Ministry Interruptions

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

It’s Monday. I need to call a member in our Bible Study class to get an update on her recent problems. Today is my monthly appointment with the chiropractor and then off to the “Y” for water aerobics. Gotta keep that arthritis in check. 

My publisher wants a list of the corrections so I need to finish reading the manuscript and make my list. Then there’s the weekly blog to finish and this is my week to teach the Bible lesson at church, not to mention that company is coming and I have to clean the house. 

Do you ever have weeks like that when it seems like one thing interrupts another? Even ministry opportunities are interrupted?

We are in Capernaum this week with Jesus. He is ready to start his ministry and he begins inviting some fishermen to join him.

Jesus interrupts Simon Peter and Andrew when they shove back to shore after a no-show fish night. He tells them to throw their nets back out. Amazingly, they catch a boat load of fish. Simon is humbled and falls at Jesus’ feet in submission. Later, James and John give up their fishing as well to become fishers of men.

Jesus’ ministry has begun. One Sabbath day, Jesus goes to the synagogue and interrupts the humdrum, church-going people’s lives with “amazing” teaching, but then, Jesus is interrupted when a demon-possessed man suddenly cries out,

“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Mark 1:24

Jesus gives an immediate stern response to this interruption.

“Be quiet! Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. Mark 1:25-26

The people are not only amazed with his teaching, but also his authority. The ministry opportunities don’t end there. Jesus goes with James, John, and Andrew to Peter’s house and heals Peter’s mother-in-law. (If you watch this scene on “The Chosen,” it is a stirring and slightly humorous scene, given the mother-in-law’s temperament.)

This has already been a busy day for Jesus, but it doesn’t end there. Word spreads fast throughout the town.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed. Mark 1:12

Into the night Jesus heals.

And my friends, God’s Holy Spirit continues to work in our lives and in our hearts and minds as well, to transform us, to heal our brokenness, and to give us strength for the next ministry task. Most importantly, he gives us joy in doing it! Especially when we minister with hope.

Sometimes ministry opportunities come in waves along with other duties. Help us Lord to remember Jesus’ forbearance even with all the interruptions he endured.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:11-12 

~ Joyce ~

Eastertide – Minds Opened

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Last week, we remembered the great rejoicing that the two from Emmaus felt when they realized they had been with the risen Lord. (“Eastertide – Burning Hearts“) They hastened back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the disciples.

. . . the two told . . .  how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. Luke 24:35-37

The disciples have heard the good news from the women, from Mary Magdalene, from Cleopas and his companion, and now they have seen Jesus himself, but they think he’s a ghost!

Jesus questions why they are troubled and have doubts. He asks for food and eats it so they can see he’s not a ghost, for goodness sake. Then we’re told they feel joy and amazement, but there still seems to be some doubt. 

Truth be told, we can have those moments when something is so wonderful, you still have trouble believing it has come true.

Jesus reminds them that—

“Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms.” Luke 24:44

Hint, hint. In other words, all of the Torah plus the other writings. He reminded them anew,

“The Christ must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” Luke 24:46

Ah yes, that again. Finally, their minds are opened. Not only that—

“. . . repentance and forgiveness of sin will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You will be witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:46-48

Finally, through the Scripture and Jesus’ own words, the path is laid out for them.

That’s how it was for me that year that I participated in a study of the book of Matthew. I kept meditating on Jesus’ words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear. He who has eyes to see, let him see.”

As I continued the study, I became aware of lesser-known characters along the way, wondering what might be the rest of their stories. I began to entertain the idea of writing such a story.

Then, at the arrest of Jesus, I felt drawn to the character Malchus, servant of the high priest. Peter had sliced off his ear there in the garden. Jesus bent down and healed his ear. What was the rest of Malchus’ story? How did that healing affect him? He who has ears to hear, let him hear. I finally found the “what” I had been looking for. (Last week’s blog)

It took a few years, but I finally did my small part in fulfilling a plan to “preach repentance and forgiveness in his name.”

