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 ~ 

 

 

Peter – Born Again

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Back to Peter. Last time, we found Peter out in the boat with Jesus. He doesn’t catch fish all night, but at Jesus’ command, the boat overflows with the fish he hauls in.

This personal miracle seems to speak to Peter in a unique way. He is convicted of his sin, for he kneels at Jesus’ feet and cries out,

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Luke 5:8

Peter will have much to learn, but yielding to Christ is a beginning step of trusting.

The night Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus provides another understanding of who Jesus is. Possibly Peter could have been nearby as Nicodemus comes to ask his questions. Nicodemus says,

“Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” John 3:2

Jesus cuts right to the chaste of what Nicodemus needs to hear.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, He cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Perhaps Peter thinks the same thing as Nicodemus. How can a man enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time? They soon learn that Jesus is speaking figuratively. We are born of flesh—born physically, but we must also be born of the spirit—born spiritually.

How to do that? Another part of the conversation includes John 3:16…

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have life eternal.”

Believe. Believe and not perish. Have eternal life. Jesus goes on…

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.”John 3:17

Saved through him.

Little by little, Peter must internalize these words. He has the next three years to do so as he learns to trust what Jesus says and does. Jesus will correct Peter, lead him, empower him, teach him, rebuke him… forgive him.

But the first step for Peter—and for us all—is to be assured of spiritual rebirth.

How do we share the joy of believing and looking forward to life eternal with the Father?

I have a friend at the Y with whom I chit-chat at times when we end up on the recumbent bikes side by side. Last week, she was wringing her hands, so to speak, about all the weather disasters and the mass killings, etc. I said, “Oh I know, it’s awful. It makes us realize how much we need to depend on our faith.” She was getting off her bike, but at least I planted the thought.

We must share our faith, even in simple ways, because there’s a world out there that hasn’t come to spiritual rebirth. Help us, O Lord, to be bold.

~ Joyce ~

Peter – Going Fishing

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Peter has spent many hours with Jesus. He heard Him teach and watched Him heal—even his mother-in-law.

Now, Jesus will touch Peter at his most vulnerable point, his profession. Peter has been a fisherman of fish for a long time, but on this day, Jesus will teach him how to become a fisher of men. Notice the seven steps.

  1. Look for opportunities

Jesus is standing by the Sea of Galilee trying to speak to the people, but the crowd is having trouble seeing and hearing Him. So… he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen who were mending their nets.

2. Seize available resources

Jesus gets into one of Peter’s boats and asks him to push away from the shore just a bit, then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

3. Move from reluctance to obedience

When Jesus finishes speaking to the people, he tells Peter, ” Pull out into the deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Peter responds, “We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 

4. Recognize when God’s power is at work

They catch so many fish the nets begin to break. They signaled their partners to come and help, and they came and filled their boats so full they began to sink.

5. Allow God to stir a deep confession

Even with all the experience Peter has already had with Jesus, nothing touches him like this. Jesus has entered Peter’s domain. He falls to his knees and, like Isaiah, he says, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” 

6. Encourage people to catch others

James and John are also a part of this miracle. They’re sitting there with a boatload of fish as well.  Jesus tells Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”

7. Surrender completely

Likely, Andrew was also in the boat with Peter. So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him(Story found in Luke 5:1-11)

How do we apply these steps? Allow me to share my pilgrimage with my friends at the “Y”. I work out on 10 machines and do water aerobics for my rheumatoid arthritis. Since this is one of the few places I meet with people outside the church, I rather see it as my mission field. I try to observe #1—”Look for Opportunities.” That means, I try to be friendly and have Christlike attitudes. 

(#2) The “available resource” I have is the book the Lord led me to write about Nicodemus. Some of the men and women I see each week are devoted Christians, many are in Catholic churches where they do little Bible study, if any, some have only nominal backgrounds in Christianity, and one 80 year-old says she has never been to a church.

(#3 at work.) 21 of these wonderful people bought my book over the past two years and say it was a blessing to them.  The 80 year-old asked for my first book as well. (step #4)

I’m still trying to be a fisher of people. What joy it will be to reach #7! How is your fishing coming along?

~ Joyce ~

 

   

 

Setting Up Traps

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Sometimes, as we read Scripture, we don’t always see, much less think about all the people involved. Last week, we left Aphiemi making excuses to his wife and walking down the streets of Jerusalem to meet 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?” Marnah hinted.

