Wonderful Counselor

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

We think of a counselor as a good thing. Indeed, a competent counselor, especially one with a Christ-filled heart, is a transforming helper.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light… a light has dawned. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:2, 6 

But anything of value is often copied by Satan who puts his mark on it. 

I was reminded of this when I looked up “counselor” in Strong’s concordance. It predictably means “to give advice, to council, to purpose, plan, plot, conspire against.” What? Plot? Conspire against? That’s when I realized how Satan can take a good thing and twist it. Counsel positively, counsel negatively.

I have shared with you in recent months the trials I’ve had with my mother’s health and the grueling long days going to the hospital then rehab. My energy was zapped; my emotions on edge, my mind amuck. Then the mild stroke hit.

Since then, I have made medication changes and included a few rest times in my day. But frustrations with mother’s discontent at her new place has continued to plague me. 

I worried, held on to anxiety, woke in the night unable to get back to sleep, still trying to figure how to take control of things. The Lord revealed over and over, “Trust me.” We all know how hard it is to let go of things. Little by little, I have tried to release my clutched hands and take His hand.

“For I, the Lord, your God, will hold your right hand, saying unto you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.'” Isaiah 41:13

He holds our hand, but we must first place our hand in his outstretched hand. 

Then He is able to be our counselor, revealing things we either didn’t know or have let slip by us. Unlike the deceiver, the plotter, the one who conspires against us, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. He also brings a sense of peace into our lives as he holds our hand.

After all, He’s also the Prince of Peace!

May it be so for you in this celebration season.

~ 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 ~

Feeding the 5,000 – Before the Feast

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

We’ve looked at “points of view” coming from the four gospel writers on several happenings in the life of Jesus. When we looked at the feeding of the 5,000, you may remember I said I might want to revisit that exciting day in more detail. That will be our focus for the next few weeks.

What was happening before the great feast? I think it’s always important to get the setting, set the stage so to speak.

At some point in the time line, Jesus heard about John the Baptist’s terrible death. Recall the story. Herod caved when his wife, Herodias, (through her daughter) asked that the head of John the Baptist be brought to her on a platter .

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. Matthew 14:13

What do you do when you have received tragic news? You may want to have the love and support of close friends or family, but, at some point, you may just want to be alone to collect your thoughts and deal with your emotions in private.

My hunch is that Jesus wanted to be alone with God and gather the inner strength he needed from his heavenly Father. Very possibly, Jesus thought about how he, too, would one day come under the cruelty of those in high places.

Think of those times in your life when the weight of tragedy or trying experiences brought you to a low ebb. Perhaps frustrations with a job or the cruelty of unkind words struck the very core of your spirit. Somehow, with God’s help, you managed to continue to function. It is in this kind of human condition, we find Jesus.

Later, when He looks up toward the shore, He sees his disciples who have returned from their ministry tour of the villages of Galilee where he said:

“Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons.” Matthew 10:7-8

He shares in their excitement, glad to see their happy and hear their stories, then he tells them,

“Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” Luke 6:31

After more sharing, He looks at the shore where the crowds are gathering to meet him. I envision him sighing greatly and whispering, “Give me strength, Father.” Then we see his heart.

…as he stepped from the boat, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Mark 6:34

He welcomed them and taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick. Luke 9:11

Jesus moved forward in the strength God gave him—an important lesson for us. For you see, that same power is available to us as we push out alone in out boats to receive healing and inner strength from our Lord. May it be so for us all this week.

~ 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 ~

 

Writing – Part 3, A Heart for Truth

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

During the writing of “Ears to Hear,” I intertwined the character of Nicodemus into the plot, but I felt like he had his own story which called for a second book.

We have a little more Scripture about Nicodemus, so with those verses in mind, I pushed forward for round two.

A fun spot for me came in the chapter about Nicodemus’ visit with the spoiled boy next door. This boy reappeared throughout the book and into manhood, becoming a secondary antagonist.

In a dramatically draining chapter, Nicodemus’ father died. He loved his father dearly, as I did my own father. I wept right along with Nicodemus. I wrote this into the story as it was important that he learn from his brother how to prepare a body for burial. Later, Nicodemus would assist Joseph of Arimathea in preparing Jesus’  body.

All through the writing, I had definite high points in mind, but the details fell in place only a little at a time. The characters developed to a point where I anxiously went to the computer each day wondering what would happen next.   

About half of the story was written before I used the first Scripture where Nicodemus had his famous nighttime discussion with Jesus. I approached that scene with fear and trepidation. I felt like I didn’t dare put extra words in Jesus’ mouth. So the night conversation scene came directly from the Bible with a few gestures and positions added. It was a high and holy moment for me.

