Joel 1-3; 1 Thess. 3

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

1 Thessalonians 3:12, NIV

In our reading today there is a huge contrast. In Joel we read about the hardship that the Lord’s people were experiencing. Joel called Judah to repent and cry out to God for salvation. The Lord responded with compassion and saved them and their land and cattle. Then the Lord called them to war.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul was so encouraged to hear about the faith of the Thessalonians and their consistent belief in Jesus. He encouraged them to continue and to increase their love for each other and everyone else. Paul asked the Lord to increase their love.

I have to be honest and say I have always struggled with the contrast between The Old Testament and The New Testament. I have taken classes and understand the cultural conditions that existed during each time. I have taken many classes and read many books about theology. However, I still cannot understand the contrast between the God that calls for war and the God that calls for peace and love.

So what do we do? I have learned from a mentor that I don’t force an answer where there is not a clear one. I wait. I wait for wise council, I wait for the Holy Spirit’s leading and and I wait for confirmation. Currently, in my life, I have been led by the Spirit to love and not turn the shovel in my garage into a sword. I don’t give answers I don’t have. I will answer, “I don’t know.”

So friends, as we wait for the Lord’s return… as week seek to follow the Lord’s leading… as we share the “good news” that has changed our lives, let us also be comfortable in the spaces of contrast and unknown.

Dear God, I pray as Paul did that you would strengthen our hearts so that they would be blameless and holy in your presence. Allow us to be confident in who You are even in the unknown. May we sense your nearness and love because You first loved us. Amen.

Mandy (mkaybaldwin)

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2 Kings 11-12; 2 Chronicles 22-24; 1 Thessalonians 2

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 ESV

Paul’s ministry was full of conflict. He lived a life full of suffering, danger, and uncertainty. However, despite all these tribulations, he still boldly declared the gospel to the Thessalonians. He wrote 1 Thessalonians as a letter of encouragement and he himself was encouraged by their open embracement of the gospel.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV

Even in the position of apostle, Paul and those who came with him had a humble attitude and refused to take advantage of the people of Thessalonica, opting to work instead. This work ethic helped them remain righteous in their actions towards the Thessalonians. Paul provides one great example of living like Christ by coming to serve and not be served. Instead of expecting the Thessalonians to care and serve him, he instead cared for himself while serving them by preaching the gospel.

We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 1 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV

Paul provides an example of how I should act towards other believers. Everyone needs exhortation and encouragement. One of the reasons for the Church is so believers and can build each other up and encourage one another through the gospel. One way I can also encourage people to walk in a manner worthy of God by following His commands. Paul worked to show the Thessalonians he was not just talking a big talk but living the gospel by serving others. Maintaining a servant’s heart is crucial to caring for others in Christ.

Dear God, Thank you for Your church and the encouragement and exhortation I can receive from other believers. Please help me to serve wholeheartedly like Paul and to be an encouragement to others in Christ. In Your Holy Name, Amen.

Nathanael (nborger2017)

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2 Kings 9-10; 2 Chronicles 21; 1 Thessalonians 1

A young prophet was given instructions for an important task–to deliver a message and run (for his life!).

So Jehu left the others and went into the house. Then the young prophet poured the oil over Jehu’s head and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. You are to destroy the family of Ahab, your master. In this way, I will avenge the murder of my prophets and all the Lord’s servants who were killed by Jezebel. The entire family of Ahab must be wiped out. I will destroy every one of his male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. I will destroy the family of Ahab as I destroyed the families of Jeroboam son of Nebat and of Baasha son of Ahijah. 10 Dogs will eat Ahab’s wife Jezebel at the plot of land in Jezreel, and no one will bury her.” Then the young prophet opened the door and ran (2 Kings 9:6-10, NLT).

Jehu was tasked with an important role the Lord had appointed, and to fulfill the words the Lord commanded, an instrument in the Lord’s vengeance. The suspense builds as troops approach.

Then King Joram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah rode out in their chariots to meet Jehu. They met him at the plot of land that had belonged to Naboth of Jezreel. 22 King Joram demanded, “Do you come in peace, Jehu?”

Jehu replied, “How can there be peace as long as the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother, Jezebel, are all around us? (2 Kings 9:21-22, NLT, emphasis mine)”

Jehu was obedient to the Lord’s command as I read of the ensuing bloodbath and destruction. However:

28 In this way, Jehu destroyed every trace of Baal worship from Israel. 29 He did not, however, destroy the gold calves at Bethel and Dan, with which Jeroboam son of Nebat had caused Israel to sin.

