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Judges 3; Acts 7; Jeremiah 16; Mark 2

There are days the tasks I face are things like cutting the grass, doing the laundry, preparing school lessons. There are days the tasks I face are way harder–standing up under scrutiny and judgment, making decisions I never imagined I’d have to, pushing through circumstances that could truly change my heart.

These are the nations that the Lord left in the land to test those Israelites who had not experienced the wars of Canaan. He did this to teach warfare to generations of Israelites who had no experience in battle. These are the nations: the Philistines (those living under the five Philistine rulers), all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the mountains of Lebanon from Mount Baal-hermon to Lebo-hamath. These people were left to test the Israelites—to see whether they would obey the commands the Lord had given to their ancestors through Moses. (Judges 3:1-4, NLT)

In the midst of a battle for my heart, my faith, my words, my actions (in sum, my life), I’m thankful that Jesus is my Savior, my light, my teacher. I look to these words about battles and testing, and I want to cling tightly to my God.

Lord, you are my strength and fortress,
    my refuge in the day of trouble!
Nations from around the world
    will come to you and say,
“Our ancestors left us a foolish heritage,
    for they worshiped worthless idols.
20 Can people make their own gods?
    These are not real gods at all!”

21 The Lord says,
“Now I will show them my power;
    now I will show them my might.
At last they will know and understand
    that I am the Lord. (Jeremiah 16:19-21, NLT)

Stephen recounts a history of God’s faithfulness and direction. Lord, don’t let me be so distracted by an enemy or a battle or a faulty perception that I forget all that you are and all that you have done.

You forgive.

Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5, NLT)

You heal.

10 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, 11 “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” (Mark 2:10, NLT)

You lead.

14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:14, NLT)

You provide.

 27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (Mark 2:27, NLT)

You make all things new.

22 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22, NLT)

Courtney (66books365)

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Joshua 12,13; Psalms 145; Jeremiah 6; Matthew 20

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius.  So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.  When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.  ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’    Matthew 20:9;12

I tend to place myself within parables as I read them (always identifying with the most godly of the story’s characters, of course!).  After I read the parable of the workers in the vineyard, I instead imagined a scene from my future:

I walk into Heaven after serving God for most of my long life and find myself face to face with a couple of Nazis.

Huh?  This is Heaven right?  What’s going on here?

I suddenly recall reading the testimony of the U.S. Army chaplain assigned to minister to the surviving leaders of the Third Reich during their year-long trial at Nuremburg.  He claimed several were saved, including the chief of the German armed forces and the head of their massive slave labor force.  As I stand in Heaven staring them straight in the eye, I see that he was right.  I’m not sure how I feel about sharing the same eternal fate as men who were personally responsible for the deaths of tens of millions and caused great misery for hundreds of millions more.  They dedicated themselves to God only in the eleventh hour as they approached their executions.  Something doesn’t seem right.  Something doesn’t seem fair.

I look around the golden city and marvel at this, my eternal reward, and then start to wonder anew if I’m really being given nothing more than the reward these reformed killers have received.  Suddenly my eyes fall upon Jesus.  He’s looking at me with an expression that suggests He’s waiting for something to click within my mind.  Finally it does.  I realize that this eternal reward I feel slighted in having to share with the Nazis is a reward that Jesus alone actually earned.  Fairness to Jesus would require that I  take up residence in hell.  I’m only here because of God’s grace.  How then can I be wishing, even for a moment, that He apply a little justice to someone else?

I see Jesus is still waiting, and my thoughts break through yet another wall.  I might be sharing the same eternal fate as men who rebelled against God to a degree that few others in history ever have, but it’s SO wrong to think that God has blessed us equally.  We might be neighbors in Heaven, but I was given something they never were.  They served God only toward the end of lives filled with evil.  On the other hand, God prevented me from committing such levels of evil, and blessed me by drawing me to Him early in life.  These men lived most of their lives in service to themselves.  I was invited to live most of my life in service to the Great and Holy King.  What an unparalleled privilege!

Dear Lord, thank you for mercy rather than justice.  Destroy my lingering love of fairness.  Replace it with an ever greater love of goodness and grace.  Amen.

Michael   (mmattix)

From the archives. Originally published July 10, 2011.

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Joshua 8; Psalm 139; Jeremiah 2; Matthew 16

I thought a week off from routine would restore me. Now, a second week closing, I feel myself slipping into hermit mode. I pulled up Psalm 139 to read, and I cried. This is a Father’s loving hand upon a daughter’s head. He is right here with me. He knows me best. Even when I slip into hermitting, He comforts me in this new territory of angry grief. He does not abandon me.

