—to the point that now he has been asked to take this man’s funeral when the time comes. He has spoken with this man’s wife too because he cares about them and about their eternal destiny. That to me is the mark of a true pastor and man of God.

So I would say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ to my husband for staying the course and completing that ministry marathon of fifty years. More importantly, however, I know this is what God will say to him one day—a day I know Lionel is looking forward to as he continues even now to run the race marked out for him until the very end.

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

May the Lord strengthen us all to remain faithful and finish our own, unique races well.

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Our house is quite small. As someone once put it when visiting, ‘It’s a nice little cottage!’ So, over the years, we have tried to get rid of unnecessary or unwanted clutter. This applies to everything we own—well, almost everything. Of course, books are the exception.

P1040041This past week, I nevertheless decided to pare down one or two of the bookshelves in our house. I picked up some volumes I had read recently—but no, I could not throw those out. You see, I know the authors. And, being an author myself, I could not consign their books to some throw-out pile. Far better to take them to a second hand bookstore where others might read them as well, if I had no room for them. So back on those shelves they went for the moment.

I began pulling out other books lower down on those crammed shelves. Some were textbooks from my years at theological college. Others dealt with church issues I was passionate about at one stage but no longer am—at least not so much. Some even went back to my earlier years as a Christian—large volumes I treasured then, now too outdated to refer to often, if at all. Yet I found myself loath to throw them out because they hold so many memories for me of key periods of my life when I was growinP1040044g and learning and trying to come to grips with so many matters of faith.

In another room, I unearthed some old language learning books of mine—Japanese, German and even Classical Greek textbooks of little use to any student now since they are so outdated. I stopped for a moment to reflect on the hours and hours of effort put into studying these. And again, because they represent such key parts of my life, I did not have the heart to throw them out.

Putting these back, I then progressed to another set of book shelves. Here I found books dating back not only to our children’s growing up years but also to my own—favourites such as Anne of Green Gables, What Katy Did, Little Women and many others. How could I possibly throw those out? Perhaps our grandchildren will read them one day. Yet the pages are so yP1040042ellowed and the print so small. And all those long sentences and unfamiliar words …

I am aware January is often the month when nostalgic and even somewhat depressive thoughts can take hold as we get to clear out the clutter of the past. Yet, while acknowledging these feelings, I also found myself reflecting on God’s faithfulness through all those periods of my life those books represent. While my faith may well have waxed and waned, according to the pressures of life or my own wilfulness, God has watched over me, steering me through it all.

Those books are only things—I cannot take them with me when I die. And the memories they invoke in me will no doubt fade in the years ahead. But that faithfulness of God they represent to me will never, ever end. And I am so thankful.

Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Psalm 117

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Jo 23There I was, working in my study and only vaguely conscious of the sound of the TV in our lounge, when one particular sentence jolted me alert. It was as if the words I heard were louder than all the others, demanding my attention.

‘She doesn’t have to worry—she’s got nothing left to prove.’

I soon realised the sports commentator was talking about a particular sportswoman at the Commonwealth Games who has won every medal and accolade there is in her chosen field. At this stage, she can simply enjoy the satisfaction of winning and not have to worry anymore about whether she can make it and be the best in the world. It’s what we often say when people have succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations and achieved great feats in their lives.

Why did this statement impact me the way it did? Because I had just read the following sentence in my latest book I am in the process of editing:

I was my own worst enemy in many ways, so prone to taking things too personally, so wanting to prove myself, so easily forgetting who I was in God and so often allowing others’ opinions of me to pull me down.

Yes, in former years, I was very much into proving myself. I wanted to come top of that class in primary school. I wanted to be among those prize winners at our high school speech night. I wanted to excel at uni. This was all good, but I did not realise then that trying to prove myself would not give me that deep sense of worth I craved inside.

I remember well a question someone asked me when I was about to head to theological college in my late forties.

‘So … what are you trying to prove?’

I was dumbfounded—I could not believe anyone would ask me such a rude question. Yes, I planned to put my heart and soul into all my assignments to get the maximum benefit from this wonderful opportunity to study once again—but not merely to prove myself. So I tried to muster up some grace and forbearance and told this person I was doing it first and foremost because I believed God had called me to, which was the truth.

No doubt at times I did fall back into my old ways of trying to prove myself at college. But, these days, I can honestly say that, just like that Commonwealth Games athlete the commentator was talking about, there is nothing left for me to prove either. Not that I have written that best seller or hit the highest peaks of achievement in ministry, by any means! But I know who I am in God. And I know deep inside I don’t have to earn God’s approval—because Jesus has made me totally acceptable, whatever I achieve or don’t achieve in this life. This has given me such a deep sense of security as I continue to write and speak and put myself and my books out there. I don’t have to prove myself—there’s nothing left to prove. All I can do is my best and leave the rest to God.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. 1 Cor 15:10a

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