Thanks in ALL Things

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Let me share my BIG thanksgiving news. For the past five years, I have researched and written a 90,000-word story about Matthew the tax collector. I’ve edited it about ten times, had a professional edit, and edited it one more time myself. The big news is that it is finally being published! Rejoice, oh my soul. I’m hopeful that I will hold that book in my hands by March.

So what else draws me to give thanks? I’ve mentioned before the daily Thanks Notebook that I started a couple of years ago after I read Ann Voscamp’s book, “1,000 Gifts.” Each day, I record something for which I am thankful.

For example:

Thoughts God gives, air conditioning, opportunities to encourage, my daily devotional book-“Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young, God’s continual call to trust, sunny days, the positive attitude of a dying friend.

As David said,

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. Psalm 69:30

Yes, of course, that’s what we do at Thanksgiving, sing our praise to God for our blessings. But wait. Listen to some of the phrases that precedes David’s joyful praise in Psalm 69.

Verse 1 – Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. Verse 3 – I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. Verse 7 – I endure scorn for your sake . . . Verse 18 – Come near me and rescue me from my foes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

And yet he says in verse 30, 

      I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.

                                                                                                                                           

It is important and proper that we give our praise at this Thanksgiving time and ponder all the wonderful things He has done for us. In addition, think of how He has lifted you through in spite of some hard times this year.

We’ve endured a challenging time in this year of Covid. Perhaps you or a loved one contracted the virus. Maybe you’ve ended up with round-the clock-children and have had to help with their schooling. You may have had to work from home or worse yet, totally lost your job. You missed getting with friends, going to church, and for a while couldn’t even get your haircut.

As for me, in this time I was able to read several books, as well as get my own book finished. I loved putting in flowers and waving to new neighborhood friends as I took daily walks. We were able to give food to some in need. Can you give thanks in spite of set backs? Did God help you in dire times to survive?

We are to give thanks in ALL things. I’d love to hear how God helped you turn lemons into lemonade this year.

Meanwhile, a Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

~ Joyce ~

 

Thankful for Family

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Probably one of the first things we think of at Thanksgiving is to give thanks for our families. Usually, I purposely try to lead people to go beyond family, health, our homes, our church, friends, and all the usual–to move to deeper forms of thanksgiving.

But today, I am thinking of family. In a day when families are being bombarded with divorce, out-of-control teenagers, death of older members, suicidal deaths, abortions, conflict, loneliness, not to mention feelings of isolation because of too much media (computers, iPhones, and the like) or the feeling of too much family in this Covid year, it is possible many are not too thankful for family.

I hope that is not so for you. If you have survived these dilemmas, or have dodged them, then you have much for which to be thankful.

My husband and I are blest to have had parents who went past the 50-year mark in their marriages, giving us a goal for our 50-year mark (and now beyond.) We hope that this in turn has set the pattern for our son and daughter in their marriages. All of us have our challenges as in any relationship, but how valuable it is to have healthy legacies to pass on.

Now I look at our seven grandchildren in this era of family turmoil. As I give thanks for each one, I also pray for God’s protection and guidance as they make their daily choices and form patterns of faith. Their ages are 13, 14, 17, 18, 19 and the two girls are 20. What critical years.

Here they are after my mother’s graveside service. Sorry it’s not a good closeup because they’re all so cute! (Said like a grandmother.)

This year we are beginning a new tradition. We commit to pray every day for the grandchild who is having a birthday in that month. We ask them to tell us three things they would like for us to pray about in their lives. We have done this with five of the seven so far and have two to go. It has been a delight to do this, really focusing in on one of them at a time for a whole month. 

We will likely give their parents a turn as well. We hope this opens the door for them all to mention any prayer concerns throughout the year.

So at this Thanksgiving time, I am truly grateful for this wonderful family God has given me. We’ve had our share of struggles, but God has seen us through and taught us many lessons in the process.

May you find things about your family that bring you to thanksgiving this year.

O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Psalm 30:12

~ Joyce ~

 

Knowing and Being Known

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

I have a friend who was healed from cancer two years ago. She recently had cancer again—inoperable cancer. She has opted to receive no treatment. While making funeral plans, she decided to create a small booklet of devotions from a few of her journal entries. I asked for her permission to use one of these in my blog today.

Yada’ – A Devotional About Knowing and Being Known                                                                                                                                                                                                   “O Lord, thou has searched me, and known me.” Psalm 139:1

When I was a young person, I had a situation in which I prayed to God earnestly and fervently for what seemed forever. One day as I was again praying, I dropped my head in total exhaustion from my repeated pleas to God and his seeming indifference to my plight.

But as I hung my head, something miraculous happened. I felt a warm oily substance being poured over my entire body from head to toe. I could feel it oozing over my body and seeping into every pore, and I knew the substance was “knowing.”

