Thankful for Family

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Probably one of the first things we think of at Thanksgiving is to give thanks for our families. Usually, I purposely try to lead people to go beyond family, health, our homes, our church, friends, and all the usual–to move to deeper forms of thanksgiving.

But today, I am thinking of family. In a day when families are being bombarded with divorce, out-of-control teenagers, death of older members, suicidal deaths, abortions, conflict, loneliness, not to mention feelings of isolation because of too much media (computers, iPhones, and the like) or the feeling of too much family in this Covid year, it is possible many are not too thankful for family.

I hope that is not so for you. If you have survived these dilemmas, or have dodged them, then you have much for which to be thankful.

My husband and I are blest to have had parents who went past the 50-year mark in their marriages, giving us a goal for our 50-year mark (and now beyond.) We hope that this in turn has set the pattern for our son and daughter in their marriages. All of us have our challenges as in any relationship, but how valuable it is to have healthy legacies to pass on.

Now I look at our seven grandchildren in this era of family turmoil. As I give thanks for each one, I also pray for God’s protection and guidance as they make their daily choices and form patterns of faith. Their ages are 13, 14, 17, 18, 19 and the two girls are 20. What critical years.

Here they are after my mother’s graveside service. Sorry it’s not a good closeup because they’re all so cute! (Said like a grandmother.)

This year we are beginning a new tradition. We commit to pray every day for the grandchild who is having a birthday in that month. We ask them to tell us three things they would like for us to pray about in their lives. We have done this with five of the seven so far and have two to go. It has been a delight to do this, really focusing in on one of them at a time for a whole month. 

We will likely give their parents a turn as well. We hope this opens the door for them all to mention any prayer concerns throughout the year.

So at this Thanksgiving time, I am truly grateful for this wonderful family God has given me. We’ve had our share of struggles, but God has seen us through and taught us many lessons in the process.

May you find things about your family that bring you to thanksgiving this year.

O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Psalm 30:12

~ 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 ~

Life Verses – The Spirit Intercedes

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Perhaps many of you have gone to the doctor and heard the dreaded C word. If not cancer, maybe another take-your-breath-away word.

We had been watching my husband’s TSA score gradually elevate. Then came the day when the doctor said he had prostate cancer. Jim began searching the treatment options—so many directions, each with their sets of pros and cons. At last, he decided to have it surgically removed.

In my stunned state, I recalled sitting in a Bible class as a young bride long ago, when the teacher asked, “What is your greatest fear?” Immediately, I thought of the devastation I would feel to lose my husband. Those thoughts came again when I faced this possibility.

Obviously, one prays for healing, for the Lord’s will to be done, for strength to go through this valley which ever way it goes, but at some point I just didn’t know what else to pray. It is at that point that I turned to Romans.

. . . if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we need to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:25-26

Jesus spoke often of the Holy Spirit. The disciples had the advantage of being with Jesus, God in the flesh, but after his resurrection, he told them,

“. . . Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:4-5

That same Holy Spirit is at work in today’s believers, ever guiding, ever judging, ever strengthening.

In other times in my life, I have asked or offered directions in which the Lord might lead and finally realized I have no more words. In those times, I must plead for the Spirit to intercede with holy groanings for me.

In my husband’s case, the surgery was successful and there was no spread of the cancer. The cancer was small, but testing showed that it had been a fast growing kind. Thankfully, the Lord led us to take care of it in a timely manner.

We “leaned not on our own understanding, but acknowledged Him.” These verses come around again and again. That’s why I call them “life verses.”

No doubt many of you have experienced a frightening diagnosis and could share verses that have sustained you. Please do that in the comments section so others might benefit.

~ Joyce ~

 

How Majestic Is Your Name

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

During our Sunday morning service, we had three separate prayer thought reminders on the screen followed by a quiet times of prayer. One thought was something like, “While you pray, praise God for who He is, not just for what he has done.”

Hmm, that takes extra thought. It is so easy to fall into thanking Him for a number of things He has done, both in our personal lives and in the world, but just praising Him for who He is requires more. Adoration, we call it. It might start like this—”I love you Lord. I praise you for being…”

I couldn’t help but think once again about David, the shepherd boy of the 23rd Psalm. I imagined him sitting on the  hillside in the evening, the sheep in the fold, the night sky beckoning him to think about the creator of the starry array. He likely said,

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Psalm 8:1 

Majestic. That was the word that came to my mind during our worship service as I began my prayer of adoration.

