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 ~

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 ~

 

 

 

 

 

1 – We’re Going Where?

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Let’s visit just one more unnamed woman in the Bible. Her location will probably spark your memory of her and her story.

Jesus and the disciples had been to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were heading back to Galilee, but the disciples noticed that Jesus wasn’t veering the right direction. 

I love the way comedian, Grady Nutt, once told this story. He said, “They were walking along trying to steer Jesus to the east toward the Jordan River, but Jesus, wiping the smile off his face, said, ‘No, we’re going through Samaria,’ ‘We’re going where?’ they protested. And Jesus kept heading due north.”

They may not have said it, but I’m sure the disciples were thinking, “We never go through Samaria!” Judean and Galilean Jews always went around Samaria, never through. For one thing it was always cooler down by the banks of the river and not as rough and rocky, but truth be known, they detested the Samaritans and the feeling was mutual. Regardless, off they went and by noon, they were hot and hungry.

So they came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. [noon]

         

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into town to buy food.) John 4:5-8

Oh my, there are all kinds of faux pas to this scene. Samaritan versus Galilean, a man talking to a woman in public, and asking for a drink from the jar which she will touch! Besides that, she’s out here alone, not with the other women. Sounds suspicious. 

She doesn’t back down and asks why a Jewish man would ask a Samaritan woman for a drink. Jesus answers,

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10

She tries to have one up on him as her pride takes over. She declares her Hebrew roots to be greater than his.

“Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” John 4:11-12

Ah, but one can’t rely on Jewish heritage.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Eternal life. Now the subject is getting heavier. How will this “woman at the well” react? Next week, we’ll give her a name.

~ Joyce ~

What Do We Learn?

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

So what do we learn from the four-part story we’ve had of the unnamed woman caught in the act of adultery?

I named her Aphiema (forgiven) and gave an enhancement of her story.

We don’t know that there was such a character as Mark, who indulged in promiscuity, was spurned, and set a trap, but it stands to reason that the scene was conveniently set up in some way. It would be unlikely that these Pharisees just happened upon a couple in the act of adultery.

This is one of many times the religious leaders sought to trap Jesus, only to be caught in their trap. (Hmm, maybe another series—Setting Traps for Jesus.) Does this incident show that Jesus thinks adultery is okay? Absolutely not! He urged her to leave her life of sin. Is he saying they no longer need to follow the Mosaic laws? No. He said,

“Do not think I have to destroy the law or the Prophets. I have come not to destroy them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17

He took it a step further.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ But I tell you anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27

I believe Jesus’ mission in this incident was not to dilute the sin of adultery, but to show the leaders their own sin, the sin of judging.

It’s always been a puzzle as to what Jesus was doing when he “wrote on the ground with his finger.” Was he just biding his time while they thought about his question? Some have offered that he might have been writing some of their sins in the dirt—pride, gossip, lust, rage, etc. 

“If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” John 8:7

You may remember that adultery was what Joseph assumed about Mary when he learned she was “with child.” He cared about her and didn’t want her to have the penalty of stoning. Before the angel assured him that the Spirit of God had brought this to pass, he already had decided to sign divorce papers, but not have her judged publicly and stoned.

Stoning was in the Mosaic law. Was Jesus putting an end to stoning? There’s no record of Christ followers stoning.

Sin is rampant in this story. The sin of the woman and the sin of the unseen man; the sinful desire of the religious leaders to trap Jesus and the way they used the woman. As always their sense of judgment always overpowered any sense of mercy and grace. Another lesson for us.

Oh Lord, help us to accurately identify sin that we tend to overlook in our society today. “Tolerance” often sets the stage for increased sin. At the same time, let us temper harsh judgmental attitudes with mercy and grace as you taught us.

~ Joyce ~

 

A Trap Envisioned – Part 2

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

As we read Scripture, we don’t always think about all the people involved. Last week, (Gone Astray – Part 1) we left Mark making excuses to his wife and meeting, yet again, with a former lover. After their romantic evening, he was about to leave for home.

“Our time together should be worth something, don’t you think?” Apheima hinted.

Puzzled, Mark frowned. “Worth something?”

“Well, you wouldn’t want your wife to know about these little get-togethers, now would you? Three denarii should take care of things.”

“Why, you little slut…”

“Uh, uh, let’s be careful. Your precious elders at the Temple would be very disappointed in you.”

Mark’s temper flared, but he could see that he had been trapped. He juggled some coins from his money pouch and threw them on the floor as he stormed out.

How dark the night felt as he shuffled his way home—dark as the sin that hung on his shoulders. But more than shame, he felt anger. How dare her trick me in such a way. She will regret this. His mind raced as he tried to think of forms of retaliation, but his thoughts were merely a jumble of revenge with no clear action.

The days wore on. Mark made it a point not to see Apheima again. The money may have taken care of the threats but not his bitterness.

Two weeks later, as Mark came near the Temple, several Pharisees were discussing the preacher from Galilee who had gained quite a following with the people. The leaders had questioned him on numerous occasions, but every time the religious leaders set up a verbal trap, this Jesus caught them instead, making them appear weak and incompetent.

The next day, Mark observed the teachings of this intruder to the city.

Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them… You have heard it said, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement… You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:17, 21-22, 27- 28

The intent of Jesus’ teaching went right over Mark’s head. Instead, the wheels began spinning in his mind until he had concocted a perfect plan.

Hmm, what is the plan? Stayed tuned next week for the plot to thicken! 

~ 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 ~

 

 

Worn-Out Lady

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Do you ever feel worn to a frazzle? Coming and going with way too much activity. Or responsibilities reaching mountainous heights?

I think back to when I was younger. I would grab my little girl by the hand and hoist my eighteen-month old on my hip and out the door we’d go to some activity at church.

