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

“””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

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!)

“””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

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

“”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

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

“”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

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

“””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

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 ~

 

Feeding the 5000 – Let’s Get Organized

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Okay, now we have something to work with to feed 5000+ people—five barley loaves of bread and two fish. (See Feeding the 5000 – Time to Eat) Not a lot to go on, but then it wouldn’t be a miracle if the food was already plentiful, now would it?

Being an organized person, I love the next scene in this power-packed day. Jesus saw the need for getting things organized and he asked the disciples to help Him. We have hind sight. We know what’s going to take place, but they didn’t.

Jesus gives two instructions. Pretty simple.

Jesus replied, “Tell them to sit down in groups of about fifty each.” Luke 9:15

Sit on the grass (the” grassy slopes” John says)—in groups of 50. Easy breezy, you say? But look at the crowd! We discover they are 5000 strong.

I’m going to give you a little sneak preview of how I plan to construct this scene in my next book about Matthew.

Peter stood straight up, hands on hips. “He wants us to do what?”

Matthew turned to Peter, “He wants the people to sit in groups of 50 or so.”

Gesturing to the crowd of thousands, Peter complains, “You mean we have to count off to 50 that many times?” 

“Peter, can you usually get about ten men in a boat?”

“A big boat.”

“Just think five boatloads in each group.”

“Oh, I see.” So Peter shouts over to some of the other fishermen disciples and repeats the plan.

Matthew smiles and quickly sums up a group of ten men. “The master wants you to sit on the grass,” he tells them. As they sit, he motions another group of ten to join them. Then another ten, “Will you join this group, please?” And so forth for five tens—fifty!

Then he turns to another group of ten. “Please form a new group by sitting here.” To another ten, “Please join this new group.” And on and on.

Keep in mind that they’re going to need 100 groups of 50. That means each disciple must organize about eight groups of 50. As you can see, it’s a mammoth task, but with each disciple helping, it is do-able. It will take time, however. 

No doubt some in the back begin sitting when they see others sit. Then you have the problem of asking some to get up and move to form separate groups. Nothing is easy when you’re dealing with massive groups of people.

I imagine the disciples have been so busy with the “project” that they haven’t considered what’s coming next. They will eventually realize that all this preparation will serve them well. They will be able to move around the people and know who has been served and who hasn’t. Much more orderly! A great lesson for us in the value of planning ahead.

Next week is the big climax. How amazed the disciples and the people will be when Jesus feeds them all with just five loads of bread and two fish.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Feeding the 5000 – Time to Eat

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Last week, we saw that Jesus had mixed emotions. He was burdened with the news of John the Baptist’s death. At the same time, he rejoiced with the disciples who had returned from their successful ministry trips in Feeding the 5000 – Before the Feast.

Now they landed on shore and found a huge crowd ready to greet them. Jesus set his mixed emotions aside and had compassion for the people. As had been his pattern, He began healing the sick one by one.

I think about the temptation Jesus had in the wilderness. Remember when Satan wanted him to jump off the high pinnacle of the Temple and let the angels catch him? What a spectacular idea that was. It would dramatically show the people his great power.

But that was not the kind of Savior God had in mind. Instead, Jesus was to work in among the people, healing one by one, ministering to individuals, teaching small groups at a time. It’s unlikely that a crowd of 5000 could all hear him at once, no matter how strong a voice He had nor how much of an amphitheater the terrain provided. 

Eventually, the people would receive physical food, but first, He wanted to feed them the food of His words.

After a long day of healing and teaching, some of the disciples grew concerned about the people because they hadn’t eaten all day and they were in a rather remote place. They suggested that he—

“Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.” Matthew 14:15-16

John says that Jesus turned to Philip and asked,

“Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do. Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” John 6:5-7

About that time, Andrew spoke up.

“There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” John 6:8-9

At least Andrew looked around for a solution, but he, too, was doubtful.

Isn’t that like us? Full of questions and doubts. We get so one-sided about what can or cannot be done in a certain situation. We don’t think outside the box. What are other possibilities? Are we going to limit God? Could He possibly have a miracle in the making for us? 

Next week, we’ll watch Jesus organize and go into action.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

Point of View – “One will betray me”

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

In our point of view this week, we step into the upper room where the disciples are celebrating the Passover meal with Jesus.  

At one point, Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him. This stirs up the group to question, “Am I the one?” Jesus says to them;

“It is one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me. For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” Mark 14:20-21

Matthew would actually have been at the table and must have been sitting close to Judas. 

