Halfway through the letter to his Gentile friends in Ephesus, Paul emphasized that all people can become children of God. The word is spreading that both Israelites and non-Israelites could be connected to God, just as God said it would be when He gave the promise to Abraham. The gospel is for everyone! And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.
No matter what our background is, we all can be adopted into the blended family of God! One is not born into God’s family because they have parents or grandparents who go to church. We see in God’s Story that the way into His family is through an individual belief in the good news that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through belief in His Son who died on our behalf so that our sins can be forgiven. A great exchange takes place: Jesus removes our sins from us and we inherit His riches offered through the Father’s grace. Our bad gone and His good given! Everyone can belong. There are no limits due to family history, location, status, or even poor personal choices. God extends His adoption plan to everyone and He often uses His children to share with others His plan. Belonging to Jesus is a blessing we can be happy about.
Ephesians 3:6 NLT
The opening salutation of Paul’s letter to his dear friends who lived in Ephesus is rich in blessings. He wanted them to be refreshed and to stop and think about some very good news. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. God is to be blessed for He has remarkably blessed us. And how has He blessed us? He has given us every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly realm. That is definitely a lot to take in. So Paul clarifies a bit by saying, “Be happy, be blessed.” We are adopted by the Father of it all. This is all possible through Jesus who is treasured by God. We too are treasured; Praise God! We are adopted and loved and have the opportunity to grow up and be like our new Daddy.
Is being holy and blameless our goal? If our desire is to grow in maturity, it should be. If you need a little coaching, get it. Be enthusiastic in your pursuit for Christ-likeness, and do so knowing you are blessed! Years before Paul wrote this letter, Jesus taught His followers on a mountain what it meant to live a blessed life. In the middle of His sermon Jesus said we are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. This “perfect” in the Greek language is teleios, which means mature or full-grown, having arrived at a set goal. We are blessed and equipped to be whole because this is God’s plan for us. We can hinder that plan, however. The world offers a wide highway to travel on, but those who choose to go through the narrow gate, the way of proactively dying to selfishness in order to grow in godly maturity, are blessed beyond measure.
Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV
I, Paul, am a prisoner for the sake of Christ, here with my brother Timothy. I write this letter to you, Philemon, my good friend and companion in this work—also to our sister Apphia, to Archippus, a real trooper, and to the church that meets in your house. God’s best to you! Christ’s blessings on you! With a greeting like that, don’t you want to dive right into the rest of the letter? That’s what Paul hoped since the news he was sharing challenged his friend Philemon to make a choice. At stake was reconciliation and restoration with a person who had wronged Philemon in the past. So why is this letter addressed to so many people in addition to Philemon, and why do we get access to it now so many years after it was written?
I believe that we seldom make a big decision that does not significantly affect others in our community. Paul wanted God’s Kingdom to expand in Philemon’s life and also within everyone who met in his house church so that the whole community would be more like Jesus and be blessed. The strong argument that Paul makes is based on Christ’s love and forgiveness. We as followers of Jesus should also seek to live out the godly principles of reconciliation and restoration. Regardless of the way the world would handle a situation or how our feelings might dictate, it is wise to consider what Jesus would want us to do. Philemon had been blessed not just to be blessed but also to be a blessing. Likewise our blessings should not end with us, they should extend to others.
Philemon 1:1-3 MSG
Many important points were made clear in Paul’s short letter to the Colossians, including the truth that Jesus is supreme above all and that He should be the focus of our lives. An embrace of those facts will shape our relationship with Him and with people. Connecting with others in honest ways about both the good and the trying situations can be a great place to start to share God’s faithfulness and care. Paul did this as he signed his letter: I, Paul, [add this final] greeting, writing with my own hand. Remember I am still in prison and in chains. May grace (God’s unmerited favor and blessing) be with you! Amen (so be it). Paul did not gloss over the fact that he was in prison, and it was from that position that he wrote about God’s grace. He was experiencing the goodness of grace and he wanted others to participate in God’s blessing. When we correspond with people, may we ask for God’s blessing and favor to be upon those who receive our letters. Blessings are a good thing to share! I love how Proverbs 25:25 communicates this idea in an easy-to-picture way. It says that good news from a distant land is like the blessing of cold water when you have a parched throat. Paul knew how to quench the thirst of others and he was good at offering Jesus who is Living Water for our souls, for our very lives.
Colossians 4:18 AMP
Be encouraged in faith, united in love and really unpack the treasures of wisdom that are hidden in Christ. That is what Paul desires for those who are growing in Christian maturity. The Amplified Bible expounds on this idea wonderfully: [For my concern is] that their hearts may be braced (comforted, cheered, and encouraged) as they are knit together in love, that they may come to have all the abounding wealth and blessings of assured conviction of understanding, and that they may become progressively more intimately acquainted with and may know more definitely and accurately and thoroughly that mystic secret of God, [which is] Christ (the Anointed One).
When we first moved to China, I saw knitters everywhere. Some were old ladies or young girls, some sat in small shops, others were squatting along the edge of the road, and some looked like they were sleeping but their hands were busy working a wide spectrum of yarn colors, knitting them into all sorts of practical items. Even though people have tried to teach me, I do not know how to knit. I am in awe of how a ball of yarn put onto two needles clinking next to each other produces a brilliantly creative and useful outcome. That is the picture of how we are to be as we develop in the process of loving God and loving people. Loving well, like knitting, requires training and skill, and it might come more naturally to some people than to others. But we all increase our ability to love (or knit) the more we practice. May this love of ours expand and never come unraveled.
Colossians 2:2 AMP
Well, Paul did make it to Rome, but not in the timeframe or along the route he had planned. While he was in Jerusalem the crowds tried to kill him and then Paul was arrested but was allowed to give his testimony about how Jesus changed his life. This led to a two-year imprisonment in Jerusalem. During his time in prison as he awaited trial, several prominent leaders heard the gospel from Paul. Paul appealed to Caesar and so he was sent to Rome and survived a shipwreck along the way. He lived under house arrest in Rome for another two years. These days, weeks and months were not wasted in self-pity, but lived with purpose. Paul empowered the believers in Rome and also served the Lord by writing letters.
Four of these wisdom-filled letters written during this time are included in the New Testament. Believers who lived in a heavily pagan-influenced area benefitted greatly when they received one of Paul’s letters. To the saints (the consecrated people of God) and believing and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace (spiritual favor and blessing) to you and [heart] peace from God our Father. The best way to share blessings and peace with others is to do so out of a heart that is filled with God’s grace and peace. Paul was able to authentically offer grace and peace for he had contentment in less-than-best living conditions. His life is a good example for us. Let’s not wait until the situation is just right to live the abundant life that Jesus offers.
It was also during his Roman imprisonment that Paul wrote to his friend Philemon and we get to read that letter a little later in God’s Story. Tucked into the letter that Philemon received was a jewel of wise counsel. Paul said that as we share our faith, we will gain a full understanding of every good thing we have in Jesus. Let us share, and not stockpile, the good that we have, because when we do so, our understanding of this good makes more sense to us. May it lead us to be appreciative and to generously offer grace and peace to others.
Colossians 1:2 AMP
The Ephesian believers wept as Paul departed because they knew they would not see him alive again. But Paul encouraged them and reminded them that it is all worth it when you live for what is right. Paul’s words to them also give us inspiration: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” It is so good to reflect on the life and words of Jesus; He gives proper perspective in the face of trials. I’m glad that Luke, who had been traveling with Paul and penned Acts, took the time to jot down this quote of Jesus. It gives us another thing to ponder about Jesus along with all that had already been written about Him by Luke and the other three Gospel writers. All the books in the world could not contain the full life of Jesus. Paul made other encouraging visits along the way, and then he pressed on to Jerusalem. Do we believe it is more blessed to give than to receive? Our actions will testify to our beliefs. When we bless those who cannot pay us back, we are choosing to live out the teachings of Jesus during our lifetime. There are so many ways to help the weak. How does Jesus want to use us today?
Acts 20:35 ESV
Back in 490 B.C., Greece came under serious attack by the Persian Empire and a great runner named Phidippides saved the day in the thriving influential city of Athens. Long story made short, the outcome also gave birth to the first marathon. About 550 years later, Paul was about to set sail from that part of the world, carrying a financial gift for the needy in Jerusalem. When he learned that the Jewish religious leaders in Syria were plotting to take his life he took the long way around. Instead of sailing the direct route he was able to reconnect with believers at various places along the coast of the Aegean Sea. As Paul trekked great distances, he strengthened and challenged new Christians with his teachings. Knowing the danger ahead of him, Paul shared with his Ephesian friends who met him along the way: “But none of these things move me; neither do I esteem my life dear to myself, if only I may finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have obtained from [which was entrusted to me by] the Lord Jesus, faithfully to attest to the good news (Gospel) of God’s grace (His unmerited favor, spiritual blessing, and mercy).”
Phidippides ran his course and Athens was saved. I wonder if Paul thought about him as he pressed on with his course. Scottish athlete and devoted missionary to China Eric Liddell once said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast! And when I run I feel His pleasure.” God did not make me fast, but I sure do feel His pleasure when I run. I had been running for over twenty-five years when I ran my first and (to date) only marathon in northern Thailand. The center of Chiang Mai’s ancient walled city was lit with lanterns and the minty smell of muscle cream filled the cool air. The stillness was broken by a sound like distant thunder: running shoes hitting the road. It was the start of my forty-two-kilometer course and excitement surged through all that was me. My feet went forward as the sun rose and God brought people to my mind to pray for as I ran. Family and friends cheered me on and I thought about how God’s Word says we are to encourage one another to run the good race. I felt God’s pleasure in a breeze and smiled, remembering Eric Liddell and how he faithfully lived his life. When the run became hard, Isaiah came alongside me, helping me keep pace. Sophie carried my iPod shuffle when that burden became too great for me to bear. Knowing the end was near, Russell joined us on the brick road calling out cadence to finish strong. Hannah’s finish-line hug began the celebration; I had completed the race!
God, we all have different races to run and I pray that each of us would be strengthened by You to finish our course with joy. This takes intentional focus on You no matter what challenges lie ahead of us. May our story be faithful to Your Story as we live out the life You have blessed us with. Amen.
Acts 20:24 AMP
This is Paul’s longest letter and maybe his most important one. In modern days, we type and can quickly edit what we’ve written. But try to picture Paul writing with pen and ink on an scroll using materials that would have been expensive and challenging to get from one person to another. It was quite a process and it is amazing how his words have been preserved for all these years. In his conclusion to his letter to the Romans, Paul lets them know that he wants to visit them when he takes a trip to Spain. But his immediate destination is Jerusalem because the Gentile believers in the Macedonian area have collected money to help the poor in Jerusalem and Paul would personally deliver it. Talking about the offering Paul adds, “For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.”
