Tempting Interruptions

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

You have an assigned task to perform. Maybe it came from the committee you’re on. Maybe it’s a family task you promised to accomplished. Maybe it’s a self-appointed task you doled out.

You’re thinking, “Why did I ever agree to this? I have a million other things to do. I know I’m the one who should so it, but it’s so hard to stick with it.”

Who knows what Jesus was thinking that day as he walked into the desert. He had been on an elevated plane just yesterday—his baptism and the voice of God assuring him that he was the Son of God. All those years of his mother’s miraculous stories were coming to fruition.

He may have thought, “Why, then, has the Spirit led me into this desert?” 

I wonder, what did he do there for forty days and forty nights? Pray, recite Scripture? Meditate, trying to hear a word or a thought from God? Search out places to lay his head at night? Try to find a source of water?

Did God speak to him audibly? Did the Spirit move in his mind and soul to remind him of Godly attitudes? Did he realize this was going to be a fast to prepare him for things that lay ahead? 

Was he coming to realize his fulfillment in the Scriptures? Did God gradually prepare him for the cross? Was he sweating because of the desert heat or because of what he saw on the horizon?

 Jesus would be physically weak without food by now, his energy level at a low ebb. At just such a time, the tempter came to “interrupt” his time with God.

Scripture says the tempter came to him and said,

“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to be made bread.” Matthew 4:3 

Jesus would not dilute this time with God even if his desire for food was at a peak. Just as the Israelites depended on God for the manna, Jesus would depend on God, not on his own supernatural power for his needs. Jesus said,

“It is written, man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:2

Then the devil took Jesus to a high point at the Temple with a 100-foot drop. “Jump off,” Satan said and then, he quoted Scripture—

“He will command his angels concerning you and they will lift you up in their hands . . .” Matthew 4:6

A dramatic fall and being caught in mid-air would certainly attract attention with the many gathered around the Temple. But that wasn’t Jesus’ mission.

“It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Matthew 4:7

Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and declared, “All this I will give you if you bow down and worship me.” Jesus had had enough.

“Away from me Satan! For it is written ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” Matthew 4:10

May we remember Jesus’ example when we are tempted to take short cuts.

~ Joyce ~

Divine Interruptions

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Think of some interruptions in your life. You’re about to sit down with a refreshing iced tea in hand and a child calls from outside, “Mommy, sissy got caught in the dog’s leash and I can’t get her out!” You sigh, set your drink down, and walk out to take care of the catastrophe.

You’re writing your final notes to finish a Bible study lesson and the timer goes off on the oven. Phooey!

You’re about to take a walk in the sunshine. You’ve been looking forward to this all day. Then, you suddenly remember you have a dental appointment.

You’re busy at work, trying to finish a report that is due in the next hour, but your co-workers keep a steady flow of very audible conversations that distract you.

Interruptions! Life is full of them.

Sometimes, they are happy interruptions—a call from a long-time friend, an award you weren’t expecting, a kiss on the back of your neck, a helpful hand with a laborious task. But most of the time we think of interruptions in negative terms. 

And then there are those interruptions that teach us a new thing.

We will follow the book of Mark this month and look at the results of interesting interruptions.

John the Baptist tromped out of the desert claiming to be the forerunner of the promised Messiah. He certainly interrupted the people’s mundane lives.

John  came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Mark 1:4

This was new and strange, but insightful and needed, productive as well.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Mark 1:5

We see the results of this interruption caused the people to face their sin and confess it. The key point is that an interruption in our lives may turn us in a new direction.

At one point, Jesus came to John asking to be baptized. John protested because he knew the Promised One stood before him. Who was he to baptize the Messiah? 

God himself interrupts the scene. When Jesus comes up out of the water,

. . . he saw heaven torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11

How this must have warmed the heart of Jesus. He, the Son, felt the presence of the Spirit, and heard the voice of God himself. It was as though God marked His stamp of approval on Jesus. What a powerful affirmation—a glorious interruption .

Perhaps a new way of thinking can turn us in right directions like those who listened to John’s message. Or maybe we will experience affirmation from God in needed areas of our lives. Be ready. Be pliable. Listen with a trusting heart.

~ Joyce ~  

 

 

Attitudes – Kindness, Gentleness

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Recently, I taught our Sunday Bible study class. We had been studying the Holy Spirit and had a lesson on the fruit that the Spirit desires to produce in us. I realized my fruit branch was lacking in a couple of areas.

Jesus speaks of being connected to the vine. In fact, He spends over half of John 15 with a visual, almost a parable. Picture a thick grape vine with many branches. In his example, he wants us to label the thick vine “Jesus” and one of the branches “me.”

  JESUS

  ME

Jesus said,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

So, I must cling to this main vine (Jesus)—remain in Him, abide, dwell in Him. We know what it is to dwell on a thought. Your mind keeps coming back to that thought over and over. That’s what He wants us to do with Him. Dwell on Him, draw strength from Him, gain wisdom from Him, search for what He desires in us.