30 Nonetheless the Lord said to Jehu, “You have done well in following my instructions to destroy the family of Ahab. Therefore, your descendants will be kings of Israel down to the fourth generation.” 31 But Jehu did not obey the Law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit (2 Kings 10:28-31, NLT).

Destroying the gold calves would have been the easiest of all the things he had to do. Why did he destroy every trace of Baal worship but not these? How did he justify salvaging the golden calves? Was it easier to see idolatry in someone else than it was to recognize it in himself? It seems possible that one can love and serve the Lord, but not with all his heart. Oh, how can there be peace as long as idolatry is around?

Jehu had a story of purpose and might, a story punctuated with a pivotal however. In 2 Chronicles 21, Jehoram is designated successor king because he’s the oldest, kills off his brothers and marries one of Ahab’s daughters. He’s also known for doing evil in the Lord’s sight. When Jehoram dies a miserable death, no one mourns him and he is not buried in the royal cemetery. Jehoram’s story speaks of his heart, focus and desire.

In 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul writes of a people’s reputation:

And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:8-9, NLT).

Not only did they turn away from idols to serve the living and true God, but they kept their focus on His kingdom and eagerly awaited his return.

Lord, show me places of my heart that I haven’t given you. Remind me when my focus strays.

Courtney (66books365)

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2 Kings 6-8; 2 Chronicles 20; Matthew 28

2 Kings 6:15-17 (NIV)

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

My father once said fear reveals that we’re walking by sight. It’s true. It’s far too easy to get caught up in what we see and to become overwhelmed as a result.

Like Elisha’s servant, I often suddenly find myself in some circumstance that takes me by surprise and seems impossible to overcome. And much like the servant, I cry out, “Oh no! What am I going to do?!” believing it depends on me to solve the problem.

But Elisha had faith, and he calmed the servant down by encouraging him with the truth of what was unseen – “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And when Elisha prayed, the Lord opened the servant’s eyes to see what was unseen – God’s power and might that was at work behind the scenes.

Now I’ve never been surrounded by an angry army, but I’ve had plenty of other trials and problems that have felt just as intimidating. The temptation is to give in to fear and attempt to take matters into my own hands. It’s in those moments that I must choose to remember God’s promise that He who is in me is greater than the one in the world. I must choose to remember God’s promise to be with me and never to leave me nor forsake me. I must choose to remember God’s love that is working all things for my good. I must choose to remember how God has delivered me before so that I can have faith that He will do it again.  Ultimately, I must choose to surrender to God’s plan and stop trying to fix it myself.

In 2 Chronicles we see a similar situation unfold when Jehoshaphat finds out that there are three armies on their way to wage war against him. Overwhelmed, he gathers the people to stand before God and they cry out for help and direction. They remind God of His promises, and they beg Him for direction. And they refuse to act until He answers.

2 Chronicles 20:12-13 (NIV)

“Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.

And God DID answer:

2 Chronicles 20:15-17, 20-23 (NIV)

He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.  Tomorrow march down against them. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’”

As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

“Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.

God told them they would not have to fight the battle, but to still prepare for war. And so by faith, they fixed their eyes on God’s power and promise. By faith, they suited up and set out. By faith, they sang praises to God. And when they began to sing, God began to deliver. And God is no partial deliverer, either – true to His word, by the time they arrived, there was no one to fight! Instead, they were rewarded with treasures so bountiful it took 3 days to bring everything home.

A line in a favorite song of mine says, “Come, Lord, do what only You can do – You can do anything!” I’m so thankful that God works behind the scenes in my life. God works in my praying. He works in my praises. When I choose faith, I choose Him; and He can do anything.

 

Father, please forgive me for my tendency to focus on what I see, and what I can do. Forgive me for trying to figure things out on my own and take matters into my own hands. Help me to remember that You know what you’re doing. You’re in control. You’re working in my waiting. You’re working in my praying. You’re working in my worship. Lord, I choose faith. I choose to focus on You instead of what I see, and I choose to remember that even when it looks like I’m surrounded, I know that I’m really surrounded by You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

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2 Kings 4-5; Psalm 83; Matthew 27

God is such a personal God and his timing never ceases to amaze me. Being single and reaching retirement age (too quickly I might add) has begun to concern me. What if I get sick? What if I don’t have enough retirement saved up? What if, what if, what if. Fear can be overwhelming if I let it. I have prayed about this A LOT. It is difficult for me to let go and trust God in this area—I feel I need to control everything.