Mankind has spiritual needs, physical needs and relational needs. God is the One who designed us, and He is very aware of our needs. Jesus, during His Sermon on the Mount, taught His followers how to pray, and it is interesting that these three distinct areas come up in that model prayer. Our daily bread represents our physical needs. The need we have for two-way forgiveness reminds us that we depend on God for our relationship needs, to get along in healthy ways with people. Our spiritual needs are explained by the request for protection from temptation and the evil one. As we live and communicate with God in prayer, our ability to rely on His goodness grows. We become less egocentric and we can stop seeking to have our needs met in lesser ways. God filled Paul and used him to help provide what was lacking in the lives of many; may we be open and obedient to be filled and then used as well. Let’s be thankful to God for our blessings and pray, as we pay it forward, so others too will know His goodness.
Romans 15:27-29 ESV
You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. This advice from Paul requires us to be mature as we relate to God and other believers. Paul is not giving a blank slate go-ahead to do whatever feels good, but instead he reminds us that God – not you or me, is the Judge of us and of others. It is best for us to take the time that is needed to know why we do (or don’t do) what we do. Going forward with our thoughts and activities, being thankful to God for them, and not hurting others along the way, is a good indication that we have made a decent decision. A clean conscience is a wonderful blessing.
Romans 14:22 NLT
Some concepts in God’s Story are difficult to understand. Other concepts however are difficult to really do. I think that Romans 12:14 is not so much hard to comprehend, but very challenging to actually put into action. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Not only are we to pour out happiness on those who harass us and treat us unjustly, but Paul tells us to talk to God about these people, asking Him to show them favor too. When we can do this, we get a better grasp on the forgiveness He has extended to us. So here are some ideas for practicing this good principle. When road rage strikes, try praying out loud in your car for the other driver instead of motioning a curse. If your boss or a co-worker or a teacher is demanding, take their names before God’s throne as you walk into work or school, and especially before any specific meeting. Rudeness may be on the rise, but we as God’s children do not need to swim in that same easy current. By staying close to God we can overcome and respond with sincere kindness.
When I was learning the Thai language, my first school closed down so I needed to switch schools. I found the new school’s director very challenging to connect with and condescending toward my language goals and progress. I wanted to avoid him, so during my breaks, I walked laps around the block and would sometimes cry. While feeling sorry for myself in my less than supportive environment, God prompted me to pray for the school’s administration and for its teachers. This simple act of obedience increased my closeness to God, and He helped me to see that there was more going on at the school that needed my prayer. Day-by-day, I began building deeper relationships with the Thai teachers, getting to better know them as individuals and I continued to pray for the director. Learning Thai was my main objective, but God did not want me to curse those who were making it extra difficult, but to bless them by praying and by caring. There are lots of ways we can put into practice Paul’s admonishment to pray rather than to curse. People need changing and we are all people. God is the One who changes people best; let Him start with us and see how He opens up the opportunities for us to then compassionately love others, even those who persecute us.
Romans 12:14 NLT
Good communicators use relevant and relatable illustrations to better emphasize and clarify the concept they are trying to express. To get his next point across, Paul chose to paint the picture of tree grafting. The stem of one plant would be cut and then another cut stem would be bound to it so that the two sets may be joined to grow together from one root system. He wanted both Jews and Gentiles to know that every person could receive the blessings of God. But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.
Before moving back to the US, I went to the Sunday Walking Market in Chiang Mai for the last time. It was the summer of 2011. Scented candles, fresh roasting meat, the sound of ancient instruments and displays of creative art were some of the things I knew I would miss, so I walked slowly, taking it all in. I found the lady who had sold me colorful stone braided necklaces in the past, and I purchased six more. This blessed her. And it began my prayer to God to please give me new friends. I was about to move to a big city that I had never lived in before and our new nest would be empty, like in our first year of marriage.
I was in a reflective mood and thought back to years earlier when our young family moved to a village on the edge of a Chinese town; we felt like outsiders. Over time though, relationships were formed and we began to be invited to festivals, marriages and funerals. We were grafted into their community, and eventually praise songs were written by villagers who became grafted into God’s family through faith in Jesus. God had been faithful then to provide community (and He had done that for us with several moves) but would He provide for us in Houston too? Christmas came around for the second time after leaving our life in Asia, and I excitedly shared the story of God’s goodness as I gave those necklaces to five women rejoicing with each how God had answered my prayers through them. The sixth necklace I wear as a reminder of God’s blessings. May we never forget that God does not want there to be outsiders, but for everyone to be brought into His family, to be grafted in and share in the blessings of His rooted love!
Romans 11:17 NLT
The “grace vs. law” debate continued and like all good lawyers, Paul did not ask a question that he didn’t already have an answer to. Paul followed up his line of reasoning about the Israelites trusting in self rather than God, by asking, “Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it.” The world is in for a great blessing when everyone accepts the goodness of God’s offer of salvation. Just picture what it could be like if everyone loved God and loved people. If that is not our present reality, let’s not give up hope! Instead, let’s do our part by sharing and showing how we have been blessed and by repeatedly saying, “yes” to God’s invitation to work with Him for the good of the world.
Romans 11:11-12 NLT
A lawyerly tone is used by Paul in the middle of his letter to the people he hopes to meet in Rome. He doesn’t argue for law or for deeds but for everyone to embrace God’s grace. Passages from Deuteronomy, Isaiah and the Psalms give weight to his position. Paul built his case to show the history of the hard-heartedness of human beings and included a quote from King David: “Let their bountiful table become a snare, a trap that makes them think all is well. Let their blessings cause them to stumble, and let them get what they deserve. Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see, and let their backs be bent forever.” Paul didn’t bring this up to condemn the people who were still stuck in a trap regarding their thinking about the law and grace, but he wrote to offer hope and deliverance. May we never lose sight of the truth that every blessing is a gift from God. If we think our plenty comes from what we have earned, we too are like a snared animal. Instead, let’s live in the freedom that comes freely to us from the One who paid a great price.
Romans 11:9-10 NLT
One of my favorite T-shirts from Thailand says “same-same” on the front and “but different” on the back, a phrase that can often be heard by Thais as they describe something that is similar but not really the same. Paul could have used “different-different, but same” when he wanted to get his point across about people. There are differences between languages, cultures, customs, preferences, social status and physical appearance. But when it comes down to who we are as people created in the image of God, we are very much the same. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul quoted what prophets of old had written.
Each one of us has the same need and that is to call out for Jesus to rescue us. This need was throughout history and this need is throughout our world today. It is beyond understanding to know the depths of just how richly He blesses everyone who relies on Him for redemption. Here’s the deal: if you are saved you are blessed. A drowning man would take that deal, so how much more blessed is it to be rescued from the everlasting penalty of our sins? Jesus, You are our Rescuer, our Redeemer, and our Savior. We have a great need to be reconciled with God the Father and it is through You that we can have this peace that goes beyond all understanding. Nothing we have done is too bad for Your grace to cover, and nothing we will ever do is good enough to earn our way into a relationship with You. What must we do to be saved? Call on the One God has provided. Thank You Jesus for answering that call. Amen.
Romans 10:12-13 NIV
Life is complicated. The Bible, God’s Story from the beginning of life and His guidelines for how to live a blessed life, is complex but simple. Think about all the lives that have lived through the Old Testament up to the New Testament and every generation that has lived since. Mankind needs help. Right after he wrote a huge assurance that nothing at all can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus, Paul shared something personal. Professional religious people, like Paul used to be, gave him great anguish. They didn’t yet trust in Jesus as the Giver of the help they needed. Paul spoke to the people of Israel and said, “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Thanks be to God for His mercy that allows any of us to be adopted by Him. May the people of Israel not reject but wholeheartedly embrace God’s provision through His Son Jesus. May all who have breath acknowledge that He will be blessed forever. In the complexity of life, how good it is to reflect on the simple, yet profound, truth that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you.
Romans 9:5 ESV
It is true that there is forgiveness of sins through Jesus, and Paul writes more about this in his letter aimed at both the Greeks and the Jews who made up the church in Rome. Paul explained that even those who do not share the same genealogical heritage as the Israelites were included in this great blessing that God offers to everyone. Blessed and happy and to be envied are those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered up and completely buried. Blessed and happy and to be envied is the person of whose sin the Lord will take no account nor reckon it against him. Is this blessing (happiness) then meant only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? Good question, and the answer is found in the truth that this blessedness comes through faith alone. How do we achieve God’s standards of righteousness? By faith. By faith like Abraham’s. Righteousness is gained by faith.
Abraham was the father of the promise that God would bless all nations when those nations placed their faith, trust, belief in Him. Today, we are part of the “all nations”. Do we trust Him today? Relationship is so much more than a one-time belief that took place at some point in the past. A relationship with God is a growing process where joy and blessing increase as we place our confidence in God in each new situation. Paul experienced the joy that his sins were forgiven. He knew God’s Story when he quoted these passages from what David wrote in Psalm 32:1-2. He is excited and wants everyone to know this extremely good good news! There are a lot of pages to read between the Book of Psalms and Paul’s letter to the Romans, and God’s theme of blessing shows up over and over again. His invitation is extended to all generations and all nationalities. God’s Story of blessings is the best!
Romans 4:7-10 AMP
Paul wrote about the great joy and delight that awaits those who have been rescued – those who have received forgiveness of their sins, and he wanted to make it clear that the redemption that takes place is by faith and not by works. As he made his point to his readers in Rome, he brought up the fact that King David celebrated this same truth. “Likewise, David also speaks of the blessing of the man God credits righteousness to apart from works: How joyful are those whose lawless acts are forgiven and whose sins are covered!” All who have asked for forgiveness from God the Father through Jesus are blessed! We are then free to work, serve, and live in joy trusting that our sins are covered. Jesus covered all our sins with his blood – shed for mankind at Calvary, a real place outside of Jerusalem where His crucifixion occurred. Every blessing beyond what Jesus did for us on the cross is blessing upon blessing.
When the first SD believer understood the goodness of a loving, forgiving, holy God, he was amazed at God’s generosity. But he could not fathom that redemption was a gift. Instead he wanted to do something to pay God back. He asked us, “What does God like? Does He want fruit? Rice? Meat?” Grace, apart from works, was explained with more clarity. God does not want or need food from us; He is the One who blesses His children with all that we need. Greater awe, joy and gratitude flowed from a forgiven heart that humbly accepted God’s blessings. May we never lose our admiration of God who is worthy of all our praise. Are we joyful today because our lawless acts are forgiven? We who trust in Jesus have our sins covered! May joy and praise abound.