Aphiemi looked puzzled. “Worth something? What do you mean?”

“Well, you wouldn’t want your wife to know about this little get together, 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.”

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

How dark the streets were as he shuffled along on 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. Aphiemi made it a point not to see Marnah again. The money may have taken care of her threats, but not his bitterness.

One day, as Alphiemi came near the Temple, several Pharisees were engaged in a robust discussion about the preacher from Galilee who had caused quite a stir among the people. The leaders had questioned him on several occasions, trying to trip him up, for he had gained quite a following with the people of Jerusalem as well as the crowds throughout Judea and beyond. Every time the religious leaders set a verbal trap, this Jesus caught them instead, making them look weak and feeble.

The next day, Aphiemi 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 that 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 Aphiemi’s head. Instead, the wheels began spinning in his mind until he had concocted a perfect plan. He shared the details of his plan with one of the more vocal, angry Pharisees.

“So you see,” Aphiemi concluded, “if the teacher says to stone her, we can let the Romans take care of him, for they, of course, will not allow us to carry out death sentences. And if he says that we should not stone her, we can say that he is going against our law.  “

“Excellent!” cried the Pharisee. “But how are we to set up such a scene?”

“Just leave that to me.”

And so, Alphiemi proceeded with his diabolical plot. With a sly grin, he marched off to find a strapping young man who might like to have an exciting evening.  

Now I will give the Pharisees their revenge and, at the same time, have a satisfying revenge of my own. 

 

Have you guessed this episode in Jesus’ experiences with the Pharisees? Stayed tuned next week for the rest of the story!

~ Joyce ~

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!

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Matthew the tax collector [last two posts] sets up his booth beside the Sea of Galilee ready to collect. But on one particularly day, the teacher he has been watching comes face to face with him. “Follow me,” Jesus says. “Leave the weight of your sin. Hear the God’s call to repentance. Accept the love that you have never experienced.” And Matthew (hated Matthew) gets up, leaves his booth, and follows Jesus.

A question left unanswered from last week – Is his name Matthew or is he Levi son of Alphaeus? Probably both. (Remember Simon—Peter. Saul—Paul.) The word “Levi” means a wild cow or a person pledged for a debt or vow. Whereas, Matthew means gift of the Lord. I think I’d rather be a gift than a wild cow. No wonder he told his story with the name “Matthew.”

What happens next is very typical of new believers. Matthew is so excited about his new-found redemption and the load that has been lifted from his shoulders that he wants to share it. What better way than to have all his friends over for a dinner. In Matthew’s case, he gets to invite Jesus himself to the party!

Now who is on the guest list? Matthew’s friends, of course. Who are Matthew’s friends? Well, certainly not the upstanding members of Capernaum society. No, a tax collector’s friends will be other tax collectors, prostitutes maybe, and other shady characters of the community.

This reminds me of the years we spent struggling with our son. He had wandered in the wilderness making one bad choice after another. But one glorious day, he came to us to share how the Lord had completely turned him around. We were elated and relieved.

A few days later our son’s friends were having a party and he decided to go. Like Matthew, these were the only friends he had—the party crowd. My heart sank. But when he came home, he was so excited. He told us, “I got one of my friends over in the corner and began to tell him what had happened to me.” Instead of joining in, he was witnessing!

Here’s how it went for Matthew…

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. Matthew 9:10

Even Jesus’ disciples bought into this conversion and participated in the dinner along with the “sinners.” What a witnessing opportunity for them. BUT…

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Matthew 9:11

I wish we could hear their responses. Perhaps Jesus’ followers were still trying to figure everything out themselves—a perfect teaching moment for Jesus. He speaks up.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. For I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners [to repentance].” Matthew 9:12, 13b

This is the same way Mark and Luke record the incident, but Matthew adds one other line.

“But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:13a

The Pharisees knew all about sacrifices in the Temple. It was their duty. It was the law. It was their routine. Not so with “mercy.” In some ways this was a foreign word to them in terms of their experience. I’m wondering if, early on, maybe even the other apostles had a period of adjustment to Matthew. Was he worthy of being one of their special group of twelve?

Mercy. Perhaps we all need more lessons. We’re bombarded with being “tolerant” these days, but I believe showing mercy is quite different. Think on these things

Next week, a story from my childhood for Father’s Day.

 ~ Joyce ~