Surely Goodness and Mercy

Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

I hope you have enjoyed this study on the 23rd Psalm. As we conclude, we see the loving shepherd bringing in the sheep at the end of the day. He examines each one.

Some have burrs to be pricked or wounds to be tended. The shepherd anoints them with oil, a plentiful, overflowing supply.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

This shepherd shows his goodness daily to his sheep. He demonstrates his mercy for them, truly loves and cares for them.

Jesus, the good shepherd, gave us another aspect of the relationship between sheep and shepherd as they exit the sheep pen each morning. Even if there happens to be two flock of sheep in the pen, the flock will only follow its own shepherd.

“… the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact they will run away from him because they do not know a stranger’s voice.” John 10:3-5

A shepherd names each one? It seems so. He knows them well and they know his voice.

Do you know His voice? Or are there times when you follow what you would like for Him to be saying to you? Is it His idea or yours? 

Sheep recognize their master’s voice because they are with him day and night. Since God is ever-present, we can have that relationship as well. Spending time with our shepherd and “practicing His presence” requires us to be intentional. The more we do, the more we can relax and trust Him.

Jesus also said,

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15

Though David the psalmist did not know Jesus, He looked toward the time when Messiah would come. He said,

Surely goodness and love [mercy] will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

We can be sure of “dwelling in the house of the Lord forever,” because our good shepherd laid down His life for us. A good shepherd indeed.

Update on my mother: She makes some improvements and then regresses. It looks less likely that she will bounce back as well this time. I’m praying for ways to help ease her anxiety over having less mobility and increasing dementia. May she feel the shepherd’s care.

~ Joyce ~

 

Walking by Faith

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

We left the disciples listening to Jesus as he told them to Go Out Two by Two with a Hefty Task

Wouldn’t you  love to follow along with one of these pairs to see how they fared in this challenging venture? They carried virtually nothing with them, walking only by faith.

I’m at this point in the manuscript for my third book, this one about the disciple, Matthew. I’m creating possible scenarios of what Matthew and Thomas may have encountered in their time out as missionaries.

As they enter the first town, they face the first challenge—”Find a worthy person with whom you can stay.” One sign of a good Jew would be one who welcomes strangers.

Once they settle in for the night, they likely begin wondering what the next day will bring. Will they find people receptive to their message? What will they say when they preach and teach? Perhaps they will remember what Jesus said to them,

…do not worry what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Matthew 10:19-20

I can’t say this always happens, but there are times when I’m preparing to speak to a group and realize the weight of doing so. I plead for God to give the words as I prepare. It is wonderful then, when I sense the Spirit moving in me, giving words I hadn’t even planned and receptive faces I hadn’t anticipated.

Imagine Matthew’s thrill when facing the first group of people and telling them the things that Jesus had taught, perhaps even in the way he taught. Did he make up his own parables to get across a point? Maybe something he saw nearby, or on the hillside, or a tool in someone’s hand. Was he amazed at how the words seemed to flow out of his mouth just as Jesus promised?

I try to envision what it was like at his first healing. How humbling to be the instrument through which the Holy Spirit worked. Oh the thrill of feeling God’s healing power surging through him to the wounded body or soul of another person.

While Matthew and Thomas found worthy persons who would take them in, Jesus warned that they would also encounter antagonistic situations where they had to shake the dust off their feet as they left town. The visual sign or custom for this was to take off their sandals and clap them together signifying that the dust (or the relationship) has been dusted away. 

No, they could not have imagined all that would happen to them in this mission effort. We, too, are sent out day by day to share our faith with our attitudes, our comments, and our hearts. We never know what our influence might mean in the timing of another person’s life.  

As Paul said,

We walk by faith not by sight. I Corinthians 5:7

~ 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 ~

 

 

 

 

 

House of Bread

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Those of Asian background likely look to rice as their staple food, but in my growing up years, it was potatoes. Mashed, fried, boiled, or baked, we had some kind of potatoes almost every night.

For those in Jesus’ day, the staple was likely bread. Kind of like, “What shall we have with our bread this morning or at lunch or this evening?”

It was such a mainstay of their diet that they often referred to it when talking about having a meal together. “Let us break bread together.” Early Christian believers might think of the last supper and its meaning as they ate. As they gathered together, they…

…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

It may seem strange to us to think of “breaking” bread. Maybe slicing or tearing. But breaking bread?

A few years ago, we visited Nazareth in Israel at a place called The Nazareth Village. A guide talked to us about the customs and ways Jesus talked to the people about the familiar things around them. Those who put this area together intended it to be as authentic as possible complete with a well, people walking about in biblical clothes, a farmer plowing a field, a shepherd keeping his sheep in tow, and a place to eat lentil soup, figs, hummus, and of course, bread. 