Romans 4:6-7 HCSB
While Paul was visiting his friends in Corinth he wrote to the loved-by-God ones in Rome and introduced himself and explained more of the gospel. He had hopes to visit them in person so he wasted no time and declared that since the beginning of time, God has made His divine nature known so that there is no excuse for rejecting God. The godlessness and wickedness of mankind will be judged. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Erroneous thinking that exchanges the truth about God for a lie goes as far back as the Garden of Eden. From that lie, mankind has added many other lies that have become even more distorted, and in doing so have turned away from God to worship His creation. When we come to the point when we really believe that God will be blessed forever, our thinking and our actions change. God will remain. In this world we have choices to make. Choosing to live outside of God’s truth has consequences both now and into eternity. It has always been that way. Heeding Paul’s warning is a good choice. Please do not trade the truth for a lie.
Romans 1:24-25 ESV
“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.” Our Father God is undeniably eternally blessed. He knows our desires, our plans and our motives so there is no benefit in lying. I pray that boasting would come from our lips – the boasting that shows that Jesus is strong and able to provide just what is needed. We are dependent on Him. When we are weak, He is strong. Paul continued his letter and shared that God gave him a thorn in his flesh and he pleaded with the Lord to remove it. Paul wrote that Christ’s power rests upon him when he is weak. As I have matured in my response to my migraines (or any other type of physical pain), I have even grown to be thankful for the disability. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like pain, but similar to what Paul experienced, I have found that when I am weak, then I am strong. The strength doesn’t come from me but from the Lord. All blessing, honor and praise and boasting to Him!
By-the-way, it was not long after Paul wrote this letter that he was able to pay the Corinthians a visit, just as he had hoped for earlier! It is such an encouragement to me to see how prayers are indeed answered. God’s timing and our timing are not always in the same time zone and it was that way for Paul too.
2 Corinthians 11:30-31 ESV
And God is able to bless you abundantly… Paul could have stopped his sentence here and it would have been more than enough for us to know and believe that God is able, and that His blessings are abundant, and that He aims those abundant blessings our way. But Paul continues on …so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
May faith increase and lead us to grow joyful and obedient generosity. Generosity flows from our awareness and thankfulness to God who bountifully blesses us with all that we need. One night as we were better getting to know Chris, our young teammate in China, he shared with us a principle that his dad taught called OHSP: open-handed stewardship policy. Along with being a wise steward or manager of what God has provided, it also means to live with hands opened, not fists clenched. We see this character lived out consistently in Chris’ life. Years later, Chris’ brother Sam demonstrated OHSP by opening his hand and dropping his car keys into Russell’s. Renting vehicles week after week when we returned to the US became expensive. Sam was going out of town on business and although we had just met him that day, he met our need for a car while he was gone.
The opportunities to be generous are endless. People are not invisible to God, so they should not be invisible to us either. Think about how the whole world is God’s and He wants all of humanity to be cared for. Allowing the blessings of God to flow through us and to others, pleases God. God, thank You for the many ways that You have enriched our lives, blessing each of us abundantly. May we look for ways to be generous to people You place in our paths. Help us to notice people, both those we know and those we don’t, and help us take time to listen and then care enough to take action in appropriate ways. Amen.
2 Corinthians 9:8-11 NIV
Good visits can really be a blessing. We look forward to re-connecting with those we love, as God allows our paths to intersect, but sometimes the best laid plans still do not come about. Paul really wanted to go to Corinth so he could spend time with his friends there but seeing everyone face to face was impossible. His letters would have to do. Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand. I hope someday you will fully understand us, even if you don’t understand us now. Then on the day when the Lord Jesus returns, you will be proud of us in the same way we are proud of you. Since I was so sure of your understanding and trust, I wanted to give you a double blessing by visiting you twice—first on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea.
Paul and his friends missed out on this double blessing of double visits and that makes me sad. But we can be thankful for Paul’s many written correspondences. So much wisdom can be gained by reading and studying the letters he wrote to various churches, and let’s encourage one another to apply the truth to our lives. God, help us not get distracted by specific issues meant for a certain time or place, but let us see Your timeless truths recorded for us in Paul’s letters. Paul reminds us that our Lord Jesus is returning; let’s live faithfully and expectantly for His return. Amen.
2 Corinthians 1:13-16 NLT
Living life connected to God is an individual decision and it involves the efforts and support of whole communities. If it takes a village to raise a kid, how much more does it take to raise and spread the concepts of living purposeful God-centered lives throughout the world? Paul, once again traveling, wrote his final letter to the Corinthians. He let them know how recent near-death experiences he and his team faced in Asia highlighted their need to rely on God and not on their own strength. He urged the Corinthian believers to be involved with his life and ministry by praying. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. Prayer – connection to God, is essential and can be experienced corporately when the Body of God lifts up the needs of the people of God. That way, everyone gets to celebrate God’s blessings as He provides.
I’m so thankful to so many people who, with the desire to know Him and make Him known, have faithfully helped us by praying to God for various needs. As I write this, Russell is leading a mission trip to Brazil. As you read this please take the time to thank God for lives that are changed by people who are willing to go and share His goodness. We all personally know people we can pray for as they serve God in various roles, seeking to expand His Kingdom. May we praise God for everyone who will be around His throne – answers to our collective prayers. God blesses our partnership in prayer, in more ways than we could ever understand.
2 Corinthians 1:11 ESV
Paul writes a tribute to a wonderful God as he begins another correspondence to his friends living in Corinth. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Our God really is the God of all comfort and I am so very thankful that He is. Praise to Him who gives generously to us in our need, and fills us up so that we can give likewise. Paul then writes: “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” Do not read this last bit too hastily. What does it mean to “share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings”? I want the abundant comfort part, but do I have to go through the abundant suffering to get it? That is not an easy teaching.
It is so good to know that when we suffer we do not experience it alone. God is there with us and He knows how to provide comfort for our souls. At age forty-eight God saw fit for me to experience my first broken bones and after surgery, my first time to have stitches. Up until then, I thought I had compassion for people who suffered in these ways, but when I actually went through the pain, things changed. I changed. I see more depth in Scripture about pain and comfort and our need to draw near to God in times of suffering. My prayers for others who go through long painful healing now have more heart. And, through the experience, my awareness of what Jesus suffered for me has become more vivid. Suffering is just pain unless we use that time of suffering to draw ourselves near to God who is near us all the time. When we experience how God has comforted us through the suffering, we can offer meaningful comfort to others. This is yet another way of blessing.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 ESV
The final greetings in this letter to the Corinthian church are tender and personal. Paul cares deeply about this gathering of people and wants them to be courageous in their faith and loving in their actions. He desires that people live with respect for each other, honoring others who are committed to the Kingdom’s expansion. “When Timothy comes, don’t intimidate him. He is doing the Lord’s work, just as I am. Don’t let anyone treat him with contempt. Send him on his way with your blessing when he returns to me. I expect him to come with the other believers.” Even over an expansive distance, life is still best lived in the closeness of community. Love those around you and greet others as they travel through; be blessed and be a blessing.
Hospitality is not a southern thing; it’s a biblical principle. I resolved in 2005 to live out the truths in a part of Paul’s letter he wrote to those in Rome. “Practice hospitality” was one of those truths. Like other skills that we practice, we can grow to get better at them, even if it does not come natural at first. To help me be more concrete in this goal I began a Hospitality Notebook. How blessed I am to read through pages of visitors and to think back on the times we shared, some just over night and other stays more lengthy. I asked our guests to write down where they were coming from, where they were heading and something I could pray for them. Opening our home, no matter where it happens to be blesses our family because we learn more about people and the world from those traveling through it. And when the time comes to say good-bye, we aim to send the sojourners on their way with a blessing.
There will come a time when there will be no more traveling; all in the family of God will be safely home. Distance, time and language will no longer separate us. Nothing can separate those who are in God’s family from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, and one day all believers will be united again. What a wonderful family reunion that will be!
1 Corinthians 16:10-11 NLT
Should unfamiliar language be used to communicate public prayer in church? Paul seeks to address the issue in a letter he wrote to those seeking to worship God in Corinth. This less modern version of 1 Corinthians 14:16-17 can help us to see a little more clearly the dilemma. “Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.”
This seems to suggest that even if what is said is good, it is hard to agree or be helped by words that are not understood. Paul goes on to “sayest” that he is thankful that he speaks in tongues but when it comes to speaking in churches, he strongly encourages people to use a language that can instruct and be understood. We are to pursue love and by communicating in understandable ways, people can be strengthened, encouraged and comforted by God’s truth. Father, may we bless You with both our spirit and with our mind, being sensitive to each situation. May we seek to live out of love so that the words that come from our tongue are so much more than a clanging cymbal. Thank You God, for listening to us when we pray to You. Please continue to guide us in truth and peace. Amen.
1 Corinthians 14:16 KJV
In Paul’s straightforward way of speaking, he tells the Corinthians to worry a whole lot less about what others think and a whole lot more about what God says. “…I’m not going to walk around on eggshells worrying about what small-minded people might say; I’m going to stride free and easy, knowing what our large-minded Master has already said. If I eat what is served to me, grateful to God for what is on the table, how can I worry about what someone will say? I thanked God for it and he blessed it!” Paul’s teaching here has to do with food that has been sacrificed to idols. I don’t think we have eaten idol food, but we sure have had our share of interesting meals. Often I’m asked to describe some of the weirdest food I’ve eaten while serving in Asia. One dinner comes to mind. While at the village home of good friends an intriguing trio was placed on the short, round wooded table: snakes and snails and mountain cat tails. We thanked God for the meal and He blessed our time of sharing His love as we shared special food. Paul gives us all good perspective about gratefully eating what is served to us. It can be a little mind stretching and take us out of our comfort zones to eat unfamiliar food, but seeking to connect to people of different cultures may open up doors for sharing with them Jesus, the Bread of Life.
1 Corinthians 10:29b-30 MSG
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” In October we experienced Jesus’ life during Holy Week, His death for our sins, His amazing resurrection and the blessing He gave for His followers right before He returned to Heaven. Jesus changed the way life was lived. Hope and peace, due to faith in Him, could not be contained but was actively shared. Bold new leaders like Peter and Paul preached and the early church formed and grew. Paul wrote to the new churches in Galatia, Thessalonica and in Corinth.