There’s a gardener in the parable. We’re to label him “God.”

 God

In your mind, draw a pair of pruning shears in God’s hand.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:1-2

With these thoughts in mind, I looked at the fruit of the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

 I tend to have strong opinions which is fine, but at times, I may express them in a way that negates my good reasoning. I engaged in a discussion with a young family member about tattoos and went on about the disadvantages. It came across with bitterness and heat. I realized that the “gentle” grapes in my cluster were looking pretty drawn up and dry.

Gentleness is not milk toast, “mamby-pamby” behavior. It is strength—but under control, coupled with kindness. So, I wrote a letter to this dear one, giving examples of times when she had painted certain colors or symbols on things but grew tired of them. An emblem may not be as dear to us after ten years. Why not paint it on paper, frame it, hang it on a wall and enjoy seeing it all the time? When it becomes tiresome or out of date, one can take it down, put it in a memory box, give it away, or throw it away. But if it is tattooed on you, it is there forever. 

Well, you get the idea. I apologized for my previous quick words and harsh attitude. Kindness and gentleness goes a long way. It produces plump juicy fruit.

If the Lord has to prune us, it may be time for some self examination.

~ 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 ~

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 ~

 

 

JOY – Mary

Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

Today we will seek to find JOY in Mary’s life. Watch for the emotions she goes through.

Mary has been betrothed to Joseph, but is still living at home with her parents. She is a small town girl from Nazareth. 

For the second time, Gabriel appears. (See Joy – Zechariah and Elizabeth) He says to Mary,

“Greetings, you are highly favored. The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28

As with others who have visitations from angels, Mary is “greatly troubled” by his words. So Gabriel says,

Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. Luke 1:30-33

Oh, my, that’s a lot to take in. She will have a child and he will be great.  Does she understand the other things from hearing her father talk about the throne of David and the house of Jacob?  Is she thinking prestige? Is she feeling honored?

No. I think we can say she is “confused.” She is still stuck on the first thing Gabriel said. Her question?

“How can this be since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

The angel explains,

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35

Does she understand that this is the promised one, the Messiah? Maybe. Maybe not, but it is an answer to her question. (Notice that Gabriel did not reprimand her question as he did with Zechariah. She was not doubting or asking for proof as he did.)

Gabriel goes on to say,

“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:36-37

Mary seems “resolved” at this point. She answers,

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Luke 1:38

Mary has been fearful, troubled, confused, and resolved. What questions plague her now as she is alone again? How will I tell Mama? Will she believe me? And do I even dare tell Papa? What will Joseph think? Will he disown me? Will I be stoned?

Mary travels all the way to Judea to visit Elizabeth. When she arrives, Elizabeth says,

“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is the one who has believed what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” Luke 1:42, 44-45

I believe it was then that the Spirit filled Mary with JOY! She burst forth with a song much like Zechariah. Her words are in Luke 1:46-55.

As we wade through our life emotions, may we come to celebrate the coming of God in human flesh with JOY!

~ 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 ~ 

 

 

 

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 ~

 

 

Life Verses – Acknowledge Me

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

The setting is the late 1970’s. My husband, Jim, had been the Minister of Music at our church for several years, the children were young and all was right with my world. As I mentioned last week, my growing-up family had moved about every two years, so I relished being in this one place for a good while.

Added to that, my parents had decided to move to our city of Somerset, Kentucky. How wonderful that our children would have the joy of seeing their grandparents often.

My world fell apart when Jim said a search committee from another state had called and wanted us to go there to meet with them. We were happy in our present church and had received other calls like this, but Jim reasoned that if we never followed up, we might be missing a new direction God had for us.

Nothing in me wanted to submit to this idea. I struggled for days over this. Then the Lord kept saying in my mind, “Joyce, do you love me?”

Jesus’ conversation with Peter came to mind. Remember, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times. After the resurrection, Jesus pulled him aside one day and asked, 

“Simon, do you truly love me more than these?” John 21:15

Three times Jesus asked that question and Peter was to able to affirm his love and acknowledgment of Jesus—three times

Every time I prayed, that question came to my mind, “Joyce, do you love me more than these?” Do you love the stability, the routine, your parents move more than me?

As I walked down our hall at home, I saw anew the plaque we had on the wall. It simply said, “Acknowledge me.” Of course, I thought of the whole verse.

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

God reminded me that He needed to be included in this process. It took a while, but I finally realized I must not lean on my own understanding and my own desires, but acknowledge him.

So, we made arrangements to go and talk to the committee. We were both torn with how to respond. I felt like we were in an empty room with one door opened this way and another door opened that way, not knowing which door to go through. 

A few days later, the committee chairman called and said their pastor had resigned and they would have to put their energies into looking for a new pastor, so they would have to set the music position aside. 

As you can see, God himself closed one of those two doors, and lessons of submission were taught in the process.

This verse is likely a favorite verse for many of you. I would love to hear how it has impacted your life.

~ Joyce ~