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2 Samuel 20; 2 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 27; Psalm 75, 76

This year I’ve worked really hard to examine my actions and my values. Did the one give support and evidence to the other? What guiding principles would help me to support those values? It’s not always so clear. It’s even harder, especially in storms under stress, if you don’t have a plan of action.

Sheba was a known troublemaker. He didn’t work for peace or unity. He passionately moved others to follow his example.

There happened to be a troublemaker there named Sheba son of Bicri, a man from the tribe of Benjamin. Sheba blew a ram’s horn and began to chant:

“Down with the dynasty of David!
    We have no interest in the son of Jesse.
Come on, you men of Israel,
    back to your homes!”

So all the men of Israel deserted David and followed Sheba son of Bicri. But the men of Judah stayed with their king and escorted him from the Jordan River to Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 20:1-2, NLT)

Do I follow the crowd? Do the people in my feeds and in my life lead me closer to the values I want to stand for, or do they lead me away? How do these influencers affect my heart and my choices?

If I’m clear on my values, my purpose, my goal, then perhaps I can save myself collateral damage from passions or impulses.

16 But a wise woman in the town called out to Joab, “Listen to me, Joab. Come over here so I can talk to you.” 17 As he approached, the woman asked, “Are you Joab?”

“I am,” he replied.

So she said, “Listen carefully to your servant.”

“I’m listening,” he said.

18 Then she continued, “There used to be a saying, ‘If you want to settle an argument, ask advice at the town of Abel.’ 19 I am one who is peace loving and faithful in Israel. But you are destroying an important town in Israel. Why do you want to devour what belongs to the Lord?”

20 And Joab replied, “Believe me, I don’t want to devour or destroy your town! 21 That’s not my purpose. All I want is a man named Sheba son of Bicri from the hill country of Ephraim, who has revolted against King David. If you hand over this one man to me, I will leave the town in peace.”

“All right,” the woman replied, “we will throw his head over the wall to you.” 22 Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off Sheba’s head and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the ram’s horn and called his troops back from the attack. They all returned to their homes, and Joab returned to the king at Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 20:16-22, NLT, emphasis added)

Sheba was a known troublemaker. But this woman of influence is only referenced as wise–and she knows herself as peace loving and faithful. Both she and Sheba have and live by their values, and both will bear fruit (results) by their choices.

But what got me most in today’s readings was the image of Tyre, like a grand and beautiful ship–known, prosperous, elegant, thriving. The reading of it gets better and grander as I follow–with so much going for it, what could go wrong?

26 “But look! Your oarsmen
    have taken you into stormy seas!
A mighty eastern gale
    has wrecked you in the heart of the sea!
27 Everything is lost—
    your riches and wares,
your sailors and pilots,
    your ship builders, merchants, and warriors.
On the day of your ruin,
    everyone on board sinks into the depths of the sea. (Ezekiel 27:26-27, NLT)

Your oarsmen have taken you into stormy seas. It’s important to be aware of what influences me. Is it leading me on a fruitful path or taking me to destruction? Do my friendships really lead me closer to my goals and values? Do my thoughts really support what I value? Do my actions bear good fruit or bad fruit? Are my oarsmen leading me into stormy seas? Be aware.

Paul really wanted to influence the Corinthians for the better. Do I have friends like that–who speak truth, hope, encouragement into my life? If they saw me headed into stormy waters, would stand by and watch me go? Would they be like the oarsmen and hasten my fall? Or would they reason with me because they value the destiny of my heart over their own comfort?

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority.

We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction. I hope we won’t need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come—even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority. For we cannot oppose the truth, but must always stand for the truth. We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong. We pray that you will become mature. (2 Corinthians 13:5-9, NLT)

Lord, you send me a brother in Paul through the pages of your word.

11 Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11, NLT)

Father God, I pray to be discerning in my influences–those people and things that feed my thoughts–because I am an influencer too in my home. Help me to get clear on how to support the things I value.

Courtney (66books365)

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Exodus 10; Luke 13; Job 28; I Corinthians 14

What is in front of me–a stubborn leader, a swarm of locusts, a thick darkness. What the Lord reveals:

“I have made him and his officials stubborn so I can display my miraculous signs among them. I’ve also done it so you can tell your children and grandchildren about how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and about the signs I displayed among them—and so you will know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:1b-2, NLT, emphasis added)

He has a reason for the resistance. (Display, display, know–He shows so I know. Father God, give me a Kingdom focus.)

A group of believers is murdered. A tower falls taking lives with it. A leafy tree looks healthy but is fruitless. A woman is afflicted 18 years, held in bondage by Satan.

“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” (Luke 13:2-4, NLT)

Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’

“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:7-9, NLT)

24 “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail. 25 When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 26 Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 And he will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you or where you come from. Get away from me, all you who do evil.’ (Luke 13:24-27, NLT)

He has a message, a warning. Tragedy strikes any time–prepare your heart. Perhaps success (or failure) isn’t so much what others see, but the fruit of what we leave behind. Evil separates.

Panning for gold, smelting metals, seekers looking to the ground sifting dust for treasure and missing real riches. Look up. Look around.

23 “God alone understands the way to wisdom;
    he knows where it can be found,
24 for he looks throughout the whole earth
    and sees everything under the heavens.
25 He decided how hard the winds should blow
    and how much rain should fall.
26 He made the laws for the rain
    and laid out a path for the lightning.
27 Then he saw wisdom and evaluated it.
    He set it in place and examined it thoroughly.
28 And this is what he says to all humanity:
The fear of the Lord is true wisdom;
    to forsake evil is real understanding
.’” (Job 28:23-28, NLT)

Lord, I set aside the rush of the day to sit with your word. Help me to see your kingdom at hand and to honor you in my thoughts and actions.