There were divisions when Paul was writing to the Corinthians and the challenge of loyalty still has an effect on people today. “The cup of blessing that we give thanks for, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for all of us share that one bread.” Paul focused on the Lord’s Supper when Jesus used the bread and wine at the meal to make reference to Himself and the new covenant that He was making. Jesus was offering unity with the Father through Him. Actions speak very loudly and show just where our allegiances are. May we be unified in Jesus and remember that His death bought for us life—new life, blessed life, a life that is connected to Him and the Father.
This was the kind of new life Russell was teaching about at La Palabra de Dios, our first church for Hispanics. He emphasized the importance of loyalty to Jesus and Ricky had a hard choice to make. He loved God yet he loved the girl he was living with too. Long story short, with proper use of church discipline and faithful teaching that the Lord’s Supper was for those who were following Christ in obedience, Ricky and the whole young church were built up. Repentance led to restoration and great joy. We at The Word saw how trusting God changed lives. Restored hearts celebrated the cup of blessing with thankfulness as we joined to share the Lord’s Supper and remember all that Jesus has done for us.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 HCSB
Paul writes about what he does, how he does it and for what reasons. In each of his interactions, whether it concerns food, freedom, income, self-discipline, temptation or loyalty, he says, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” He has counted the cost, and has found that the blessings that come from following Christ far outweigh other things that might vie for his attention and affection. Paul is all about doing everything for the praise of God. May we live life with clear purposes and ultimate goals, because in the end, what really matters most? This radically God-focused lifestyle does not come about on a whim but requires careful thought. What have we been saved from? What have we been saved for? What does “for the sake of the gospel” mean? Is the cost worth it? What do we give up and what do we take up?
With serious compassion Jesus answered some of those questions by saying, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” He told this to His disciples as He sent them out with power to be change-agents for good. He shared the price of this discipleship to the crowds that gathered around Him. When a man seeking Jesus’ approval who thought that he had met the requirements by the law heard directly from Jesus that he needed to put Him above his own riches and take up the cross to follow Him, he calculated that the cost was too high. Even though Jesus loved this rich, young ruler, He honored the man’s choice and the man walked away sad. God, today You give to us the choice to follow You or not. I pray that we would grow in our confidence through Your Word and through Your Spirit, that You are worth the cost. I pray we would embrace afresh the good news that You love us and that no matter what, You are worth following. Amen.
1 Corinthians 9:23 NIV
Paul addressed some very real concerns regarding marriage and singleness, and he passed on this advice to the church in Corinth because they had written to him about these situations. After talking about marriage, singleness, separation, and about helping spouses who are not yet believers, he addressed the issue of remarrying. “A wife must stay with her husband as long as he lives. If he dies, she is free to marry anyone she chooses. She will, of course, want to marry a believer and have the blessing of the Master.” Marriage and other deep interpersonal relationships are the challenging ways we learn and live out the story of love and commitment. May our relationships honor God. I pray we would seek the blessing of the Master upon us as we live, loving in good and appropriate ways. Amen.
P.S. Sara honored God and her wedding vows to her husband in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for nearly thirty-nine years until in death they did part. Her grown children lovingly gave her their blessing to marry again. May God richly bless the marriage of Sara and David, a widow and widower seeking to joyfully live their lives for the Master.
1 Corinthians 7:39 MSG
From Ephesus, where he stayed about three years, Paul wrote lengthy letters to the struggling church in Corinth. These correspondences sought to answer questions and gave training in godliness, even if it was from a distance. Paul did not want his followers to be deceived, but to build on the foundation that is found in Jesus alone. He brought to his readers’ minds how he and his team lived among them and he warned them about pride that can so easily rob God and distort reality. Paul wrote,“We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us.”
Making rice taffy is hard work, yet that was one of the ways Hank made a living. He was a new believer and his family lived in a minority village in China. One day Hank was in the market hawking his wares offering samples to those doing their shopping. A man took the taffy, then arrogantly spit it out all over that day’s inventory. Hank had a choice to make. The old Hank would have beaten the rude man, but the new Hank did not. Later, Hank shared this experience with a group of young men who also needed to learn that blessing and patience could be lived out. Returning evil for evil didn’t have to be the way. When our foundation is firmly placed on God, we have the strength and the state of mind to offer a blessing instead of cursing, to patiently put up with insults. This shows a maturity from a life trained in God. He will judge all. Frequently recalling that our identity is as a child of the King will help give us a proper perspective as we actively live in a world that desperately needs to know Him.
1 Corinthians 4:12 NLT
Evangelistic tour number three is about to begin for Paul, but he is not the only one going forth to share the good news. In Ephesus, after getting some training from Paul’s colleagues, Priscilla and Aquila, a Jew named Apollos chose to take the message of hope to the Achaia province. Before he left, his Ephesian friends gave their blessing and wrote a letter of recommendation for him, urging the disciples there to welcome him with open arms. The welcome paid off: Apollos turned out to be a great help to those who had become believers through God’s immense generosity. He was particularly effective in public debate with the Jews as he brought out proof after convincing proof from the Scriptures that Jesus was in fact God’s Messiah.
A letter of recommendation may help open the door, but it takes faithful work to keep us employed! Just where is it in your life that God wants you to work for Him? No one can do everything, but every one of us can do something. May the many examples throughout the Book of Acts inspire us to get involved and do what we can to enlarge the Kingdom of God. Sometimes this takes some training – actually, it almost always takes some kind of new training. So embrace the opportunities that come your way to grow and to give of yourself. Has God been generous to you? Apollos turned out to be a great help. We each can be a great help too.
Acts 18:27b-28 MSG
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul prays that God may find them worthy and for God to fulfill every good purpose that comes about by faith. He prays this for a reason: “…may the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be glorified and become more glorious through and in you, and may you [also be glorified] in Him according to the grace (favor and blessing) of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).” Try to imagine the name of Jesus becoming even more glorious in and through us. Now try to envision us as His children becoming glorified in Him. “Glorious” is a word that is a little hard for me to picture. It helps me when I think of it this way: May we value Jesus more highly than anything else. Let’s see Him as He is: heroic, brilliant, beautiful and triumphant and then make choices in our life that lead to elevating and celebrating Him. May His renown go forward in dazzling, noble and honoring ways. As we live to enjoy Him, may all these attributes and more shine forth in us as we reflect just how glorious He is! May God find us worthy instruments, useful for His good purposes. This is no small blessing that God desires for His children.
2 Thessalonians 1:12 AMP
Here are a few bumper sticker exhortations from Paul: Live in peace. Warn the idle. Encourage the timid. Help the weak. Be patient. Be kind. Be joyful. Be prayerful. Be thankful. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid evil. Actually those would take a pretty big bumper and it might be a bit overwhelming to try to apply all of them at once. Paul knew this and he reminded his readers that God Himself is faithful and it is God who will bring about all of these needed life changes, and then some. Deliberately living for our Heavenly Father will reshape us as we become more aware of the difference between a selfish self and a holy God. God is trustworthy to lead us as we pursue Him.
It is easy to skim over Paul’s conclusion to his letter and miss the weight of it.“The grace (the unmerited favor and blessings) of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah) be with you all. Amen, (so be it).” God, through Jesus and with the written word of Paul’s letter, is offering grace, undeserved mercy, to us. Years ago I learned a helpful acronym and hopefully it helps you to also make clear this concept of grace. GRACE can be described as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. This extended grace is not free, it cost Jesus His life. Jesus chose to obediently lay down His life so we could live. May we be attentive to God’s Presence, His favor and blessing in our lives today as we seek to live like Him and for Him. Our Father, as we become increasingly aware of Your goodness and Your greatness, please help us to break (put to death) our old habits that do not lead to peace, kindness, joy. I pray we would avoid evil every chance we get, and thankfully and prayerfully turn to You who have so richly blessed us with new life through Your Son Jesus. Thank You for grace. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 5:28 AMP
Paul’s goal was to establish new churches and train people to grow up in the character of Christ. He was on the go, traveling here and there, increasing the awareness of Jesus to all who would hear. But as busy as his days got, he still took the time to further counsel and encourage those at the newly established churches through his letters. Paul was thankful for the faith of the Thessalonians and he recognized that faith, hope and love were a part of their lives. Paul then continued to build up the believers at Thessalonica: “…live lives worthy of God, Who calls you into His own kingdom and the glorious blessedness [into which true believers will enter after Christ’s return].” Paul does not want them, or us, to forget the eternal perspective even when suffering and hard times come.
Ruth, a believer among a people group that is beginning to hearing the gospel, is a wonderful example to me of someone who chooses to live worthy in spite of real hardships. Her persecution as a follower of Jesus Christ has been from the government, from village neighbors and even from her own family. Ruth is an integral part of a team that works diligently to translate the Bible into her language. In her joyful expression of living for God, she has turned many truths of God’s Story into songs. As she faithfully teaches and sings from village to village, God’s Kingdom is made bigger. We were blessed to hear her sing Paul’s Thessalonian letters as she strummed her guitar in her humble home during Christmas of 2007. This sister understands what Paul wrote concerning the return of Jesus. Right now she experiences joy mixed with pain, but she knows there is a blessedness that is yet to come that will be glorious.
1 Thessalonians 2:12 AMP
Life gets hard. We are living in a world that is upside-down, where sickness, evil, confusion and death are very present to those who follow Jesus, and to those who do not. So, at times it might feel natural to want to give up on hope. Would it not be easier to live for self, rather than to press on growing character which seeks to be conformed to the image of Jesus? Paul knew this very human temptation and he rallied his readers with this battle cry: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” We may not always have control over the situation at hand, but we always have a choice of responses. Choosing to do good will bring about benefits even if at present we do not see them.
Paul lived out what he had written as he set sail on his second missionary adventure shortly after writing this letter to the Galatians. I can imagine that traveling back in the New Testament days could be very draining, yet Paul pressed on. He knew his purpose, he had good to share, and his harvest of blessings was bountiful. Father, thank You for the example we get to read about in the life of Your servant Paul. You have not only used him to share Your good news first-hand in many unique situations, but You also allowed him time, sometimes while in prison, to write letters that continue to inspire and encourage us today. May we press on in the strength that You provide in the fields that You have prepared for us. May our harvests be joyfully abundant. Amen.
Galatians 6:9 NLT
Do not give up hope! Paul did not write to his friends to condemn them but rather to encourage them to live life with joy and great hope. This expanded sentence shows that pressing on in God is so worth it. For we, [not relying on the Law but] through the [Holy] Spirit’s [help], by faith anticipate and wait for the blessing and good for which our righteousness and right standing with God [our conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action, causes us] to hope. Let’s be thankful for the blessings we have received, and with hope wait for the blessings yet to come. And come they will to those who seek to live rightly with God. Anticipate His blessings like a child anticipates a birthday gift. God’s blessings are presents that help shape us to be more like Jesus. Being like Him is very, very good for us.
