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 ~

 

 

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 ~

  

Writing – Part 2

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Last week in My Testimony About Writing, I shared about God’s call to write. I struggled trying to discern what the Lord wanted me to write. Of course, He rarely works on our time table, so I waited, watched, and listened.

That year, I attended a Bible study about the book of Matthew. I found myself noticing the lesser-known characters, the ones with only one or two verses. Often, their names weren’t even given, but they were important enough to mention. wondered what might be the rest of their stories. What was their background? How did they relate to Jesus? 

As I continued through Matthew, I was struck by the phrase, 

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 11:15

Later, when Jesus told the parable of the sower and the seed, he said again,

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:9

I began meditating on that phrase, thinking about it every time it came around. Jesus warned that, because of the people’s unbelief, their hearts had become calloused. The leaders did not put into practice the truths they had studied. 

“Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” Matthew 13:15

Jesus described the religious leader’s faith by quoting what Isaiah said.

“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.” Matthew 15:8-9

They had ears, but they didn’t hear.

In my pilgrimage of what to write, the Lord had impressed on me the lesser-known characters. He brought my attention to have ears to hear what he has to say. So, when I came to the two-verse story of the servant of the high priest having his ear cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was like, this is it! This is who I am to write about.

I discovered from the other gospel writers that his name was Malchus and that Jesus healed his ear. It wasn’t much to go on, but I researched and wrote, trying to envision what might be the rest of Malchus’ story.

I was still working at the time so all too often the story got pushed to the back burner. Over and over I doubted. Who was I to think I could conquer such a task as writing a book? That’s when I first came across the quote I have on my desk. “The task ahead of us is never as great as the power behind us.”

The Lord provided a wonderful person to help me edit. Eventually, I acquired a publisher, then a capable person to help me make a video, take an author picture, and direct me to claim my website name.

It took seven years, but at last “Ears to Hear” became a reality. 

Next week, I’d like to share one more leg of the journey with you plus a challenge.

~ 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 ~

Matthew, Burning Questions

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Before we set the study of Matthew aside, we will look at a few more things we know about him and some of the burning questions that drive me to write about his life.

Unique to Matthew is that he is the only one to tell us about Joseph’s story during Jesus’ birth. Matthew alone tells about the visit of the Magi. Only through Matthew do we know about the escape to Egypt and the eventual return of the family to Nazareth. Perhaps he obtained this info through friendship with Mary as she intermingled with the disciples.

Matthew gives us the sermon on the mount as well as other teachings and parables that the other gospel writers do not include.

We know about the assignment of Roman guards to the tomb and their later conspiracy with the chief priests only through Matthew’s writing.

When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ ” Matthew 27:12-13

So what do we know about Matthew himself? Scripture tells us that Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” (Matthew 9:9) He obviously did follow Jesus because he was chosen as one of the twelve disciples. We know that he invited his sinner friends to a dinner where they could meet Jesus, which shows us his witnessing nature. We can surmise he too was a “sinner.” And of course we learn that Matthew has the tag, the tax collector.

However, we never hear, “and Matthew said…”

We never hear, “and Matthew did…”

But every time the disciples did something, Matthew would have been there, hearing, watching, and speaking occasionally

So we look at the gospel he wrote to find other things about this man who was one of the twelve. We find him listening intently and recording parables and teachings that the other writers did not record. He appears organized and detailed. He portrays Jesus as the promised one with plenty of prophesies to go with it. He has knowledge of the Torah and the Writings.

One of my burning questions then is, what would cause this smart, outstanding son of David to lower himself to become a hated, sinful tax collector? Thus, the first part of my book will deal with the early years leading up to that position.

Eventually, we’ll explore other questions about his life as a disciple. How did they interact with one another. Did they whisper behind Matthew’s back about this tax collector? How did he overcome the stigma? With whom did he find friendship? How did they respond to Jesus’ teachings? 16,000 words so far, about 79,000 to go. 

And now in the next weeks before Easter, we will look at a few of the events leading up to and including the crucifixion and resurrection. Hmm, maybe we’ll look at it through Matthew’s eyes.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

The Dinner Party Observers

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Our scene was set last week with Jesus, Matthew, and his friends at a dinner.

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

Ah, so Jesus disciples came along too. Wouldn’t you love to know what they thought about this gathering? Did Jesus prepare them for what was about to take place? Did he say, “Now look boys, there’s likely to be a rough crowd there, but remember our goal here. We want to spread the good news to everybody.”

