Praising God for Smell

For you coffee drinkers, there’s nothing like the aroma of your morning coffee percolating. Even for a tea drinker like me, I enjoy the smell of coffee.

What about trying to sell your house? You know that having a batch of just-baked chocolate chip cookies lures the buyers in.

When I have friends for dinner, I like to have a casserole in the oven that contains onion. M-m-m, a wonderful smell to welcome guests.

Just like color (Praising God for Color) and texture (Praising God for Texture), smell is a creative gift from above.

Don’t you love the smell of chocolates when you open that Valentine heart box?

From the Bible, you may remember that Issac lost his sense of sight in his old age. He was about to give his last blessing upon Esau, his favorite son, but Rebekah wanted the blessing bestowed on her favorite son, Jacob.

In order to trick Issac, she covered Jacob with animal skin both for the feel (Esau was hairy) and for the smell because Esau was a hunter.

Issac was suspicious because the voice sounded like Jacob. Issac also questioned how he had found the animal so quickly. He felt Jacob’s hands which were hairy like Esau’s. But the thing that finally persuaded him that Jacob must be Esau was when Issac caught the smell of his clothes. He said,

“Ah the smell of my son is like the smell of the field that the Lord has blessed.” Genesis 27:27

Of course we have unpleasant smells as well—broccoli cooking on the stove, bathroom odors, or a burnt pan. Boy, is that a bad one to get rid of!

Some bad smells can serve as a warning, like that burnt pan or the smell of smoke; they alert us to danger. Smelly milk or a rotten potato yells at us to throw it out!

When Jesus wanted to open Lazarus’ tomb, Martha worried about the smell of a four-day corpse. That was the reason they put myrrh, aloes, and other spices around the dead. Remember how the women were anxious to get to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning?

We are told as authors that the most powerful sense for us to include in our writings is the sense of smell. It immediately conjures up memories for people—chicken noodle soup, Vick’s Salve on your chest as a child, walking outside after a spring rain, your father’s aftershave, a dank, dark, musty basement, the smell of a baseball glove (and dirty socks to go with it), a dozen roses, hot dogs roasting over a campfire.

Such a variety of smells that define our world. I hope you have a whiff of something good today! Be intentional about thanking Him for the variety you experience.

~ Joyce ~  

 

Praising God for Texture

Have you ever walked into a fabric store or dress shop and found yourself touching the fabrics as you walk by? You may have subconsciously sized it up—bulky, thick, nubby, stiff, or silky, smooth, soft, luxurious.

Have you ever had a child who wouldn’t eat a particular food? You decide it’s not the taste or even the color but the texture that turns him off. Too gooey, too sticky, too soft, too hard, too lumpy, who knows what.

But aren’t we glad for the interesting textures of foods? Crispy crackers, chips, and cereals. Sticky honey and caramel. Soft mashed potatoes, applesauce, and cooked broccoli. Thick meats, course breads, smooth ice cream with chunky chocolate chips.

When I wrote about color last week, I thought about people who are blind. How sad that color is something they can’t appreciate. But texture, now that’s something they can truly relish! In fact, that’s how many blind people read, through braille. They can feel their way across the raised letters. (A texture that reads!)

We can all appreciate the roughness of a tree trunk, an elephant, or a brick wall. 

We love to touch a velvety, soft puppy or the contrasting blades of grass where he lies.

We have texture on our bodies—rough knees and elbows, smooth tummies and palms. When our hands get rough from overworking or winter winds, we know it’s time for hand lotions.

What about the wonderful texture of water? We clean ourselves with it and drink it to quench our thirsts, and play with it in a pool or tub. There is something lovely about moving your arms or legs through a body of water. It is a texture as old as God’s beginnings.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the watersGenesis 1:1-2

He went on to create a million kinds of trees, plants, and vegetation as well as animals in many textures. Scales for fish, feathers for birds, shells, skins, and furs for animals, mostly for function. We have built upon God’s creative ideas and brought about a myriad of other textures to use and enjoy and touch in our world. 