I’m no longer a kid, but I still love birthdays. Back in 2001 I founded ABC (August Birthday Club) with two friends, and through the years it has been fun to include other women who have August birthdays too. I had a feeling that turning forty might be a challenging year for me so I bought journals that year for my birthday friends and I began to focus on a year of joy. As passages about joy filled my journal, my life reflected that joy with expanding hope. My fortieth year was a great growth year. I was intent on seeking out joy, wherever it could be found, in both the obvious places and in challenging situations too, and in doing so my faith and trust increased. I’m excited about the blessings God still has for me, no matter what my age. Each completed year is evidence of His love in my life as His Presence is the most cherished gift.
Galatians 5:5 AMP
Paul mentioned a personal situation and asked those he taught in Galatia to recall the love that they had for him and for one another. “…you know that previously I preached the gospel to you because of a physical illness. You did not despise or reject me though my physical condition was a trial for you. On the contrary, you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. What happened to this sense of being blessed you had?” Even though the times were challenging, the church once had deep satisfaction and a grateful spirit when Paul was serving among them. Hardships and trials can bring about real bonding. Paul wrote a reminder of this because he didn’t want those he cared about to forget the joy that they once had together. He wanted them to go forward in peaceful blessedness.
Blessing and being blessed is God’s plan for our life story, but at times we forget, and other times our enemy would like to rob us of our sense of being blessed. Thinking about God’s love for us can help us assess the situation and calibrate our reactions appropriately. Then we can choose to bless.
Back in the days before cell phones, the over-night bus from Kunming to Lijiang normally took fourteen hours to wind its way through China’s developing countryside. Our young family of five and a fellow language student boarded with Oreo cookies – a rare treasure – to bless our friends that we were going to visit. Some time around midnight the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. Thirty-something hours later, after dynamite had cleared a dangerous mountain road landslide, we hugged our anxiously waiting friends. We were greatly relieved that our bus did not go over a cliff, like some do, and we all laughed about the gifts of cookies becoming our survival food. To this day when I enjoy Oreos I remember that trip, my gratitude to God for our safe travel, and for the bonding created because of the “trial”. Remembering God can be the sweetest part of our days.
P.S. Small trials can prepare us for bigger ones. Our friend who studied Chinese with us in the mid-1990s has bravely weathered many trials without becoming bitter toward God. She diligently prays for those from whom the trials come, and in the pain she seeks hope and models faithfulness, beauty and trust.
Galatians 4:13-15a HCBS
Further explanation given in the letter Paul wrote to the church in Galatia shows us a couple of things. We can read just how strongly this community was driven to live by legalism and then read just how important it was for them, and for us today, to reflect and live gratefully based on what God has provided for us through His Son Jesus. “What is the point, then, of the law, the attached addendum? It was a thoughtful addition to the original covenant promises made to Abraham. The purpose of the law was to keep a sinful people in the way of salvation until Christ (the descendant) came, inheriting the promises and distributing them to us. Obviously this law was not a firsthand encounter with God. It was arranged by angelic messengers through a middleman, Moses. But if there is a middleman as there was at Sinai, then the people are not dealing directly with God, are they? But the original promise is the direct blessing of God, received by faith.” Let us live as grateful free people, free to love God and love others in ways that please Him who has so richly blessed us.
Galatians 3:18-20 MSG
Paul continued his letter reiterating that Christians are not given new life by obeying the law of Moses, but by living according to the way of Jesus. Whether we are new Christians or have been in God’s family for a long time, it is great to think about the truth that Paul explains. “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.” One day our faith will become sight. But now we live by faith with God’s Holy Spirit living within us.
Our family has moved quite a bit. Yet wherever we go, God’s Holy Spirit goes with us, within us. One day I was going through boxes that were stored in Russell’s sister’s home during the time we lived away from the US. What a blessing it was to find an old Bible from my own new Christian days and to read notes like this one- “Faith is: F-forsaking A-all I T-trust H-him.” That is just what Paul sought to teach! Jesus came to reverse the curse and offer life to walking dead people. It is time to give up the prideful ways of thinking, that goodness in itself is adequate outside of God. Humankind needs redeeming, not just touch-up work. Can I trust that He is all I need and can I really believe that He died to rescue me? Jesus gave us new life with His Spirit to fill us where there once was sin and void. He removes our hollow meaninglessness.
Galatians 3:10-14 NLT
Paul traveled to many areas to share the good news, and as he taught and preached he lived life in community. He could not be everywhere at once, so he wrote letters of encouragement and correction to various churches he had started or in other ways had had an impact. Now each of us can learn from these letters written many generations ago. The people living in Galatia needed a reminder that it is by God’s grace that anyone can be rescued. Everyone is made right by believing, placing faith in Jesus who is the One who does the rescuing. Paul reminded them: “Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.”
Praise be to God who has made a way for us! This is good news and it is so exciting to think that the blessings back in the days of Abraham are passed on to all who have faith, in Paul’s day and in ours, and for the generations yet to come. All nations will be blessed. That is a big promise. But that is okay, our God is big. As we live out the blessings in the community we find ourselves in, may we live faithfully and expectantly with a desire to both learn and teach. God, help us in our days to not let the light go dim or the truth lose its saltiness. Amen.
Galatians 3:8-9 HCSB
For many new Christians (most of whom at this time had Jewish backgrounds), it was no small thing to see non-Jewish people being brought into God’s Kingdom through faith in Jesus. Gentiles were thought of as “other”, and some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem wanted the new Gentile converts to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses. They considered those steps necessary to be brought into the family of God. This caused quite a stir. After a meeting and a discussion, the resolution included the truth that people are saved by the grace of Jesus regardless of heritage or culture. Two prophets, Judas and Silas, hand-carried a letter with this news to the Gentiles in Antioch and they encouraged and strengthened the recently converted believers. After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. When life is muddled at best or hostile at worst, there are few things more meaningful than the blessing of peace. May we seek to choose peace based on truth and in doing so be a blessing to others even when at first the issues may seem irreconcilable.
I’m thankful that biblical teaching was not only taught at the church we loved in Timberlake, North Carolina but something that was also practiced. Sweeping issues under the rug at home or at church is not a healthy way to go forward if our desire is real Christian maturity. But this growth is seldom without pain. Is it worth it to live having peace with God and peace with others? Peace allows the dirt under the rug to be cared for and the door to hope to open. Something that Russell and I enjoy doing, even up to this day, is returning to our own Antioch – the church family that faithfully sent us out with blessings in 1996, and supported our family as we served God in Asia. Returning is always a double blessing; we get to hear what God is doing in and through the church and also get to update our brothers and sisters with the things that God is doing in our part of His world. Each homecoming is full of joy because we treasure the same God who wants His children to live out the blessing of peace.
Acts 15:33 NIV
Paul, with Barnabas as his companion, set sail on the first of several missionary journeys. After sailing on from Crete, they were at a synagogue in Pisidia when Paul was asked to give a word of encouragement and he stood up to preach his first recorded sermon. I love how God’s Story includes lots of “firsts.” Paul began with the deliverance of their forefathers from Egypt, and continued through the history of the Jewish nation, right up to David, and then from David to Jesus, his descendant. I picture Paul pausing at this point and turning to the area where the God-fearing Greeks where gathered. In a loud voice for all to hear, Paul went on to say that God’s promise to Abraham was to bless all nations, and that this promise is fulfilled through Jesus. Since He raised Him from the dead, never to return to decay, He has spoken in this way, I will grant you the faithful covenant blessings made to David.
Paul concluded his message of hope: it is through Jesus that the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed. God’s Holy One will not see decay. People knew of King David. His life story was passed down from generation to generation and his psalms of praise to God were still being sung from the synagogue’s hymnals. Yet David died and his body did decay. It was Jesus whom God raised from the dead, never to experience decay. Jesus is our sure blessing. When our future seems uncertain, hold on to the facts, and it is a fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. That changes everything!
Acts 13:34 HCSB
Remain true to the Lord. This was part of the encouragement, advice, and news that Barnabas brought from Jerusalem to the church that gathered at Antioch. The early disciples were living very full lives, sharing with others the way to have full life in Jesus. They preached and taught; they healed those in need, and miracles gave credibility to their words. As the disciples followed the teachings of Jesus, more people began to follow Jesus’ disciples. Unfortunately, this all made for some jealous religious leaders. A couple of the disciples were even imprisoned but were miraculously released by an angel. Stephen became the first Christian martyr and as persecution continued, the church scattered and yet continued to grow.
Saul was amazingly converted to Paul and joined Jesus’ team to spread the good news that there was purpose to life. Up to this point in God’s Story, the message was mainly told to the Jews. God’s plan was for all nations to be blessed, and how surprised the church in Jerusalem was to hear that Greeks too were being brought into God’s Kingdom. When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. When we think about those who have faithfully shared the love of God with us, I hope it fills us with joy. It is great news to know that God’s love is for everyone; there are no exceptions. No one is too good and no one is too bad. Who will experience more of God’s love through us today? May we be encouragers like Barnabas was back in the days of the early church.
Acts 11:22-23 NLT
For believers it was an exciting time to live! The Christian community was unified, and people shared the things they owned and made the good news known to others. Real needs were really being met. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. Our God is great in power and generous with grace and He gives us hope and a way to authentically live life with His hope.
I love looking back to Deuteronomy 15 when God’s people were first entering the land He promised to them. We read how God so consistently desires that the poor be cared for. God’s great blessings often flow when people are living in awareness, really searching out the great God of that blessing. Today, how can we connect to God, know His blessing, and bless others who are in need of blessing? A thankful heart is a great place to start. It is best for us not to hoard God’s blessings but to allow them to flow through us. This takes practice. May we fold our hands in gratitude and open them up for godly giving and service.
Acts 4:33-35 NLT
Peter continued to talk to the crowd and he reminded the Jewish community of the story of Moses and the prophets and how they, the Jews, were connected to the past and how they would be blessed if they would turn from the wicked way they were living. “You are the children of those prophets, and you are included in the covenant God promised to your ancestors. For God said to Abraham, ‘Through your descendants all the families on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, Jesus, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.” This message that was offered up in hope earned Peter and his friend John a night in prison because the religious leaders did not want people to hear more about Jesus and His resurrection.
