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 ~

Knowing and Being Known

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

I have a friend who was healed from cancer two years ago. She recently had cancer again—inoperable cancer. She has opted to receive no treatment. While making funeral plans, she decided to create a small booklet of devotions from a few of her journal entries. I asked for her permission to use one of these in my blog today.

Yada’ – A Devotional About Knowing and Being Known                                                                                                                                                                                                   “O Lord, thou has searched me, and known me.” Psalm 139:1

When I was a young person, I had a situation in which I prayed to God earnestly and fervently for what seemed forever. One day as I was again praying, I dropped my head in total exhaustion from my repeated pleas to God and his seeming indifference to my plight.

But as I hung my head, something miraculous happened. I felt a warm oily substance being poured over my entire body from head to toe. I could feel it oozing over my body and seeping into every pore, and I knew the substance was “knowing.”

At the time, I did not understand this because “knowing” is a verb not a noun—how could it be something poured? However, “knowing” is what I definitely felt had been poured over me.

Since that day, I have come to realize that the dictionary describes “knowing” as having intimate knowledge of something or someone. The Hebrew word for “know” is “yada'” and it can be translated “to know and be known.”

Looking back on that experience, I realize God was telling me I was known to Him. He had heard my prayers. That day years ago, even if I did not understand fully what was happening to me, I found an amazing peace and joy I had never before experienced.

I never had to repeat my prayer again, because I knew God had heard me and I was in His watch care. I no longer had to fret or plead. And in His time and in His inscrutable way, He eventually answered that prayer.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Psalm 139. It was recently pointed out to me that the word “know” is repeated six times in that Psalm. Perhaps, without realizing it, that is why it is my favorite Psalm. God still speaks to me through the word “know.” 

By Sandy Berry

Psalm 139 reflects that the Lord knows when I sit and when I rise, perceives my thoughts from afar, and before a word is on my tongue, He knows it completely.

The psalm reminds us that God created my inmost being, and knit me in my mother’s womb.

Then the palmist’s plea; Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. Perhaps you’d like to read the whole psalm.

A reminder: the only way we then know Him and His will, His desires for us is to be still, to seek, to listen. 

~ 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 ~

 

 

Slaying Our Giants

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

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 ~

 

 

Gentle Communication

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Recently, I sat at a group table among many other table groups. Our goal—to discuss a certain matter and share opinions and ideas.

I had rather strong opinions about the matter and felt that the presentation was directed in an opposing view to mine. I say this to somewhat justify my reactions, but I have to confess that, in retrospect, I did not particular follow the lesson of Proverbs 15:1—

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

It wasn’t so much that I used harsh words. I stated my opinions with what I believed to be the teachings according to Scripture, but I’m not sure how gently it was received by those who disagreed.

It is said that 35% of our communication skills are in the words we say, but 65% in the way we say them. I think I was feeling pushed in a direction I did not want to go. Hurt people will hurt people. That certainly was not my intention, but I wonder in retrospect if it was indeed what I was doing. Paul encourages us to…

Speak the truth in love. Ephesians 4:15

I think I was speaking out of resentment, not love. I’m generally mild-mannered, but I know I can get pretty tenacious on certain principles at times.

We communicate with so many people in a plethora of situations throughout our week. Sometimes our communications are determined by how we feel physically: tired, sore, aching, rested, or energized.

Communications are also colored by our emotions: happy, at peace, silly, disagreeable, threatened, hurt, or discounted.

Again I turn to Paul’s advice.

Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to every person. Colossians 4:6

Salt seasons. It makes food tastier. It preserves. One can certainly apply that to communication. A little catch phrase I often hear is; be firm, fair, and friendly.

Well, friends, there you have it, my confessions for the day. Perhaps it will help you to consider how you’re communicating this week. Are your answers gentle? Spoken in love? Full of grace and seasoned with tasty, preserving salt? Let’s all work on it!

~ 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 ~

 

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 ~ 

 

Cock Crowing Experiences

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Ever remember a time when you’ve had a moment of truth?

 

I took my grandchildren to a skating rink recently and it dawned on me, I’ll never skate again. Arthritis has made it impossible, definitely not a smart thing to even consider.

Sometimes we have more serious moments of truth, “cock crowing” experiences I will call them.

Several years ago, I lived next door to a lady who I doubted was a Christian. I made a few attempts to be neighborly to get to know her. She was friendly enough, but we didn’t have many interactions. I kept thinking I would be able to develop enough relationship to witness directly to her, but before I knew it, our new house was built and we moved away. I realized our paths would likely never cross again. I lost my opportunity. The cock crowed. 

On a far deeper level, Simon Peter had his moment of truth. He had boldly followed Jesus. At the last supper, Jesus tried to warn the disciples that they would fall away, but Peter pledged his allegiance. Jesus told Peter,

“I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared,

“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Matthew 26:34-35

Peter and the others went with Jesus to the garden. When the the temple guard and religious leaders came for the arrest, Peter drew his sword to protect Jesus and ended up cutting off Malchus’ ear. Jesus rebuked Peter and restored the ear.

In spite of this rebuke, Peter (and John) continued to follow in the shadows when the leaders arrested Jesus and took Him away. All the other disciples fled. Peter even went into the courtyard outside the place where the leaders were questioning Jesus. That should count for something!

