Staying Refreshed

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Staying refreshed. Yes, that’s my goal these days. I have felt such oppression of late to the point that I believe Satan is working overtime on me. Perhaps you’ve heard it in hints along the way in my writing.

I have felt overwhelmed with various deadlines and things that must be done, then mother’s hospitalization and move dropped in the middle of it all. I fretted over being so worried all the time. Worried about being worried. Is that like worried squared? Heavy laden, I guess the Scripture would say.

This morning when I woke up, I looked at the clock. Five minutes until the alarm goes off. I laid my head back on the pillow and whispered, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I hadn’t done that in a while. It felt good.

       

Other verses of praise came rolling out of my mind and I had a wonderful worship time before the alarm interrupted me.

Maybe this holy moment came because we were talking about the fourth commandment in Bible Study this week—Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. How He loves to have holy moments with us.

I found this passage from Philippians to spur me on.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let you gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:4-5

When I meet a new person and they seem to fumble with my name, I say, “Joyce, as in rejoice, rejoice!” I love that verse. But where did that next sentence come from? I didn’t remember that. “Let you gentleness be evident.” Oh dear, I hope that’s true. Do I show gentleness? To all? Big order.

If you back up a few verses for the context, Paul is getting after two ladies in the fellowship who are not so much “in fellowship.” Paul is saying that our rejoicing needs to show in our gentle attitudes. “The Lord is near.” Hmm, does that mean God is looking over your shoulder? No, likely Paul meant the Lord is near to help you.

Then here it comes!

DO NOT BE ANXIOUS, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

Nothing new here, friends. He says it over and over in His word—pray. In those anxious times, pray. Along with your petition, give thanks. The results?

       

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

Is that beautiful or what? Peace. The kind that transcends all understanding. Flow-all-over-you kind of peace. Peace that protects and guards your heart, your emotions. Peace that guards and protects your mind and thinking. That’s flow-through-the-inside-of-you kind of peace. After all, He’s the Prince of Peace.

How do you get there? Prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. May that be our goal for staying refreshed in Him.

~ Joyce ~

Let’s Be Friends

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

A little diversion this week. I’ve been thinking about friendships through the years. My family moved often with my dad’s job, so I had to learn to make new friends in many states. 

Fortunately, I’ve had the joy of long-time friends as well. You know, the kind who you haven’t seen in a while and when you meet again, you pick up right where you left off. Then there are those “go-to” friends when you just need someone to listen and/or give good advice.

A sweet friend refreshes the soul. Proverbs 27:9b (The Message)

All these thoughts came to me as I read Elizabeth Hoagland’s new book, LET’S BE FRIENDS… What My Sister-Friends Taught Me About Faith, Food, and Fun.

Elizabeth takes us on a girlfriend road trip, making stops at her various groups of friends. Friends from book clubs, Bible studies, friends of her children and their families to walking buddies and shopping friends. She attaches names to these groups—everything from the Ya-Ya’s to The Butter Babes. 

In shaded spaces on the page, we get to hear sage advice and life stories with direct quotes from many of these wonderful friends.

One friend had a “prodigal husband.” She tells how she was guided by this verse until they eventually came to reconciliation. 

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 (NTL)

Another friend talked about how instead of buying something for birthdays, they would do something, like educational trips, check all the ways they could take public transportation in their city, go to a fancy restaurant, etc.

Yet another liked to have discussion starters when friends gathered. For instance: What do you hope to pass on to the next generation? What is one of your favorite characteristics about God? What has someone said to encourage you lately?

You will find a plethora of fun happenings in this book as well. Elizabeth tells about Nancy, who she calls the Hugging Evangelist. “She is crazy comical. When I see her name flash across my cell phone, I start laughing before I answer. My howling causes her to howl, and we howl for a few minutes before uttering a word.”

One set of her friends celebrates each other’s birthdays. Main rule? You have to bring a funny, insulting card!

Notice the sub-title of the book: What My Sister-Friends Taught Me About Faith, Food, and Fun. You’ve seen the faith and fun, but the bonus is a delightful recipe or two at the end of each chapter.

Liz Curtis Higgs gives the Foreword of the book. Can’t get any better than that friend!

I’m thinking of using Elizabeth’s book, complete with questions and Bible verses at the end of the book, as a neighborhood Bible study of sorts to get to know my neighbors. 

Elizabeth has a blog that highlights a new book each week. Her easy-going style and descriptions keep you up to date on the latest Christian books and make you want to run out and get every book. You can find her at www.elizabethhoagland.com 

Happy reading!

  ~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

 

Surely Goodness and Mercy

Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

I hope you have enjoyed this study on the 23rd Psalm. As we conclude, we see the loving shepherd bringing in the sheep at the end of the day. He examines each one.