Who would not want to hear the good news of such a good blessing? Who would not want to be shown the way to life, especially if they were walking close to the edge of death’s cliff? God, I’m so thankful that You place people in my life to tell me and show me how to turn from my sinful ways. May this good news continue to change lives, generation after generation. At one point, Peter denied even knowing Jesus. But Jesus provided a way for reconciliation, and with a clear identity, Peter courageously invited others into the covenant that You offered way back in the lifetime of Abraham. God, may we live bravely for You. Amen.
Acts 3:25-26 NLT
The Story does not end here! Soon after Jesus returned to His Father, His apprentices began the good work of spreading the good news about Him. Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a historical record of how the Holy Spirit worked within the new and growing church. Peter preached on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem and many people called on the name of the Lord to save them. Believers were baptized and the community was filled with great joy and deep caring. A crowd formed when Peter healed a crippled beggar and then Peter explained that this miraculous power came from God alone. He took the opportunity to tell the gathering Jews about Jesus and their need for Him. “Now it’s time to change your ways! Turn to face God so he can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing to refresh you, and send you the Messiah he prepared for you, namely, Jesus.”
Oh, that we too would fully trust Jesus, and in doing so receive a fresh shower of blessings in our lives. Thai New Year festivities take place in mid-April each year and last about a week. The highlight for most people is a mobile, full-scale, water soaking party. Our first water splashing celebration was a lot of fun with our new Thai neighbors. It was a hot day, so riding around Chiang Mai’s ancient moat in the back of a pick-up truck, splashing water and being splashed, felt good. Then it started to rain. Smiling, I told my neighbor Khun Ploi that God was water splashing with us too. Then with my limited Thai, I continued to build on what I had been sharing with her about Jesus being the way to God. I’m so thankful for God who cares for us and He indeed provides blessings that shower down in a multitude of ways. May the Thai people embrace Jesus and experience the refreshment that comes from all sin being wiped away.
Acts 3:19 MSG
Oh how those days must have sped by! Jesus was back and alive, answering questions and the disciples’ trust grew. But the time had come in God’s Story for Jesus to return to His Father and before He left, He gave the promise of the Holy Spirit. He also left His friends with instructions to share the good news: Jesus lived to love us, died to redeem us and rose again to conquer sin and death forever. His job on earth was complete and it was time to get back to Heaven, His home. Jesus was with His friends when He ascended. He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. I cannot even imagine how wonderful it must have been to receive that final personal blessing from Jesus. It led them to worship Him and true worship leads to obedience and we can read about the adventure of obedience in the Book of Acts. Let us live a life to bless God, and let’s live it with great joy!
Luke 24:50-53 ESV
Thomas was with Jesus and the other disciples when they celebrated the last Passover together, but he wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus initially met up with the group after His resurrection. Thomas found it hard to really believe that Jesus was alive again. Would we be quick to believe the stories our friends told us if we had not seen for ourselves? Thomas, like all of the disciples, had been through a lot. He needed proof. And Jesus provided just what Thomas needed. “Peace be with you”, started off the conversation and then Jesus offered His hands and His side to Thomas so he would no longer doubt, but believe. Astounded, Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
We who believe in Jesus today are the “blessed ones” Jesus is talking about. We believe by faith and not by sight and in doing so, we are blessed by Jesus. I hope we can let that goodness soak in a bit. And then out of gratitude, live in His glorious Presence as we go through our days. It is natural to reach out to others when our hearts are continually filled with thankfulness for all that Jesus has done for us. There are still many people who have not yet seen. In what ways will they see Jesus in us? Will they too believe and be blessed?
John 20:28b-29 ESV
Jesus died on the cross that He had carried. His death paid for all the sins of all mankind. For my sins, your sins and beyond, He died. He died, but He did not stay dead. He is alive! And this news seems too good to be true. After God raised Jesus from the grave, Jesus met with several of His close friends who were all astonished to see Him. Then Jesus walked down a road with two of His own followers and talked about everything that had just taken place and explained so many things to them about Israel’s history; God’s Story. But on this seven-mile journey toward Emmaus, they did not know that it was Jesus with them. When they reached their destination they invited their travel companion in by saying, “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them. It was as He reclined at the table with them that He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their sight.
Sometimes I wonder, “What will it really take for us to see Jesus?” Lord, open our eyes to You. Lord, let us see that You are the blessing. Amen.
Luke 24:29b-31 HCSB
Pilate, the Roman governor, did not find any reason to put Jesus to death, but because the Jews demanded crucifixion he complied. Jesus was mistreated in many excruciating ways on the road to His death. Exhausted beyond what most humans will ever experience, He began that journey carrying His own death weapon, the cross. Many people wept for Jesus; their love, confusion and anguish poured out in tears. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’” Hard times would come and Jesus knew it. He also knew He would overcome. Through Him, we can too.
One of my favorite promises of Jesus was spoken by Him near the end of His life. I can picture Him with His disciples as they left the Upper Room and walked together to the garden. On the way, Jesus shared with them so much that it must have been hard to take it all in. Just before Jesus turned His eyes toward Heaven to pray, He told His friends, “in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” As their world came tumbling down, did His followers remember His words? Do we experience peace when we know that Jesus overcame the world? Jesus was not taken by surprise, but when we are, let’s remember His words of peace and follow His example of prayer.
In the spring of 2014, I experienced (in a way I had not yet encountered, even by watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ) just a little bit of the reality that was Jesus’ as He died in agony. Lying in the emergency room with several bones of my ankle crushed, I thought of Jesus with not one, but both of his feet nailed to the cross, supporting the weight of His body and the weight of mankind’s sin. In pain, I prayed to Him. His reply brought peace in the midst of suffering. “You are experiencing the pain of the world but remember that I overcame this world of hurt, sin and even death. You are not going to have this pain forever. Trust Me. Take heart. In Me you may have peace.”
Luke 23:28-30 ESV
Jesus went from His last meal with His disciples to a garden where He prayed. It was in this garden where He was then betrayed and arrested. His friends fled in fear. Peter denied Him, and Jesus was brought before the Jewish Supreme Court to be questioned. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus replied truthfully but the Jewish leaders called it blasphemy and insisted that He was worthy of death. But because the religious leaders did hold any power in the Roman world, the next step was to get the Roman government to authorize the death sentence for Jesus.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. Two small words: “I am.” Jesus really is who He says He is. Death did not hold the Author of life and He will come again because He is trustworthy. Will He come today? Oh, for the day when Jesus returns and all is made right! Until then, we trust Jesus who sits at the Mighty One’s right-hand-side as the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and the Savior of our hearts. He is the Son of the Blessed One.
Mark 14:61b-62 NIV
The Passover meal had been prepared in the Upper Room. Jesus had humbly washed the feet of His followers that were around the table and then He spoke the words that we often hear when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said, “Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I’ll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives.” Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.” As often as we do this, may we always remember Jesus – broken for us, to have wholeness through Him.
The small youth group at a rural church in North Carolina grew in number and in maturity during the time Russell was the associate pastor and oversaw the youth ministry. I had the privilege of teaching this same group of teenagers on Sunday mornings, and we met in an attic room of the church which we dubbed the Upper Room. Week by week we read the Gospel of John as if we were acting out a play so each of us could better understand the interactions Jesus had with people. When we came to the part where Jesus was having His final meal with His friends, our Upper Room group sensed the seriousness of what was taking place. Jesus offered a new agreement. This new covenant was, and still is today, what He offers to those who trust Him: His lifeblood poured out for our death-sins to be forgiven. Jesus, thank You.
Luke 22:18-19 MSG (also in Matthew 26:26-27; Mark 14:22)
First we need to know what we are supposed to do, and then we need to do what we are supposed to do. The outcome will be blessing. “I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” Jesus taught this lesson to his disciples by giving them an example. During what would become known as the Last Supper, He knelt before each one and washed their feet. Jesus taught how to serve by serving. He taught love by loving. When He forgave, he demonstrated forgiveness, and He asks us to forgive others too. People will know we are His disciples if we love and serve one another. Knowing this truth is one thing; doing it is a whole other thing. But the blessing does not come in the knowing, or even in memorizing the chapter and verse, but in the doing, the serving.
Jesus is our Master and the message He gives us is His plan for abundant life: appropriately love God and people; repeat. Our guidebook, God’s Word, will keep us on the right path and when we do get off track, Jesus says to confess it and get back to a healthy relationship with Him and with people. Russell and I were at a marriage retreat just after we celebrated our fifteenth year of marriage. We gathered with other couples, some we knew, others we did not, and a ministry team from Chic-fil-A, the WinShape Foundation, met us at the resort setting in a Chinese city. In married life, sometimes we are gloriously on track and other times miserably off course. The humbling act of receiving a foot washing by Russell as part of the retreat was a very healthy re-set. May we not only remember the ways which Jesus taught, but carry on the actions of His message. That is how a student honors his teacher. And Jesus is the best teacher I know.
John 13:16-17 NLT
Jesus took the time for more teaching. There will be a final judgment and He gives us a peek at what that will look like. Could it be that He shared this so that when we have a choice to make, we would choose wisely? “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’…
The stakes are high and the blessings are greater than we could ever imagine. Inheritance in a Kingdom prepared by God is going to be even better than any Disney princess movie ever made. But what will happen to those on His left? They will experience an unending and unimaginable separation from all that is life. Jesus goes on to tell how the actions lived out of love for “the least of these my brothers and sisters” made all the difference. Out of love are we caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the one in need of clothing, the sick and the prisoner? If there is still a today, then there is still time. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts, get involved and serve. The blessings will be now and forever more.
Matthew 25:31-34 HCSB
A lot took place in that brief period between the road to Jerusalem and the road to Emmaus. Time was short and Jesus knew how to spend it wisely. After a day in the Temple, Jesus used His time to tell His disciples about the end times. He warned them not to be fooled by false prophets because no one other than God the Father will know exactly when the last day or hour would be. Jesus said that those who are serving faithfully and are sensible until the end would receive a reward, a blessing. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”
Do you remember when Jesus mentioned this “be prepared concept” in an earlier parable? Now He is even more emphatic as He teaches those who love Him to be ready to serve faithfully right up until the end. Jesus not only told His students, but He would show them just what He meant. He is our living example. Thank You Lord Jesus for Your faithful life. You are not selfish or self-centered but humble, strong, and obedient. No one took Your life from You but You laid it down, sacrificed it voluntarily so that we may have life in You. Help us Jesus to ponder how You lived, cared, taught, and loved so that we can make the most of our days, serving bravely with compassion. Amen.
Matthew 24:45-47 ESV
Matthew joined the other gospel writers and recorded the excitement that was felt by many as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. Can you hear the multitudes cheering Him on? Those who loved Jesus and acknowledged Him as their King surrounded Him. And the crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed Him kept shouting, Hosanna (O be propitious, graciously inclined) to the Son of David, [the Messiah]! Blessed (praised, glorified) is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna (O be favorably disposed) in the highest [heaven]! Everyone was enthusiastically getting caught up in the movement. Our King is coming! Our King is coming!
