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Posts Tagged ‘women in ministry’

IMG_20190418_100541803Recently, I did something I have wanted to do for a long time. I bought an original painting at an art exhibition. I already own two lovely paintings—one of the Charles Bridge in Prague which featured in my very first novel and another my brother-in-law painted for my seventieth birthday of a street scene in Paris. Yet I have always dreamt of roaming around myself at an art exhibition until I found that special something that spoke to me in a deep, personal way. And that is exactly what happened.

Since the artist, Jo Sterland, was standing nearby, I decided to ask her what had inspired this particular painting. I discovered it was titled ‘The Change of Season’, with the rich purples and blues depicting the past contrasting with the bright tangerine splashes of colour in the foreground, speaking of vibrant, new life—and in between, the white, swirling cloud of change and uncertainty but also hope, so often felt in moving from one season to the next in our lives. Jo also explained that this particular painting had come into being during a time spent listening to God, alongside other artists with a similar heart for God, and endeavouring to follow those gentle promptings of the Spirit to paint in a certain way.

At that point, my eyes filled with tears. I understand the concept of listening to God as I write, so to paint in this way resonated with me. I also understand well those change of seasons in our lives, having moved from one career to another several times over and having put aside a beloved ministry role at one stage, only to have God give me the awesome privilege of becoming a published author. But I sensed God was speaking to me for the here and now too, reminding me of past blessings but also reassuring me of joys to come and future answers to prayer.

At this exhibition, it was wonderful to witness the fulfilment the artists experienced through displaying their works for us. Inwardly, I applauded them for their courage in baring their heart and soul in this way and risking rejection in the process. But if these artists had not been prepared to put their work on public display and offer it up for God to use, I for one would have missed out. And so would those vulnerable women and their families in Thailand, towards whose support and care the money raised from the sale of these artworks is going.

Each of us is creative in some way. Yes, I have met a good number who say they do not have a creative bone in their body! Yet surely, if we are all made in the image of God, the Creator of our amazing universe, that cannot be the case.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them Genesis 1:27

I wonder what creative gift you have that reflects something of God to the world in your own unique way? Did you perhaps put it aside for a season? Is it time to change that? May you find great joy and fulfilment as you dust it off, listen to God and offer it to us all again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘You have two answers wrong here!’

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

Now that put me firmly in my place.

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

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

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

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

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Jo 12I wonder if you can remember a time when you felt so frustrated that you could not get on with what you truly wanted to do because of other pressing commitments in your life. Perhaps you had to work while others were enjoying holidays. Perhaps you had to be at home minding young children or caring for someone with ill-health while colleagues pursued their careers. Or perhaps you had to put study aside, in order to pay the mortgage and support a family. It can be hard, can’t it, to see others doing exactly what you yourself would like to be doing?

For the past four months, my husband and I have been supporting our church’s pastoral team while our two lead pastors (husband and wife) have been on sabbatical leave. We have felt so privileged to be able to work alongside our team and so many wonderful volunteers. Yet even though it was such a positive experience, at times I felt a little rebellious about where I found myself. I am a writer, after all, but in these months, I have not touched my current manuscript. In fact, I can barely remember my characters and what they have been up to! So why was I there ministering, instead of writing? Besides, I have missed my times of solitude, sitting at my laptop, lost in another world as I churn out those words.

Then it dawned on me that, for someone who belongs to God and is committed to doing what God wants, this is a rather silly way to think. After all, if I truly believed God called us to support our pastoral team, then surely I need not worry about what is not getting done—or written! Instead, I can be at peace and do what I have been given to do.

As I realised this, a second thought emerged. Could God possibly have had some further purpose in drawing me back into a pastoral role for a season? Through it all, what did God want to show me or teach me that could not happen any other way?

I decided to journal my responses. Firstly, I felt God wanted to point out how far I have come in those sixteen years since laying down a formal ministry role. I have grown so much, as I have gone on my writing and speaking journey—and I realised how thankful to God I need to be for that. Secondly, as a result of this growth, I believe I have approached this temporary pastoral role in an entirely different way. My trust in God has grown and I have gained greater confidence in using my God-given gifts. Thirdly, as I have ministered this time around, I have felt God’s deep love and affirmation and also a kind of healing from any regrets or sense of failure I may still have felt at leaving ministry all those years ago.

What a lesson, to realise I would have missed out on all this, if I had not helped out for these four months! God is so gracious and long-suffering with us, don’t you think?

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. Psalm 42:11

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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 23A few weeks ago, I managed to achieve an almost miraculous feat. I actually threw out all those notes from my theological college days around twenty years ago! Admittedly, I didn’t have the heart to dispense with a few favourite assignments. And admittedly, it also felt as if I was somehow betraying those three very busy but precious years of study. However, it needed to be done—and the memories are still there.

But there’s something else I have even more trouble parting with—and that is my books. When one begins to pack books horizontally on top of those already squished in vertically, it’s pretty obvious something needs to be done! So I decided to begin this daunting task.

As I started, the memories came flooding back. In one section, I found many books on prayer—for nations, for cities, for our churches and their leaders, for individuals. Now I still strongly believe in the power of prayer, but I do not feel this is currently where my main focus is to be. Sometimes God calls us to different ministries at different stages of our lives, I believe. But I remember vividly those many hours spent praying at our church, alone and with others. And I soon became aware of a strange mixture of joy, sadness and gratitude within—as well as nostalgia for times past.