Some have burrs to be pricked or wounds to be tended. The shepherd anoints them with oil, a plentiful, overflowing supply.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

This shepherd shows his goodness daily to his sheep. He demonstrates his mercy for them, truly loves and cares for them.

Jesus, the good shepherd, gave us another aspect of the relationship between sheep and shepherd as they exit the sheep pen each morning. Even if there happens to be two flock of sheep in the pen, the flock will only follow its own shepherd.

“… the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact they will run away from him because they do not know a stranger’s voice.” John 10:3-5

A shepherd names each one? It seems so. He knows them well and they know his voice.

Do you know His voice? Or are there times when you follow what you would like for Him to be saying to you? Is it His idea or yours? 

Sheep recognize their master’s voice because they are with him day and night. Since God is ever-present, we can have that relationship as well. Spending time with our shepherd and “practicing His presence” requires us to be intentional. The more we do, the more we can relax and trust Him.

Jesus also said,

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15

Though David the psalmist did not know Jesus, He looked toward the time when Messiah would come. He said,

Surely goodness and love [mercy] will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

We can be sure of “dwelling in the house of the Lord forever,” because our good shepherd laid down His life for us. A good shepherd indeed.

Update on my mother: She makes some improvements and then regresses. It looks less likely that she will bounce back as well this time. I’m praying for ways to help ease her anxiety over having less mobility and increasing dementia. May she feel the shepherd’s care.

~ Joyce ~

 

His Rod and Staff

Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

We continue with thoughts from the 23rd Psalm. (Restore My Soul) Just like David the shepherd, our good shepherd leads us in the right path, the path that guides us into right living. 

But like sheep, we are prone to go astray and have to be set back on the right path.

He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:3

When we’re obedient enough to follow His leading, we’re able to serve and bring honor to God “for His name’s sake.”

At times, shepherds have to lead the sheep through narrow passage ways, walking one or two abreast lest they fall off the path to their death. The shepherd must use his staff to guide them into a line. 

By the same token, when the sheep are in a wide grazing area, the shepherd uses his staff to draw in a sheep who is headed toward bramble bushes or a ravine. If a sheep falls into a ravine, the shepherd turns his staff upside down to use the crook end around the sheep’s belly and pull him up out of the ravine to safety.

The sheep can also rest assured that if wild animals try to invade, the shepherd will protect them by using the rod end of his staff to fight off offenders.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

I read one shepherd’s account of how poisonous weeds grew up in certain areas. He would get up early in the morning to go across the pasture and pull up the poisonous weeds, laying them up on a rock to dry, out of the way of the sheep. Later, as the sheep roused from their sleep, they could graze in the very presence of these deadly weeds—unharmed.

You prepare a way for me in the presence of my enemies. Psalm 23 :5

How thorough and lovingly a shepherd cares for his sheep, just like our good shepherd cares for us.

This week has been trying for me with mother in the hospital for the fourth time in two and a half years. She went from laughing and talking to sleeping day and night, eating only small bits of food with her eyes closed as I fed her. She could barely get a word or two out.

Again, I went through the grueling decision of where to place her for rehab. I cried out to God to help me trust Him to guide just as the shepherd guides his sheep. One place on my list was the best one in town, but hard to find an opening. The next day He opened a bed at this facility. Praise His name! If she should need to go into long term care, she can stay there in the same room. I’m so relieved.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

He Restores My Soul

   Searching His Word

     Seeking His Heart

(David, the Shepherd) did for the sheep what they couldn’t do for themselves. Having the luxury to lie down in green pastures was one of those things. When one pasture had been well used, that meant moving on to another area. The shepherd sought out and led them on to good grazing land.

When our son was about a year old, we put him outside on a blanket with his toys. We were assured that he wouldn’t leave the blanket because he did NOT like the grass. The feel of it, I guess. He would make his way over to it, but as soon as he touched the prickly stuff, he made a face and moved quickly back to the middle of the blanket.

Not so with sheep. They walk in it, lay in it, and eat it—preferably green grass of course. To lay down means they are perfectly at ease, trusting the care of the shepherd to provide.

When it comes to water, some sheep are very finicky. If the water is a fast-moving stream, it will often scare the sheep. At times, a shepherd will cup his hands in the water to form a still “bowl” of water, or better yet, lead the sheep to a level area where the water forms a quiet pool rather than a flowing stream.

So, we see how the shepherd works and cares.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still [quiet] waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3

He restores my soul. Ah, can anything be better than these beautiful words? Being restored. Soul-deep restored.

I’ve decided that’s a phrase I want to hang on to. These are words to whisper to the Lord as you move through a good day or a hectic week. “Thank you, Lord, for restoring my soul.” Or “Help me, Lord, restore my soul.”

I had no more than written this blog when a few days later we had to take my mother to the hospital. On the way, I thought of my words of wisdom to you. So I whispered to God, “Restore my soul.”