Mark also penned what happened that day: Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD! Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!” Was anyone besides Jesus prepared for the change of direction that each would soon encounter? Within the week emotions would swing wildly from joyfully celebrating His jubilant arrival, to fear, anger, betrayal, deep sadness, confusion, and pain. But for now, in God’s Story, it was a joyful time for many people. If we had been there to witness it all, what would we have said in the crowds?
Matthew 21:9 AMP; Mark 11:9-10 NLT
Jesus obediently entered Jerusalem just the way the prophets foretold: on the back of a donkey. This week was going to change His life and it would change the lives of everyone who would believe in Him throughout time. What was on Jesus’ mind as the donkey eased its way along the road that would lead to suffering? What would we have been thinking had we been one of those who walked beside Him?
The Catholic Church originated the Stations of the Cross, which poignantly depict the final hours of Jesus’ life. The first outdoor encounter of the Stations of the Cross that I can remember was in a forest in northern Michigan. Heavy pine scent took the place of words as I walked from one station to the next. I was a young girl and I tried to imagine how painful it must have been for Jesus to die. As the sun streamed through the large trees, my family came upon a clearing, and there before us was the world’s largest crucifix. The thirty-one foot high bronze Jesus on an even larger wooden cross had an impact upon me. Luke’s Gospel account will record Jesus on the cross, but for now let’s read the prelude of what would be world changing history.
As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives— the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Does that sound familiar? When Jesus was born, an angelic choir sang out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” From His birth to His death and beyond, Jesus is announced with blessings and with an incredible amount of rejoicing. He knew His purpose and did not waver from it. The fourteenth, and generally the final Station of the Cross, portrays Jesus in the tomb. But He did not stay there! There is peace in Heaven and glory in the highest because death cannot hold our King.
Luke 19:37-38 ESV
In September we were so blessed to read from Jesus Himself how to live the blessed life. Jesus faithfully modeled those teachings as He healed, fed, and comforted people in various locations during His ministry on earth. He is strong and He is smart and He leads in ways so that His followers can also lead with truth and love. His cousin John and His twelve disciples may have known Him best, but the four Gospel writers (Matthew, Luke, Mark and John) recorded the life of Jesus so that we too can know and be blessed by Him.
Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem was a very big event. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each wrote about this day that we now celebrate as Palm Sunday. The scene had been set and the Holy Week began with Jesus the King of Everything riding into the religious center of the time on the back of a young donkey. The next day, when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting: “Hosanna! He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One—the King of Israel!” Hosanna is an expression of adoration, praise and joy. The crowds could not be happier; they were celebrating and they were there to participate in it all. Lord Jesus, You continue to be praise-worthy. May we live faithful to You in the time of celebration and in the time of trial that will surely come for those that truly follow You. Amen.
John 12:12-13 HCSB
Some religious leaders told Jesus that He should flee Jerusalem if He wanted to stay alive. Hundreds of years earlier, the enemies of God’s people had taken captives from Jerusalem and now was the time for One captive to set all mankind free. Jesus did not run away; instead He embraced what was before Him. He knew God’s Story. He knows that God’s Story includes making a mighty nation out of one person and blessing the world, over and over. Instead of fleeing, Jesus grieved over Jerusalem and said how He wanted to protect her like a mother hen would protect her chicks.
Then Jesus told the Pharisees, “And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!’” Here Jesus quoted from Psalm 118:26, a song He will sing with eleven of His twelve disciples right after the Last Supper. The time was growing close for Jesus’ life purpose to be fulfilled. He did not take the easy way out, but He pressed on with the work yet before Him all the way to the cross. He indeed will come again. All blessings on King Jesus! May we bless in His name. May we bless Him for His steadfast commitment to all that is right.
Luke 13:35 NLT (also in Matthew 23:38-39)
During our years of living in Thailand seeking to expand God’s Kingdom through love and awareness of Him, Russell traveled a lot. A minority group in China was our major focus and after years of interaction Bible translation was just beginning among them. To help bring greater awareness to our praying partners, I wrote a prayer journal that focused on each of the sixty-six books of the Bible combined with the customs and needs relating to this particular group. The prayer journal became a book, His First Bible, and it was printed towards the end of 2006. Here is an excerpt from it highlighting how Jesus blesses:
In his biography of Jesus, Mark describes the ultimate Servant. Event after event we see Christ’s character as he interacts with people. Tucked between Jesus answering the Pharisees’ testing about divorce and His encounter with the ambitious young ruler, Jesus engaged not the powerful or the rich but the meek. His disciples were brushing these little people aside, thinking the Teacher was too busy to be bothered. But Jesus values children. Can you envision His arms open wide, while children run to Him drawn in by His love? “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you, anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God.”
God’s Kingdom belongs to those who long for His love and closeness. What a contrast between the religious know-it-alls and the children who are pure in heart. Jesus tells us our faith should be like that of children running into His arms. Lord, we thank You for still calling children of all ages and all nations into Your love. May we run to You, holding nothing back. We pray for the SD children to know You at a young age. Jesus, teach us to learn from You never to be too busy to reach out to the little ones in our lives. What joy we would experience if we would follow Your example: “Then he took the children into his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.”
Mark 10:13-16 NLT (also in Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17)
One day Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus answered him, Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) are you, Simon Bar-Jonah. For flesh and blood [men] have not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven. How blessed we are when we see Jesus for who He really is. Jesus, You are God’s Anointed One. Savior of the world. Prince of Peace. Lord and Teacher. Jesus is the Son of the living God. And Jesus wants us to know Him. Do you?
1997 was our first Christmas in a village setting in China and it gave us many opportunities to ask that question to new friends and fellow students at the college where we were language students. In ways, the “commercial Christmas” was invading even this remote no-traffic-light area near the border with Burma, but few knew the name of the Man whose birth was being celebrated. How blessed our family was to unwrap the gift of the Christmas Story by sharing truth and offering hope that could last for all eternity.
Matthew 16:17 AMP
Tonight while I’m working on edits for this part of God’s Story of blessings it is Super Bowl XLVII. Those Roman numerals equal 2013, and I’m only halfway embarrassed not to know which two teams are playing. Each year, during this season, there are all kinds of parties taking place as football games are watched and cheered. My supper bowl holds tomato soup and after a pleasant time of roller-skating on the bike trail, I’m enjoying the quiet evening alone. But, if I were to throw a celebration, I would want it to be a good one; a fun time for all who would come.
Jesus gives great advice for how to host a blessed gathering. He says, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Not all reward comes immediately, but blessing others, in this case, those who can’t pay you back, brings a greater kind of blessing to the one who blesses initially. When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Now that’s one party I sure do not want to miss! I may not know football, but I know God and I’m so happy to be on His team! I look forward to seeing you at the party!
Luke 14:13-15 NIV
Jesus is coming back! It is important news and we do not want to miss out on the reward and blessing that awaits those prepared for Him. Jesus also says what will happen if we are not ready, and just to let you know, it is the very opposite of a blessing. If I knew you were coming through town I would be sure to have chili in the crock-pot or cookies baked up, ready for your visit. How much more excited I get thinking of the visit of our Lord Jesus!
This is how Jesus puts it: “Be ready for service and have your lamps lit. You must be like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet so that when he comes and knocks, they can open the door for him at once. Those slaves the master will find alert when he comes will be blessed. I assure you: He will get ready, have them recline at the table, then come and serve them. If he comes in the middle of the night, or even near dawn, and finds them alert, those slaves are blessed.”
Did you catch it? I missed it the first few time I read this through, but Jesus says He will serve the ones that are ready for the Master’s return. But not everyone will be prepared, and no one knows when the time will be, but each day it gets closer. Expect the unexpected and until then may we humbly serve our servant King by serving one another. Live ready!
Luke 12:35-38 HCSB
And Jesus said to him, You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live [enjoy active, blessed, endless life in the kingdom of God]. Who was Jesus talking with and what were the questions and answers? It was on one occasion that an expert in the law asked Jesus, “What can I do to get everlasting life?” Jesus answered his question with a question, “What does the law of Moses say?” The lawyer replied, “Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got—heart, soul, strength and mind—and love your neighbor as yourself.” “Good answer!”, Jesus replied. But then the man asked one more question. “Um, just who is my neighbor?”
The parable of the Good Samaritan followed. Blessed life can be boiled down to “love God, love people.” When I wrote this in bold black letters on the front of the desk I used while homeschooling our kiddos in China back in 2002, it gave me the clarity to focus on the important things. There was a lot of time for questions and answers and my desire was to instill in my students the joy of learning. Not only were they each other’s only classmates, there were no other foreign children in our town, so they also learned how to play and interact with those different from them. On some days, “loving our neighbors” came during “school-time” and they learned life lessons outside of the room that was filled with bookshelves, a time-line and maps drawn onto the concrete painted walls. Our children are grown now and living in a very diverse world. Neighbors move in and out. They may not look, believe or act like we do and yet Jesus still calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. God, help us to daily refocus our attention on You and live to love those around us in ways for their good and Your honor. Amen.
Luke 10:28 AMP
When the seventy-two disciples Jesus sent out returned to joyfully tell Him all that had happened on their mission trip, Jesus was also filled with joy. Jesus prayed to His Father thanking Him for revealing important things to those who had child-like faith. Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” Do we see things from God’s perspective? When we know Jesus, we cannot help but introduce others to Him too and doing this as part of a team reminds me of how it was done back in Jesus’ days.
One of the things that brought me joy during our year of living in London was serving in a café that was housed in a renovated part of an ancient church. I loved walking through two lush green parks on my way to work, taking in God’s beauty in creation and praising Him because it prepared me for whatever might come in the café. And I loved being a part of a team of people from several countries who also wanted to serve. Some days I served up the food and it was fun learning about British dishes. On other days I cleared tables or I would sit with the lonely or the drug-users or the elderly and talk with them. Because I had tasted and I knew that the Lord was good, it was easy to turn the conversation to Him.
But one dialogue became a bit heated when a fellow volunteer voiced his dislike for Christian do-gooders. When he asked what I thought, I asked him what he thought about the advances in medicine. I told him that if I had the cure for cancer I certainly would not keep it to myself but I would share it. How much more would I want to share the good news that Jesus came to rescue us from death to life! Jesus is not aspirin; He is the giver of life! Lord, please keep our eyes and ears open to You. Choose us to be a part of the joyful team that You use to change the world, one person at a time. Amen.
