Waiting on the Lord

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

When are we in “waiting mode?” Perhaps when we are fearful something bad is about to happen. We’re holding our breath, so to speak. Or we’re waiting in great anticipation for something wonderful to happen: a baby to be born, a house sale, making a big decision, getting past this pandemic!

Whether it’s positive or negative, waiting denotes you’re anticipating something. Waiting can also be translated, hoping.

…those who wait upon the Lord [or hope in the Lord] will renew their strength. Isaiah 40:31a

That is one of my life verses. It was a powerful verse when we went through a challenging time with our son, and a verse I have returned to over and over in my life.

When we are just waiting, it can drain us dry. But when we wait on the Lord, he will renew our strength, so that we can walk and run, even soar!

They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40;31b

We can wait in dread or wait in hope, but I would point out that, at times, we may not be waiting (or anticipating) at all—just floating along with the tide of life.

    

I confess that I have found myself in that spot of late. It came to me when I was reading a book by Lois Henderson called “Miriam” (as in Moses and Aaron’s sister.) Miriam became restless with wandering in the wilderness. In spite of all the miraculous actions that had taken place, she became frustrated that even Moses didn’t know what was coming next.

“He has to wait on the Lord to speak,” Miriam said. Somehow that thought struck me as though it were something new.

I have my morning prayer and dig into editing my book, but I confess again that I have just felt neutral, floating along. The first half of my book went well—exciting and moving along smoothly—but once Matthew followed Jesus, it got bogged down. That should be the best part.

This week, I met with a good friend who had read the manuscript and offered lots of good suggestions. She loved the first part, then tried to tactfully tell me that the second part seemed to lack something. We discussed several ideas and then she concluded by saying, “I think you need something to come into your own experience to help you get in touch with what is happening for Matthew so that he sees more of the love of Jesus.”

She was right on target. I have not been “waiting on the Lord,” just muddling along on my own.

How gracious he will be when you cry out for help.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” Isaiah 30:19, 21

Are you waiting and anticipating or just muddling along?

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Judas

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Do you ever hear anyone naming their son Judas? Not often.

No, Judas ruined that name for all time. Let’s take a look at this final disciple, always named last. Ish means “man.” The name of his town in southern Judea was Kerioth, thus “man of Kerioth,” Judas Iscariot.He was the only one who was not from Galilee. Judas wore the tag of “outsider.”

That said, he went through all the teaching sessions of Jesus, where he was reminded to seek forgiveness of sin, and learn to love unconditionally. He saw the miracles and had a first hand view of Jesus’ power. 

How could he experience life with Jesus for three years and still betray him? Sometimes things we see can be seen through different lens. It could be that Judas’ attraction to Jesus was His power and not His message. His goal might have been for Jesus to overthrow the Romans not bring eternal redemption to the people.

He did manage to build up enough trust to became treasurer of the group. John notes, however, a flaw in Judas’ character when the disciples were in Bethany where Mary was anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume.

… Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected.”Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself with what was put into it. John 12:4-6

Who knows the mind of Judas? Perhaps when Jesus rebuked his comment, it prompted him to plan the betrayal. Or perhaps he was ready to help things along so Jesus would have to come forth as the conquering hero over Rome. Whatever his motive,

Judas went to the leaders at the Temple and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented , and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no one [the crowd] was present. Luke 22:4-6

Matthew tells us that they counted out thirty pieces of coins.

It’s interesting that when Jesus said one of them would betray him, the disciples were busy questioning themselves but didn’t seem to suspect Judas, even when he left the room.

What a blow when Judas chose to point Jesus out in the dark with a kiss. Did Judas expect to see Jesus cast them all down, ride a white horse into Jerusalem and declare himself king? When they took Jesus bound, Judas came to himself and regretted what he had done. Back in the Temple, he threw the money on the floor and went out and hung himself.

It leads us to examine ourselves. Have we gone through the motions of going to church, hearing the teachings, but never internalizing the truths or the call for confessing our sin. Or like the other disciples, do we run and hide in the upper room in fear? May we be found, as they finally were, being obedient and taking the gospel to others.

