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 When it becomes tiresome or out of date, one can take it down, put it in a memory box, give it away, or throw it away.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 ~

Matthew – Prophecies

     Eyes to See  

  Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

We’re thinking about my third book, “Eyes to See” (now being published.)

We continue looking for clues about Matthew, his life and thoughts—anything that we can find to help us know the make up of this disciple. 

Last week, we observed that the first thing recorded in his Book of Matthew was the lineage of Jesus , obviously important to him.  Luke also included a lineage. From Abraham to David, the names were the same in both records. But from David on down to Jesus, the names differed. Many scholars believe Luke was tracing the lineage of Mary, while Matthew traced to Joseph. Either way, we see that Jesus was the prophesied “Son of David.”

Speaking of prophesies, we will note today that Matthew includes many fulfilled prophecies in his Gospel.

Matthew is the only one who gives us the story about the Magi coming to Jerusalem asking,

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2

King Herod is rightly puzzled and disturbed by this question. He wonders if this is about the Christ, the Messiah that the people have anticipated for centuries. When he gathers the religious leaders together, he asks where the Christ is to be born.

“In Bethlehem, in Judea,” they replied. Matthew 2:6 [Micah 5:2]

When Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum of Galilee , Matthew quotes Isaiah’s prophecy that the Christ will go to—

. . . Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Matthew 4:15-16 (Isaiah 9:1-2)

Matthew reports about the many people Jesus healed and how this fulfills prophecy.

He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” Matthew 8:17 [Isaiah 53:4]

After Jesus speaks in parables, Matthew reminds us that this is once again a fulfillment of prophecy.

“I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” Matthew 13:35 [Psalm 78:2]

Matthew alone tells of a time when Jesus is using a parable to make a point to the chief priests and elders. After he told the parable,

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.'” Matthew 21:42 [Psalm 118:22,23]

Twelve times Matthew related prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus. He used some thirty other quotations from the Old Testament to support other points. while the other three gospel writers used very few if any.

My point is that undoubtedly, Matthew had a concentrated background in the Holy Scriptures and was smart enough to relate them to Jesus. He wanted to send the message that indeed Jesus was the Son of God, the promised Messiah.

So, you may be asking the question I have asked, “Why did this good Jewish boy become a hated tax collector?”

What else can we learn about Matthew? Next week!

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Matthew – Boring Lineages

    Eyes to See

   Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

Okay, my friends, I’m going to share some behind-the-scenes secrets of “Eyes to See”, soon-to-be published book about Matthew.

I wanted us to see Matthew as the real person he was, to get to know him up close. The problem was, we have very little written in the Scriptures specifically about him, or for that matter, most of the other disciples as well.

I wanted to give background in the first part of the book leading up to the big scene where Jesus approaches Matthew’s tax booth and says,

“Follow me.” Matthew 9:9

Unfortunately for me, we have nothing in Scripture about Matthew’s life before that moment.

But fortunately, in the case of Matthew, we have the Gospel written by him—the Book of Matthew.

So, I searched his writing to see if I could understand more of the man. He began his gospel with a typical Jewish tradition by giving the lineage of Jesus. Lineage was important to the Jews. Over and over throughout the Old Testament, we read of this one who was the son of that one who was the son of the next one. etc. If you saw “Schindler’s List” with Liam Neeson, you may remember how they were careful to keep names of their fellow Jews. 

Matthew’s lineage begins with Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, then down fourteen generations to David. (Remember how Jesus was often called the son of David?) From David to the exile is a another fourteen generations. After the exile, yet another fourteen generations to—

. . . Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Matthew 1:16

Matthew wants to be sure we know that Jesus is the son of David, as prophesied, and is born with a legal Jewish father, even though Joseph is not the birth father.

All these numbers! And in very strict form. Hmm, fourteens are double sevens, the complete or perfect number. Numbers seemed to be important to Matthew.

I know all those “begats” we used to read in the King James version seemed endless. But if you were a student of the Law, these things were important.

Exactly! That’s why I believe Matthew had much study, perhaps in a yeshiva, a school for boys and young men. He seemed Jewish through and through.

In keeping with our previous study of Jesus where he incorporated women into his teachings, parables, and healings, Matthew seems to have captured this concept of including women even in the lineage. Only Matthew records: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and of course Mary. Some of these women were even outside the Jewish camp. Matthew, like his master, Jesus, lifted up these women from a place of shame or lowliness to a place of honor.

What else can we discover about Matthew in his writings? Tune in next week.

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

Tandem Bike Story

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

As we pedal into the new year, I thought this story I resurrected from my files would be a perfect beginning. Enjoy!

The Tandem Bike Story (Author Unknown)

  At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited Heaven or Hell when I die. He was out there, sort of like a president. I recognized his picture when I saw it, but didn’t really know him.

  But later on when I met Christ, it seemed as though life was rather like a bike, but it was a tandem bike; and I  noticed that Christ was in the back helping me pedal.

  I don’t know just when it was He suggested we change places,  but life has not been the same since I took the back seat to Jesus, my Lord. Christ makes life exciting. When I had control, I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points.

  But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, through rocky places, and at breakneck speeds. It was all I could do to hang on! Even though it looked like madness, He said, “Pedal!”

  I was worried and anxious so I asked, “Where are you taking me?” He laughed and didn’t answer, and I started to learn to trust. I forgot my boring life and entered into the adventure. And when I’d say, “I’m scared,” He’d lean back and touch my hand.

