David, on the Run!

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

When someone throws a spear at you while you’re quietly playing the harp for him, you know it’s time to run. (See, Watch Out, David!)

Saul decides to send men to David’s house to watch and then kill him the next morning. Saul’s daughter, Michal, who is also David’s wife, finds out about the plan. She warns David,

“If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” I Samuel 19:11

Micah lets David down through the window and off he goes to begin a lengthy time of escape.

David runs to Samuel, the prophet, who first anointed him to be the next king, but David is far away from being king. When Saul discovers David’s whereabouts, he sends men to pursue him.

David finds Jonathan, Saul’s son. They have become friends, but Jonathan can’t believe his father would be so cruel as to pursue David. Later, when Saul throws a spear at Jonathan, he realizes his father has gone mad. He continues to pledge friendship to David.

David escapes to a priest at Nod and receives bread and the spear that belonged to Goliath. He flees to Gath, but becomes suspect of the the king there, so off to the cave of Adullam. David’s prayer is found in Psalm 142 where he pleads with God for help.

“I cry to you Lord; you are my refuge.” Psalm 142:5

He is able to gather a motley crew of men around him.

All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader, about four hundred men. I Samuel 22:2

The prophet Gad tells David to go back to Judah, so David flees to the forest of Hereth.

Meanwhile, Saul discovers that David has been to the priest at Nod and sends for the priest. All eighty-five priests come and are chastised for rebelling against Saul. They defend David which sends Saul into a tailspin.  He demands that his men kill all the priests. When they refuse, Saul commands Doeg the Edomite to do the dirty work plus kill the whole town of Nod.

One son of a priest escapes and tells David what has happened. David promises protection. Meanwhile, he discovers that the Philistines are about to overtake the town of Keilah. He inquires of the Lord if he should go into battle for them and receives word to go.

As you can see, David is on the run, but he continues to show signs of leadership. He is resourceful and discerning; he attracts an army of men, continues to defend his people, and seeks God’s strength and purpose in his life.

There’s more running to do, but let’s think about our own running. Maybe not from an enemy, but we often do a lot of running here and there, accomplishing tasks, pleasing people, keeping schedules, tending to messes and on and on.

What lessons can we learn as we go? Lessons of resourcefulness and discernment? Opportunities to seek God’s guidance and further purposes in our lives?

Grow us, Lord—even when we’re on the run.

~ Joyce ~

What Do We Learn?

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

So what do we learn from the four-part story we’ve had of the unnamed woman caught in the act of adultery?

I named her Aphiema (forgiven) and gave an enhancement of her story.

We don’t know that there was such a character as Mark, who indulged in promiscuity, was spurned, and set a trap, but it stands to reason that the scene was conveniently set up in some way. It would be unlikely that these Pharisees just happened upon a couple in the act of adultery.

This is one of many times the religious leaders sought to trap Jesus, only to be caught in their trap. (Hmm, maybe another series—Setting Traps for Jesus.) Does this incident show that Jesus thinks adultery is okay? Absolutely not! He urged her to leave her life of sin. Is he saying they no longer need to follow the Mosaic laws? No. He said,

“Do not think I have to destroy the law or the Prophets. I have come not to destroy them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17

He took it a step further.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ But I tell you anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27

I believe Jesus’ mission in this incident was not to dilute the sin of adultery, but to show the leaders their own sin, the sin of judging.

It’s always been a puzzle as to what Jesus was doing when he “wrote on the ground with his finger.” Was he just biding his time while they thought about his question? Some have offered that he might have been writing some of their sins in the dirt—pride, gossip, lust, rage, etc. 

“If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” John 8:7

You may remember that adultery was what Joseph assumed about Mary when he learned she was “with child.” He cared about her and didn’t want her to have the penalty of stoning. Before the angel assured him that the Spirit of God had brought this to pass, he already had decided to sign divorce papers, but not have her judged publicly and stoned.