All through the Nicodemus story, I felt compelled to show him as the staunch, dictatorial Pharisee he likely was, steeped in the law and its practices, but bound to fulfill the words of Jesus—

“…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled…” Luke 18:14

Astute readers might see early in the story that his condescending attitude toward shepherds would be the very thing I could use to bring on his needed humility. He wanted to have a heart for truth, but it would come in a way he least expected, a pathway that would lead him to the Truth Giver, the Good Shepherd.

The burning desire that God placed in my heart from the beginning of this call to write, was to see, and to help others see, that the characters of Scripture are real; they have great abilities, but they also have challenges as we all do.

God wants to lead us, to show us great treasures for the purpose He has for us, but He demands willing hearts. Oh that our hearts might come to Him, prepared for those treasures.

Writing may or may not be the treasure he has for you. However, if you feel a leaning in that direction, I’d like to make you aware of the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference coming up June 21-23 in Elizabethtown, KY. To find out more, go to www.kychristianwriters.com

Meanwhile, as you’ve gathered from previous blogs, I’m working on book three about Matthew, the tax collector.

~ Joyce ~

  

Peter – Walking on Water

            Searching His Word
                       Seeking His Heart

As we come to that familiar passage where Peter walks on the water, we must remember that he has come a long way in his experiences with Jesus.

Peter has watched Jesus heal many—the demon possessed, a leper, the deaf, the blind, a centurion’s servant, even his own mother-in-law. 

When Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to preach, He empowered them to heal. Excitedly, they came back to report in, but their report took a back seat as Jesus dealt all day teaching a large crowd. 

At the end of the day, this crowd of 5,000 was fed by two fish and five loaves of bread. 

After this miraculous feeding, Jesus sent the disciples out in a boat while He dismissed the crowd and stayed on shore to spend quiet time in prayer.

After meditating for a while, Jesus looked up to see a storm brewing. The disciples’ boat rocked back and forth in the wind and waves. In His humanity, Jesus walked to the shore, but the divinity of Jesus took over and He walked on the water toward the boat. 

When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 

At this point, spontaneous Peter sprang into action.

“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” 

“Come,” Jesus said.

That was all he needed. Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. Yeah, Peter, you did it!

Uh-oh, here comes the “but.”

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Happens to us all, right? When he saw the wind, he took his eyes off Jesus. How often have we done that? We get all hyped up about doing something important, even something spiritual, and walk toward Jesus, but then get distracted. We begin to doubt. We lose faith. The very things Jesus told Peter.

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:26-31

Jesus caught sinking Peter and they climbed in the boat. In spite of Peter’s actions, two things happened;

… the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 

We can feel for Peter and say, “At least he tried.” That’s true, but my take-away from Peter’s experience is remembering how I can get so entangled by distractions, that I take my eyes off the main source of my strength.

When we take His outreached hand, two things happen, the winds of doubt die down, and we worship Him in awe.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Eyes to See

 

 

Every day, as I pull into the driveway, I see this beautiful array of Knockout Roses and Sweet Potato Vines. The rosy pink flowers and bright green leaves are striking and provide a pleasant welcome home.

A few days ago, I went out with clippers in hand to check everything.

When I looked closely at the roses, I could see the many blossoms that had paled, spread wide open, or lost petals. Time to clip them off to give renewed energy to the new blossoms.

Then to examine the Sweet Potato Vine. It grows quite fast and can quickly get out of control, crawling out on the driveway, spreading under the bushes, or creeping up into the roses. I don’t see any of this just passing by in the car. I have to get out and really look at it.

There really is a point to this other than sharing my little garden spot with you or showing off my new-found skill at learning how to put pictures on my blog!

How easy for us to go through life just glancing at the things that most catch our eye rather than looking closely for all that goes with it, things that need to be cleaned up or clipped out of our lives. To fully see, we must look—intentionally. 

Scripture is replete with verses about “looking.” 

I will lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. Psalm 123:1

…let us throw off everything that hinders [clip off dead blossoms] and the sin that so easily entangles [winding vines] let us fix our eyes on Jesus [the beautiful red bloom], the author and perfecter of our faith… Hebrews 12:1-2

What do I need to clip out of my life? A bad attitude, a critical spirit, hasty words? What vines are slowly entangling? Wasteful time on the iPhone or taking on too many tasks?

 

I think about the Bible character, Matthew. What things did he allow into his life that needed to be clipped and untangled? I wonder what he saw from his vantage point at his tax collector’s booth by the sea. Did he see Jesus performing miracles? Did he watch Jesus touching people lovingly? Did he hear His teachings? Was Matthew thinking about his sinner friends and his own sin that had led him to become a despised tax collector? Was he convicted of that sin, ready to weed out the sin-sickness that had infected his life?

Whatever Matthew saw, whatever he felt, he was ready when Jesus looked directly into his eyes and said, “Follow me.” Matthew left everything to follow Jesus because he finally had Eyes to See. Thus the title of my next book.

May we have eyes that continuously gaze at our creator, the author and perfecter of our faith. 