The next day, there was talk of possibly doing a colonoscopy to find the source of her bleeding. A colonoscopy for a 95 year old? What a decision. I fretted over it and then decided to just put it in the great shepherd’s hands. I slept well and searched for what answers He would give the next day.

I had a text discouraging me to consider it. Later, a different doctor in the practice came in to discourage the thought of a colonoscopy. The Lord provided.

He often does things like that, restoring our souls with underlines. Whisper those words today.

~ Joyce ~

 

David, the Shepherd

   Searching His Word

     Seeking His Heart

As promised, we will explore the 23rd Psalm. It need not be read strictly at funerals, though that is appropriate, it can be a wonderful encouragement at any time. 

Looking back at many of the early psalms, they read like prayers from David to his heavenly Father, prayers of praise.

I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. Psalm 9:1

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:1

I love you, O Lord. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer. Psalm 18:1-2

Prayers of petition.

Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea: listen to my cry. Psalm 17:1

Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. Psalm 16:1

Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing. Psalm 5:1

Do you hear the intimacy, the pathos, the relationship in just these few words? Where did he learn that? I believe it was in those quiet, alone times on the hillside.

Remember, before David slew Goliath, before David was a mighty warrior, before he ran for months in hiding from crazy Saul, and before he came King of Israel, David was a shepherd boy.

He learned the skill of a sharp shooter with his sling; he learned the bravery of facing off with a lion, he learned the wisdom of protecting his flock in the grazing areas. He worked hard caring for his sheep. He knew how totally dependent they were on his leadership and care.

In the afternoon as the sheep rested and at night once he had cared for and secured them in the sheep pen, David could relax in solitude. I believe it was in these precious moments that his mind turned to the Lord. Perhaps he played tunes on his shepherd harp and made up words to sing with the tunes. I believe he talked out loud to the Lord, words that came from the heart.

At some point it hit him, the Lord is my shepherd. He cares for me like I care for my flock.

So, this time, the song wasn’t a prayer to God, it was song about God.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want [or in need.] He makes me lie down in green pastures. Psalm 23:1-2

I think that’s why the Lord carried me away to those ancient green pastures last week. (Strength from the Pasture) He wanted me to have a quiet time in the pasture to remember that He is perfectly capable of taking care of all my needs. “Rest in me,” He says. “You don’t have to do it alone.”

Or as David learned to pray, “You are my refuge and strength, O Lord.”

I hope you will have some “pasture time” this week so that He might restore your soul.

~ Joyce ~

Strength from the Pasture

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Do you have those days when you are bone tired? You feel exhausted. The to-do list just keeps getting longer.

In retrospect, I look back on my life and it seems that’s the way it has been for as long as I can remember. If I can just get through this unit of study, then I can breathe again. If we can just get through the terrible twos… Once this program is over… As soon as this event is past… There always seems to be that “next thing” looming ahead.

(I’ve been in the process of preparing to move my mother to her new memory care home this past Monday. It has been exhausting, physically and emotionally.)

Then there are those ongoing tasks with extras added, and you come home and collapse under the weight of it all. That’s where I was last week. Surely I’m not the only one who goes through these phases.

I sat down in my recliner, pushed back and was too tired even to cry.

I thought about all those powerful words Sarah Young pours over me every morning in her daily devotional book, “Jesus Calling.” I pondered the encouraging words I write to you week by week and think, “Where is your strength, Joyce?”

About that time, the Lord brought to my mind a beautiful pastoral setting. I was on a grassy hill, sitting beside David, looking out at grazing sheep. David reminded me that, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I have no need to be stressed and filled with anxiety. I have no need to want for anything. 

In my imagining, I looked over to see a stream of water running steadily over a rocky ravine, gurgling gently as it flowed. The sheep settled in, one by one, for their afternoon naps, completely given over to the care of their shepherd. David whispered to me, “The Lord is my shepherd.” 

I closed my eyes in my recliner and smiled. Yes, He’s my good shepherd, too.

I guess you know that next week, we’ll have a look at Psalm 23.

Sweet grazing my friends.

~ Joyce ~

Walking by Faith

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

We left the disciples listening to Jesus as he told them to Go Out Two by Two with a Hefty Task

Wouldn’t you  love to follow along with one of these pairs to see how they fared in this challenging venture? They carried virtually nothing with them, walking only by faith.

I’m at this point in the manuscript for my third book, this one about the disciple, Matthew. I’m creating possible scenarios of what Matthew and Thomas may have encountered in their time out as missionaries.

As they enter the first town, they face the first challenge—”Find a worthy person with whom you can stay.” One sign of a good Jew would be one who welcomes strangers.

