Life Verses – A Hope and a Future

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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 – On Fire

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ~ Joyce ~

 

 

Joshua – Crossing the River

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The time has come. The people watch in reverence and silence as the priests step in unison carrying the ark of the covenant. It is the sign! They wait patiently as it passes through the camp. They know when it reaches the front, they will wait until the ark is a certain distance beyond them, and then the movement will begin, tribe by tribe.

Usually, the Jordan River is not particularly deep, but the spring rains and the melting snow from Mount Hermon have caused the river to be at flood stage. As they walk closer to the river, those toward the front begin to see the rushing water. The younger ones have never seen this much water. Imagine the fear in their hearts.

        

Think about the priests. They guardedly carry the ark, being careful not to stumble. A pole runs through two rings on each side of the ark. The four men each grasp the poles at the ends. The ark itself is not to be touched. If the ark falls toward one man, touching him, the man will die.

Imagine their fear as they approach the surging river. They have been instructed that,

… as soon as the priests set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap. Joshua 3:13

Wow, sounds like the Red Sea miracle. Evidently God decided the younger ones needed the same assurance of His presence and power.

But just think about these priests. The miracle doesn’t happen until the first two put their feet in the water, all the while balancing the ark! We are talking about faith and steadiness of hand, not to mention trusting the Lord to support and guide. Makes my hands sweat just thinking about it.

Sometimes in life we find ourselves carrying a load, trying to balance it with other things going on. At times we have to manage the load with other people. It calls for steadfast faith. It may even call for trust beyond our knowing. Can you trust God with it?

The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. Joshua 3:17

The priests made it! Let’s watch the people as they pass through. There is the grandfather who, just last night, taught his family about the time when he walked through the Red Sea. With tears of joy, he touches his heart with one hand and raises the other in praise to God.

       

Over there is the father who is suddenly a child again gawking at the wall of water—just like he remembered it so long ago.

And here is the child, his face filled with wonder as he realizes those stories he heard over and over were really true. His eyes dart from water to dry land to the ark that represents the God of miracles!

~ Joyce ~

 

Waiting on the Lord

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 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 ~

 

 

Slaying Our Giants

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At last we see that…

David  triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. I Samuel 17:50

We’re kind of okay with that, knowing the constant threat on the people of Israel, but it’s the next verse that we might find disturbing.

David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. I Samuel 17:51

Now what do we do with that? This has always been a bit troubling to me. I found a new book by Louie Giglio to be helpful. In “Goliath Must Fall,” Giglio relates a story from his youth when he helped with a Christian camp in the summers. A constant problem plagued the camp leaders—poisonous snakes.

       

Every afternoon, several of the helpers went searching for the snakes. They used baseball bats to beat them to death! But that wasn’t the end of the job because, though the snake was dead, its head still had the poisonous venom in it. If people accidentally stepped on the head, they could still be affected by the venom.

How did they protect the campers from stepping on the heads? They had to bury them.

Giglio likens this to David’s dilemma. It wasn’t enough to kill the giant with the sling. At that great distance, the Philistine army might think their hero had just been wounded and come storming to take over David and the Israelite army. When the shepherd boy pulled out the sword, slashed it down on Goliath’s neck, and pulled up the head, he demonstrated dramatically that this giant was indeed dead.

Giglio suggests that we all have giants that plague us. It may not be a trash-talking foe. It may not be the temptation to get drunk or experiment with drugs or have an affair. Oh no, Satan can be far more cunning and deceptive than that. We may wrestle with the “lesser” giants; slight gossiping, demanding to have our way about things or always giving in, arrogance or feeling inadequate.

Satan delights with infiltrating our hearts and messing with our minds. He delights when we spend hours on our cell phones but have no time for prayer and devotions. He smiles when we’re so busy with life that we haven’t thought about witnessing to anyone in months or years. He triumphs when jealousy or bitterness leads to anger and anger leads to rage.

What is the giant in your life? Are you willing to face it? What will it take to bring it down? What will it take to completely overcome? 

I think of 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 make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

~ Joyce ~

 

 

The Trinity

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 Seeking His Heart

How is Jesus both human and divine? How can God be three in one?

These and other mysteries can leave us befuddled. Let’s just work on the three-in-one today. The trinity, we call it.

We can think of a triangle. Imagine the top point being labeled God the Father; a bottom point being God the Son, and the other bottom point the Holy Spirit—three points of one triangle.

I like this image with the unending circle tying them all together.

Or I’ve heard some explain that I am a person. I am the wife of my husband. At the same time, I’m the daughter of my mother and the mother of my daughter. So I’m a wife, a daughter, and a mother—three roles, but one person.

Or a favorite example I use with children is holding up an egg. I say, “An egg is one object. Yet, it is made up of three parts. You have the shell that protects and holds it all together.” Then I crack it open into a glass.

“Inside you see the bright yellow yoke and the clear, rather transparent white.” I compare Jesus the Son to the the very visible yoke and the Holy Spirit to the white—hard to see, but thick to feel—part of the egg. Three, and yet, one egg.

Our earthly examples can approach the idea of different roles or manifestations of the whole, but let’s face it, the earthly can’t begin to fully declare the glory and holiness of our Almighty God.

So let’s turn to Scripture to see an amazing scene of all three, in one setting.

John the Baptist is down by the Jordan River where he has been preaching repentance and “preparing the way” for the coming Messiah. Jesus, himself, comes into the water for baptism. John protests and declares,

“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Matthew 3:14

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. Matthew 3:15

What happens next is a glorious moment of the Three-in-One all in one scene.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17

What a powerful way for Jesus to begin his ministry with the assurance of the Spirit and the encouragement of the Father. Three in one.