Or, did he just let it happen? I spring for this second option.  Read on:

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

Were the Pharisees invited? No, they weren’t on the guest list, but often the dinning areas in large homes were rather open. Passers-by could easily see all who gathered. The disciples were likely on the outer edge of the group, probably not too comfortable with the main guests. In fact, they may have been asking the same question in their minds.

 In essence the Pharisees were saying, “These people are the scum of our community. Why taint your reputations with the likes of these law breakers? Don’t you realize these are Roman sympathizers?  Why would you give them the time of day, much less fraternize with them, even eat with them?”

Jesus knew exactly what was going on in the disciples’ minds as well as the question being mumbled by the Pharisees. Perhaps Jesus hesitated before answering the question, hoping his men would answer.  After all, the question was asked of the disciples, not Jesus. But we hear not one word from his followers.

Let me pause here to remind you that all three synoptic gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) report Jesus healing many people by this time, so the disciples have seen His power. They’ve likely heard His discourses on the importance of loving God and loving people as well. So while they have heard the Word from the Lord and seen His power displayed, perhaps they have not had much practice in the doing.

Since the disciples did not answer the question, Jesus responded to the Pharisees.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31

A lesson that needed to be heard by the Pharisees and the disciples.

Do we need this lesson as well? How easy it is to vegetate in the land of the familiar—my routines, my responsibilities, my joys, my kind of people. Meanwhile, there are people who are spiritually sick around us who need the great physician. Lord, give us eyes to see. Help us to invite them to your ultimate feast in heaven.

We considered the invited guests last week and the observers this week. Next week, let’s see how Matthew himself is feeling about this dinner party. 

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Matthew and His Dinner Guests

 

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Last week, we saw that Matthew responded to the call of Jesus to, “Follow me.” 

I remember the way a movie director set this scene in a made-for-TV movie last year. The Matthew character was sitting at his booth. His eyes grew wide as Jesus approached him. Jesus stood before him for a moment and Matthew’s eyes began to water. When Jesus reached out his hand to him, Matthew’s eyes were brimming over in tears.

It was a stirring moment.  In that tear-filled moment you could feel Matthew’s conviction of sin and the glorious realization that the Redeemer was doing His cleansing work in Matthew’s heart. It was a beautiful scene. I loved it!

No doubt a bit of time elapses as Matthew (perhaps still called Levi) spends time with Jesus and the other disciples. Mark and Luke use his given name, Levi, when they tell his story. Levi means “a person pledged for a debt or vow.” It also means “a wild cow.” 

When Matthew tells his story, he uses “Matthew” which means “gift of Yahweh.” I see why he preferred “Matthew.” I’d rather be a gift of Yahweh than a wild cow, wouldn’t you?

As with any believer, Matthew is anxious to share his good news. He is so convinced that Jesus can melt the hearts of his friends that he decides to invite them to dinner, with Jesus as the main guest. Wouldn’t you love to know if Matthew had forewarned his friends about who was coming to dinner?

Now let’s reflect back to who his “friends” might be. Certainly not the upright citizens of the community. No, a despised tax collector would only be able to attract other rejected members of the town. Consider who are the despised ones—maybe prostitutes, uncaught thieves, drunkards, promiscuous young men—anyone who obviously and publicly did not follow the rules. “Sinners,” the Scripture says. 

Why, you might ask, would Jesus want to be with a house full of sinners? In his own words,

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”Matthew 9:12

I am reminded that after our son had “wandered in the wilderness” for a time, he turned his life over to Jesus. Things were going well. He buried himself in the Scripture, reading chapters at a time. He even asked if we could have a Bible study together as a family.

Then one day he said he was going to a party with his friends. Like Matthew, the only friends he had were “sinners.” My heart sank. But that night when he came home (at a reasonable hour), he excitedly shared how he had sat with a friend over in the corner and began to tell the friend all that had happened to him. In essence, he had gone to the party to witness!

Next week we will look at the dinner party through the eyes of the Pharisees and the disciples.

~ Joyce ~

Matthew, the Tax Collector

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Back to the research. 

It seems there were two kinds of tax collectors in Jesus’ day. One collected regular dues, kind of like property tax and income tax. It created a heavy burden on the poor who were already barely making it, especially in the area of Galilee where Jesus lived and taught so much.