I taught the youth on Sunday night and directed the children’s choir on Wednesday night, while supporting my Minister of Music husband in a myriad of other activities. Of course, there’s groceries, meals, cleaning, and the list goes on.

Maybe you’re into raising older children, working outside the home, plus community, church and home responsibilities.

Or you may be where I am now—old! Dealing with health issues for myself and for an aging mother and still, after all these years, trying to reduce added activities—all worthy—but asking, Lord, what’s the ones YOU want me to do?

Maybe you’re caring for a loved one and having caregiver fatigue.

This week, our unnamed woman, is probably a young. I’m guessing 24-ish. She’s likely single and definitely suffering from the fatigue of caring for her own physical needs. Her disease causes non-stop bleeding.

One week a month is do-able, but ongoing for years is quite another thing. Even worse is the fact that she would be considered religiously unclean. According to the Mosaic law, others could not lie on a bed where she has been or sit where she sat or touch anything she has touched. She is unclean. Almost like a leper!

She’s spent what money she has on seeing many doctors through the years, but instead of improving, she’s getting worse.

Without a name, we call her “the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.” Let’s name her Martha. Martha means lady. This woman was more “lady” than she wanted to be.

…[she] had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. Mark 5:25

Therefore, no one wanted to be around her. It seems she’s been abandoned by her own family. Perhaps the only reason she can manage to move through this crowd is because they don’t know her.

She’s obviously heard of Jesus and the miraculous way he has healed many people. “Martha” figures…

“If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Mark 5:28

Jesus can heal us in many ways. It may not be a bleeding disease, but if we suffer from fatigue of any kind, we can seek our Lord’s healing power. We must pursue Him with diligence as Martha did. Reaching out, seeking His will, touching His presence. May it be so for us all.

Next week—the results.

~ Joyce ~

God With Us

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Last week we looked at the name Bethlehem. (See “House of Bread“) We discovered that “beth” means “house of.”

Today, consider the word Immnauel. We see the two letters at the end, “el” meaning God. Turn it around and we have “God – with us.”

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23

Let’s look at Mary and Joseph’s story before this great declaration is given. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and reveals; 

“You have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” Luke 1:30-31

 “How can this be,” she asks. The answer? “By the Holy Spirit.”  

Later, Joseph discovers that she is “with child” and knows he is not the father. Joseph doesn’t buy the story and is ready to divorce her quietly. As he sleeps, an angel appears to him in a dream and assures Joseph that this is all in God’s plan.

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, for what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:20-21

I can imagine that once Mary and Joseph are together, they surely share their stories of the two angel visitations. One may say to the other, “I was told to name the child Jesus.” Wide-eyed, the other might say, “I was told the very same thing.” Tears must have come to their eyes with this realization that they have had yet another confirmation of the God’s work in their lives.

We refer to Jesus by many names – Savior, King of Kings, Son of God to name a few. Matthew reminds us of another—Immanuel. Remember the “el” at the end which means God. Look at the verse again.

“…and they [the people] will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23

“God with us.” Can anything be better than that? Not God up in heaven. Not God out there somewhere, but God with us.

In Joseph and Mary’s day, the name would be synonymous with Messiah or the Promised One. The promise is quoted in Matthew, but comes straight out of Isaiah. We recognize it as God Himself coming in the earthly form of his Son, Jesus. Think how profound that would be to have God visible, audible, in the flesh. 

We don’t have Jesus audible or visual in the flesh today, but the Holy Spirit ministers to us in similar ways. Look for Him. Listen for Him as you move toward the remembrance of His coming into our world to save us.

~ Joyce ~

Noah’s Ark – Part 3

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

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8.  TAKE CARE OF YOUR ANIMALS AS IF THEY WERE THE LAST ONES ON EARTH.

What due diligence Noah must have felt as he cared for the animals. What a weighty responsibility. Future growth depended on it.

Our 21st century animals might include a cat or dog or gerbil. We feed them, walk them, cuddle and play with them. They are our responsibility.

We also have some two-legged “animals” in our homes as well. No matter their age, we are charged with their care. The care list changes through the years but does not diminish. You will always be their mother or father or grandparent or aunt or uncle. Treat them as if they are the last ones on earth. 

“… As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 (That includes family members!)

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9. DON’T FORGET —  WE’RE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT

I’m reminded during this political election season that we all have differing opinions about a myriad of issues. The moral decline, however, has caused our opinions to take frightening actions and verbiage on all sides. 

May we remember who we are in Christ and that, just as He has allowed us to live in the land of the free, it comes with a commensurate amount of responsibility to love and respect our fellow American citizens. We’re all in the same boat (country.)

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

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10. STAY BELOW DECK DURING THE STORM

Oh, to be counted as a righteous person “who walks with God” as Noah did. I can imagine that it was during one of those knee-bending times that God spoke to Noah and gave  the command to build the ark. As we yield to Him, He reveals in numerous ways what He intends for next steps in our lives.

Then, there are times when He intends us to just plain use common sense. If it’s storming, by golly, seek shelter! And there in our protected place, we find Him near, comforting and guiding—all the while encouraging us to trust Him. 

Can’t you just see Noah hunkered down receiving this comfort and encouragement?

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:2

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11. REMEMBER THAT THE ARK WAS BUILT BY AMATEURS AND THE TITANIC WAS BUILT BY PROFESSIONALS

Ah yes, and what was the motivation? Noah was motivated by God and the need to preserve man and animal. The Titanic came out of pride to be the biggest and best.

Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends of flesh for his strength… Jeremiah 17:5 But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord. Jeremiah 17:7

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I find myself back to that word trust again. Trust Him in the storms, depend on Him for our motivation, love our fellow boat friends and family. Good goals as we navigate the waters of life.

~ Joyce ~