Judas, the one who would betray him, asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?” And Jesus told him, “You have said it.” Matthew 26:25

Luke, likely getting some of his information from Peter, reports some of the same things, but their attention takes a twisted turn.

The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing. (Moving right along…) Then they began to argue among themselves who would be the greatest among them. Luke 22:21-24

What a motley crew Jesus had. Here He has given this dreadful news, but shortly some are more consumed with their “place” rather than a betrayal of Jesus. And these are the ones who are to turn the world upside down! Once again, Jesus patiently reminds them that they are to have servant hearts.

John gives us quite the inside scoop as he becomes a particular part of the dialogue. Intuitive John tells that Jesus is “deeply troubled” and then shares about the betrayal.

The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. The disciple whom Jesus loved (John) was sitting next to Jesus at the table. Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” So John leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I have give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas. John 13:22-26

Each one hears, sees, or learns about a different part of the conversation or actions. We are like that at times. We become fixed on a driving force in our lives and only see that, like Luke’s version, where a few briefly wondered about the betrayal but were fixed on who would be greatest in Christ’s kingdom.

Today, I was about to pull out of my subdivision with my mind fixed on an oncoming car. I decided  I had plenty of time and started rolling out. I almost failed to see a bicyclist who was only a feet feet away from me. When I realized he was approaching, I quickly put on the breaks.

My lesson—don’t let your vision get so mesmerized by a distant thing that you fail to see what’s right in front of you.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Point of View – Ear Cut Off

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Perhaps you remember the incident in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had taken the disciples with him at a late hour to pray and to prepare for what He knew would be his most difficult task yet, his crucifixion.

He asks his followers to pray and watch and takes Peter, James, and John further into the garden. Then, He goes even further for his own private time.

Eventually, the temple guards, along with the religious leaders, and the high priest’s servants come with their clubs and swords to arrest Jesus.

Matthew would have been there but farther back from Jesus. He reports it this way:

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Matthew 26:50-51

Mark basically reports the same information as Matthew.

Dr. Luke, however, has an interest in what happened to this servant’s ear. As he investigates the details, he discovers two new things.

…one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Luke 22:50-51

So, we learn from Luke that it is the right ear (whatever that matters) and, more importantly, that Jesus heals the man. Even in the midst of the turmoil and danger, Jesus cares for this enemy who has been injured.

And now, we go to John’s description.

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) John 18:10

Ah, two more pieces of the puzzle. Peter was the one swinging the sword and Malchus was the name of the poor recipient of the sword. Thank you, John, for once again giving us names.

John was closer in proximity to Jesus, thus observing Peter and Malchus. In addition, it seems that John had a relationship to Caiaphas, the high priest, and others in the court.

Simon Peter and another disciple [John] were following Jesus. Because this disciple [John] was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus to the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside the door. [John] came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. John 18:15-16

Apparently, John knew Malchus and also one of Malchus’ relatives. John mentions this relative as one of Peter’s accusers in the courtyard scene. (John 18:26)

Once again, we see different points of view. Matthew and Mark mention the incident in passing. Luke investigates his interest as a doctor. But John has personal information. Our views are valued more when we personally know those involved and have done reliable investigation. Something good to remember as we give our points of view.

~ Joyce ~  

Points of View – Healing the Paralytic

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

A family attends a wedding. The teenage daughter sees a fairy tale wedding with a handsome groom and beautiful bride in a Cinderella gown. The middle school brother eyes the snacks and cake. The mother notices all the special touches and the well organized work in putting it all together.

The dad wonders, “How much did all this cost?”

We all have our points of view about things—this includes the synoptic Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

For instance, let’s look at the healing of the paralytic man. The man can’t walk, so four friends carry him to Jesus for healing. The problem is they can’t get in the crowded house where Jesus is teaching. The friends are so determined that they carry his pallet up the side steps to the roof and let him down through the roof right to Jesus. 

Jesus notices the faith of the friends to go to all this trouble and says,

“Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5

Listen to the thoughts of the teachers of the law as they watch this startling scene unfold.

“Why does he [Jesus] talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 5:7

Knowing these thoughts, Jesus says, 

“Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘You sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that  you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralytic, I tell you get up, take your mat and go home.” Mark 2:8-12

When the paralytic does exactly that, the crowd is totally amazed, and we hear no further comment from the teachers of the law. 