~ Joyce ~

The Unknowns

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

My husband, Jim, and I had an active life being in the spotlight as soloists and church leaders. but when Jim moved to a denominational position, we also moved to a new church. I remember attending that first Sunday and thinking, we’re just one of the people. Nobody knows us. We were used to being known. I  felt like just another person in the pew.

Have you ever felt like that? Just a plain ole person? An unknown?

Getting back to our study of the disciples, we come to three more who are hardly known. Maybe you don’t even know their names.

Let’s give them due honor beginning with James, son of Alphaeus. Now, I want very much to claim him as Matthew’s brother since they are both sons of Alphaeus, But alas, the scholars have no proof of that it’s the same Alphaeus.

James is also referred to as James the less. How would you like to be known as “the lesser?” Perhaps he was small of stature or was younger than James, son of Zebedee. His mother Mary (and another son) is listed among the women who helped Jesus and were there at the cross.

Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome. Mark 15:40 

There is some evidence that James took the gospel to Syria and Persia where he was martyred.

Simon the zealot is the next of these three. He likely had to endure his tag for a while like Matthew the tax collector. These two tags were at the opposite ends of the political spectrum. The zealots were all about undoing anything Roman. What a testimony that these two could overcome their former lives and become brothers in Christ.

Several sources say that Simon took the gospel north to the British Isles. Like the others, he was killed for preaching the gospel.

Finally, we have Judas son of James, also known as Thaddaeus (meaning breast child or heart child.) Perhaps he was tender-hearted. We do have one comment recorded of this Judas. Jesus is in the upper room having his last words to his disciples. Jesus says some things they can’t quite understand until after the crucifixion and resurrection.

“He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

Then Judas (not Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” John 14:21-22

Jesus assures Judas that whoever loves him and obeys his teachings will be loved by Jesus and the Father.

Though little known, though few comments if any are recorded, all of these followers of Jesus, from Peter to Judas son of James, experienced his love and grew in their understanding which prepared them to go into all the world to minister even unto death for their Savior. 

Each disciple contributed much, but the gospel writers made it clear that the most important words and actions must center on Christ alone.

~ Joyce ~

 

The Pandemic

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

So many have had their say on our current dilemma. I’ll chime in from my little corner of the world.

It seems surreal in a way how within just four weeks so much has changed and changed rapidly. I will say that I have enjoyed the slower pace of life: get up later, stay up longer, no appointments, no running here and there, opportunity to call friends, take walks, contribute to food drives, get projects done, time to read books, and time to edit my own book.

At the same time, my heart goes out to those who have lost their incomes, those who struggle to put food on the table, families who were dysfunctional, now having to cope with each other, frustrated mothers, closed-in children, and on it goes.

My mind has gone to the plagues that God placed on Egypt, when he was preparing the way for the children of Israel to be free. It always brings the question—does God bring bad things on us or does he merely allow them? Does he want to bring death and suffering even to believers who have succumbed to this virus? I don’t think so. 

This virus reminds me of the way of Satan. Silently, stealthily, it moves among us in silence, randomly attacking whomever it pleases, passing it invisibly from one to another. But God can use this condition in remarkable ways.

With these thoughts in mind, I came across a quote by former LSU coach, Dale Brown.  Perhaps you have seen it.

“In a few short months, just like the plagues of Egypt, he has taken away everything we worship. God said, you want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down the civic centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down the theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market.”

I might add, you want to worship your school friends, dance lessons, sports practice, play practice, ball games, and all busy activities, I will shut down the schools. You want to worship or substitute the church buildings, programs, and activities for your faith, I will shut down the churches. Have we left even our faith to the busyness of the world? 

Dale Brown concluded his thoughts with,

“Maybe we don’t need a vaccine. Maybe we need to take this time of isolation from the distractions of this world and have a personal revival on the only thing in the world that really matters. And that is to please God.”

         

Jesus said it another way,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” That’s a lot of alls. Also, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

Oh, that we could say with David,

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14

~ Joyce ~

From Darkness to Light

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

The room was dark. The disciples panted for breath, making no effort to light a lamp. All found their own corner or piece of wall to hunker down and ease their pounding hearts, the sound of those approaching boots still in their memories.