Recently when I’ve taken this to him, he gave me the word “manna”. Manna? What does that mean Lord? You gave the Israelites manna every day, they weren’t to take more than a day’s worth except on Sabbath, it was your provision for them for 40 years. Hmmm! Enter today’s readings in 2 Kings 4.

 The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”

Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”

She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”

But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.

She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”

God provided for her to pay her debts and have money to live.

11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him. 13 Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’”

She replied, “I have a home among my own people.”

14 “What can be done for her?” Elisha asked.

Gehazi said, “She has no son, and her husband is old.”

15 Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 16 “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.”

“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!”

17 But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.

God provided a son to take care of his parents in their old age. He became sick and died, but Elisha brought him back to life.

43 “How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked.

But Elisha answered, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: ‘They will eat and have some left over.’” 44 Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.

I am well acquainted with the verses quoted which are all examples of God’s provision. Yet today when I read them they became personal. God was using them to teach me, to assure me, to remind me of his great love for me. Has he not taken care of me thus far in my life? Yes! Did he not provide for me the year I was unemployed? Yes!! Emphatically yes! Why do I doubt him now? The idea of “the rest of my life” has a big question mark as to the length of time. Manna is God assuring me that he took care of his chosen people for 40 years, but they had to live trusting him day by day. And every day the manna showed up. God never changes. He will provide for me as he did for the widow, the Shunamite woman, and the hundreds. Everyone had enough.

Lord, learning to live in that place of trusting you daily is an on-going process for me. I thank you that you speak to me, assure me, give me examples right from your word that you hear me. I can rest as long as I stay in today. The future is in your hands—not mine. I surrender it to you. In Jesus name, Amen.

Cindy (gardnlady)

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2 Kings 1-3; Psalm 82; Matthew 26

When I read Scripture, I see myself. My own sin, my own weakness, my own shortcomings, my own lack of faith.

I could be the disciple that fell asleep while Jesus wrestled in agonized prayer (Matthew 26). I could be the king who sent to a foreign god to determine his fate (2 Kings 1). I could be in the group of 50 consumed by fire from heaven instead of coming humbly to the man of God. I could deny knowing Christ when pressed too hard or let love of money wriggle in, eclipsing my devotion to God (Matthew 26) and betray him with a kiss.

They are all me at one time or another.

Can I also be Elijah swept up in the whirlwind? Calling down fire from heaven with a word? Knowing intimately the will of God? The army of Israel stepping out in faith, destroying enemies, overcoming? Could I rest in God’s power in the face of a murderous mob?

Elijah was not an unusual man. Elisha the same. They simply show us God’s power at work. God met each of them where they were and used them for His good and glory. From the moment Elisha was overcome by grief, God met him.

14 Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. (2 Kings 1:14 ESV)

God is prepared to answer our hard questions with a peace and power that this world could never offer.

Lord God, you are the God who parts rivers, sends consuming fire, hates sin with a vengeance, controls armies, has the power to heal, and who sacrificed His own Son on my behalf. How great is your love! How awesome are your works! Help me to always rest in you, to follow your steps, and to live by faith, chasing after the unseen and undeterred by the seen. Forgive me for times of failure and sinking back into sin, and continue to help me walk in those good works that you prepared in advance for me to do. In Jesus name, Amen.

Erin (6intow)

 

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1 Kings 22; 2 Chr. 18-19; Matt. 25

Matthew 25 is where we land this morning. The parable of the talents is a passage that almost teaches itself. Please read it below:

14“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 
24“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28“ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30 [NIV])

As we begin the second half of 2019 let’s take an inventory of how we are doing with the gifts and talents the Holy Spirit has given us. If you are a Christ follower you have been given at least one spiritual gift. First of all do you know what that gift is? Secondly are you using that gift to serve Christ’s body the church? Thirdly are you stewarding that gift? Some of us have more than one. What a responsibility this is to steward them well. The servants were given talents. Two used them well while the third hid his talent. Are you hiding your talent today? This chapter comes right after the one on the end times and Christ’s return and it ends with another description of that time. The gifts we’ve been given are to be tried and tested in the context of eternity.

Some day you will come face to face with Jesus. Just you and Him. He is going to ask you what you have done with the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you. Will He say well done to you? Let’s live the second half of 2019 like the gifts we’ve been given are tools that count for eternity. Use them well my friend!

 

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