Stoning was in the Mosaic law. Was Jesus putting an end to stoning? There’s no record of Christ followers stoning.

Sin is rampant in this story. The sin of the woman and the sin of the unseen man; the sinful desire of the religious leaders to trap Jesus and the way they used the woman. As always their sense of judgment always overpowered any sense of mercy and grace. Another lesson for us.

Oh Lord, help us to accurately identify sin that we tend to overlook in our society today. “Tolerance” often sets the stage for increased sin. At the same time, let us temper harsh judgmental attitudes with mercy and grace as you taught us.

~ Joyce ~

 

A Trap Envisioned – Part 2

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

As we read Scripture, we don’t always think about all the people involved. Last week, (Gone Astray – Part 1) we left Mark making excuses to his wife and meeting, yet again, with a former lover. After their romantic evening, he was about to leave for home.

“Our time together should be worth something, don’t you think?” Apheima hinted.

Puzzled, Mark frowned. “Worth something?”

“Well, you wouldn’t want your wife to know about these little get-togethers, now would you? Three denarii should take care of things.”

“Why, you little slut…”

“Uh, uh, let’s be careful. Your precious elders at the Temple would be very disappointed in you.”

Mark’s temper flared, but he could see that he had been trapped. He juggled some coins from his money pouch and threw them on the floor as he stormed out.

How dark the night felt as he shuffled his way home—dark as the sin that hung on his shoulders. But more than shame, he felt anger. How dare her trick me in such a way. She will regret this. His mind raced as he tried to think of forms of retaliation, but his thoughts were merely a jumble of revenge with no clear action.

The days wore on. Mark made it a point not to see Apheima again. The money may have taken care of the threats but not his bitterness.

Two weeks later, as Mark came near the Temple, several Pharisees were discussing the preacher from Galilee who had gained quite a following with the people. The leaders had questioned him on numerous occasions, but every time the religious leaders set up a verbal trap, this Jesus caught them instead, making them appear weak and incompetent.

The next day, Mark observed the teachings of this intruder to the city.

Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them… You have heard it said, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement… You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:17, 21-22, 27- 28

The intent of Jesus’ teaching went right over Mark’s head. Instead, the wheels began spinning in his mind until he had concocted a perfect plan.

Hmm, what is the plan? Stayed tuned next week for the plot to thicken! 

~ Joyce ~

 

Feeding the 5000 – Let’s Get Organized

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Okay, now we have something to work with to feed 5000+ people—five barley loaves of bread and two fish. (See Feeding the 5000 – Time to Eat) Not a lot to go on, but then it wouldn’t be a miracle if the food was already plentiful, now would it?

Being an organized person, I love the next scene in this power-packed day. Jesus saw the need for getting things organized and he asked the disciples to help Him. We have hind sight. We know what’s going to take place, but they didn’t.

Jesus gives two instructions. Pretty simple.

Jesus replied, “Tell them to sit down in groups of about fifty each.” Luke 9:15

Sit on the grass (the” grassy slopes” John says)—in groups of 50. Easy breezy, you say? But look at the crowd! We discover they are 5000 strong.

I’m going to give you a little sneak preview of how I plan to construct this scene in my next book about Matthew.

Peter stood straight up, hands on hips. “He wants us to do what?”

Matthew turned to Peter, “He wants the people to sit in groups of 50 or so.”

Gesturing to the crowd of thousands, Peter complains, “You mean we have to count off to 50 that many times?” 

“Peter, can you usually get about ten men in a boat?”

“A big boat.”

“Just think five boatloads in each group.”

“Oh, I see.” So Peter shouts over to some of the other fishermen disciples and repeats the plan.

Matthew smiles and quickly sums up a group of ten men. “The master wants you to sit on the grass,” he tells them. As they sit, he motions another group of ten to join them. Then another ten, “Will you join this group, please?” And so forth for five tens—fifty!

Then he turns to another group of ten. “Please form a new group by sitting here.” To another ten, “Please join this new group.” And on and on.