At the time, I did not understand this because “knowing” is a verb not a noun—how could it be something poured? However, “knowing” is what I definitely felt had been poured over me.

Since that day, I have come to realize that the dictionary describes “knowing” as having intimate knowledge of something or someone. The Hebrew word for “know” is “yada'” and it can be translated “to know and be known.”

Looking back on that experience, I realize God was telling me I was known to Him. He had heard my prayers. That day years ago, even if I did not understand fully what was happening to me, I found an amazing peace and joy I had never before experienced.

I never had to repeat my prayer again, because I knew God had heard me and I was in His watch care. I no longer had to fret or plead. And in His time and in His inscrutable way, He eventually answered that prayer.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Psalm 139. It was recently pointed out to me that the word “know” is repeated six times in that Psalm. Perhaps, without realizing it, that is why it is my favorite Psalm. God still speaks to me through the word “know.” 

By Sandy Berry

Psalm 139 reflects that the Lord knows when I sit and when I rise, perceives my thoughts from afar, and before a word is on my tongue, He knows it completely.

The psalm reminds us that God created my inmost being, and knit me in my mother’s womb.

Then the palmist’s plea; Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. Perhaps you’d like to read the whole psalm.

A reminder: the only way we then know Him and His will, His desires for us is to be still, to seek, to listen. 

~ Joyce ~

Life Verses – Much Required

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

We will conclude this series of life verses with two more today.

You may remember that I went through a trying time during my mother’s bout with dementia. For a while we slowly adjusted and she had many good days. But with each hospital visit, her health and cognitive abilities declined. My daughter’s mother-in-law made a sweet little plaque that I kept in mother’s room. I mentioned it to mother a few times and she looked at it, but in reality, it was more for me. It read:

BE: Joyful in hope

Patient in affliction

Faithful in Prayer

Romans 12:12

More than once, I prayed to be joyful, patient, and faithful. Now I have that plaque on a little stand in my office. I look at it often, remembering that these are worthy attributes at any times in life and a reminder that our life verses come to us over and over. God’s word is constantly active.

I will conclude with one more verse, one that has hovered over me since I was in high school.

It became apparent to me early in life that I was greatly blest. I had a loving family who taught me values and to love God’s Word. Though we moved often, we had nice homes, found friendly churches and I made new friends. I dressed well, made good grades at school, and found interest and talent in music. I actively participated at church and had leadership positions at times.

So many blessings.

Jesus told his disciples,

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:48

I learned it simply as “To whom much is given, much is required.”

When I was a senior in high school, we were asked to give our mottos for the yearbook. I chose “To whom much is given, much is required.”

It has been a driving force for me and still is today.

There are many other verses I could mention and I’m sure you have many as well. The Lord impresses them on us at various stages of our lives, uniquely offering them just when we need them most. I pray you might be ever searching, ever seeking the words he has for you.

~ Joyce ~

Life Verses – A Hope and a Future

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Today’s verse can apply to many stages of life. Most think of it when they are leaving high school or college or launching into a new career. However, this verse, taken from Jeremiah, can encourage us at many stages of life.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Let’s look at Jeremiah’s context for this verse. This is an old passage, all the way back to 597 B.C. The king of Babylon has swept in to overtake Israel and take captive the choice craftsmen, artisans, and the best of the young people including Daniel and his young friends.

It will be a long captivity in this foreign land. Meanwhile, they are to continue to be faithful to God, to remember their need to pray daily and not worship idols, to be strong in their faith in spite of the fact that they will no longer have their Temple and sacrifices, etc.

With that in mind, let’s look again at this much quoted verse.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

God has many plans to reward the faithfulness of Daniel and his friends as they maintain strong bodies by following their food rules. They are protected from harm whether in the lion’s den or the fiery furnace. They all end up with high places of leadership even in captivity—a hope and a future.

God reminds them that they must continually call upon him in prayer and when they keep this practice, He assures them that,

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

So, when did this become a life verse for me? Interestingly enough, not until I was ready to retire.

I had already retired from teaching and had been working for several years as a music assistant  in a church. My husband talked of retiring so I considered retiring as well. I was suffering physically and finally found out that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis, but I loved the kids I worked with in choir and  my precious seniors in the Senior Adult Choir, so I struggled with the decision.

I knew of this verse, but I was reintroduced to it in my daily Bible reading. I saw it in a church bulletin later. A radio preacher mentioned it. God often works in my life in these ways.

I nervously sat in church that Sunday morning before reading my resignation letter. I couldn’t believe it when Jeremiah 29:11 popped up on the screen as the morning verse. What an assurance that he approved this decision and had further plans for me. A few years later, my first book was published—a hope and a future!

