Strength from the Pasture

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Do you have those days when you are bone tired? You feel exhausted. The to-do list just keeps getting longer.

In retrospect, I look back on my life and it seems that’s the way it has been for as long as I can remember. If I can just get through this unit of study, then I can breathe again. If we can just get through the terrible twos… Once this program is over… As soon as this event is past… There always seems to be that “next thing” looming ahead.

(I’ve been in the process of preparing to move my mother to her new memory care home this past Monday. It has been exhausting, physically and emotionally.)

Then there are those ongoing tasks with extras added, and you come home and collapse under the weight of it all. That’s where I was last week. Surely I’m not the only one who goes through these phases.

I sat down in my recliner, pushed back and was too tired even to cry.

I thought about all those powerful words Sarah Young pours over me every morning in her daily devotional book, “Jesus Calling.” I pondered the encouraging words I write to you week by week and think, “Where is your strength, Joyce?”

About that time, the Lord brought to my mind a beautiful pastoral setting. I was on a grassy hill, sitting beside David, looking out at grazing sheep. David reminded me that, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I have no need to be stressed and filled with anxiety. I have no need to want for anything. 

In my imagining, I looked over to see a stream of water running steadily over a rocky ravine, gurgling gently as it flowed. The sheep settled in, one by one, for their afternoon naps, completely given over to the care of their shepherd. David whispered to me, “The Lord is my shepherd.” 

I closed my eyes in my recliner and smiled. Yes, He’s my good shepherd, too.

I guess you know that next week, we’ll have a look at Psalm 23.

Sweet grazing my friends.

~ Joyce ~

Victory in Jesus

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Last week we saw Martha, our lady who suffered fatigue from her years of dealing with a blood disease. (See “Worn-out Lady“)

She has gathered her strength and is determined to touch Jesus’ cloak, convinced that even a touch will heal her.

Unfortunately, the crowd is particularly heavy this day. The synagogue ruler has just come to beg Jesus to go to his daughter who lies dying at his house. As Jesus walks that way, the crowd presses in close to him.

This could be her opportunity to reach in and touch him unnoticed, but does she have the strength to push through? She weaves her small, weak frame in and around the people, struggling to keep up.

At last, she sees an opening and thrusts her hand forward to touch the back of his cloak. She stumbles and almost falls, but someone lifts her up and away. Martha can feel an unfamiliar strength, surge through her body. The fatigue has left her. She feels energy she has not known in twelve years!

Just then, Jesus stops and those around him slow to a pause.

At once, Jesus turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched me?” You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you asked, ‘Who touched me?'” Mark 5:30-31

But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Luke 8:46 

As far as I know, this is the only place in Scripture where we read of Jesus saying that power has gone out of him. No doubt, that was often the case when He healed. 

Well now, Martha is in a pickle! She is thrilled with her healing but frightened to have been caught.

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” Luke 8:47-48

Oh, my friends, that’s what He wants to do in times when we feel frazzled and weak, in our times of overworked busyness and fatigue. Go to Him in concentrated prayer, seek His presence, reach out and touch the hem of his garment and then, bask in the renewed spiritual energy that He gives, that you may… Go in peace.

~ 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 ~  

 

 

 

  

Peter – One Step Back

Searching His Word

Seeking His Heart

In last week’s blog Peter rose to the top of the list with his comment. (See “Peter – Time to Shine”) This week we see that he’s felt emboldened to overstep his authority and will end up taking a step back.

Jesus begins a new emphasis in His ministry—preparing the disciples for His coming suffering and death. It isn’t what they want to hear and they have a time dealing with it much less accepting it. They don’t want to travel down this road.

                   

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priest, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed (yes, KILLED) and on the third day be raised to life. Matthew 16:21

Peter didn’t want anything to upset the glorious earthly plans he had for Jesus. So Peter, the one who made the great declaration of faith earlier, takes it upon himself to pull Jesus aside and rebuke Him. Yes, Peter rebukes Jesus!

“Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus has infinite patience, but Peter has overstepped his boundaries and this defiance must be quenched. Jesus turns to Peter and says,

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:23

Then Jesus turns to the other disciples and says those hard words.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

What does this mean for us? We want to be mighty men and women in the kingdom work; we want to be bold like Peter, but like Peter we become weak. We overstep or we take a step backward.

                  

I think about those times when I’m in the sauna after water aerobics at the Y. Sometimes there’s a believer among the group who initiates a comment about the Bible or morality or life in general. Often I join right in or sometimes I feel compelled to say something profound, but by the time I have the boldness to say it, the conversation has turned another way. An opportunity lost.

I want to be a brave warrior for you, Lord, but I am weak. Help me to deny myself, my fears, and inabilities and take up the strength that you modeled for us on the cross and follow you.

~ Joyce ~

 

What Color Is Faith?

 

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Faith. How many sermons, how many lessons or studies have you had on on this subject?

The usual definition of faith is given in Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen. (KJV)

Or if you prefer:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (NIV)

So we could say there is that element of “hope” where faith is concerned, not just wishing but hope that is sure and certain. Now to the question in the title—What color is faith? Let me ask you this—what color do you see here?

Blue of course, but as you see there are different shades of blue—navy, aqua, true blue, sky blue. So it is with shades of faith. Hope is one shade of faith.

When Moses and the children of Israel were in the desert, they had an episode of victory over an enemy. The victory went to their heads and they felt emboldened to complain (as did their forefathers) about the manna, Gods’s very provision for them. Not only that:

…the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Numbers 21:4-5

Direct blaspheme against God could not be tolerated. God chose to send venomous snakes among them. When the snakes bit the people, many died. Finally, they came to Moses and confessed that they had sinned. They said,

“Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” Numbers 21:7

Moses did pray and God asked Moses to do a strange thing.