Keep in mind that they’re going to need 100 groups of 50. That means each disciple must organize about eight groups of 50. As you can see, it’s a mammoth task, but with each disciple helping, it is do-able. It will take time, however. 

No doubt some in the back begin sitting when they see others sit. Then you have the problem of asking some to get up and move to form separate groups. Nothing is easy when you’re dealing with massive groups of people.

I imagine the disciples have been so busy with the “project” that they haven’t considered what’s coming next. They will eventually realize that all this preparation will serve them well. They will be able to move around the people and know who has been served and who hasn’t. Much more orderly! A great lesson for us in the value of planning ahead.

Next week is the big climax. How amazed the disciples and the people will be when Jesus feeds them all with just five loads of bread and two fish.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Feeding the 5000 – Time to Eat

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Last week, we saw that Jesus had mixed emotions. He was burdened with the news of John the Baptist’s death. At the same time, he rejoiced with the disciples who had returned from their successful ministry trips in Feeding the 5000 – Before the Feast.

Now they landed on shore and found a huge crowd ready to greet them. Jesus set his mixed emotions aside and had compassion for the people. As had been his pattern, He began healing the sick one by one.

I think about the temptation Jesus had in the wilderness. Remember when Satan wanted him to jump off the high pinnacle of the Temple and let the angels catch him? What a spectacular idea that was. It would dramatically show the people his great power.

But that was not the kind of Savior God had in mind. Instead, Jesus was to work in among the people, healing one by one, ministering to individuals, teaching small groups at a time. It’s unlikely that a crowd of 5000 could all hear him at once, no matter how strong a voice He had nor how much of an amphitheater the terrain provided. 

Eventually, the people would receive physical food, but first, He wanted to feed them the food of His words.

After a long day of healing and teaching, some of the disciples grew concerned about the people because they hadn’t eaten all day and they were in a rather remote place. They suggested that he—

“Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.” Matthew 14:15-16

John says that Jesus turned to Philip and asked,

“Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do. Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” John 6:5-7

About that time, Andrew spoke up.

“There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” John 6:8-9

At least Andrew looked around for a solution, but he, too, was doubtful.

Isn’t that like us? Full of questions and doubts. We get so one-sided about what can or cannot be done in a certain situation. We don’t think outside the box. What are other possibilities? Are we going to limit God? Could He possibly have a miracle in the making for us? 

Next week, we’ll watch Jesus organize and go into action.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

Feeding the 5,000 – Before the Feast

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

We’ve looked at “points of view” coming from the four gospel writers on several happenings in the life of Jesus. When we looked at the feeding of the 5,000, you may remember I said I might want to revisit that exciting day in more detail. That will be our focus for the next few weeks.

What was happening before the great feast? I think it’s always important to get the setting, set the stage so to speak.

At some point in the time line, Jesus heard about John the Baptist’s terrible death. Recall the story. Herod caved when his wife, Herodias, (through her daughter) asked that the head of John the Baptist be brought to her on a platter .

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. Matthew 14:13

What do you do when you have received tragic news? You may want to have the love and support of close friends or family, but, at some point, you may just want to be alone to collect your thoughts and deal with your emotions in private.

My hunch is that Jesus wanted to be alone with God and gather the inner strength he needed from his heavenly Father. Very possibly, Jesus thought about how he, too, would one day come under the cruelty of those in high places.

Think of those times in your life when the weight of tragedy or trying experiences brought you to a low ebb. Perhaps frustrations with a job or the cruelty of unkind words struck the very core of your spirit. Somehow, with God’s help, you managed to continue to function. It is in this kind of human condition, we find Jesus.

Later, when He looks up toward the shore, He sees his disciples who have returned from their ministry tour of the villages of Galilee where he said:

“Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons.” Matthew 10:7-8

He shares in their excitement, glad to see their happy and hear their stories, then he tells them,

“Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” Luke 6:31

After more sharing, He looks at the shore where the crowds are gathering to meet him. I envision him sighing greatly and whispering, “Give me strength, Father.” Then we see his heart.