Courtney (66books365)

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1 Samuel 6-8; Galatians 5; Psalm 72

I’ve heard a saying that what you focus on, you get more of it.

Dear God, give me a kingdom focus.

The Ark remained in Kiriath-jearim for a long time—twenty years in all. During that time all Israel mourned because it seemed the Lord had abandoned them.
Then Samuel said to all the people of Israel, “If you want to return to the Lord with all your hearts, get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth. Turn your hearts to the Lord and obey him alone; then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” So the Israelites got rid of their images of Baal and Ashtoreth and worshiped only the Lord (1 Samuel 7:2-4, NLT).

Last year I wrote down some goals in hopes to bring order and direction to my life. I had been going in too many directions, saying yes to too many people, that I didn’t really make progress in anything, in fact my efforts to make others happy took me away from the people and things God gave me to steward. When I narrowed my focus, it gave me the filter I needed to make my steps intentional. When I took my eyes off that focus, there was no shortage of requests and demands eager to distract me from the tasks that most needed my attention.

The Israelites went some time maintaining their focus on God and enjoying peace and protection. But when the backdrop began to change, they started to lose their focus and placed it elsewhere. Again.

As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice.

Finally, all the elders of Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:1-9, NLT. Emphasis added.).

Samuel warns them about what life will be like under a king’s rule. And their response?

“18 When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. “Even so, we still want a king,” they said. 20 “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle” (1 Samuel 8:18-20, NLT).

Even so. We want to be like the nations around us.

Even so. Would I trade God’s peace and protection so that I could resemble the world around me? So that I could make others happy and throw myself off course of what matters and what God has called me to do?

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things (Galatians 5:16-23, NLT)!

Lord, help me to keep my eyes focused on you and your kingdom. I want to be directed by the Spirit and bear good fruit. Sometimes life’s backdrop changes, but you remain sovereign through all time.

Courtney (66books365)

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Judges 5-6; Mark 11; Psalms 39, 41

I sit with Gideon this morning.

12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!

13 “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!

15 “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

16 The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

17 Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me. 18 Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”

He answered, “I will stay here until you return” (Judges 6:12-18, NLT, emphasis added).

I notice how Gideon sees himself. I notice he has a lot of questions. I notice his doubts. I notice his need for assurance.

Gideon takes steps that slowly build up trust and confidence–going to get the offering and seeing the angel of the Lord still there; the offering ignited; the task of sacrificing of his father’s bull and tearing down of the Asherah pole; the wet fleece test; the dry fleece test.

That first moment of Gideon at the threshing floor–he was going about life as usual, and the Lord arrives with a hero’s task for him. Gideon didn’t feel ready to take on such a big responsibility. He doubted himself. He doubted the calling he heard. And maybe he doubted God. Did he wonder, “Are you really with me? Will you really be there? In this circumstance, I feel abandoned. Can I really trust you? Can I have a sign? And another one too, just to be sure?” (I placed the Lord’s assurances in bold, so my heart would see.)

In Mark 11, I read of Jesus telling some disciples to get a young donkey–where to find it, what to say if questioned. I notice his authority. And later:

As Jesus was walking through the Temple area, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. 28 They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?” (Mark 11:27b-28, NLT)

Gideon: who felt small and weak, given a hero’s task. The disciples: told where to go, what to get, what to say, and they do it. The religious leaders: threatened and angered, demanding proof of permission. The fig tree: in full leaf, a posture of maturity, but fruitless and immature.

13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it (Mark 11:13-14, NLT).

Lord, be with me. Your word tells me you are trustworthy. You are the authority. I’m grateful for your patience with me. I am grateful that you will not abandon me. Help me to keep my eyes on you and to be obedient to your call.

Courtney (66books365)

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Joshua 5, Psalm 132-134, Isaiah 65, Matthew 13

13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. Matthew 13: 10-17

 

There are many times I wonder why God’s word can be so plain to understand for some and not for others. I wonder about that in my own life and with my friends. How is it that I can read God’s word and understand the stories told by Jesus and yet others don’t make the same connections?  There were some parables that Jesus told that were later explained but many were left a mystery.

Truly understanding God’s word doesn’t just happen overnight but through many years of studying, reading, memorizing, and praying. When I was younger, I would read the parable of the sower and wonder which type of seed I was like. I would wonder if I was missing something or if my understanding of the parable was wrong. I was always wondering if I had understood enough of God’s word and believed “enough” to have salvation. Then reading one tiny little line at the end of that story changed everything. Sandwiched in between the story of the sower and Jesus’ purpose for speaking in parables was an important line that changed my thinking.

“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred-fold, some sixty, some thirty.” Matthew 13: 8-9

All my life I have felt like I wasn’t doing enough or being enough for the Lord. I believed that if I was really a believer I would be “doing” more than living a mundane, simple life. So, naturally that must mean my soil was bad, my roots not deep and my faith not good enough for salvation. There has often been so much second guessing that I torment myself but this line is a game changer. Jesus said that the seeds that fall in the good soil produce different amounts. He didn’t say one was better than the other for his kingdom or that a greater reward was offered for one or the other. The seed that produced one hundred-fold was not promised anything better than the one that produced thirty.

Our understanding of God’s word (and Jesus’ parables) increases with time as our relationship grows. Our walk with the Lord is not something attained at once or overnight but over many years of study and prayer. The truth is, my faith is never good “enough” and my works are never good “enough”.

Why does the Lord reveal his mysteries to some and not others? Because he is the Lord! That is not for me to understand but I can thank him and praise him for revealing them to me!

Father, thank you for revealing your mysteries in your word through your Holy Spirit. When I am tempted to believe a lie that my faith is too small, remind my heart that Jesus’ death was sufficient, not my works. Amen.

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