David goes on to consider how small he is compared to the heavens above him.

When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him. Psalm 8:3-4

 

How insignificant we can feel when we take in a starry night in a wide open location. Or a great wild field. 

My mind goes back to vacation trips as a child when we went to visit Grandpa and Grandma on the farm in Missouri each summer. I realize it wasn’t Disneyland, but I loved those trips—shucking the dried corn to feed the chickens, playing with the kittens when they they came out from under the porch, and taking rides on Grandpa’s tractor. Those were real treats for this city girl.

One day, I would go over to the fence and sing to the cows. They stopped and looked at me. I had an audience! So I sang and sang to them and they stared right back. I smiled with delight.

Sometime during the stay I would walk out to the field and just stand and look at the wheat as it blew in the wind like golden waves. Everything felt spacious and earthy. I could sense God’s presence. It was one a few times in my life when I snapped an imaginary camera in my mind to capture and hold on to a particular moment.

Well, look at me. I didn’t even get to verse 4 and I’ve used up all my self-appointed word count. We’ll get back to David’s hillside wondering next week. Just know that he begins and ends this lovely Psalm with…

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:9   

~ Joyce ~

 

Feeding the 5,000 – Before the Feast

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

We’ve looked at “points of view” coming from the four gospel writers on several happenings in the life of Jesus. When we looked at the feeding of the 5,000, you may remember I said I might want to revisit that exciting day in more detail. That will be our focus for the next few weeks.

What was happening before the great feast? I think it’s always important to get the setting, set the stage so to speak.

At some point in the time line, Jesus heard about John the Baptist’s terrible death. Recall the story. Herod caved when his wife, Herodias, (through her daughter) asked that the head of John the Baptist be brought to her on a platter .

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. Matthew 14:13

What do you do when you have received tragic news? You may want to have the love and support of close friends or family, but, at some point, you may just want to be alone to collect your thoughts and deal with your emotions in private.

My hunch is that Jesus wanted to be alone with God and gather the inner strength he needed from his heavenly Father. Very possibly, Jesus thought about how he, too, would one day come under the cruelty of those in high places.

Think of those times in your life when the weight of tragedy or trying experiences brought you to a low ebb. Perhaps frustrations with a job or the cruelty of unkind words struck the very core of your spirit. Somehow, with God’s help, you managed to continue to function. It is in this kind of human condition, we find Jesus.

Later, when He looks up toward the shore, He sees his disciples who have returned from their ministry tour of the villages of Galilee where he said:

“Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons.” Matthew 10:7-8

He shares in their excitement, glad to see their happy and hear their stories, then he tells them,

“Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” Luke 6:31

After more sharing, He looks at the shore where the crowds are gathering to meet him. I envision him sighing greatly and whispering, “Give me strength, Father.” Then we see his heart.

…as he stepped from the boat, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Mark 6:34

He welcomed them and taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick. Luke 9:11

Jesus moved forward in the strength God gave him—an important lesson for us. For you see, that same power is available to us as we push out alone in out boats to receive healing and inner strength from our Lord. May it be so for us all this week.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Nehemiah – Obstacles

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Nehemiah rallied the wall-building troops with persuasive voice and authoritative demeanor. They divided up the work load and rebuilt side by side, neighbor next to neighbor. Even some from near-by towns came to join the project. 

As always, Satan reached out to overtake the good like a prowling lion. The obstacles began through three antagonists, one north of Judah, a second east of Judah, and a third trouble maker south of Judah, all who came to mock and ridicule.

But Nehemiah stood up to them.

“The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Nehemiah 2:20

The work began, priests and merchants, goldsmiths and commoners all reconstructing together. Once again, the antagonists complained and ridiculed vowing to join together in war against Jerusalem.

Nehemiah got word of their plan. Not to be undone, he posted guards day and night around the workmen. Each workman kept sword, spear, or bow with him at all times. Nehemiah prayed with them and stood by them. He reminded the workers—

“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14

The workers stayed alert and continued their work, but later, instead of trouble from without, trouble started brewing from within. A famine, due to lack of grain, had set up a series of challenges. 

