Monthly Archives: June 2019

2 Chronicles 10, 11; Matthew 20

Perseverence. Honor. Integrity. Faithfulness. Head-down; heart lifted-up. Goodness. Kindness. Justice.

Matthew 20 sparks heart-felt reflection for me. I find myself relating to the workers. I find myself, again, again. I am the long-suffering worker- feeling the deep burn of labor, and I am the one being blessed by lavish kindness and grace.

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius[a] a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  ESV

There are responsibilities in my life with a logical arrangement. X gets Y. Or, this work of faithfulness means that {end result; time commitment; personal labor; heart-work, etc, etc} The agreement is fair; it is just.

11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’[b] 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”  ESV

I struggle to understand the kingdom dynamic of: the last will be first, and the first will be last- yet, I know it is true- and it speaks to me of such scandalous, lavish, outrageous grace- and I think of how I bend my back in heat and hardship- when, really, I am free– free to be; free to receive; free to walk in such generous favor and love. Undeserving. Miracle-working. I lift up my head.

I struggle with a back bending labor; with a labor of an agreed wage that weighs me down;  that has me bearing the burden of the day and the scorching heat. Yet, in the end, as my heart struggles with what feels unfair- and like bondage, I have to realize- it is only the agreed upon wage. It is only what is justly due. And, it is my glory to bear that heat and that burden in humility and in peace.

I think there are times when I think I deserve more or better. When, in reality, I don’t- and the scorching heat is just a fair part of the deal.

My heart is tangled; the tangle encompasses several different spheres; yet, I can’t help but wonder if the root is actually all the same.

I don’t know how to untangle this heart of mine. I can’t make myself bear well. But, I can be small and quiet before Jesus. I can recognize that He is generous and kind. I can ask Him to help me find the places where He can make me first in His economy because of His love, generosity, and grace. I can invite others to do the same.

At the end of the day, when I am weary Lord, refresh me with Your grace. Amen.

Rebecca (offeringsbecca)

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Song of Solomon 7-8; 1 Kings 12

I think on key themes: influence, leadership, power. But there’s more: fear, insecurity, desperation, intimidation. At the core of all, it’s heart.

Rehoboam seeks counsel over a situation and is offered two different pieces of advice. He is influenced by his peers, but on a deeper level, there’s more.

12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to hear Rehoboam’s decision, just as the king had ordered. 13 But Rehoboam spoke harshly to the people, for he rejected the advice of the older counselors 14 and followed the counsel of his younger advisers. He told the people, “My father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions! (1 Kings 12:12, NLT, emphasis added)”

It speak of his heart. These scriptures also glimpse the spiritual realm.

15 So the king paid no attention to the people. This turn of events was the will of the Lord, for it fulfilled the Lord’s message to Jeroboam son of Nebat through the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh (1 Kings 12:15, NLT, emphasis added).

And this:

24 ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not fight against your relatives, the Israelites. Go back home, for what has happened is my doing!’” So they obeyed the message of the Lord and went home, as the Lord had commanded (1 Kings 12:24, NLT, emphasis added).

Jeroboam battles fear and insecurity in his heart. He feels his safety and very life are on the line.

26 Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. 27 When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

In the meanwhile, his actions may temporarily protect his physical body, but his spirit has trespassed into unsafe territory.

28 So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people,“It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt! (1 Kings 12:26-28, NLT, emphasis added)”

When I feel afraid, uncertain, overwhelmed; when I need direction and wisdom; when I feel alone or targeted–I recognize these are moments when my heart is vulnerable. The advice I seek or follow can lead me closer to God or farther away. If I keep my eyes focused on what’s in front of me, I risk reacting from a worldly perspective of here and now–but if I lift my eyes, I see a kingdom and an eternity–and that, indeed, changes everything.

Lord, I pray that I would keep your kingdom my focus. I recognize the things that poke and stoke my heart can be distractions and stumbling blocks. I realize too that these distractions and stumbling blocks provoke a reaction that reveals my heart. Oh that these occasions would provide cleansing and healing, to draw me closer to you and not distance me from you.

Courtney (66books365)

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Song of Solomon 4-6; Matthew 19

Matthew 19:16-30 NIV

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Ah, how much of myself I see in this rich young man.