~ Joyce ~

Easter – the Angony Intensifies

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Last week we thought about the spiritual, internal agony Jesus suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane. This week, the physical agony begins.

Most of the Sadducees, Pharisees, and other religious leaders agree that Jesus must be put down. As one said,

“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him,and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” John 11:48

They have lost sight of looking for the Messiah and have succumbed to protecting their own selfish positions. These Jewish leaders have eyes but do not see, as Jesus might say. So they arrest Jesus at night, take him to the previous high priest, and then the present high priest, Caiaphas.

On a trip to Israel, we visited the location of the house of Caiaphas. The only thing that is original are the steps leading up to his house. A building has been erected in this spot with remembrances of what took place there. On a lower level they have devised a prison cell like the one where Jesus might have been held. They surmise that a hallowed out cell was below the floor with a hole above it. A rope would be placed around the prisoner’s waist and he would be lowered into the holding place. 

When the members of the Sanhedrin finally gather, they bring Jesus up and begin their “court.” They defy their own Sanhedrin laws by judging him at night with a slew of conflicting witnesses. Jesus refuses to answer their questions, but then the high priest says to him,

“I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God.” Matt. 26:63

At this point, Jesus is required by law to respond. He says,

“Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matt. 26:64

This is more than the leaders can take. They dramatically tear their clothes, shout “Blasphemy!” and declare him worthy of death. Matthew tells that at this point:

They spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?” Matt. 26:67-68

These are his own fellow Jews, the very ones who of all people should have known the prophesies and recognized him. I have written in my Bible, “A very sad verse.”

Jesus is eventually taken to Pilate, then to Herod, and back to Pilate—all in the course of the night and into the wee hours of the morning. 

It is believed that Jesus is held in another dungeon-type holding place when he is taken to the Antonia Tower where Pilate will conduct a trial of sorts. We visited the remains of this dungeon as well. It has stairs down to a dark, dank place with drops of water dripping here and there—very eerie and depressing.

After Pilate finally gives in to the Jewish leaders and the crowd pressure, Jesus is flogged. We could stop right there considering the unbearable pain and suffering, but the taunts of the Roman soldiers, the crown of thorns, the whips on the road to the cross all compound the agony Jesus suffers. I remember watching the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” I was absolutely exhausted by this time in the movie and desperately hoping for him to make it to the cross, horrific as that would be, but wanting his suffering to finally be finished.

As he hung on the cross, his accusers continued to taunt him. “Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him.” He could have done that very thing, but he took our punishment to the very end. Oh, what a Savior!

Next week, the good news!

~ Joyce ~

Commitment Indeed

Today we turn to the third and final mention of Nicodemus in John’s Gospel. We are at the tomb of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea has come to bury his body. Like Nicodemus, Joseph is also a member of the high court. It will not set well with the Jewish leaders if they find out that one of their own has anything to do with Jesus. Therefore, it is a bold move on Joseph’s part to seek Pilate’s approval to bury the body.

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. John 19:38

 Matthew, Mark, and Luke also tell about Joseph of Arimathea. Only John reveals that Joseph had an accomplice—Nicodemus.

39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. John 19:39

Wow—75 pounds! That would be the amount of spices used for a king. Hmm, yes, a king. Joseph and Nicodemus tenderly go about their task of preparing the body for burial.

40 Taking Jesus body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. John 19:40

This scene, as well as the crucifixion, were two very difficult scenes for me to write in A Heart for truth. I tried to get into the scene and look around to see the setting, the blood, the people, the conversations or lack thereof, the emotions, the whipped flesh, the crown of thorns, the lifeless body—it was all very heart wrenching.

Nicodemus and Joseph faced a very dangerous task. Their positions in the high court, their reputations, their very lives were at risk. If the first two scenes (Nicodemus’ night visit and his statement before the Sanhedrin) were not quite full commitment, this act of love was total commitment indeed.

I recently received an email from a dear missionary friend in a another country. She spoke of a terrifying incident as she and a friend were walking in a slightly wooded area. Suddenly a pack of wild dogs encircled the two of them, barking and lunging at them with evil-looking eyes. They managed by God’s grace to escape, but she reflected on how of late, evil seemed to be all around them. A fellow worker had fallen into depression. New believers were weeping over the way their families were treating them. Satan seemed to be haunting them at every turn.

I think of the easiness of my own life. I have challenges, but nothing like this, nor the great risks that men like Nicodemus and Joseph faced to stand in their faith. I think of today’s martyrs who sit in prisons because they profess belief in Jesus. How do they endure? As I study God’s word, try to understand, and seek to believe with greater depth, I wonder how strong and faithful I would be in the face of life-threatening danger. Would I have the boldness, the full trust, the commitment to stand firm in my faith? Help us, oh Lord. Help us to grow in our commitment to you.

~ Joyce ~