“We are mortgaging our fields, vineyards, and homes to buy grain.” Nehemiah 5:3

“We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields.” Nehemiah 5:4

They complained that their fellow Jews had caused them to—

“…subject our sons and daughters to slavery.” Nehemiah 5:5

Nehemiah again met the obstacle directly. He called together the nobles and officials who had caused this situation and pointed out their lack of integrity. Their guilt was obvious.

They kept quiet for they could find nothing to say. Nehemiah 5:8

Nehemiah followed through by committing them to better practices.

These were only some of Nehemiah’s obstacles, but each time he dealt with them head on.

What a great lesson for us. We all deal with obstacles, things that set us back in some way. A wayward child who is plunging head long into dangerous territory; a health issue that is dragging us down, an aggravating kink in a major project, a gnawing flaw in a relationship. Name your issue.

Have you prayed about it? Have you grabbed the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God? Have you dealt with it head on? That would be Nehemiah’s strategy—not a bad idea!

~ Joyce ~  

 

 

 

  

Nehemiah – Praying Leads to Opportunity

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Last week, we found Nehemiah weeping, mourning and fasting over the devastation of the wall in Jerusalem. Four months later, he continues praying about the matter and senses that God is leading him to do something about the crumbling wall.

There’s a gigantic problem with this calling. Nehemiah is cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia, a high and prestigious position. Only the king could grant such a request and the king’s already listened to complainers back in Jerusalem and commanded that all rebuilding stop. Double whammy! 

Nehemiah faithfully performs his duties to the king, perhaps even serves as an adviser in certain situations. He dare not point blank ask the king for permission to leave for an extended time to build a wall that the king himself  has already put to an end.

It’s hard for Nehemiah to be cheerful everyday when his heart is aching. One day as he serves the king, Artaxerxes asks him,

“Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” 

Fear strikes Nehemiah, nevertheless he draws in a deep breath and takes the plunge. 

“May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad when the city where my forefathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 

There, he said it. He holds his breath wondering how the king will respond. What comes next is more than he could have hoped for. The king asks,

“What is it you want?”

Hardly able to believe how this opportunity has been dropped in his lap, he shoots up one of those quick prayers. You know the ones, “Help me, Lord.” His face is flushed, his breath shallow, but he pushes forward.

“If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city of Judah where my fathers are buried so I can rebuild it.”

“How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” Nehemiah 2:1-6

“Whew!” I wrote in my Bible margin. Have you ever had an opportunity open up suddenly, one you’ve been mulling over for some time? You may have asked, “Is this really happening?”

Keep in mind that Nehemiah has been praying about this for four months. God provided the opportunity and Nehemiah took the plunge!

Oh the things He has for us when we go to Him in earnest prayer.

Can you share one of your aha moments?

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Praising God for Color

Every now and then, I thank God for color.  Have you thought what our world would look like without it?

When our son was six years old, he asked if our activity was something they did in the gray days. I tried to think what he meant by the “gray days.”

Finally, it dawned on me that he had seen older TV shows produced before we had color TV. I realized that he thought everything was shades of gray back then.

I suppose if we never had color, we wouldn’t know to miss it. God didn’t have to create color, but aren’t you glad He did? Color is pleasing to the eye. It enriches our lives. 

Color helps us distinguish one thing from another: “Put the red wire in the red plug, blue wire in blue,” “Take this receipt to the lady over there in the yellow dress,” “Paint white letters on a red sign. It will make your message stand out.”

I imagine the garden of Eden with its shades of green leaves against dark brown trunks and flowers of all shapes and colors.

In biblical days, dyers learned to dip their tunics in vats of boiling water mixed with green grass. Result: light green tunics. They used onion skins for ecru and oil from a certain kind of snail around the Mediterranean Sea for purple. (Hard to come by. That’s why only the wealthy wore purple.)

When God gave instructions about the tabernacle, He called for specific designs and colors.

“Make a curtain of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman. Exodus 26:31

He even told them to make fifty blue loops on the bottom of the curtains on either end. God loves artistic design. Perhaps that’s a part of how we are made in His image—appreciating design and color.

In our day, paint stores have discovered they can add one or two drops of another color and come up with two hundred shades from pastel lime to forest green.

When we are at the beach, I love those cloudless days when the sun shines and the sky radiates the most intense true blue. The sea below mirrors that deep blue. God’s palate at work!

Look for color today. Praise Him for this creative gift to us.

~ Joyce ~

Prayer – Let’s Get Practical

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

It’s time to get practical about our praying.