What part, small or dramatic, does he have for you?

~ Joyce ~

 

Eastertide – The Men

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

In this Eastertide, we thought  last week about the women, but what of the men?

We know John was at the cross because Jesus spoke directly to him, asking John to care for his mother. We know that Peter made it to the courtyard of Caiaphas after the arrest but sadly denied knowing him three times before the cock crew. Otherwise, the men all seemed to scatter from the Garden of Gethsemane after the arrest of Jesus.

As far as we can tell. the disciples retreated, dare we even say, fled back to the upper room. Wouldn’t we like to know what they said, what they did the rest of that Friday? Perhaps John came back to give a report and collapsed himself after that strenuous day with no sleep the night before.

Then there was Saturday. Silence. What did they talk about? The master they followed for some three years had experienced a devastating death. What were they to do now? Did even one of them remember what Jesus had told them, that he must suffer, die, and would be raised again? It is mentioned at least three times in Matthew.

The last time Jesus told them this was when they were making their final trek to Jerusalem. He said,

” . . . the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day, he will be raised to life!” Matthew 20:18-19

Can it be any more clear than that?

Evidently the women had heard this before as well. For when the angel spoke to them at the tomb, he reminded them,

“He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’Then they remembered his words. Matthew 24:6-8

Before we shake our heads and look down on these men and women, perhaps we need to think about words we have been told through Scripture.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray . . .  then I will hear from heaven . . . and will heal their land. II Chronicles 7:14

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. Isaiah 40:31

Trust in the Lord. Lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

Do not worry about your life. Matthew 6:25

Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. Matthew 6:1

When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father. Matthew 6:6

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:7

Words of our heavenly Father and his Son are important to remember.

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew – Final Thoughts

    Eyes to See

         Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

Matthew finally moved on from tax collector to disciple of Jesus in my new book, Eyes to See.

Mark 2 and Luke 5 both give nearly the same account of the sum total of information we have about Matthew, except they both refer to him as “Levi.” This was perhaps a former name and Matthew became another name. Therefore, in the first part of the book, I refer to him as Levi. In the Gospel of Matthew, however, he is called “Matthew.” So after he does life with Jesus, I refer to him as Matthew.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9

This is so cut and dried. There is surely more to the story before this amazing call and response. That’s the story I wanted to tell so that we see the agony of sin in Matthew’s heart and perhaps ways Matthew watched Jesus teach the people by the shore not far from his tax collecting booth. No doubt his heart had been touched by Jesus’ teaching and his miracles. So, when Jesus gave him the invitation, he was ready.

Matthew’s only friends would likely have been other tax collectors and riffraff from the community. Maybe if his friends were to hear Jesus, they might come to believe as well. So Matthew had an idea—invite his friends to dinner and have Jesus there to talk to them.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. Matthew 9:10 

Unfortunately, some Pharisees made their way to the house as well and stood outside looking in with their critical remarks to the disciples who were likely not too happy either about this set up.

The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Matthew 9:11

The disciples did not seem to have an answer so Jesus responded to their question.

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

From this point on in my story, I had plenty of action pieces to draw from as Jesus took his disciples on amazing adventures, which included Matthew of course.

Writing conference leaders are always asking authors, “Who is your audience?” I would say, “Those who would like to have a fresh look at Scripture and its meaning and  to see Bible characters come alive so that readers may better identify with them.”

But my great desire is that people who have little to no relationship to God will come to realize that following sinful, self-centered ways drives them from the hope and salvation that can be theirs in our Savior, Jesus Christ.

~ Joyce ~

Matthew – Other Clues

    Eyes to See

   Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

As I continued looking for other clues into the life of Matthew for my, third book, Eyes to See, I looked in his gospel for passages that were unique to him.

In many of our Bibles, you see more than one heading in the chapters that describes what follows. In my Bible, other references are also given if that passage is found in one of the other gospels. If none are given, the information is found only in that gospel.

For instance, in Matthew, chapters 5 – 7, eleven sections were written only by Matthew. He consolidated several teachings of Jesus into these three chapters in what we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount.