This young man was arrogant enough to think he had a right to heaven by his deeds. And if I’m honest, I have to admit, there are times when I fall into the trap of focusing on my works and glorifying myself. “At least I’m not like…”

Jesus was patient with this young man, and I’m thankful He extends the same loving-kindness to me. Instead of rushing to point out all of the failures this man was hiding, Jesus instead took it one step further and brought him to the heart of the matter – and He does the same for me.

It’s not about what I technically do or say that’s right. Jesus wants more than that – He wants my heart. And not just a piece of it – the whole thing. But I like to argue with Him. “But God, why can’t I keep this and have you, too? Isn’t enough that I don’t do this other thing? Isn’t enough that I do this good thing?”

The young man turned away sad when Jesus asked for His heart. It’s easy to dismiss this man as being foolish, but how many times do I initially respond the same way when Jesus reveals a change that needs to take place in my heart? “God, I don’t know if I can do this…”

But Jesus doesn’t apologize for asking me to surrender. Instead, He promises to be worth it. He won’t fail me, and He won’t forget me. You know what will? That little piece of my heart that I’m trying to keep.

For the rich young man, it was his money and comfort. For me, it’s control. For others, it’s a relationship. A habit. That one thing they don’t know how to live without. But it will always end in suffering.

Jesus offers a better solution. He offers Himself. And with Him, everything else.

“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” –CS Lewis

Lord, keep me from chasing things and people that won’t satisfy. Forgive me for seeing comfort and security in the things and people of this world – and ultimately, for seeking those things within my own heart. I know that You are worth leaving everything for. You’ve never failed me yet, and you won’t start now. Help me to remember Your faithfulness, and help me to persevere in following You above anything else. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

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Song of Solomon 1-3; Psalm 94; Matthew 18

I’ve spent the last few weekends going through boxes in my basement. I have run across pictures I had forgotten, relived memories of special occasions, and gotten to see the faces of loved ones who have passed away—my mom, dad, brother, grandparents. In one corner of the basement are all the boxes I brought from my mother’s house after she died. They have been untouched for five years. One box, in particular, contained an old brown picture album with the black pages where the pictures were neatly held in place at the corners. As I went through the pictures, I wish so much my mother was there. She would have remembered who everyone was. She would have reminded me of the details of stories I thought I’d never forget—yet I have. I wanted to ask her so many questions. I wish I had written names on the back of pictures or written down the stories of our relatives and their lives. There was so much wisdom that was shared by generations but forgotten over time.

Reading through the parables in Matthew 18, I thought of Jesus and how important it was for him to share the words his father gave him for us. How blessed we are to have them written down so we won’t forget! I can imagine a sense of urgency each day that he was here knowing it was only a short amount of time before he would be gone from the disciples. As he taught them, they listened to the stories, and, unlike me with all the stories my mom shared, they remembered them. I’ve read these stories many times over the years but they have changed. They have become personal. It’s almost as if, in my mind’s eye, I can see Jesus looking past the people he’s with and looking directly at me as he speaks. I feel like he really wants me to get it!

In this chapter, there were some harsh words of warning against causing another to sin:

6“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

His teaching on the lost sheep reminded me of my own story and how I was once that lost sheep he came and rescued. 14“In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” Thank you, Jesus, for coming after me!

He gives us a story on forgiveness and how important it is—especially considering how much we’ve been forgiven!  22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Psalm 94 reminds me that I am blessed to have the Lord’s teaching, even if it comes in the form of discipline. His words are meant to protect me.

12 Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord,
the one you teach from your law;
13 you grant them relief from days of trouble,
till a pit is dug for the wicked.

I am so thankful that God has not left me here without any kind of direction. I have his Word and his Spirit to guide me. I love to imagine myself sitting on the ground, legs crisscrossed, at the feet of Jesus listening intently as he teaches about the goodness of his Father. He tells me of his great love for me—ME—that lost sheep who had almost given up. Who is such a sinner. Yet he tells me I’m forgiven, and because of that, I’m to forgive others.

Heavenly Father, your love continually amazes me. The depth of love you have for us is shown through Jesus. I pray I will always sit at his feet and listen to his stories—stories of you. In His name I pray.

Cindy (gardnlady)

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Ecclesiastes 8-12; Matthew 17

The righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Eccl 9:1

Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Eccl 9:18

Life is unpredictable, and at times irrational, inconsistent. We try to find logical reason for the evil that exists and the bad that happens.

Why do “bad” things happen to “good” people? (Seriously, try making sense of the crucifixion to the disciples in the midst of it)

Why do “good” things happen to “bad” people? (And, the prosperity of Rome?)