I remember watching the lady bent over a somewhat rounded stove of sorts. She kneaded the dough and flapped it on the hot iron for a bit, then turned it over. The flat,  (maybe 10 inch) circular bread was carried on a flat basket to the table. We each broke off a piece to put on our own plates—not quite the texture of crackers, but close, “cracker bread” you might say.

John tells us that one day the people asked Jesus for a sign, a sign like Moses gave the people in the form of bread from heaven, the manna. Jesus explained to them that eventually the manna-eaters died, but the true bread from heaven…

“…is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:33

“Give us this bread,” they said. Then Jesus told one of his “I am” illustrations.

“I am the bread of life.” John 6:35

Jesus goes on to explain.

“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.” John 6:38, 40

One last thought—”Beth” means “house of.” Therefore, Bethel = house of God. Bethsaida = house of  fishers. Bethlehem = house of bread.

Isn’t it appropriate that Jesus was born in Beth-lehem? House of (the) bread of life.

Prepare your hearts for the coming season!

~ 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 ~

 

 

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 ~

 

Peter – Time to Shine!

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

I love this fall season—the colors so vibrant in the sunshine. Throughout the summer, trees blend together in shades of green. But this time of year, one by one, trees and bushes shout out, “Look at me!” Some leaves turn bright yellow, others vivid orange.

We have burning bushes in our yard and several yards around us. Right now they are all set aflame with fiery red. It’s their turn to shine!

And so it was with Peter. It was his time to shine.

Jesus and the disciples had traveled far north to Caesarea Philippi, named for Caesar and Herod’s son Philip, a dark place. The people had heard only minimal teachings of Jesus and seen hardly any miracles. Perhaps the disciples had mingled among the people which led Jesus to ask two questions. (Matthew 16:13-20)

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?

One disciple reports,

“Some say, John the Baptist.”

Another reports,

“Others say Elijah.”

A third disciple speaks up,

“And still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Perhaps Jesus pokes the campfire where they are warming themselves, lays his stick down, and looks at those on his left intently.

“But what about you?” (Then to those on his right side) Who do you say I am?

Was there a moment of silence? If so, I don’t think it was long before Peter spoke with gentle sincerity.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The fire crackles. All eyes turn to Jesus. Everyone holds their breath.

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

Pure victory for Peter. His time had come. His time to shine!

Jesus goes on to talk about two words for “rock.” In the Greek, “Peter” is petros which means detached stone and “rock” is petra which means bedrock. Jesus says,

“I tell you that you are Peter (detached stone) and on this rock (bedrock) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (hell) will not overcome it.”

Christ will build the church on this declaration of faith. Peter will come to be a part, a detached piece, of that bedrock of faith. Let us rejoice in his declaration and learn to declare it ourselves, that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised One, the Son of the living God! 

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

 

Peter – Unclean Hands or Unclean Heart?

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Jesus and his disciples stayed so busy going from village to village sharing the gospel, they had little opportunity to observe traditions the Pharisees thought important, like ceremonially washing their hands.

Now we’re not talking about scrubbing hands to keep from getting germs—they didn’t know about germs. No, the religious leaders’ concern was that they must ceremonially wash any Gentile contact off their hands and, by golly gum, Jesus and his disciples should do that as well.

Jesus countered by quoting Isaiah’s words,

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” Mark 7:6-7 

Jesus went on to describe a law the leaders had made that over ruled one of God’s own commandments. Then he gathered a crowd around Him and emphasized that,

“Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’ ” Mark 7:15

When the disciples were alone with Jesus, Matthew remembered that Peter asked Jesus to further explain his parable. I picture Jesus closing His eyes and breathing deeply to maintain patience as he said,

“Are you so dull? Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this, he declared all foods “clean.”) Mark 7:18-19

Don’t let that parenthetical remark slip by you. After the resurrection, Peter will have to have a roof-top vision to truly understand this, but note this beginning point.

Jesus explains a little more about the “heart thing.”

“What comes out of a man makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ ” Mark 7:20-23

I’m trying to think of a modern day application to this principle. The “worship wars” of the last few decades have about declined from their peak and most churches have settled into whatever style they are going to have, but I think it’s worth using as a good example of arrogance emanating from the heart. 

The traditional side said, “This is how we’ve always done it. We don’t want all those jazzy instruments in the church. It’s like making our sanctuary a bar. What sense does it make to sing two or three phrases over and over? Our texts are solid and enhance our understanding of the elements of our faith.”

The contemporary side said, “We need to meet people where they are with relevant texts and music. All gifted musicians should be able to use their gifts. No more old songs. We sing songs that engage the singers and bring life.”

Jesus might say, “It matters not your style, what matters is your heart. Are you worshiping the song, the sound, the singer, the tradition, the performer… or your God?”

~ Joyce ~