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Life Verses – Ears to Hear

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

I’m sorry I left you hanging last week. (See “Life Verses – On Fire“) Like the two on the road to Emmaus, my heart was on fire as the Lord impressed upon me that He wanted me to write. My willing heart had to seek His heart—a long process in bringing me to the fulness of His will.

That year, I was engaged in a Bible study of Matthew with other ladies in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship). As I worked through the study, I found myself thinking of the lesser known characters along the way.

I wanted to stop and imagine what might be the rest of their stories. Wouldn’t it be intriguing to see them as more than just two-verse people? What were their families like? How did they relate to Jesus? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to write about one of these and bring them to life?

Every now and then, I noticed that Matthew recorded this phrase from Jesus,

“He who ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 11:15

A few chapters later, there it came again.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:9 and 43

I stopped each time to ponder those words.

Later in our study of Matthew, we came to the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the flurry of activity with the Temple guards, religious leaders, and disciples, Peter spontaneously started swinging his sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant.

I checked the other three gospels and found a few more facts about this man. Jesus healed the man’s ear. The man’s name was Malchus. 

At some point, everything came together for me. Malchus was a lesser known character. He lost his ear, but Jesus gave him back his hearing. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What happened to this servant? Malchus worked for the high priest who was determined to have Jesus crucified? How did that personal touch, that healing, affect Malchus’ decisions?

That, my friends, was how my first book gave birth. I titled it “Ears to Hear.”

It had been a long, slow process that year, but the Lord seared my mind with the idea of looking at lesser known characters in the Bible, then to apply “ears to hear” to the account of Malchus with Jesus in the garden and his miraculous healing.

It  took seven years to get from research to writing, editing, and seeking a publisher to the final finished product. Many times I cried out to the Lord, “Who am I to think I can do such a thing?” Then He would remind me that indeed I couldn’t, but He could—with my cooperation.

Another seven years later, Nicodemus’ story was published in “A Heart for Truth” which was twice as long.

Now, five years later, the story of Matthew is getting close to ready in “Eyes to See.”

I sing from a favorite hymn, “Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

 

Life Verses – On Fire

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Most life verses are ones you might write down in the back of your Bible or make into a poster for your wall as a guiding thought. Today I share with you a long experience where two verses were brought to mind by what I experienced, a reflection so to speak of verses I already knew.

The setting is twenty years ago. I had been writing scripts and skits for children’s choir groups and writing Bible study/devotionals for Youth Choir groups. I’d been published in a book of short stories. So I had been writing, but I sensed the Lord urging me to write more, perhaps in a different direction.

I would drive by a book store and see a sign that had something to do with writing or hear someone talking about writing. “I am writing,” I wanted to reason with God.

After a few weeks went by, I was driving down the expressway and glanced at the license plate on the car in front of me. I kid you not, the license plate read, WRITE! I cried out, “Okay, Lord, what is it you want me to write?”

A couple of months later, I attended a conference. One of the break-out sessions related to God’s purposes in our lives. The leader spoke of being in communication with God and seeking His will in all the directions we go. She gave examples of friends who had moved this way or that way in their life paths and then she mentioned someone who was a writer and felt the Lord leading her to write a book.

My heart throbbed. A warm flow started in my feet and legs and worked its way up through my body until I felt like I was on fire. It was as though the Lord had taken a branding iron and seared across my chest the word, “Write!”

My thoughts turned to the words of Cleopas when he and his companion met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus. After Jesus left them, they said,

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

“Is this the way they felt?” I wondered. Again I cried out, “I’ll write, Lord, but what is it you want me to write?”

I discovered that sometimes the Lord takes a long time in bringing us to the fullness of His will. In fact, so long that I can’t complete this one in only a single blog. We’ll need to stay tuned next week for “the rest of the story.”

Thank you to those who have sent in their life verses—Psalm41:3, Jeremiah 30:14, Psalm 103:2, and I Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Please keep your life verses coming so that we all might benefit!

 ~ Joyce ~

 

 

Life Verses – The Spirit Intercedes

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Perhaps many of you have gone to the doctor and heard the dreaded C word. If not cancer, maybe another take-your-breath-away word.

We had been watching my husband’s TSA score gradually elevate. Then came the day when the doctor said he had prostate cancer. Jim began searching the treatment options—so many directions, each with their sets of pros and cons. At last, he decided to have it surgically removed.

In my stunned state, I recalled sitting in a Bible class as a young bride long ago, when the teacher asked, “What is your greatest fear?” Immediately, I thought of the devastation I would feel to lose my husband. Those thoughts came again when I faced this possibility.

Obviously, one prays for healing, for the Lord’s will to be done, for strength to go through this valley which ever way it goes, but at some point I just didn’t know what else to pray. It is at that point that I turned to Romans.