I’ve been wrestling with the fallout of evil in our church in recent months. A pastor unchecked, money spent without accountability, leadership defending unbiblical decisions.

So hard. So much hurt. In the headlines, and not just local. So, not only do we wrestle with how to move forward personally and as a church, we wrestle with explaining this mess to our unbelieving friends and co-workers.

A stark reminder that sin still haunts us as long as we walk this earth.

The writer of Ecclesiastes also tried to make sense of these types of illogical happenings. In the end, it all comes back to obedience and trusting God for the outcome.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Eccl 12:13, 14

I can rest in Him. He knows it all. Unsurprised by it all. Already paid the ultimate price, and now patiently waiting for the right time and still actively at work in the waiting.

Lord, it doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t need to. Help me trust unconditionally and keep obeying and following You regardless of outcome or what happens around me. You are good, and I will praise You. In Jesus Name, Amen

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Ecclesiates 6-7; Psalms 18; Matthew 16

June used to be my favorite month. But in recent years, June is when all the bad things seem to happen in our family. So now it kind of keeps me on edge.  Five years ago my husband had mayor surgery. It was a physical strain on him and an emotional strain on me and our children.  Then, four years ago my parents were in a head on collision. My dads truck was totaled and my mom broke a few fingers.  Finally, three years ago my grandfather passed away and my husband lost his job the very next day. We spent the rest of the summer daily trusting that another job was on its way.
I can look back at all of these June’s with bitterness or I can choose to realize that God was faithful through them all. I can look back and be grateful for the trials as they made me grow and lean on Him more. Today’s readings provide passages that reflect my sentiments.
  • “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3 ESV)
  • “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.  From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.” (Psalms 18;6 ESV)
  • This God- His way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.” (Psalms 18:30 ESV)
  • Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25 ESV)

Lord, we cry to You in our distress.  You are always right there.  Trials give us the closeness that we would never have if everything was perfect.  We give up our lives to follow You because its then that we truly DO have life.  Help us to always remember your faithfulness.

Amen,

Kellie

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Ecclesiastes 3-5; Psalm 45; Matthew 15

I think of the scraps that fell from the table: could meager remnants become a feast? I sat on a bench one year and considered the crumbs and thought of this woman in Matthew 15 and her perspective.

24 Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”

25 But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”

26 Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

27 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table. (Matthew 15:24-27, NLT)”

She taught me something profound that day about my own heart. About contentment. About gratitude. About the Lord. About enough.

The Pharisees had their expectations of what life would look like, and how purity would be recognized, and a protocol for how things would be done. I think on how my own expectations, perceptions, and protocol have kept me sour, hurt, angry, or disappointed.

Ecclesiastes marks time like seasons for war and peace, tearing and mending, silence and speech. Couldn’t it show on the calendar? On (this day), you will cry. You will grieve. But in a few turns of the calendar pages, you will laugh. You will dance. Would the wait feel long?

Here, I linger:

What do people really get for all their hard work? 10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13, NLT).

The injustices of life. The advantages of companionship. The futility of power and wealth. The importance of integrity. Read slowly. Everything, beautiful. Even in the becoming, beauty, in the wait. A scope of His work.

17 Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud—frustrated, discouraged, and angry.

18 Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. 19 And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. 20 God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past (Ecclesiastes 5:17-20, NLT, emphasis added).

I did a quarterly evaluation in areas of my life from 1-10: work, health, friendships, etc. Goal books and podcasts preach a level-10 life. What would it look like, I wondered. And slowly I realized–I was already there. I have all I need. And maybe living out level 10 didn’t mean what I was making it (nebulous as it was). Maybe it didn’t look like anyone else’s vision of ten. Maybe, in some cases, it had to do with letting go of hurts and expectations, with looking forward and sowing into a future than looking back and carrying past burdens. Maybe my disappointment stemmed from exceptions and restrictions and expectations I placed upon things, a schedule I overbooked, a relationship I overestimated. For community that was never going to be what I hoped it could be. For the friend who never agreed to be who I needed her to be. What if I let go of my own restrictions, instead of wrestling with a past I couldn’t change, and people I wished who would? Seems like chasing the wind.

Lord, thank you for meeting me that day on the bench, bringing that woman’s story to mind. Thank you today for reminding me of the scope of your story. Thank you for gifts from you: good things from you, and the health to enjoy them.

Courtney (66books365)

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