As a musician, I relish in the texture of musical sounds.

Speaking of texture, did you notice the tree branches covered with ice yesterday? God’s crystal trees!

Watch for texture today. Be aware of this blessed creation. Don’t forget to praise Him for it! 

~ 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 ~

Prayer – What Doth Hinder Thee?

  Searching His Word
     Seeking His Heart

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… Hebrew 12:1

Nothing delights our enemy, Satan, more than entangling us. Sometimes he does this through devastating circumstances—anything that overwhelms and brings on worry, stress, or fear.

The more dramatic, the better.

Most of the time, however, Satan is far more subtle. It is his specialty.

As I was led to write today’s blog, I felt an oppressive heaviness. I usually do my first draft on Sunday, but each time I started to sit down to write, something else took my attention. 

I’ve been reading a wonderful little book by Robert J. Morgan called “The Red Sea Rules.” He traces  the Israelites’ journey from the pillar of cloud to the Red Sea and through to the other side. The book provides “ten God-given strategies (or rules) for difficult times.” 

Rule #3 is “Acknowledge your enemy, but keep your eyes on the Lord.” Satan is likened to a serpent in Genesis 3, a bird in Matthew 13, a wolf in John 10, a lion prowling around in I Peter 5, and a dragon in Revelation 12.

As if to emphasize that point to me, the Lord led a blogger friend to include in her writing this week that very verse from I Peter 5:8 about Satan being like a lion prowling around to devour us. 

Our job is to be aware of him, but to put our focus on the Lord. How?

The next day I turned to another chapter—Rule #4 Pray!

We must practice continuous, fervent prayer—even when things are going well (especially when things are going well), for we can be lulled into passiveness, one of Satan’s favorite tactics. 

The author quotes seven verses that each use the word “earnest.” My favorite:

The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16 (NTL)

Or if you prefer: The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (KJV)

Interestingly, the Greek for both “effectual” and “fervent” have to do with working diligently. Therein is the key, I believe. We must work fervently in our praying until it becomes as natural as breathing. I confess I am still at the working stage.

Satan is delighted when we aren’t working at all!

While my husband and I are away from home right now, we visited a church Sunday. The pastor spoke about how the Israelites forgot their need of God’s presence.

Then I read a subscriber comment from my blog last week—”Life and laziness crowd in and Satan does a happy jig when I fail to take time to pray.”

That was the final push the Lord gave me to go ahead with this blog.

What was hindering me? That old serpent, the dragon of Revelation. But, while earnestly seeking the Lord, He gave me Scripture verses, a devotional book, reinforcement through a friend’s blog, a pastor’s sermon, and a comment from one of my subscribers.

He does things like that when we are fervent in prayer.

Get thee behind me Satan!

~ 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 ~   

 

 

 

What Are You Looking For?

              Searching His Word
                          Seeking His Heart

As you begin a new year, what will you be looking for? Will your eyes be open for new ideas or challenges the Lord might put in your path?

I think about the magi who came from the east to find the Christ child. I have so many questions about them. Who were they? From what part of the “east” did they come? How did they know about a newborn baby, particularly a king of the Jews? Why did they even care—care enough to make the long trek probably through desert to find him?

In studying different scholarly ideas, the ones that make the most sense to me is that these magi were more like scientific astrologers who made serious study of the stars. Since they had knowledge of Jewish ways and awareness of the prophecy of a coming Messiah, it seems reasonable that they may have been descendants of those who knew the captured Jews who brought to Persia in Daniel’s day.

One thought is that they knew the names of Jewish constellations that represented things like the Lion of Judah or a constellation that represented the righteous one, the Virgin, or the Lamb. Perhaps they had come to recognize these and noted their locations in the heavens.

Perhaps, before the birth of Jesus, the magi began to notice a change in location of these constellations. They were moving closer to each other. Finally, one one night, they had joined together to form one bright star. Putting all this together, they surmised that this meant the promised Messiah had been born.