In chapter 13, he grouped six parables together. Three are only found in Matthew. In other places, he listed healings in a group. Matthew seemed to be organized, perhaps a list maker. That would fit well with a tax collector who kept tract of numbers.

I see Matthew as a detailed person, attentive to people, perhaps good with selling, a numbers man. So I developed Matthew’s bent toward these things as a child and a young man. Of course we always find an antagonist in a story and logically Matthew had one that effected his turn toward becoming a tax collector.

However, tax collecting would have been the last thing on Matthew’s list of ambitions. Tax collectors worked for the Roman government, and anyone who gave themselves to the brutal, domineering Romans would be despised by his fellow Jews. They were seen as traitors.

When Matthew repented and followed Jesus, leaving his tax collecting behind, the bitter stigma of being a tax man may have lingered in the minds of his fellow disciples. Perhaps Jesus’ reminder to “judge not, lest you be judged” would fit the disciples as well.

Ah, but I can’t give you all the story, can I? You will have to get the book!

One other clue, unique to Matthew, is found in Matthew 27:62-66 where the religious leaders went to Pilate.

“Sir, while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure. Otherwise, his disciples may steal the body and claim he has been raised from the dead. Matthew 27:63-64

Along with that clue (again unique to Matthew’s Gospel) the guards later found the tomb empty. The soldiers were afraid the centurion would have their heads, so they reported this to the religious leaders who made a clandestine arrangement with the soldiers and gave them money, assuring them that they would be protected if they would tell this story:

“You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.'” Matthew 28:13

How was Matthew privy to this information? Perhaps he had had a friendship with a Roman soldier during his tax days. You can bet that will be in the story, too!

Some final thoughts next week.

~ Joyce ~

Matthew – Boring Lineages

    Eyes to See

   Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

Okay, my friends, I’m going to share some behind-the-scenes secrets of “Eyes to See”, soon-to-be published book about Matthew.

I wanted us to see Matthew as the real person he was, to get to know him up close. The problem was, we have very little written in the Scriptures specifically about him, or for that matter, most of the other disciples as well.

I wanted to give background in the first part of the book leading up to the big scene where Jesus approaches Matthew’s tax booth and says,

“Follow me.” Matthew 9:9

Unfortunately for me, we have nothing in Scripture about Matthew’s life before that moment.

But fortunately, in the case of Matthew, we have the Gospel written by him—the Book of Matthew.

So, I searched his writing to see if I could understand more of the man. He began his gospel with a typical Jewish tradition by giving the lineage of Jesus. Lineage was important to the Jews. Over and over throughout the Old Testament, we read of this one who was the son of that one who was the son of the next one. etc. If you saw “Schindler’s List” with Liam Neeson, you may remember how they were careful to keep names of their fellow Jews. 

Matthew’s lineage begins with Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, then down fourteen generations to David. (Remember how Jesus was often called the son of David?) From David to the exile is a another fourteen generations. After the exile, yet another fourteen generations to—

. . . Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Matthew 1:16

Matthew wants to be sure we know that Jesus is the son of David, as prophesied, and is born with a legal Jewish father, even though Joseph is not the birth father.

All these numbers! And in very strict form. Hmm, fourteens are double sevens, the complete or perfect number. Numbers seemed to be important to Matthew.

I know all those “begats” we used to read in the King James version seemed endless. But if you were a student of the Law, these things were important.

Exactly! That’s why I believe Matthew had much study, perhaps in a yeshiva, a school for boys and young men. He seemed Jewish through and through.

In keeping with our previous study of Jesus where he incorporated women into his teachings, parables, and healings, Matthew seems to have captured this concept of including women even in the lineage. Only Matthew records: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and of course Mary. Some of these women were even outside the Jewish camp. Matthew, like his master, Jesus, lifted up these women from a place of shame or lowliness to a place of honor.

What else can we discover about Matthew in his writings? Tune in next week.