Once they settle in for the night, they likely begin wondering what the next day will bring. Will they find people receptive to their message? What will they say when they preach and teach? Perhaps they will remember what Jesus said to them,

…do not worry what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Matthew 10:19-20

I can’t say this always happens, but there are times when I’m preparing to speak to a group and realize the weight of doing so. I plead for God to give the words as I prepare. It is wonderful then, when I sense the Spirit moving in me, giving words I hadn’t even planned and receptive faces I hadn’t anticipated.

Imagine Matthew’s thrill when facing the first group of people and telling them the things that Jesus had taught, perhaps even in the way he taught. Did he make up his own parables to get across a point? Maybe something he saw nearby, or on the hillside, or a tool in someone’s hand. Was he amazed at how the words seemed to flow out of his mouth just as Jesus promised?

I try to envision what it was like at his first healing. How humbling to be the instrument through which the Holy Spirit worked. Oh the thrill of feeling God’s healing power surging through him to the wounded body or soul of another person.

While Matthew and Thomas found worthy persons who would take them in, Jesus warned that they would also encounter antagonistic situations where they had to shake the dust off their feet as they left town. The visual sign or custom for this was to take off their sandals and clap them together signifying that the dust (or the relationship) has been dusted away. 

No, they could not have imagined all that would happen to them in this mission effort. We, too, are sent out day by day to share our faith with our attitudes, our comments, and our hearts. We never know what our influence might mean in the timing of another person’s life.  

As Paul said,

We walk by faith not by sight. I Corinthians 5:7

~ Joyce ~

 

A Hefty Task

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Last week we thought about the huge task Jesus gave his disciples to Go out Two by Two. They were to carry the message from Jesus, about Jesus—”The kingdom of heaven is near.”

Jesus empowered them to heal just as he had. They were to take virtually nothing with them. In other words, depend on the Lord to guide.

If we could look into their minds, I wonder what they were thinking. Maybe (selfishly or practically) they wondered, but where do we stay? What do we eat? Perhaps that’s why he said,

Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave… If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. Matthew 10:11, 14

He’s telling them, the Lord will provide. But if there is no receptivity, move on to the next town.

They are warned,

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16

This will not be a picnic. It could be dangerous. Evidently they are going to places where the word had not been planted. (It brings to mind trying to preach at liberal college campuses.) Shrewd, but innocent, a hefty task.

Once again, we see how these followers are going to have to learn dependence on the Lord to have wisdom and discernment. It means leaning rather than worrying. It means putting concerns at the feet of the Master instead of trying to bundle them up in your arms dragging them around with that heavy load.

We all have our heavy loads at times. Huffing and puffing under the weight of it. Worrying about it when we go to bed. Thinking about it again when we wake up. Lugging it around through the day.

On a personal note, we have decided to move my 95 year-old mother to different memory facility. I have to confess that I’m still carrying that load of worry. Will she adjust? Will the helpers treat her with love and respect? Did we make the right decision?

I must follow Paul’s advice to—

…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is… Romans 12:2

It is a struggle to pray for wisdom and discernment, follow through, then test and approve his will. Hefty tasks indeed.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

 

Go Out Two by Two

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Have you ever thought about how the twelve disciples might have reacted when Jesus said he was sending them out two by two? Evidently Jesus decided the time had come for his men to put into practice what they had learned from him.

They had watched Him heal, teach, preach, and interact with the people. They heard his illustrations (parables) to fit with many situations—sheep examples when shepherds were in the crowd; potter illustrations, rich men/poor men stories, or parables about lost things.

Now Jesus wanted his disciples to put their observations into action. Not only that, He said,

Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. Matthew 10:5-6

In other words, start where you are, begin with your own people, the ones you can best understand. In good time, the disciples will be told to go to the ends of the earth, but for now, going to their fellow Jews would be a good starting point.

What’s the message?

               

As you go, preach this message: “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Matthew 10:7

The disciples had been with Jesus for sometime now. They realized that being with Him was like being near God’s own heaven because He was the Son of the Father. They must mimic the Son and tell people in the towns about Him.

He empowered them to do things only He had been able to do.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Matthew 10:8

Whoa, that’s a tall order! Up to this time we have no mention of the disciples doing any kind of healing. Not only that…

Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no extra bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. Matthew 10:9-10

In other words, “Learn dependence!”

This hits close to home for me. I’m feeling the need to move my mother to a different memory care facility. She’s been very unhappy were she is, but to make a move at 95 is traumatic and takes a lot out of a person with dementia. On the other hand, I want her to be content. Do I move her or not?

I have had to be very diligent in prayer this week, seeking  the Lord’s leadership. To put it bluntly—trusting. Learning yet again to be dependent on Him. I have had to call up one of my life verses.

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

Learning dependence on the Lord became an essential life lesson  for the disciples. We’ll follow them again next week and see how it goes.

~ Joyce ~