Now here’s the point of view from each of the writers: Mark is from Galilee where this event takes place. Flat roofs are made with mats of branches spread across wood crossbeams. On top of the mats is a thick layer of clay packed down with a stone roller. Hence,

…they made an opening above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat… Mark 2:4 

Luke, on the other hand, is from Greek territory and is primarily writing to Gentiles. Their roofs are generally made of tiles. In order to make sense to his readers, Luke describes the scene this way;

…they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd… Luke 5:19

As for Matthew, the lowering of the mat from the roof was not of particular interest to him. He is more concerned with the other parts of the story, so he doesn’t even mention the roof!

This is one of many incidents where it is helpful for us to read each account because we might learn fresh perspectives from each one. I will relate a few more in coming weeks. I hope you enjoy.

~ Joyce ~

 

Nehemiah – Celebration!

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

As we close our 6-week study of Nehemiah, it is time to celebrate! Many Jews have returned from the exile, the temple has been rebuilt, the wall rebuilt in spite of great obstacles, and the people have returned to the Word of God and consecrated themselves to follow Him. (Nehemiah – A Time of Consecration)

To celebrate this grand occasion, Nehemiah plans a huge processional. He calls out the Levites to come into Jerusalem—

… to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. Nehemiah 12:27

These were small harps, not sit-on-the-floor kind of harps like we have today. Think David-on-the-hillside kind of harp—one he could sling over his shoulder.

 

 

 

 

 

Groups of singers had built villages around Jerusalem. They, too, were called in to practice and form two large choirs. The two choirs met at a designated gate and split apart. One choir led the procession going south along with Ezra and half the leaders. 

The other choir headed north with Nehemiah and the other half of the leaders. When the priests blew the trumpets, the procession began. Apparently, many (at least the choirs and leaders) processed on top of the wall. Others may have walked along side the wall. They planned to meet at the temple with all the wall builders and their families joining in.

I can just imagine the fun and excitement as the children skipped along, loving the vibrant musical atmosphere of singing and playing. Perhaps some women brought their tambourines as they danced behind the processional route.

Both groups finally met at “the house of God,” the temple.

And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. Nehemiah 12:43

It is good to rejoice and be thankful, to celebrate wonderful happenings—weddings and anniversaries, birthdays and graduations, promotions, retirement, even in a quiet sort of way, we celebrate a life well-lived at the death of a dedicated loved one.

It is good to celebrate other accomplishments: learning to walk for the first time, learning to walk after an accident or surgery, moving a grade up from a C to an A, overcoming a sinful deed or an aggravating habit, having a breakthrough in a tedious project or completing a project, searching diligently for the Lord’s will then sensing that He has opened the door! Or even the simple joy of finally cleaning out a closet.

We may not have choirs and instruments or even parades at our victories, but let us determine to find something this week to celebrate and to give God thanksgiving and glory.

~ 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 – Planning and Action

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

God has given Nehemiah a concern for his Jerusalem homeland. He feels called to do something about the crumbling wall around the city.

During four months of prayer, God led him to make plans. Last week (Nehemiah – Praying Leads to Opportunity), we saw that King Artaxerxes dropped opportunity right in his lap. 

Since Nehemiah has been cooking up his plans, he’s ready.

“If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so they will provide me safe conduct until I arrive in Judah?”

Nehemiah thinks logically of what’s needed to get him safely there.

And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?

In his mind, he’s already there, thinking through what he will need. Planners do that! Nehemiah sees that God’s gracious hand was upon him because the king grants his requests.

Praying, planning, and then the action. Off he goes, beyond the Euphrates River, across the desert, to the land of Judah accompanied by the king’s cavalry, no less. 

After this grueling four-month journey, he rests for three days and makes plans to evaluate the crumbling wall. He purposely didn’t enter with a bang or even tell anybody why he was there. He plans to quietly assess the damage at night, by himself.

This is not a one-man job, so it is time to gather the troops. Here’s what we have recorded of his motivational speech to the priest, nobles, officials, and people:

“You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and it’s gates have been burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”

He also gave them his personal testimony of how God’s hand was upon him with the king. The result?

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. Nehemiah 2:7-18

What a great formula for us when God lays a task upon our hearts—pray, plan, wait patiently for opportunity, move into action, rest, evaluate, share our own testimony of God’s hand at work, and inspire others to join in the task.

Tuck Nehemiah’s example away in your mind.

~ Joyce ~