The sight of Judas walking to Jesus in the garden haunted them. The audacity of him to betray Jesus with a kiss. How could he? But then, how could each follower of the Master slip back into the bushes to hide? Not to mention running away in the night. They were betrayers too, in a way.

Matthew heard a whimper, heavy sighs, quiet weeping, but no one spoke a word. Each burying himself in his own emotions.

What would happen to Jesus now? Where were they taking him? Helplessness bore down on each man, fear and worry. Darkness.

Finally, Matthew decided he should count to be sure they all made it. He lit the lamp and counted. “There are nine of us,” he said. “Judas is gone. Peter and John are missing.” The others looked around the room. Matthew was right. Something to think about, besides themselves.

Exhaustion at this late hour overtook them and each man fell into fretful sleep.

Sometime after the crow of the morning cock, Peter came staggering into the room, wild with grief and anxiety. Shortly after, John came in with the news that after a mock trial of the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders had taken Jesus to Pilate. The leaders were stirring up the crowd to urge Pilate to crucify Jesus. Could this madness get any worse?

Darkness at noon.

Three hours later, John came back with the horrifying account of Jesus’ death: crown of thorns, flogging, dragging his own crossbeam, nailed to the cross, his mother weeping for her son.

Darkness.

Night came again.  Then the long Sabbath day. No word. No peace. More agonizing questions.

[You and I have experienced darkness in the last few weeks. Questions. How long will we be held in, hardy able to get out? Fear of the invisible virus sneaking around to destroy us. We wait.]

On the first day of the week, strange reports from the women, the tomb empty —body stolen? Risen, they said. Peter and John run to see for themselves. Yes, an empty tomb, but the men couldn’t wrap their heads around the word “risen.”

That evening, in the midst of their locked-door room, Jesus himself appears to them. His first words?

“Peace be with you!” He showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed. John 20:19

Glorious light! Joyful light came into that room and into their hearts.

            

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21

That glorious light comes to us on this Easter week—even in quarantine—and all through the year. He says to us, “Peace be with you.” He sends us as well. Make your phone calls, send your letters, cards, emails, and texts. Give your donations, make your masks, pick up groceries, whatever he calls you to do. Walk in the light!

A blessed Easter to you,

~ Joyce ~

Hard Times, Good Times

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Today’s title fits every life and particularly our present shared condition. These days give new meaning to being “shut-ins.” Right?

We will interrupt our study of the individual disciples and take them as a group as the pathway to resurrection unfolds with hard times and good times.

When the disciples were previously in Jerusalem, the religious leaders were hot on Jesus trail finding fault and asking hard questions with Jesus constantly countering their attacks. They even tried to stone him.  The disciples felt the sting of it all and were reluctant when some time later Jesus said they were going back to Jerusalem for Passover.”

Hard times.

Now we find them somewhere along the Jordan River ministering and baptizing while Jesus teaches and performs miracles.

Good times.

A messenger rushes in to declare that friend Lazarus is very ill. Though they are surprised that Jesus doesn’t go immediately, are they possibly relieved not to be going closer to Jerusalem? Alas, two days later, Jesus says they are going. That’s when we hear Thomas say,

“Let us also go that we may die with him.” John 11:16

When Martha greets them, we feel her heartache, not only that her brother is dead, but also that Jesus had not cared enough to come to heal him. Jesus begins talking immediately about resurrection. He would soon give a vivid portrayal of life after death.

Martha said, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” John 11:25

Jesus gives a response, similar to when he had earlier told the disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus, said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25

Martha gives her wonderful testimony of faith,

“Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world.” John 11:27

As Jesus walks to the tomb, we see his human compassion for Martha, Mary, and their friends as well as for his friend, Lazarus, which leads us to that simple verse,

Jesus wept. John 11:35

   

Hard times.

Well, we know “the rest of the story.” Jesus commands the tomb to be opened and shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” They see a display of resurrection right before their eyes.

Good times.

      

Word spreads like wild fire. Pilgrims, coming in for Passover, line the pathway from the view of Jerusalem to the eastern gate, cheering and praising God. They drape their cloaks across the path as Jesus rides in on a donkey. They wave palm branches in a celebration of victory as they sing songs of hosanna.

Very good times!

May we join these joyful praises as we celebrate and join live-streaming services this Palm Sunday! Joyful times in the midst of hard times.