The other kind of tax collector served more like a customs collector on imports and exports. Matthew would have been one of these. He lived in Capernaum which had a main road running through it. That put Capernaum smack dab in the middle of a major east/west trade route.

Matthew sat at the tax collector’s booth collecting from the travelers who passed through on their way to or from such places as Egypt, Phoenicia, Cyprus, or Assyria.

These caravans could have transported everything from wood, fish, or slaves, to fabrics, spices, or grains.

As they passed Matthew’s booth, he could put a charge on every pack animal, wheel, axle, or pedestrian. He taxed bales of goods, packages, even private letters. Bad as that was to the traveler, all the unpacking  and packing back up proved to be equally aggravating.

The burning question for me is, what would cause Matthew to get into this business as a detested tax collector?

Matthew was apparently educated since he had to deal in monies from different countries and able to “do the math” that would be needed. When we look ahead to his life after his conversion, we see that he was a writer and well versed in Old Testament Scripture as he quoted it twelve times in his Gospel. Often, he would say, “This was to fulfill the Scripture that said…”

So why would this religious, well-educated young man be drawn into a profession so profane?

Equally puzzling is why he would even consider following Jesus, given his present situation. His life was anything but honest, moral, humble, or upright. He didn’t understand meekness and mercy, much less being pure in heart or  peacemaking.

As he sat there at his booth by the sea, I can imagine that he may have heard Jesus’ teaching. He could have seen Jesus heal. Perhaps someone he knew was healed.

Was he growing weary of this life of fussing with travelers and being friends only with prostitutes, drunkards, robbers, and other sinners? Did he long to return to the synagogue, from which he had been banned, to study and pray? Was he convicted of his sin? Did Jesus’ words and gentle spirit penetrate his heart?

While others passed by and looked at Matthew with disdain, or ignored him as though he didn’t exist, was he touched by the fact that Jesus looked deep into his soul?

Whatever it was, the day came when Jesus walked directly to Matthew’s booth.

“Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9 

What did Jesus see in Matthew that the townspeople could not see? The same worth that God sees in us despite our failures and doubts.

Oh, but there’s more to Matthew’s story. Next week!

~ Joyce ~ 

 

Tax Collectors – Part 1

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Okay, “Tax Collectors” may not sound like a very exciting topic. And if I felt compelled to write about it, why didn’t I write this in April, for goodness sake?

To be honest, I’m in the midst of research for my third biblical historic novel. This time—Matthew. You know, Matthew the disciple or, as he was better known, Matthew the tax collector. Thus, I’m in tax collector research mode and YOU get to be the beneficiary. Now isn’t that exciting?

Look at it this way, you get a head start on the novel and the opportunity to see an author’s mind at work!

We only know the names of two tax collectors mentioned in the New Testament—Matthew and Zacchaeus (the wee little man who climbed the Sycamore tree.) 

But what do you know about tax collecting in first century Israel? Do you even care? As in all things biblical, the more we know of the culture, the more we can understand the context of things Jesus said and did, so let’s jump right in.

Tax collecting is as old as the Old Testament and it is mentioned first pop out of the bag in the New Testament. It was ultimately taxation that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Oh, Caesar called it a “census”, but essentially the census gave records for taxation. Yes, Rome’s territory and authority had spread over a good part of the world, including Israel.

As in our day, taxes helped with road repair, aqueducts, and the like, but mostly it paid for Roman soldiers who paraded in and out of the country keeping the possibility of uprisings at bay.

The Equites were Romans at the top of the taxation ladder who handled the contracts and financial arrangements. As in all government hierarchy, magistrates were under them, and sub-magistrates down the line who lived in the provinces they served. All of these made the big bucks or maybe I should say the big stack of Roman coins!

At the bottom of the rung were the tax collectors who did the nitty-gritty work and these men were Jews, not Romans. That’s where the rub came in. Most Jews felt like these tax collectors were not only taxing them to death (or to poverty), but the people detested the fact that their fellow Jews were willingly “working for the enemy” so to speak.

To add insult to injury, the tax collectors were required to collect “x” amount and then they could charge anything over that amount that they could get by with.

At times, Jesus spoke in apparent agreement of Jewish negative opinion of the activity of these tax collectors. One time he talked about loving our enemies. He said,

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Matthew 5:46-47

He pretty much put tax collectors and pagans in one barrel together. But we will find next week that he does have a heart for the tax collector and all who are lost. After all, he called a tax collector to be one of his disciples!   

 ~ Joyce ~

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!

header image blog

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 ~