“Make a snake and put it on a pole; anyone who has been bitten can look at it and live.” Numbers 21:8

Strange. Making images of people or animals had been strictly forbidden. This required great faith on their part and trust that Moses had this thing right.

Ah, another shade of faith, namely “trust.” Sure enough, if they were bitten, Moses lifted up the bronze snake and if they looked at it, they lived.

Fast forward centuries later to a night when Jesus had a private conversation with Nicodemus, the Pharisee. In the conversation, Jesus said, 

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, [that detestable, deadly snake] so the Son of Man must be lifted up, [on that detestable, deadly cross] that everyone who believes  in him [truly looks toward him in faith] may have eternal life. John 3:14-15

Thus the deepest shade of faith—belief. And Jesus offers, not just life from a snake bite, but eternal life. 

So there’s our shades of faith—hope, trust, belief. In keeping with our recent theme of gazing, not just glimpsing at God, I leave you with another quote from Tozer:

“We learn that faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God.”

~ Joyce ~

 

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

As I write this, my husband and I are having a get-away 50th anniversary celebration in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One feels a certain serenity in these beautiful Smokey Mountains, a sense of the majesty of our great Creator. 

We came here several times through the years and often brought youth groups to conferences. Now here we are—full circle. We tend to reminisce on such occasions. I’ve considered how faithful the Lord has been to us in these years through many productive times and in those difficult life challenges.

Great is thy faithfulness, oh God, my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee.

Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not. As thou hast been, thou forever will be.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

I came across an article the other day that so fit this topic. It came from the Glendale Star (a newspaper, I presume.) When I picked it back up, I smiled when I saw where it took place. Note the location.

A small congregation in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains built a new sanctuary on a piece of land willed to them by a church member.

Ten days before the new church was to open, the local building inspector informed the pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building. They would not be able to use the new sanctuary until the church doubled the size of the parking lot.

Unfortunately, the church had used every inch of their land except for the mountain against which it had been built. In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move the mountain behind the church.

Undaunted, the pastor announced Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain-moving faith.” They would hold a prayer service asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to provide enough money to have it paved and painted before the dedication service.

That evening 24 of the 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for three hours.

We’ll open next Sunday as scheduled,” said the pastor. “God has never let us down before, and I believe He will be faithful this time, too.”

The next morning there was a loud knock on the pastor’s study door. When he opened the door, a rough-looking construction foreman appeared.

“Excuse me, Reverend, I’m from the construction company over in the next county. We’re building a new shopping mall and need some fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? We’ll pay for the dirt and pave the area free of charge, if we can have it right away.

The little church was dedicated the next Sunday. There were far more members with mountain-moving faith on opening Sunday than there had been the previous week.

~ Joyce ~

God So Loved

Today we conclude Nicodemus’ night time discussion with Jesus. Jesus has been discussing the Spirit and now he turns to the subject of belief, namely belief in Jesus as, not just the Son of Man, but also the Son of God. Jesus refers to an Old Testament event where the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and were bitten by poisonous snakes. To save the people’s lives, Moses lifted up a bronze serpent. If they looked at the serpent they lived. Jesus uses this as an illustration of how he will be lifted up (on a cross) not just for life here, but also for eternal life through him.

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  15 that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.    John 3:14-15

Nicodemus probably doesn’t equate the idea of being “lifted up” with crucifixion at this point, but Jesus goes on to say one of the most memorable verses in the Bible. Connect verse 15 to verse 16 and you will understand the word, “For”.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.   John 3:16-17

My pastor summarizes that powerful verse like this, “God loved. God gave. If we believe, we receive.” It is a picture of God’s mercy to us—we who are undeserving. By contrast, the next verse demonstrates God’s justice.

18 Whoever belives in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.   John 3:18

It is not complicated. Believe, receive eternal life. Don’t believe, receive condemnation (eternal death.) Nicodemus must still have a blank look or a frown on his face because Jesus once again illustrates with one of his favorites—light and darkness. Why does a child go off in the darkness to do his bad deeds? Because he doesn’t want anyone to see what he’s doing, of course. Jesus compares himself to the light and evil to the dark.

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.   John 3:19-20

Jesus is the essence of light—truth, God’s righteousness, wholeness, deep abiding joy. If we follow that light and walk in that light, our good deeds will not be of ourselves. Instead, it will be His light shining through us. It is as if Jesus is telling Nicodemus, “You have come to seek the truth about me. Trust me, Nicodemus. Believe in me, Nicodemus.”

21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.  John 3:21

This is a key, culminating, convicting thought for Nicodemus. Much of what he does is driven by the desire to be seen upright in the eyes of men. It is a defect that Jesus often criticized in the Pharisees. Jesus knows that Nicodemus needs a change inside of him. Only the Spirit can make that change, but Jesus must also see that Nicodemus desires to know the truth. Look how many times he mentions it.

3 In reply Jesus declared, I tell you the truth…

5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth… “

11 “I tell you the truth… “

21 “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light…”

Jesus must have seen a man who was struggling deep in his soul and a man who wanted to know the truth. Thus the title of my book—A Heart for Truth. At this point, we have no indication that Nicodemus has made any commitment yet, but his mind has been stretched. Jesus has planted seeds of truth in his heart. Next week, we move to another incident with Nicodemus.

Joyce