Do you know what it is to turn everything over to the Lord? Allow Him to have the lead? Relinquish the control to Him? Pray fervently to know His will? 

Have you also experienced times when you took the load on yourself. Worried and stewed over it. Got frustrated, agitated, and consumed with it? Then finally realized you hadn’t even consulted the Lord about it?

Okay, time for a personal confession.

A few years ago, the Lord spoke to me in many concrete ways and lead me down the road of writing. While I had written a few Bible studies, devotions, and scripts, I had not written a book of all things!

Little by little, He kept moving me in that direction and even led me specifically to the Bible character who would star in the first book!

I traveled down that road one mile at a time, not knowing what would be next over the hill or around the bend. I learned dependence on Him, because I felt so inadequate for the task.

Unbelievably, I now find myself 37,000 words into book number three.

However, the writing world includes more than putting words on a page. Research and editing take a huge amount of time.

Next is the task of publishing which can take forever. All along the way, I fervently prayed about next steps, aware of my dependence on the Lord’s leadership.  

Do you hear the “but” coming?

But I came to the third tier—marketing! Whether one has a traditional publisher or a self-publisher, the bulk of the marketing is up to the author. “Get on Facebook,” the conference leaders would say. “Have a blog.” (Okay, it will soon be four years, once a week.)

“Get on other social media. Do interviews, speaking engagements. etc., etc., etc.,” as the King of Siam would say.

Can you tell that this is not my favorite leg of the writing triangle? I have admitted, no, complained of my dislike of marketing to any poor soul who would listen. I have fussed and wrung my hands over and over for months. 

Finally, I realized that I had taken this thing on by myself. It was all up to me. Worse yet, I realized I had not really poured myself out to Him in prayer. Instead of being the last resort, prayer should have been the first thing. When will I learn that lesson?

“But seek first his kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Do not worry about tomorrow.” Matthew 6:33-34 

God has led me not to worry over this right now, but to put my effort into book three about Matthew. In His time, we will deal with the marketing. “Forget the detour,” he said. “Get back on the road.”

That’s my practical application. What has he taught you lately in seeking Him first? 

~ Joyce ~

Prayer – Practicing His Presence

Searching His Word
     Seeking His Heart

Scripture encourages us to:

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face continually. I Chronicles 16:11

We can thank 16th century monk, Brother Lawrence, for coining the phrase, “practicing the presence of God.” I love that thought!

It conjures up the idea of being aware of God’s presence often—definitely when we are praying, especially when we are praying. I admit that, at times, I can verbalize to God but not fully key in with His very presence. Words in the wind, you might say.

It takes discipline to truly be aware of entering His presence as though He is sitting there with you in the room.

It means seeking the very heart of God, crying out to Him in repentance, in fervor, in earnestness  Are we willing to express our anger to Him, our heartache, our desire to know Him and seek  His direction more than our own, to grow in Him and receive nourishment from His vine?

That kind of praying takes work, my friend. It takes concentration. It also takes time.

Time to move from my presence into His presence. Time to talk out loud to Him, to draw up my inmost thoughts, pleas, and concerns. Time to praise and adore him before I jump into the sick list or intercession for those having difficult circumstances.

Time to sit quietly, focus, and… listen. (Oh, the hardest part of all!)

But look at the rest of Brother Lawrence’s phrase, practicing the presence of God.

Practicing means to be very intentional, even through the day—while making the bed, driving to work, walking to the grocery store, preparing to meet a friend, sitting on the bleachers at a ballgame, finding the right words in difficult situations, practicing, practicing his presence.

As Paul urges,

Pray without ceasing. I Thessalonians 5:17

This takes extreme discipline because we normally go through our days thinking about the next thing we have to do, going over our lists, engaging in an activity.

I did a little survey on Facebook this week, asking, “What time and how long do you usually spend on emails and Facebook each day. Most said about 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the evening. One admitted what many of us need to admit—too much time.

Like all things, today’s tools can be used for good, but can also be used to excess.

Maybe social media isn’t your nemesis. There are thousands of other addictions. One way to self-examine is to think, What things are constantly on my mind?  

Is it possible for us to practice the presence of God as naturally as we practice other things? As with all challenges, one step at a time.

I paused just now to pray that some phrase in this blog would stand out to you with flashing neon lights. And I prayed that I would practice what I preach.

Let’s start practicing!

~ Joyce ~