But then one of the servant girls questioned Peter. “You are one of his followers, aren’t you?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Denial one.

Later, another questioned him. “I don’t know the man,” he said. Denial two.

Still warming themselves around the fire, another said, “Surely you are one of them. Your Galilean accent gives you away.” Peter called down curses. “I don’t know the man!”

The cock crowed.

Peter’s moment of truth came. Instantly, he remembered Jesus’ warning. Peter went outside and wept bitterly.

We’ve all probably had words we wish we could draw back in. Moments of devastating self-awareness—cock crowing experiences.

Thankfully, Resurrection Day would come. What will Peter do with that? 

~ Joyce ~    

 

Writing – Part 3, A Heart for Truth

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

During the writing of “Ears to Hear,” I intertwined the character of Nicodemus into the plot, but I felt like he had his own story which called for a second book.

We have a little more Scripture about Nicodemus, so with those verses in mind, I pushed forward for round two.

A fun spot for me came in the chapter about Nicodemus’ visit with the spoiled boy next door. This boy reappeared throughout the book and into manhood, becoming a secondary antagonist.

In a dramatically draining chapter, Nicodemus’ father died. He loved his father dearly, as I did my own father. I wept right along with Nicodemus. I wrote this into the story as it was important that he learn from his brother how to prepare a body for burial. Later, Nicodemus would assist Joseph of Arimathea in preparing Jesus’  body.

All through the writing, I had definite high points in mind, but the details fell in place only a little at a time. The characters developed to a point where I anxiously went to the computer each day wondering what would happen next.   

About half of the story was written before I used the first Scripture where Nicodemus had his famous nighttime discussion with Jesus. I approached that scene with fear and trepidation. I felt like I didn’t dare put extra words in Jesus’ mouth. So the night conversation scene came directly from the Bible with a few gestures and positions added. It was a high and holy moment for me.

All through the Nicodemus story, I felt compelled to show him as the staunch, dictatorial Pharisee he likely was, steeped in the law and its practices, but bound to fulfill the words of Jesus—

“…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled…” Luke 18:14

Astute readers might see early in the story that his condescending attitude toward shepherds would be the very thing I could use to bring on his needed humility. He wanted to have a heart for truth, but it would come in a way he least expected, a pathway that would lead him to the Truth Giver, the Good Shepherd.

The burning desire that God placed in my heart from the beginning of this call to write, was to see, and to help others see, that the characters of Scripture are real; they have great abilities, but they also have challenges as we all do.

God wants to lead us, to show us great treasures for the purpose He has for us, but He demands willing hearts. Oh that our hearts might come to Him, prepared for those treasures.

Writing may or may not be the treasure he has for you. However, if you feel a leaning in that direction, I’d like to make you aware of the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference coming up June 21-23 in Elizabethtown, KY. To find out more, go to www.kychristianwriters.com

Meanwhile, as you’ve gathered from previous blogs, I’m working on book three about Matthew, the tax collector.

~ Joyce ~

  

Prayer – Is It a Struggle?

         Searching His Word
               Seeking His Heart

For our new year, let’s talk about prayer.

 In those things-we-need-to-do lists or New Years resolution lists or how-to-be-a-better-Christian lists, we often couple “prayer” along with “studying your Bible” and rightly so.

We know in our heads that prayer is essential to healthy spiritual life. But… like so many things in our lives, we may fail to prayer effectively, regularly, or even pray at all.

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

In other words, our job in His kingdom work is to be fruit bearers, but we can’t bear healthy fruit (or any fruit at all) without abiding or remaining in Him—attached to the vine, our source of strength. While there are many components to drawing our strength from Him, one of the major elements is prayer.

I’m talking to the choir, aren’t I? You know all this. I know all this. It’s just the consistent doing and deepening, isn’t it? Our branch can get so dry, so withered, barely clinging to the vine.

Perhaps your prayer life is fervent and vitally active. Your  branch is plump and full, brimming with fruit because of the way you are communicating with the Father, trusting the Son, and guided by the Spirit. Praise God. Your ministry is alive and active.

Many are coming to know the Savior because of your influence. Your branch is bearing the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness kind of fruit he wants you to have. We rejoice with you.

But some of us struggle either with not having powerful, productive prayer, or remaining faithful in prayer, or praying at all. Life crowds in, activities take priority, or our prayers feel more like duty than joy.

Our “need to” or “want to” has fizzled out.

Quite honestly, when life is moving along at a relatively good pace, we often become slack in fervent prayer. We can become more engaged when we hit those set backs and realize all over again our great need for the Father to intervene.

But unless we are “prayed up” as some like to say, we may be at a loss as to how to get reconnected to the vine. When catastrophe comes, we end up with “if You will do this, I’ll do that” kind of prayers.

When we have tasted deep, agonizing prayer: jubilant, victorious kind of prayer, or cleansing, life-changing, tear-producing kind of praying, we know what we’re missing and want it again.

So this month, let’s explore where we are, where we can be, and how to get there. I would greatly appreciate your input, testimonies, and questions as we focus on growing our branches through prayer.

   ~ Joyce ~