On other shelves, I found books on counselling, pastoral care, church leadership, women in ministry, worship and missions. Memories of those college years surfaced again, along with those spent fully involved in all areas touched on in these books. Some of these I am still passionate about, although in different ways and in different settings. I know that is okay, but those mixed emotions still surfaced.

In the middle of another shelf, I noticed my own six novels and one memoir, all published since 2007. I paused and was again overwhelmed at God’s abundant grace at work in my life in these writing and speaking years. But then my eyes ranged over the many other novels and memoir/biographies on my shelves—most of which have enjoyed much greater popularity and contain far more exciting stories than mine. I sighed, as envy and self-doubt began to flood in.

I decided to step back and ask God for a better perspective on it all. And soon I began to see the wonderful variety of reading experiences there, in the midst of which my own books truly did belong. I also saw books I currently enjoy—gems on contemplation and on experiencing God’s presence, some written by Christians centuries ago. I saw helpful books on writing and creativity. I saw new releases alongside older novels I have recently re-read and loved all over again. I saw so much richness in books both old and new on those shelves. And I gave thanks, realising they have all been part of the tapestry of my life, with no one section more important than the other.

Yes, my book culling task might still be daunting, but not depressing. God is there with me as I work and remember, whispering to me, giving me perspective, filling me with gratitude and grace.

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Psalm 25:15

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Jo 23On a recent Saturday night, I fronted up at a church to speak at a special dinner to raise funds for a home for disabled teenagers. I had been invited months earlier and the women organising the event were obviously keen for me to come. But for that, I might well have dropped out since I was still recovering from the flu and also hobbling along in a ‘moon boot’, after injuring my ankle.

By God’s grace, I was able to focus and speak from the heart, forgetting about everything else. Yet, as I sat down afterwards, I wondered if I had struck the right chord. They had all seemed attentive—but I had not expected so many men to be present. Were they happy to have a woman speak to them? Or were they all wondering when I would finish, so they could enjoy their dessert for which they had waited so patiently?

I was not left in doubt for very long. As one old gentleman passed me on his way to select his dessert, he tapped me on the shoulder. What was coming, I wondered. What was he about to say? Had he even heard what I had said? He was rather bent over with age—perhaps he was a little deaf as well. But then he began speaking softly, his face filled with emotion.

‘In my experience,’ he told me, ‘there are some people who know about God—and some people who know God. Now … you are one of the latter. Thank you very much! And you know, God has spoken to me too—many times.’

Ignoring all that wonderful dessert nearby, he began telling me how God had saved him during the war and had warned him about other events in his life. My heart was touched and I felt so honoured and humbled. I had judged this man as perhaps being unable to catch or understand my input. Instead, he had heard every word and had related so much to it all.

Later, I chatted with two other gentlemen, one of whom I discovered was a retired minister. Both thanked me for my input and were obviously touched. I had not expected such feedback at all and again felt so humbled.

The next day, as I reflected on the evening and on other events where I have spoken recently, I began to see yet again how so many people, whatever their backgrounds, seem to long to truly know and hear from God. They want the real thing. They are tired of merely hearing about God—if they hear anything at all. And this opinion seemed to be reinforced when I later turned to my bible and read Jesus’ strong response to the Sadducees who had asked him about some hypothetical situation, twisting Scripture to suit their own ends.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. Matt 22:29

What an indictment on them! And what an indictment on those of us too who feel called to speak if we do not come to grips fully with God’s heart in Scripture and then convey this in God’s power and with passion and sincerity! People are waiting, looking for reality. May we let neither God nor them down.

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This world is full of such brave, amazing people. This week, I was inspired all over again to keep going as I listened to several—all women and all much older than even I am (!)—share what they have been doing and plan to do. These are no light things either. And soon my own complaints dwindle to nothing.

At the age of around seventy, would you be prepared to undertake yet another of many trips to Bangladesh, involving a punishing schedule of eighteen to twenty hour days, many miles of travel to encourage rural church planters, plus all sorts of speaking engagements? That is exactly what a gracious, female friend of mine will soon be doing. As well, she has been a large part of raising funds to set up and staff sixteen Christian schools and an orphanage there. Here she is, this beautifully groomed and dressed grandmother who could be taking it easy in retirement, instead giving her all to build God’s kingdom in Bangladesh.

I listen too as another friend, now in her mid-seventies, shares about her recent trip to India to witness the opening of a six-storey building that houses a Christian school for around six hundred children and to support the Christian teachers there. My friend has laboured long and hard with this project and has watched this school grow to where it is today. She too could sit back and enjoy retirement, but no—she keeps on. Soon she will release yet another book, encouraging women to share their stories, because she is passionate about women coming to know the love and grace of God and being fed from the Word of God.

I watch as another even older friend chats with two younger women present and arranges to meet with them to encourage them in their ministry roles. Yes, she will drive some distance across Sydney to see them, I hear her say—and their gratitude is evident. Then she tells us all, with great joy, how she recently preached again in her church and how fulfilling this experience was. I know too that in the past, this dear lady has led men and women to the Lord who now hold prominent positions at all sorts of levels in our society. Yet there she is, speaking so humbly and with such godliness, wit and wisdom.

I come home and hear about another dear friend who, in her early seventies, is sacrificing her own personal space to take into her home family members who have nowhere else to go at this point and supporting them financially in the process, even when she herself has little to spare. I am in awe of her, as I realise this would indeed be something I would personally find very difficult.

I look ahead at my own busy speaking and writing schedule over the next few weeks and realise the cost involved for me is nothing, compared with that of my friends. I honour them. I am inspired by them. But, most importantly, I believe God honours them too and watches over them with a fierce and jealous love.

Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4

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