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

Healing – Men and Women

 Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

We continue our search into the way Jesus was fair in his dealings with both men and women—rare indeed in a day when women were basically second class citizens.

Early in his ministry, Jesus began healing people with diseases and maladies of all sorts. One day, as Jesus amazed them with his teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum, a demon-possessed man stood up right in the middle of Jesus’ message. The man cried out at the top of his voice,

“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Luke 4:34

Jesus dealt firmly with the situation.

“Be quiet! Come out of him!” Luke 4:35

The evil power of the demon threw the man down and left him. Now the people were amazed, not only with Jesus’ teaching, but also with his power and authority.

In the next verses, Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes to Simon Peter’s house. His mother-in-law is suffering with a high fever. They asked Jesus to help her.

So he bent over her and rebuked the fever and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them. Luke 4:39

Soon, people were lining up to seek healing on into the night. You can bet that included both men and women.

Our second paring comes in chapter seven of Luke. By this time, word of Jesus’ healings had reached many ears, including that of a Roman centurion. The beloved servant of this centurion was sick and about to die, so the centurion sent word to Jesus asking him to heal the man.

When Jesus had walked part way there, the centurion sent a message saying he was not worthy for Jesus to come to his house,

“. . . just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Luke 7:7

. . . Jesus was amazed and said, “I tell you I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Luke 7:9

(Only twice does Scripture record Jesus being “amazed.”) When the men returned to the house they found the servant well.

Immediately after this happening, Luke records that Jesus and his followers went to the town of Nain. They came upon a funeral procession. The young man in the coffin was the only son of  a widowed woman.

When Jesus saw the mother—

. . .  his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” Luke 7:14

A wealthy Roman soldier and a poor widowed mother, a demon-possessed man and a feverish mother-in-law, male or female—the thing Jesus saw was their need.

Do you have a need for healing? Physical healing? A spirit that has gone stale? A mind that is confused? A heart that is breaking?

Perhaps like David, you want to pray,

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who knows the way. Psalm 142:3

~ Joyce ~

 

Biblical Men/Biblical Women

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

As we look through the Scriptures, we see that it was definitely a man’s world. We will see in the next few blogs how Jesus raised women out of their lowly estate to give them value. Coupled with that, we will see how the Mid-Eastern mind works compared to our Western mind.

You will be amazed at how Luke couples a man’s experience and a woman’s experience in many of his accounts. You will likely know these stories, but like me, you may not have seen them as two in one.

It starts even at Jesus’ birth. You may remember in my recent Christmas blogs how the angel Gabriel came to both Zechariah and to Mary.

Gabriel is named only in the Old Testament book of Daniel and here in Luke. To Zechariah he says,

“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, . . . Luke 1:19

Then to Mary.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth . . . to a virgin pledged to be married . . . Luke 1:26-27

God sent his great warrior angel to an old faithful priest, but also to a young simple maiden. Both had a major role to play in God becoming man. One would sire the forerunner and the other would bear the Savior.

Move forward forty days after Jesus birth. Mary must go to the Temple to offer sacrifice for her purification. Being poor, her offering would be two pigeons or two doves.

Mary must also present her baby to the Lord, as it is written in the Law—

“Every first born male is to be consecrated to the Lord.” Luke 2:23

Now we meet our next pair, Simeon a priest and Anna a prophetess. Both are older; both have longed to see the Messiah.

It had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. On the day Mary and Joseph came to the Temple, Simeon felt compelled to go to the Temple courts. As he lifted up 40-day old Jesus, the Spirit of God fell upon him and he declared,

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.” Luke 2:29-30

84 year-old Anna had a seven-year marriage until her husband died. She spent the rest of her years at the Temple worshiping night and day, fasting and praying. She stepped into this scene precisely when Simeon made his declaration.

. . . she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:38

No doubt this gave Mary much more to ponder in those early days.

So from the beginning, we see men and women playing important roles in the life of Jesus.

Male or female, what is God’s role for you this week? It will not likely be as dramatic as these, but He has plans for all of us. Don’t miss your opportunity! 

~ 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 ~