(All of Psalm 139, NLT, because it is so good. Emphasis mine.)

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!

19 O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
    Get out of my life, you murderers!
20 They blaspheme you;
    your enemies misuse your name.
21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
    Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
    for your enemies are my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

 

A friend shared some hurtful things going on in her life, and by all accounts, her anger is justified. But I saw what it was doing to her and those around her. I said, “I get it. I’d be mad too. But how long is enough? How long (of being angry) will make you feel better? I hate to see you work yourself into a pit that’s hard to get out of.”

The words spoke into my life as well. At the time, I couldn’t bring myself to say it, because it can seem so unfair–but maybe the antidote for anger is forgiveness. Because the thing about anger, can it ever be satisfied–especially in circumstances where there is no justice? Some things can’t be taken back or fixed. Anger is like a hot coal being tossed into hands. How do (we) let go when memory sears?

Oh, Lord, point out the offenses. Lead me.

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?] Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26, NLT)

Lord, I would be so utterly lost without your word, your love, your forgiveness. Thank you for loving me so much, that even in the angry grief, you don’t leave me. You tell me to get back on my feet and follow you.

Courtney (66books365)

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Joshua 1; Psalms 120-122; Isaiah 61; Matthew 9

We just finished up the last of extracurricular activities last Sunday, and Monday–what felt like the first official day of summer vacation–I got my first back-to-school sale ad by email. Tuesday, the curriculum I ordered recently for the next school year arrived.

My couch has three pens, a blanket, at least five books at any given time, a notebook or two, and a pair of reading glasses strewn up on it when I’m not expecting company. One book I’m reading is Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie (no affiliate link or paid endorsement, but definitely a good, short, rich read before the school year, and an encouragement in the middle). She reminds the reader that “rest is not ease” and that “peace comes from recognizing that our real task is to wake up each day and get our marching orders from God. It comes from diligence to the work He hands us, but diligence infused with faith, with resting in God’s promises to guide us and bless us” (Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching From Rest, Classical Academic Press, 2015, page 4).

Reading in Joshua, the Lord tells him:

“I will not fail you or abandon you.

“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5b-9, NLT)

Joshua tells the tribes:

13 “Remember what Moses, the servant of the Lord, commanded you: ‘The Lord your God is giving you a place of rest. He has given you this land.’ 14 Your wives, children, and livestock may remain here in the land Moses assigned to you on the east side of the Jordan River. But your strong warriors, fully armed, must lead the other tribes across the Jordan to help them conquer their territory. Stay with them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has given you rest, and until they, too, possess the land the Lord your God is giving them. (Joshua 1:13-15, NLT)

I’m not physically conquering lands, but I am getting marching orders each day. Some days it has felt like a hustle, and I think on the words that rest is not ease. I find comfort, strength and encouragement in God’s word–of his presence and faithfulness, his trustworthiness and power.

The psalms:

I took my troubles to the Lord;
    I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer. (Psalm 120:1, NLT)

And,

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever. (Psalm 121:1-8, NLT)

The Lord, who comforts, who brings good out of bad, who restores and provides (Isaiah 61). My overwhelm turns from task to joy in the Lord my God.

Matthew 9:2b, NLT, Jesus speaks to the paralyzed man: “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.” The man gets up from his mat and walks.

He calls to Matthew in Matthew 9:9b, NLT, “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.

The woman who suffered twelve years: 22 Jesus turned around, and when he saw her he said, “Daughter, be encouraged! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed at that moment. (Matthew 9:22, NLT)

Lord, your word is full of examples of your presence and power. Even when the day is full, I can find rest in you–that you are with me, you are sovereign, and you love me as your child.

Courtney (66books365)

 

Listening to Elevation Worship’s Here as in Heaven

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Deuteronomy 27-28:19; Psalm 119:1-24; Isaiah 54; Matthew 2

I read about his promises, his provision, his protection.

When you cross the Jordan River and enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write this whole body of instruction on them when you cross the river to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you—a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. (Deuteronomy 27:2-3, NLT)

He shows the way. It is a path made by love, loving guidance and instruction.

Joyful are people of integrity,
    who follow the instructions of the Lord.
Joyful are those who obey his laws
    and search for him with all their hearts.
They do not compromise with evil,
    and they walk only in his paths.
You have charged us
    to keep your commandments carefully.
Oh, that my actions would consistently
    reflect your decrees!
Then I will not be ashamed
    when I compare my life with your commands.
As I learn your righteous regulations,
    I will thank you by living as I should!
I will obey your decrees.
    Please don’t give up on me! (Psalm 119:1-8, NLT)

 

His word is truth.