~ Joyce ~

Thomas, the Questioner

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

I know, I know, we often say “doubting Thomas” because Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to the disciples just after Jesus was resurrected. Though the eleven witnesses reported all that they experienced, Thomas would not believe.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my fingers into his side, I will not believe it.” John 20:25

A week later, Jesus appeared again. This time, Thomas was with them. They all needed God’s peace, but especially Thomas. Through locked doors, Jesus came among them a second time.

“Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27

Seeing Jesus’ face and hearing Jesus’ voice was all Thomas needed. Scripture doesn’t say, but I believe Thomas fell to his knees before his master when he said,

“My Lord and my God!” John 20:28

Jesus has a word for us in 2020.

[Thomas,]Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

Whether we have personal struggles or joint struggles like this coronavirus, Jesus says, “Peace be with you” and “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

We can find a previous time when Thomas questioned. Jesus drew the disciples together for a few final precious hours of last teaching—things like humility as he washed their feet and the challenge to love one another, a prime way to show that they were his disciples. He let them know one would betray him and specifically tells Peter that he will deny him. 

Then we hear those encouraging words from Jesus that we can once again apply to our day.

“Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” John 14:1

The antidote for a troubled heart? Trust.

Jesus tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them (heaven) and that they know the way (belief). It is here that Thomas has another recorded question.

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:5-6

Without Thomas’ question, we may have never had that powerful verse in Scripture. Questions can show doubt, but they can also bring understanding. Thank you for asking, Thomas. This answer has been quoted many times through out the centuries.

Stepping back a bit further, we find Jesus heading toward Bethany for what will be the raising of Lazarus. It will mean going closer to Jerusalem, dangerous territory for Jesus with the hostile Temple leaders only a breath away. Although Thomas may be somewhat pessimistic, he makes the very bold statement,

“Let us also go that we may die with him.” John 11:16

It is believed that Thomas was eventually martyred with a spear in India.  

~ Joyce ~

 

Matthew, the Tax Collector

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

On to Matthew. I’ve spent the last four years studying the Gospel that bears his name. I’m glad to announce that I have finally finished my first draft of his story—around 92,000 words! Now to the tedious task of editing.

I’ve tried to devise a possible scenario as to why this good Jewish boy, who knew the ancient Scriptures well, would become a tax collector, knowing full well that he would be despised and rejected by his fellow Jews. The scenario also had to include his sins and his “sinner” companions.

Yet, when Jesus approached Matthew at his tax collecting booth, he simply said,

“Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9

          

Undoubtedly, Matthew previously had opportunities to hear Jesus teach by the sea shore or hear people talking about his miracles. Some kind of experiences had to lead up to the moment when Jesus said, “Follow me,” and Matthew was ready to leave his old life and follow Jesus.

We read no direct words from Matthew, but we do have the brief story in Matthew 9:9-13 when Matthew had a dinner at his house with Jesus as the guest of honor.

What guests did Matthew invite? Why the only friends he had, other tax collectors and “sinners” like himself. He wanted to tell his friends just as the other disciples had done when they first came to Jesus.

I’m reminded of my son’s story in his late teens. He had an amazing turn-around. One of the first things he did was to go to a party where his “friends” were. Like Matthew, his friends were like he had been, not tax collectors, but definitely “sinners.”

My heart sank. But, when he came home, he excitedly told me about getting one of his friends over in a corner and sharing with him the transformation in his life. Instead of “partying,” he was witnessing!

One telling statement in Matthew’s dinner account was this;

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does you teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners?'” Matthew 9:11

Unfortunately, none of the disciples spoke up for Matthew. They must have thought the same thing as the Pharisees. Jesus had to speak for them. That led me to think that Matthew  had to overcome his past, not only with the Pharisees and the people, but likely with his fellow disciples as well.

Jesus came to the rescue yo respond to the Pharisees.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means; ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13

Taking lambs to the altar was mostly what these stringent teachers of the law knew. Sacrifice. Mercy? Not so much so.

Though we don’t hear Matthew’s spoken words in the Scripture, we have his written words where he tells the life of Christ in the book of Matthew.

Legend has it that he was martyred while ministering in Ethiopia.

