Joshua – Spying Out the Land

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Joshua takes to heart God’s encouraging words. (See “Joshua – Be Strong and Courageous”) 

His first task is to send two spies into Jericho to check things out. (Remember, Joshua himself was a spy years before.) Now this is no easy task. After all, the leaders of Jericho have been made quite aware that thousands of people are camped just across the Jordan River from them.  

Therefore, the first challenge is to even get through the gate of this walled city—unnoticed. Alas, the spies do manage to get in. 

Now very close to the entrance, they find an inn, managed by a woman named Rahab, who quietly takes them in.  She realizes they are Israelites, but doesn’t tell on them. In fact, she protects them and hides them on her roof and covers them with stalks of flax.

      

The king learns of the spies’ presence in Jericho and that they were seen going to Rahab’s, so the king sends soldiers to her house.

“Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.” Joshua 2:3

Rahab covers for the spies and sends the messengers on a wild goose chase out of the city.

 What will Rahab do now? Did I mention that Rahab happens to be a prostitute? Does she plan to use her alluring charms on the spies?

Quite the opposite. You see, with her house being located up in the wall, close to the entrance of the city, she hears the talk of those who come and go just below her house. She also hears the talk from those who use her “services.” What did she hear?

“We have heard how the Lord dried up the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.” Joshua 2:10

Perhaps there are other events that she heard about that aren’t mentioned—enough that she realizes that their one God is far more powerful than the many gods of her people. Rahab says,

“…the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Joshua 2:11b

What are the chances that these two men who know nothing of the city, find their way to a receptive, helpful woman to protect them?

Think also about the fact that she has lived all her life in this pagan city, far removed from the God-fearing Israelites. What are the chances of hearing the stories of these people?

While her people are struck with fear, she wants to protect these men and know more about their God.

We never know when someone is ready to hear a message from the Lord and that He is ready to use us. Perhaps we need to be “spying out the land” as well.

Hmm, let’s ponder this prostitute a bit more next week!

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

 

A Garden of Care

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

‘Tis spring! Actually, with the temperatures this week, one could say we’re about to enter full-blown summer. Perhaps, like me, you’re in the gardening mode. No, we’re not vegetable gardeners—no space, not that much energy—but we do enjoy some flowers and plants.

Just finished planting impatiens. I guess they’re called that because you must not be “impatient” waiting for them to grow. Maybe I’ll have a better picture to show you in a few weeks.

        

I’m thinking of a quote by Anais Nin: “And the day comes when the risk to remain tight in the bud is more painful the the risk it takes to blossom.” 

Which leads me to follow up on last week’s blog. Remember the story of the little boy who wet his pants at school? The little girl “acccidently” spilled a fish bowl of water in his lap to overcome his embarressment because she knew how that felt.

I challenged you to consider how people in your life might need an encouraging word or act of care. In case you wonder if I ever follow up on these challenges, I’ll share my experiences this week. These are not bragging moments; they represent eye-openers the Lord gives when we ask for opportunities.

I wrote a detailed, biblically-laced, grandmotherly note in my grandson’s graduation card. I sent notes in two sympathy cards. Wrote a note to a long ago friend who has had a couple of years of stress with the physical health of her husband and a note to a friend’s daughter who is having challenges.

Obviously, I’m a note writer. That may not be your thing. A call, email, text or a six-foot visit can be effective as well. Since it seems we’re going to be in the masking business for a while, perhaps some of you have been making masks to give people.

One of my husband’s former work friends has been a widower for some time now. He manages with involvement at church, volunteering in the community and fellowship with friends, but this time of being shut in with the pandemic has been very lonely for him.

An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. Proverbs 12:25

We decided to have him over for a meal. He came surprisingly bearing a gift for us, this lovely Mandevilla, one of my favorite flowers. We had a delightful evening and hopefully “cheered him up” as the proverb says.

         

I am anxious to know how the Lord brought to mind people in your life who need a garden of care from you. Jesus reminded his disciples,

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

As Mother Theresa said, “Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.”

Go, water your garden, my friends!

~ Joyce ~

Waiting on the Lord

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you waiting and anticipating or just muddling along?