…as he stepped from the boat, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Mark 6:34

He welcomed them and taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick. Luke 9:11

Jesus moved forward in the strength God gave him—an important lesson for us. For you see, that same power is available to us as we push out alone in out boats to receive healing and inner strength from our Lord. May it be so for us all this week.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Points of View – Healing the Paralytic

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

A family attends a wedding. The teenage daughter sees a fairy tale wedding with a handsome groom and beautiful bride in a Cinderella gown. The middle school brother eyes the snacks and cake. The mother notices all the special touches and the well organized work in putting it all together.

The dad wonders, “How much did all this cost?”

We all have our points of view about things—this includes the synoptic Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

For instance, let’s look at the healing of the paralytic man. The man can’t walk, so four friends carry him to Jesus for healing. The problem is they can’t get in the crowded house where Jesus is teaching. The friends are so determined that they carry his pallet up the side steps to the roof and let him down through the roof right to Jesus. 

Jesus notices the faith of the friends to go to all this trouble and says,

“Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5

Listen to the thoughts of the teachers of the law as they watch this startling scene unfold.

“Why does he [Jesus] talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 5:7

Knowing these thoughts, Jesus says, 

“Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘You sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that  you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralytic, I tell you get up, take your mat and go home.” Mark 2:8-12

When the paralytic does exactly that, the crowd is totally amazed, and we hear no further comment from the teachers of the law. 

Now here’s the point of view from each of the writers: Mark is from Galilee where this event takes place. Flat roofs are made with mats of branches spread across wood crossbeams. On top of the mats is a thick layer of clay packed down with a stone roller. Hence,

…they made an opening above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat… Mark 2:4 

Luke, on the other hand, is from Greek territory and is primarily writing to Gentiles. Their roofs are generally made of tiles. In order to make sense to his readers, Luke describes the scene this way;

…they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd… Luke 5:19

As for Matthew, the lowering of the mat from the roof was not of particular interest to him. He is more concerned with the other parts of the story, so he doesn’t even mention the roof!

This is one of many incidents where it is helpful for us to read each account because we might learn fresh perspectives from each one. I will relate a few more in coming weeks. I hope you enjoy.

~ Joyce ~

 

Nehemiah – Celebration!

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

As we close our 6-week study of Nehemiah, it is time to celebrate! Many Jews have returned from the exile, the temple has been rebuilt, the wall rebuilt in spite of great obstacles, and the people have returned to the Word of God and consecrated themselves to follow Him. (Nehemiah – A Time of Consecration)

To celebrate this grand occasion, Nehemiah plans a huge processional. He calls out the Levites to come into Jerusalem—

… to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. Nehemiah 12:27

These were small harps, not sit-on-the-floor kind of harps like we have today. Think David-on-the-hillside kind of harp—one he could sling over his shoulder.

 

 

 

 

 

Groups of singers had built villages around Jerusalem. They, too, were called in to practice and form two large choirs. The two choirs met at a designated gate and split apart. One choir led the procession going south along with Ezra and half the leaders. 

The other choir headed north with Nehemiah and the other half of the leaders. When the priests blew the trumpets, the procession began. Apparently, many (at least the choirs and leaders) processed on top of the wall. Others may have walked along side the wall. They planned to meet at the temple with all the wall builders and their families joining in.

I can just imagine the fun and excitement as the children skipped along, loving the vibrant musical atmosphere of singing and playing. Perhaps some women brought their tambourines as they danced behind the processional route.

Both groups finally met at “the house of God,” the temple.

And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. Nehemiah 12:43

It is good to rejoice and be thankful, to celebrate wonderful happenings—weddings and anniversaries, birthdays and graduations, promotions, retirement, even in a quiet sort of way, we celebrate a life well-lived at the death of a dedicated loved one.