~ Joyce ~

Nathaniel, a True Israelite

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

We are still near the Jordan River where John the Baptist has been baptizing and calling listeners to repentance. 

When Andrew and John (Peter’s brother)  see the Baptist nod toward Jesus and declare him to be the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, Andrew and John follow Jesus.

We learned last week that Jesus finds Philip and he, too, becomes a follower. Philip in turn finds his friend, Nathaniel.

Nathaniel’s name means “God has given.” Truly, God had given Nathaniel a desire to study the Holy Scriptures including the prophesies  that pertain to the Promised One. We first see Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree. It was very common to get away from the stifle of small houses and sit under the broad, cooling branches of a fig tree.

        

Philip finds his friend sitting under the tree and excitedly tells Nathaniel,

“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” John 1:45

Nathaniel is from Cana and evidently there is a bit of a rivalry between Cana and Nazareth. Nathaniel’s first recorded words are,

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” John 1;46

This is a bit humorous in that both towns are very small and rather insignificant. At least Nazareth was at a cross road along trade routes, and Cana is off by itself, but you know how rivalry can be.

Philip doesn’t argue with him; he merely says,

“Come and see.” John 1:46

Reluctantly, Nathaniel gets up and follows Philip. When Jesus sees Nathaniel approaching, he says of him,

“Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” John 1:47

Though prejudiced, Jesus knew Nathaniel’s heart. He wasn’t tainted by hypocrisy. His heart was circumcised; he knew the prophecies of the coming Messiah and looked toward that hope.

“How do you know me?” Nathaniel asked.

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

Then Nathaniel answered, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:48-51

This reminds us of Jacob’s dream with angels ascending and descending on a ladder, but in Jesus’ comment, he is the ladder.

It is interesting that three days later, Jesus goes to Cana where he performs his first miracle. No doubt Nathaniel stands nearby witnessing this confirmation of following Christ. How like our Lord to give affirmation when we step out in faith.

In all the groupings of disciples, Nathaniel is listed as Bartholomew (son of Tolmai or Bar Tolmai).

Various reports have Nathaniel ministering in Turkey and/or Persia and India, and particularly in Armenia where he was likely martyred.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Philip – the Organizer

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Now, we look at the next four disciples who are grouped together, beginning with Philip.

Don’t confuse Philip the apostle with Philip the deacon. Two different men.

We first see Philip in the area of the Jordan River listening to John the Baptist. Andrew and John have begun to follow Jesus.

The next day, Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” John 1:43

This is the first time we hear those famous words from Jesus, “Follow me.” Philip had a willing, receptive heart and was even ready to go back to Galilee and share the good news with his friend Nathaniel. Philip told Nathaniel,

“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” John 1:45

It’s obvious that Philip has been a student of the Law. We’ll hear more of that discussion when we study Nathaniel next week.

The next time we hear from Philip is at the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus says to Philip,

“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” John 6:5

John lets us know that Jesus said that to test him. Perhaps Philip tends to the material needs of the disciples, arranges for meals, the organizer, or as the author John MacArthur says, “the bean counter.”

Philip is already busy figuring and counting. He says,

“Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” John 6:6

Imagine Philip’s surprise when Jesus eventually multiplies the little that Andrew came up with!

       

Much later, when Jesus and the disciples walk into Jerusalem in a triumphal entry, many Jews from around the world are there to celebrate Passover. Some Greeks approach Philip asking to see Jesus. Philip seems to have trouble knowing if this is acceptable and runs to Andrew. The two of them go to Jesus to report the request. Of course, Jesus offers any to come to him and reminds them they are here to serve.

The last time we hear from Philip is at the last supper. Jesus has just said,

“If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:7

Then Philip turns right around and says,

“Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” John 14:8

Jesus is pretty frustrated with this. Isn’t that what he was just telling them? You’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father?

Makes you wonder how patient the Lord has to be with us. We pray; we study, we go to church, and do good deeds, and yet we act like we are clueless. Still, the Lord can take us, warts and all, and use us for His glory.

Philip, like the others, did come to understand the cross, the resurrection, the command to go, make disciples. He won many to the Lord in Asia Minor and was martyred by stoning eight years later. 

~ Joyce ~