~ Joyce ~

 

 

The Pandemic

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dale Brown concluded his thoughts with,

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

         

Jesus said it another way,

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

Oh, that we could say with David,

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

~ Joyce ~

Nathaniel, a True Israelite

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

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

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

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

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

        

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come and see.” John 1:46

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

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

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

“How do you know me?” Nathaniel asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Joyce ~

 

 

God at Work

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

I had planned to move on with David, but God has done so many things in this past couple of weeks, I feel I must share His amazing movements in our lives.

About a month ago, the only remaining activity I could do with my mother was to push her in her wheelchair out in the garden area. We looked at the trees, the fountain, the flowers, and occasional birds that would flit by. About half way around I would stop, sit down and talk a bit or sing a hymn or two.

         

One day, when she hardly said more than two words, I sang “In the Garden.” When I started into the chorus, she mouthed the words, “walks with me, talks with me.” How precious to me. It was one of the hymns she had been playing in May on the piano. Thank you, Lord.

Each week she grew less responsive. A week ago Monday, I could hardly get her awake in her wheelchair. Her head just hung down. We walked in the garden and she gave only minimum response. The workers noticed her energy was diminishing.

On Tuesday, we learned of the death of my husband’s oldest brother and made hasty plans to travel to Atlanta. 

 Our son and daughter were able to go as well. It had been a long time since we were back to just the four of us. We were able to begin planning Mother’s memorial service if she should pass soon. God’s perfect timing.

Do you see how He was providing and weaving His way among us? On the way back home, the nurse called to report Mother couldn’t sit up.

You know about our last moments from last week’s blog. I truly believe she was waiting for me. Within fifteen minutes of being with her, she passed. Thank you, Lord for intervening and giving me those last moments to wipe one tear from her eye.

As we made plans for the funeral, everything fell into place. When I looked through her Bible to find favorite Scripture verses, I discovered a note from a former class member who talked about how helpful her teaching had been.

Remembering all the fruitful, happy years of her life helped diminish the months of fretting, the weeks of heartbreak. Thank you, Lord. 

The day of the funeral, the minister mentioned that he would use a few verses at the burial site. I hadn’t specified but was thinking about Psalm 23 since I had been blogging verse by verse several weeks ago and had read some of those to Mother. But I hated to say it at the last minute to upset what he had prepared. Wouldn’t you know? He read the 23rd Psalm!

All the way to the end, I saw the hand of God moving and ministering to us.

Though I’m prone to being emotional, I actually did pretty good through all of this. Then this morning (Sunday) in our church service, the pianist and flute player played the most beautiful arrangement of “In the Garden.” Can you believe they chose this old hymn on this particular day? But, as I listened to the beautiful music, the Lord gave me one last remembrance of our time in the garden and a reminder of how “He walks with me and He talks with me” weaving His spirit through my life.

May you watch for Him at work in your life as well.

~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 ~

 

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 ~

 

Peter – One Step Back

Searching His Word

Seeking His Heart

In last week’s blog Peter rose to the top of the list with his comment. (See “Peter – Time to Shine”) This week we see that he’s felt emboldened to overstep his authority and will end up taking a step back.

Jesus begins a new emphasis in His ministry—preparing the disciples for His coming suffering and death. It isn’t what they want to hear and they have a time dealing with it much less accepting it. They don’t want to travel down this road.

                   

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priest, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed (yes, KILLED) and on the third day be raised to life. Matthew 16:21

Peter didn’t want anything to upset the glorious earthly plans he had for Jesus. So Peter, the one who made the great declaration of faith earlier, takes it upon himself to pull Jesus aside and rebuke Him. Yes, Peter rebukes Jesus!

“Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus has infinite patience, but Peter has overstepped his boundaries and this defiance must be quenched. Jesus turns to Peter and says,

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:23

Then Jesus turns to the other disciples and says those hard words.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

What does this mean for us? We want to be mighty men and women in the kingdom work; we want to be bold like Peter, but like Peter we become weak. We overstep or we take a step backward.

                  

I think about those times when I’m in the sauna after water aerobics at the Y. Sometimes there’s a believer among the group who initiates a comment about the Bible or morality or life in general. Often I join right in or sometimes I feel compelled to say something profound, but by the time I have the boldness to say it, the conversation has turned another way. An opportunity lost.

I want to be a brave warrior for you, Lord, but I am weak. Help me to deny myself, my fears, and inabilities and take up the strength that you modeled for us on the cross and follow you.

~ Joyce ~