. . . if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we need to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:25-26

Jesus spoke often of the Holy Spirit. The disciples had the advantage of being with Jesus, God in the flesh, but after his resurrection, he told them,

“. . . Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:4-5

That same Holy Spirit is at work in today’s believers, ever guiding, ever judging, ever strengthening.

In other times in my life, I have asked or offered directions in which the Lord might lead and finally realized I have no more words. In those times, I must plead for the Spirit to intercede with holy groanings for me.

In my husband’s case, the surgery was successful and there was no spread of the cancer. The cancer was small, but testing showed that it had been a fast growing kind. Thankfully, the Lord led us to take care of it in a timely manner.

We “leaned not on our own understanding, but acknowledged Him.” These verses come around again and again. That’s why I call them “life verses.”

No doubt many of you have experienced a frightening diagnosis and could share verses that have sustained you. Please do that in the comments section so others might benefit.

~ Joyce ~

 

Life Verses – Renewed Strength

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

I’m thinking today of a time when I felt thrown into the lion’s den like Daniel or into the pit like Joseph.

Our son was in his middle school years when it began—negligence, mild rebellion, teen stuff. In high school, things escalated. Where did we go wrong? We had a loving, caring, Christian  home. How could this be happening?

We took one step forward and two steps backward—over and over.

I drew on so many verses during those turbulent years, but one verse became a stalwart lifeline for me.

. . . but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength . . . Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

When you feel so feeble, so lacking in what to do next, so unable to cope, what is the remedy for renewing your strength? The King James Version suggests that we have to wait, wait upon the Lord. Oh, how we hate to wait for anything in our instant society, but our verse reminds us not just to wait, but wait upon the Lord. It is then that our strength is renewed.

The New International Version (NIV) translates,

. . . but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

As you think about it, if we are waiting for something there is an element of anticipation and hope. By the same token, if we are hoping for something we don’t yet have; we have to wait.

For me, there was a sense of peace in thinking that the Lord was with me, he would sustain me and strengthen me but I must wait on Him.

The next promise is, “they will soar on wings as eagles” (NIV)

I did a little study of eagles, particularly noting that eagles roost in very high places. When they are ready to take flight, they wait patiently for an upwind, then they take flight letting the strength of the wind help them glide and soar.

It was becoming obvious to me that before I could soar, I had to do a lot of waiting—years, in fact. As I prayed in that vein, God renewed my strength. Let’s look at a fuller view of the passage.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, young men stumble and fall; BUT those who [wait and] hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar of wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:29-31

 We’re not talking about glibly hoping or laying around waiting, but hoping in the Lord. That means much time in prayer, literally crying out to him. In the darkest of times, in the weariest moments, this was a sustaining verse for me. Tears come even now as I write this.

But oh, the miracle God performed in our son’s life, turning him completely around, hungering for the Word. What a joy he continues to be in our lives with his wife and five (yes, five) children!

 ~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

Life Verses – Acknowledge Me

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

The setting is the late 1970’s. My husband, Jim, had been the Minister of Music at our church for several years, the children were young and all was right with my world. As I mentioned last week, my growing-up family had moved about every two years, so I relished being in this one place for a good while.

Added to that, my parents had decided to move to our city of Somerset, Kentucky. How wonderful that our children would have the joy of seeing their grandparents often.

My world fell apart when Jim said a search committee from another state had called and wanted us to go there to meet with them. We were happy in our present church and had received other calls like this, but Jim reasoned that if we never followed up, we might be missing a new direction God had for us.

Nothing in me wanted to submit to this idea. I struggled for days over this. Then the Lord kept saying in my mind, “Joyce, do you love me?”

Jesus’ conversation with Peter came to mind. Remember, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times. After the resurrection, Jesus pulled him aside one day and asked, 

“Simon, do you truly love me more than these?” John 21:15

Three times Jesus asked that question and Peter was to able to affirm his love and acknowledgment of Jesus—three times

Every time I prayed, that question came to my mind, “Joyce, do you love me more than these?” Do you love the stability, the routine, your parents move more than me?

As I walked down our hall at home, I saw anew the plaque we had on the wall. It simply said, “Acknowledge me.” Of course, I thought of the whole verse.

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

God reminded me that He needed to be included in this process. It took a while, but I finally realized I must not lean on my own understanding and my own desires, but acknowledge him.

So, we made arrangements to go and talk to the committee. We were both torn with how to respond. I felt like we were in an empty room with one door opened this way and another door opened that way, not knowing which door to go through. 

A few days later, the committee chairman called and said their pastor had resigned and they would have to put their energies into looking for a new pastor, so they would have to set the music position aside. 

As you can see, God himself closed one of those two doors, and lessons of submission were taught in the process.

This verse is likely a favorite verse for many of you. I would love to hear how it has impacted your life.

~ Joyce ~