14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A cry was heard in Ramah—
    weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
    refusing to be comforted,
    for they are dead.”

23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:14-15, 17-18, 23, NLT)

Lord, you are the Father who delights in me. You comfort me in my distress. You strengthen me in my weakness. You make a path straight for me, so I can walk in joy. You protect me. You provide for me. Your promises are trustworthy. You are trustworthy. Your love never fails. By your love, you show me how to love. By your love, you show me how to live. Thank you.

Courtney (66books365)

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Deuteronomy 20; Psalm 107; Isaiah 47; Revelation 17

Over the years, the enemy has looked different. Whether it has been wounding by many people or by one, a wandering or a circumstance–hardships come. I don’t say any of this lightly. Dreams are shattered. Hearts broken. Lives fractured. Lives lost. In all of it, I’ve learned to look for God as my savior, my hope, my strength. He has taken me from wounded to warrior.

“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you! When you prepare for battle, the priest must come forward to speak to the troops. He will say to them, ‘Listen to me, all you men of Israel! Do not be afraid as you go out to fight your enemies today! Do not lose heart or panic or tremble before them. For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!’ Deuteronomy 20:1-4, NLT

Sometimes the warrior in me throws off the things that entangle with a fury force and roar. Sometimes the warrior in me just shows up and takes the next staggering step forward in faith. Sometimes the warrior in me calls out, “Lord, help!”

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever.
Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
    Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies. Psalm 107:1-2, NLT

Desert wanderers, dry and parched. Prisoners of darkness and gloom. Fools in rebellion, starving when a feast is spread out before them. When life tosses and plunges to wit’s end–the Lord is near. Cry out.

He satisfies the thirsty. He breaks down prison gates. He sends out his word to heal. He calms the storm with a whisper and stills the waves.

33 He changes rivers into deserts,
    and springs of water into dry, thirsty land.
34 He turns the fruitful land into salty wastelands,
    because of the wickedness of those who live there.
35 But he also turns deserts into pools of water,
    the dry land into springs of water.
36 He brings the hungry to settle there
    and to build their cities.
37 They sow their fields, plant their vineyards,
    and harvest their bumper crops.
38 How he blesses them! Psalm 107:33-38a, NLT

His faithful love endures forever.

42 The godly will see these things and be glad,
    while the wicked are struck silent.
43 Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
    they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord. Psalm 107:42-43, NLT

Thank you, God, that you love this broken world so much that you sent your son to die for our sins, that we would not perish, but have everlasting life. Thank you for your faithfulness and nearness, for your unending love and power. Thank you for thinking of even me, to not leave me wounded or forsaken, but to hold me up in your righteousness. You call me daughter, and I can call you Father. In deep gratitude, I praise your name.

Courtney (66books365)

 

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Deuteronomy 12; Psalms 97,98; Isaiah 40; Revelation 10

The words read like a feast to me: rich, filling, satisfying. It’s all praise, and don’t I want my days filled with a heart song? Before I settled into reading, I was hanging out in some memories of the past year, times with a table full of guests whether a holiday or a poetry tea. Times of closeness, nature, celebration. Such a gratitude welled up in me. Thank you, God. Thank you for beauty, provision, family and friends.

There you and your families will feast in the presence of the Lord your God, and you will rejoice in all you have accomplished because the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:7, NLT)

Even on the days when grief hit hard, or the load was so heavy, or my nerves felt frazzled–it would be the simplest of things that would remind me of God’s great grace–a friend to listen, a timely word of encouragement, the honey sweetness in a warm tea, stunning sunsets after hard days. Thank you, God. Thank you for your presence and reminders everywhere.

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A glowy sunset after a powerful storm

The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
    every nation sees his glory.

11 Light shines on the godly,
    and joy on those whose hearts are right.
12 May all who are godly rejoice in the Lord
    and praise his holy name! Psalm 97:6, 11-12 NLT

And:

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
    break out in praise and sing for joy!
Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King! Psalm 98:4-6, NLT

Yesterday I met with a woman who has helped me pack up the business pieces my father’s life. She shared her own story of now listing her home to move out of state to be near her aging parents and help them transition to a facility where they’ll receive the care they need. Two other friends are also managing affairs of a parent who has died or is near death. In all this, I learn from them about heart, priorities, self-care (which I never would have imagined being a regular word in my vocabulary!), perseverance, and faith. There is a peace knowing I don’t walk alone, and that God is with us–each of us. Thank you, God. Thank you for those who walk alongside as help or as example. Thank you for companions in traversing difficult paths.

26 Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:26-31, NLT)

Thank you, Lord, for strength you give me on the hard days. You are ever so close, encouraging me and loving me.
Courtney (66books365)

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