What a blessing when we have a sense of the Father’s love and approval, encouraging us on, with the movement of the Holy Spirit because of our faith and trust in Jesus our Savior. May you trust Him with your day.

~ Joyce ~

Let’s Be Friends

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 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 ~

 

 

 

 

1 – We’re Going Where?

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Let’s visit just one more unnamed woman in the Bible. Her location will probably spark your memory of her and her story.

Jesus and the disciples had been to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were heading back to Galilee, but the disciples noticed that Jesus wasn’t veering the right direction. 

I love the way comedian, Grady Nutt, once told this story. He said, “They were walking along trying to steer Jesus to the east toward the Jordan River, but Jesus, wiping the smile off his face, said, ‘No, we’re going through Samaria,’ ‘We’re going where?’ they protested. And Jesus kept heading due north.”

They may not have said it, but I’m sure the disciples were thinking, “We never go through Samaria!” Judean and Galilean Jews always went around Samaria, never through. For one thing it was always cooler down by the banks of the river and not as rough and rocky, but truth be known, they detested the Samaritans and the feeling was mutual. Regardless, off they went and by noon, they were hot and hungry.

So they came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. [noon]

         

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into town to buy food.) John 4:5-8

Oh my, there are all kinds of faux pas to this scene. Samaritan versus Galilean, a man talking to a woman in public, and asking for a drink from the jar which she will touch! Besides that, she’s out here alone, not with the other women. Sounds suspicious. 

She doesn’t back down and asks why a Jewish man would ask a Samaritan woman for a drink. Jesus answers,

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10

She tries to have one up on him as her pride takes over. She declares her Hebrew roots to be greater than his.

“Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” John 4:11-12

Ah, but one can’t rely on Jewish heritage.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Eternal life. Now the subject is getting heavier. How will this “woman at the well” react? Next week, we’ll give her a name.

~ Joyce ~

The Widow

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Our woman of the week, like many women in the Bible was unnamed. To help move her story along, let’s give her the name, Hannah, which means honor.

We know that “Hannah” had a son. Let’s call him Josiah, meaning may Yahweh give. Since Hannah had a son, she also had a husband, of course, a husband who could provide for his family. 

Unfortunately, Hannah’s husband died and she is now a widow, a scary place to be in that day and time. Women had very little means to provide for themselves.

Fortunately, she has Josiah who is perhaps old enough to work and provide for the two of them. Hannah must make many adjustments, but she keeps her faith in God to help her.

She worries however, because Josiah has been limping. “Why do you limp so, Josiah?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “I have pain in my hip. If I limp, I don’t feel the pain as much.”

Hannah prepares remedies that might ease the pain, but instead helping, the pain seems to be getting worse. Hannah sits in her bed at night, bending over in earnest prayer for his healing.

Soon, Josiah is only capable of working a few hours each day, then a few hours each week. Their food supply is dwindling, and Josiah’s pain increases. Neighbors help all they can, but many of them are poor as well.

The dreadful day comes when a neighbor runs down the road to Hannah when she is in the garden. “Hannah, Hannah! It’s Josiah. He’s fallen and we can’t get him up.” Hannah drops her basket and runs down the road with the neighbor.

Josiah lays absolutely still beside the road. Hannah falls to her knees and embraces her only son, but his arms are heavy and lifeless; he has no breath left in him. Hannah cries out in agony as she rocks him in her arms. “My son, my son. Oh Josiah, my son.”

Finally, two women help Hannah back to her house. The men borrow a cart from another neighbor and lift Josiah up and on to the cart. Many friends gather to comfort and mourn with Hannah. The body rests at the house where a few women perform the ritual of cleansing.

It is almost more than Hannah can bear. Her husband gone and now her son. What will she do?

Next week—Jesus comes to town.

~ Joyce ~

 

Who Was Jochebed?

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This month, let’s explore lessons from lesser-known women in the Bible.

Today’s star lived in the latter years of Egyptian slavery. She and her husband had a son named Aaron. They came from the priestly line of the Levites.

Years before, all was well in the land of Goshen where their people lived. The Hebrews enjoyed the prestige of being a part of the family of Joseph who was second only to the Pharaoh.

Now, over three centuries later, Joseph was long forgotten. The Hebrews were way too prolific at having babies to suit the current Pharaoh, and he feared they would grow too numerous to control. He decreed that all new-born baby boys be thrown into the Nile River.

Enter our star player today…

Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. Exodus 2:1-2

That alone puts her at the top of my list of innovative women. Keeping a new-born quiet for three months requires amazing ingenuity!

The thought struck me that she likely had to keep his presence quiet even from the neighbors. After all, if the soldiers came and threw my baby into the Nile, what right does she have to be keep her baby?

Whatever ideas this mother managed to devise,  she was running out of tricks so her last-ditch effort was to make a little boat for him to float in the Nile among the bull rushes where he might be somewhat protected. 

Gleaning from the expert boat maker, Noah, she made her basket. (Side note—Noah’s ark and this basket are the only two times this construction is mentioned in the Bible.)

But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed him in it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Exodus 2:3-4

Every mother can empathize with this mother. How hard it is to let your child go; find his own way, make his mistakes, learn from them. But in this case, just a baby?

What was running through her mind? I’ll put him there in the daytime and bring him in at night. Or, did she know the area where the princess usually bathed? Could she ever have imagined that the princess would find him and claim him for her own? 

Whatever her thoughts, she decided that anything was better than to be drowned in the Nile. Reaching out in faith, she followed the Pharaoh’s decree, but instead of throwing him in, she snuggled him in a Hebrew blanket inside a waterproof basket. 

Next week, we’ll discover what happened to the baby and his ingenious mother named Jochebed. 

~ Joyce ~