The main point here is that they faithfully watched and anticipated. So sure of this, they decided to make the trip to Israel to find the child, even worship him.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2

As they discover that the prophecy says Bethlehem is the designated place of birth, they head that way and are delighted to see the star appear to them once again. Such an affirmation.

They eventually find the one they have been looking for. By this time, he is a child not a baby. He is found in a house not a manger. Their first inclination is to fall down and worship him.

All of this happened because they were looking, studying, thinking about the signs given them by God.

I ask my question again. What are you looking for? If we are serious about God’s leadership in our lives, we must be looking, searching for His signs, seeking His heart. And that, my friends, is why I offer this blog to you each week, that you might join me in 

Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart.

May it be so for us all. Happy New Year!

~ Joyce ~

 

Mary – Nothing Is Impossible

          Searching His Word
                 Seeking His Heart

When God gives us what feels like an impossible task, He also gives us encouragement, assurances, even something visible or concrete.

Gabriel gave Mary the message that she was honored by the Most High (God) and that she would bear His son. Here comes the encouragement from Gabriel…

“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.” Luke 1:36

Here comes the assurance (and a promise), 

“FOR NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.” Luke 1:37

What a promise for Mary.

Next comes her response. We can see the reason she was chosen—humble surrender to God’s will.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38

We can’t be sure of the timing, but at some point Mary left to go to the hill country to visit her relative, Elizabeth (maybe an aunt.) Hear Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary. 

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Luke 1:42-44

To see Elizabeth, very pregnant, and to hear her words when she entered the house were the visible, concrete signs Mary needed.

Hear a few of Mary’s words as she breaks forth in praise.

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. Luke 1:46-47

Later in in her song of praise, she says,

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. Luke 1:52

Mary is not boasting of being “humble,” she’s acknowledging that this great thing the Lord has done in her has been done to a nobody, an insignificant peasant girl, not the seed of an earthly king. With God, nothing is impossible!

I remember when God called me to write about lesser-known Bible characters. I thought, “How can I do this? I’m not a seminary graduate or even an author.” But the call to the task was very clear through more than enough signs. Half-way through the first book, I thought again, “Who do I think I am to complete this task, but He reminded me, “You can’t,” but with God nothing is impossible.

The task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.

May you joyfully celebrate with Mary and the angels and the shepherds as we all give praise that our Savior became “God with us.” And whatever task He calls you to do this next year, remember He will encourage you along the way for nothing is impossible with God. 

~ Joyce ~

Mary – Me?

         

         Searching His Word

                    Seeking His Heart

Before the Christmas birth story in Luke 2, we find the back-story of Mary in Luke 1.

The story unfolds at a time when her relative, Elizabeth, is in the sixth month of pregnancy. We are given a short introduction to Mary. 

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name is Mary. Luke 1:26-27

So, we know that Mary lives in Nazareth, is engaged to Joseph, and is still a virgin. It is important that Joseph is a “descendant of David” because the prophecy proclaims that the Messiah will come through the line of David.

Gabriel speaks,

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

I picture Mary alone in her house doing something mundane like cutting up vegetables. To have anyone suddenly appear in your house would startle you, but when that someone is angelic (perhaps emanating light), it can be downright frightening. But more than his presence, it was his words that concerned her most.

Mary was greatly troubled by his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” Luke 1:29-30

Imagine how overwhelmed you would be if an angel came to you and said you had found favor with God. You might question why and feel so unworthy. Me? What have I done to deserve this. Mary might have thought, “I’m just a common Jewish girl.” Gabriel piles on more amazing words.

“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 reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:31-33

Whoa, slow down, Gabriel. This is more than a girl can take in! Her response lets us know that she stopped hearing his message after “give birth to a son.” She asked,

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

Graciously, Gabriel explains in more detail how this will be.

“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

Has the Lord ever given you a task, a task you feel is beyond you? He specializes in doing things like that. You see, if it is a task we can easily do, then we don’t have to depend on Him. Every now and then, He “honors us” with an assignment that goes beyond ourselves, one in which we must trust Him. 

Next week, we will look at one of the choice promises that comes out of this account with Mary.

~ Joyce ~