It is good to celebrate other accomplishments: learning to walk for the first time, learning to walk after an accident or surgery, moving a grade up from a C to an A, overcoming a sinful deed or an aggravating habit, having a breakthrough in a tedious project or completing a project, searching diligently for the Lord’s will then sensing that He has opened the door! Or even the simple joy of finally cleaning out a closet.

We may not have choirs and instruments or even parades at our victories, but let us determine to find something this week to celebrate and to give God thanksgiving and glory.

~ Joyce ~ 

  

 

 

Nehemiah – Planning and Action

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

God has given Nehemiah a concern for his Jerusalem homeland. He feels called to do something about the crumbling wall around the city.

During four months of prayer, God led him to make plans. Last week (Nehemiah – Praying Leads to Opportunity), we saw that King Artaxerxes dropped opportunity right in his lap. 

Since Nehemiah has been cooking up his plans, he’s ready.

“If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so they will provide me safe conduct until I arrive in Judah?”

Nehemiah thinks logically of what’s needed to get him safely there.

And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?

In his mind, he’s already there, thinking through what he will need. Planners do that! Nehemiah sees that God’s gracious hand was upon him because the king grants his requests.

Praying, planning, and then the action. Off he goes, beyond the Euphrates River, across the desert, to the land of Judah accompanied by the king’s cavalry, no less. 

After this grueling four-month journey, he rests for three days and makes plans to evaluate the crumbling wall. He purposely didn’t enter with a bang or even tell anybody why he was there. He plans to quietly assess the damage at night, by himself.

This is not a one-man job, so it is time to gather the troops. Here’s what we have recorded of his motivational speech to the priest, nobles, officials, and people:

“You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and it’s gates have been burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”

He also gave them his personal testimony of how God’s hand was upon him with the king. The result?

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. Nehemiah 2:7-18

What a great formula for us when God lays a task upon our hearts—pray, plan, wait patiently for opportunity, move into action, rest, evaluate, share our own testimony of God’s hand at work, and inspire others to join in the task.

Tuck Nehemiah’s example away in your mind.

~ Joyce ~ 

 

Writing – Part 2

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Last week in My Testimony About Writing, I shared about God’s call to write. I struggled trying to discern what the Lord wanted me to write. Of course, He rarely works on our time table, so I waited, watched, and listened.

That year, I attended a Bible study about the book of Matthew. I found myself noticing the lesser-known characters, the ones with only one or two verses. Often, their names weren’t even given, but they were important enough to mention. wondered what might be the rest of their stories. What was their background? How did they relate to Jesus? 

As I continued through Matthew, I was struck by the phrase, 

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

Later, when Jesus told the parable of the sower and the seed, he said again,

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

I began meditating on that phrase, thinking about it every time it came around. Jesus warned that, because of the people’s unbelief, their hearts had become calloused. The leaders did not put into practice the truths they had studied. 

“Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” Matthew 13:15

Jesus described the religious leader’s faith by quoting what Isaiah said.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” Matthew 15:8-9

They had ears, but they didn’t hear.

In my pilgrimage of what to write, the Lord had impressed on me the lesser-known characters. He brought my attention to have ears to hear what he has to say. So, when I came to the two-verse story of the servant of the high priest having his ear cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was like, this is it! This is who I am to write about.

I discovered from the other gospel writers that his name was Malchus and that Jesus healed his ear. It wasn’t much to go on, but I researched and wrote, trying to envision what might be the rest of Malchus’ story.

I was still working at the time so all too often the story got pushed to the back burner. Over and over I doubted. Who was I to think I could conquer such a task as writing a book? That’s when I first came across the quote I have on my desk. “The task ahead of us is never as great as the power behind us.”

The Lord provided a wonderful person to help me edit. Eventually, I acquired a publisher, then a capable person to help me make a video, take an author picture, and direct me to claim my website name.

It took seven years, but at last “Ears to Hear” became a reality. 

Next week, I’d like to share one more leg of the journey with you plus a challenge.

~ Joyce ~