  He took me to people with gifts that I needed,  gifts of healing, acceptance, and joy. They gave me their gifts to take on my journey, our journey, my Lord’s and mine. And we were off again. He said, “Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage, too much weight.” So I did, to the people we met, and I found that in giving I received, and still our burden was light.

  I did not trust Him, at first, with control of my life. I thought He’d wreck it, but He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, jump to clear high rocks, fly through scary passages.

  I’m learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places; and I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful companion, Christ. And when I’m sure I just can’t do anymore, He just smiles and says . . . “Pedal!”

Hmm, there’s that matter of trust. It seems that the Lord has had to bring that topic around to me yet again this year. How many times must I relearn? So I turn once again to one of my favorite life verses—

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

Let’s go on a bike ride!

~ 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 ~

Surely Goodness and Mercy

Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

I hope you have enjoyed this study on the 23rd Psalm. As we conclude, we see the loving shepherd bringing in the sheep at the end of the day. He examines each one.

Some have burrs to be pricked or wounds to be tended. The shepherd anoints them with oil, a plentiful, overflowing supply.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

This shepherd shows his goodness daily to his sheep. He demonstrates his mercy for them, truly loves and cares for them.

Jesus, the good shepherd, gave us another aspect of the relationship between sheep and shepherd as they exit the sheep pen each morning. Even if there happens to be two flock of sheep in the pen, the flock will only follow its own shepherd.

“… the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact they will run away from him because they do not know a stranger’s voice.” John 10:3-5

A shepherd names each one? It seems so. He knows them well and they know his voice.

Do you know His voice? Or are there times when you follow what you would like for Him to be saying to you? Is it His idea or yours? 

Sheep recognize their master’s voice because they are with him day and night. Since God is ever-present, we can have that relationship as well. Spending time with our shepherd and “practicing His presence” requires us to be intentional. The more we do, the more we can relax and trust Him.

Jesus also said,

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15

Though David the psalmist did not know Jesus, He looked toward the time when Messiah would come. He said,

Surely goodness and love [mercy] will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

We can be sure of “dwelling in the house of the Lord forever,” because our good shepherd laid down His life for us. A good shepherd indeed.

Update on my mother: She makes some improvements and then regresses. It looks less likely that she will bounce back as well this time. I’m praying for ways to help ease her anxiety over having less mobility and increasing dementia. May she feel the shepherd’s care.

~ 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 ~

 

4 – A Teachable Moment

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Tucked between Jesus’ discussion with the woman of Samaria (2 – The Woman at the Well) and her witness to the townspeople (3 – She Spreads the Word!), Jesus senses the disciples’ response to the woman and takes advantage of a teachable moment. 

You may remember, the disciples had left Jesus there at the well while they went looking for food.

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman.

Never mind the five-husband business, just the fact that he is sitting there talking to a woman (a Samaritan woman) was taboo in their culture.

But no on asked [her], “What do you want?” or [him] “Why are you talking to her?”

They may not have spoken these words, but you can sure bet there were thinking them!

The woman gets up and leaves her water jar behind, because she’s on a mission to tell the townspeople about Jesus.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

They have food on their minds, but Jesus has already been fed by his conversation with the woman and in anticipation of what will happen to the people of the town. 

Jesus tells the men,

“I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

The disciples whisper to each other,

“Could someone have brought him food?”

They are thinking physical food while Jesus has spiritual food on his mind. Jesus launches into this teaching moment in almost parable fashion. Keeping with the food theme, he compares the harvest of the field with the gathering in of believers. Listen up boys!

       

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.” 

Harvest for eternal life! Okay, maybe now they get it—spiritual food. Tie that with the analogy of what they have just done in going to buy physical food. 

“Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” John 4:27-38

They will soon see how this Samaritan woman is in town sowing and Jesus will be reaping the harvest. They will witness perhaps their first Gentile harvest—a task they will be doing after the resurrection for the rest of their lives.

Open my eyes, Lord. Where do you want me to sow the seeds of your love today? Has someone else sown seeds and you’re just waiting for me to harvest a new believer into your kingdom? Open my eyes, Lord.

~ Joyce ~

2 – The Woman at the Well

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Last week, we began the story of the “woman at the well.” (1 – We’re Going Where?) Let’s give her the name Didomi (dee-doh-mee) We left her bragging about her Samaritan well, dug by none other than Jacob himself!

Jesus reminds her that when they drink from this well, they are thirsty again. But the water he gives will spring up into eternal life. They will will never be thirty again. Of course, we realize that Jesus is talking about spiritual water, but she is stuck on physical water.

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to to draw water.” John 4:15

It’s not just the labor of walking to the well that bothers Didomi. Jesus is going to get to the source of her problem, the reason she comes by herself rather than with the other women—shame.  He tells her,

“Go, call your husband and come back.” 

“I have no husband,” she replied. 

All-knowing Jesus pops right back at her,

“You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” John 4:15-18

Didomi is quite astonished that he knows this about her. So what does this sinful woman do? She compliments and changes the subject. Didomi says,

Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place we must worship is Jerusalem.”

Jesus does respond to her comment, but soon turns to a deep truth that spans the ages right down to our very lives.

“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

This moves Didomi to think of the Promised One to come, not realizing that he stands right before her. She says,

“I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” John 4:19-26

Wow, this is significant! Jesus has avoided a direct mention of his Messiahship with others, but to this sinful Samaritan woman, he has openly declared that he is the Christ.

This is one thing that makes this woman special. Next week—another thing that defines her.

~ Joyce ~