Luke 10:23 NIV
Now Jesus’ students were about to experience some practical application of all that they had learned and all that Jesus had modeled. Jesus prepared them to take His teaching into neighboring towns so that others could learn what they had been taught. Seventy-two interns were divided in groups of two, and Jesus gave instructions and advised them to pray, to eat what was set before them, to heal the sick, and to let everyone know the good news that the Kingdom of God is near. His advice then is still applicable for us today as we seek to share God’s goodness with those around us. Jesus told His students when they entered a new town, “If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you.”
What an incredible privilege it must have been to spread the message of Jesus in that day and time. What a privilege it still is for those who pray and go and give. If God has blessed you with good news to share, have fun as you share the blessing. My first mission trip was to a very rural area of Mexico in December 1989. Russell and I had been married about six months when we drove across the Texas border and we kept driving until the roads became dirt trails. I couldn’t speak Spanish fluently but I learned the words “un regalo” and said them over and over as I passed out messages of good news. I believe God blessed me just as He blessed those who received the gift. Thankfulness grows when we remember that we do not just pass a gift on, but that we really are recipients of God’s good gift of salvation. Jesus is the best regalo ever! My heart needs to be reminded often of this gift. I have a feeling I’m not alone with that need.
Luke 10:6 NLT
As God’s Story went forward, the teaching ministry of Jesus continued. Many followed after Him to hear His messages on how to live the blessed life. On this particular occasion after a three-day teaching conference in a remote place, the crowds had run out of food, again. Instead of sending them home hungry, Jesus took seven loaves of bread and after He had thanked God for it, passed the bread out to about 4,000 people. A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them. Jesus is good to meet the needs of those who follow Him because He is tenderhearted and His blessings multiply. We are not Jesus, but do we interact with others using our lives so that blessings are multiplied? Jesus tells us to do good deeds so that our Father in Heaven is made known. Blessing people also blesses God. Let’s bless on!
Mark 8:7 NLT (also in Matthew 15:36)
The crowd that was miraculously fed by Jesus the day before was getting hungry again. By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master. So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn’t coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus. Unfortunately, some of these people were only trying to find Jesus because they wanted another free lunch. Jesus knew this and He told them not to live that way but instead to spend energy seeking the eternal life that can only be found in Him. What does God want for us to do? He wants us to believe in the One He has sent. Do not be a “bread-Christian” but instead follow after the One who is the Bread of Life! It is a good idea to seek the Giver of the blessing and not just the blessing. Living on the foundation of gratitude blesses us to be a blessing.
John 6:23-24 MSG
All four of the Gospel writers record this amazing event of how Jesus met the physical needs of the masses who followed Him. Matthew wrote that the evening picnic was on the heels of Jesus hearing that His cousin John had been beheaded, and Jesus was going off for some time by Himself. But as it often happened, crowds of needy people went where Jesus went, and Jesus, being who He is, had compassion. He healed and He taught and it was now past dinnertime at the remote place where they had all gathered.
Five loaves of bread, two fish and one prayer to God in Heaven was all it took for over 5000 men, not including all the women and children, to eat until they were satisfied. That was a meal no one would forget! He told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people.
Sunday Soup is kind of like our family’s equivalent to fish and loaves. In our second home in China we had a freezer just big enough to hold a container for our weekly leftovers and it was in that home that we began our tradition of Sunday Soup. While baking bread before our house church met, I would simmer up the soup and by adding water and at times extra vegetables, we could feed however many joined to worship with us that day. May we follow Jesus’ example and bless our food (meaning to offer thanks to God for what He provides) and be quick to share what we have so that others may also be satisfied. Jesus fed those who followed Him with what He taught and by meeting physical needs as well.
Matthew 14:19 NLT (also in Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16; John 6:11)
This story might sound familiar. Many years ago there was a woman who became very poor as she sought doctor after doctor for a dozen years, and longed for a cure from her constant bleeding only to find her health getting worse. She had heard enough about Jesus to want to be near Him so she joined the crowd following Him. Her faith moved her to action and she reached down and touched the hem of His robe, thinking, “If I can just touch His robe I will be healed.” And she was! Now Jesus confronted the crowd, “Who touched Me?” She was terrified to single herself out. She also knew that she was healed. Would she flee in panic? No, instead she fell on her knees in front of Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.”
She had suffered long and reaching out to Jesus in faith healed her. Her joy was made complete by His words, “live blessed”. What areas of our lives do we need to leave at the hem of Jesus’ robe? Our healing may or may not be immediate, but the peace we have knowing we are not alone in our suffering gives us the strength to bravely go forward.
Isaiah passed his driver’s test the summer of 2012, so he and I made a 1,000-mile trip from Texas to Michigan and enjoyed visiting old friends along the way. When we arrived, we had a family reunion and celebrated my oldest nephew’s birthday. The following Sunday I sat between my mom and my stepdad as their priest wonderfully taught about Jesus as He encountered this specific woman of faith who had reached out for the hem of His robe. Although my issue was not bleeding, I related to the situation because migraine headaches affected my life for longer than a dozen years. As I pondered all of this, I was becoming more and more ill and I nearly passed out in church. And that was the beginning of yet another three-day migraine cycle. Three days and nights in bed, even with a head that is throbbing, allows a lot of time to think and pray. Jesus can heal; there is no doubt in my mind about that. I will not give up faith and I will praise Him with great joy when that time comes!
Mark 5:34 MSG (also in Luke 8:48 and Matthew 9:22)
Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven and taught many lessons by telling stories and parables, and after He shared the parable of the sower with a large group, the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the crowds in parables. Jesus replied that Isaiah’s prophecy, which would have been familiar to those listening, is fulfilled about a people who will listen but not understand and look and yet not perceive. And then He says something so encouraging: “But your eyes are blessed because they do see, and your ears because they do hear! For I assure you: Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn’t hear them.”
All of Israel’s history was leading up to Jesus. Up until Jesus, the Israelites had leaders, some good, some not so good, but all were incomplete. God’s fullness dwelt fully in Jesus. Were his followers ready to embrace this? Dear Lord, in these days I pray that we would have blessed eyes and blessed ears to understand Your teaching, line up our lives with it, and live with wisdom and joy. Amen.
Matthew 13:16 HCSB
Blessed and more blessed. Jesus was in the middle of rebuking the religious leaders of the day. They had a crazy idea and accused Him of getting His power to remove demons from Satan. In the mix of this, a woman’s voice cried out from the crowd,“The womb that bore You and the one who nursed You are blessed!” Jesus accepted what this woman said and he replied for all to hear, “Even more, those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed!” It is interesting that Jesus does not at all deny that His mother is blessed, but He takes it one step further by saying that those who obey God’s Word are even more blessed. Let’s choose to live in blessed obedience, for that is true blessedness.
Luke 11:27-28 HCSB
What are we to do when our troubles are too heavy for us to lift, when we are too weary to go on? We are not to give up, or to text our complaint to those in our address book, but instead we are blessed when we go to Jesus. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.”
I love the definition here of rest: relief, ease, refreshment, recreation and blessed quiet. For me, there are few places that better paint a picture of this kind of rest than time spent in nature. So with the warm sunlight shining through the trees on a late spring 2012 afternoon in North Carolina, and a calm lake a stone’s throw away, I felt at ease knowing that my Creator is in control. I relished the blessed quietness of the setting and peace seemed to wrap around me like a soft blanket.
Jesus’ invitation recorded by Matthew suggests that this kind of soul rest is available when anyone with a heavy burden brings it to Jesus and the blessed quiet will come whether we are by a lakeside or not. Although the surroundings were serene, several of my friends – ladies I had not seen for years – came to me that weekend with hearts heavy and hurting. I remain thankful for arms for hugging and for wisdom that does not come from me, but from God’s Word. Thank You Jesus; for in the midst of it all, we can come to You, learn from You, know Your love that will never leave us and in doing so, experience relief. Amen.
Matthew 11:29 AMP
Jesus gave his cousin John the affirmation he needed. We are at the point in God’s Story when John the Baptizer is now in prison. Things did not go well for John when he rightly condemned Herod for marrying his own brother Philip’s wife. So from a prison cell, John basically wanted to know, “Jesus, are you the Messiah or is someone else coming?” John desired reassurance that he had lived his life with meaning and purpose as he pointed people to Jesus.
Jesus gave this confirmation: “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” Yes, John, your life has been worth it! Don’t give up now. All of us, from time to time, need this kind of encouragement. Press on; know that God does care when we stand up for the sake of righteousness. He will bless us. Do not give up. Don’t turn away. Not all blessings materialize on earth.
Luke 7:22-23 NLT (also in Matthew 11:4-6)
If you have lived long enough, you have probably experienced the truth that hurt people hurt people. That painfully destructive cycle has unfortunately spun through the ages. How different life can be if we choose to follow Jesus’ advice on this topic: “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.”
Sabina was old when I met her, but age did not define her, joy did. Her family had been killed in Romanian Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Her husband, Richard Wurmbrand, had been tortured for Christ for over a dozen years while in several Romanian prisons. Richard spoke passionately at Russell’s Bible school sharing how one night he met the brutal soldier who had killed his wife’s family and lead him to repentance and trust in the Lord. Returning to his home and gently awakening his wife, Richard introduced this man to Sabina. She reached out with hands of peace to embrace her new brother in Christ. Sabina lived loving her enemies, praying for them to know God’s forgiveness and blessing those who had caused her great pain.
Lord, I pray that the cycle of hurt can end with us. Please use us as instruments of healing to bless people even when our natural instincts are far from it. We need to remember how You forgave us and then call us to forgive others in order to live the way of blessing. This is hard. Please help us. We read about saints throughout history who have learned to trust You for justice and forgiveness. For some practical application right now, I pray for ………. who has hurt me. God, help me to give the situation to You. Help me to do good and love appropriately with Jesus as my Helper. Amen.
Luke 6:27-28 NLT
“What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.” Adjusting our understanding of what can bring happiness is an important action to take.
Jesus’ idea of blessings may surprise us, but it is good to remember that He was very aware of what was still to come in His own life. With the cross yet before Him, His joy was set beyond the pain of this world. He knew that taking on mankind’s shame was going to be brutal. Dying stripped and stretched upon a Roman cross with thugs seemingly in charge is not the death anyone would desire. His hope was beyond those hours when the Father turned His face from Him.
Jesus knew His reward and knew the reason for His death. He lived and died on earth while He was obedient and Heaven-focused. When we are so much like Jesus that people who do not love Him take out their frustration and hatred on us, have hope. Aligning our way of seeing life in light of His truth can fill us with joy. God wants us to live blessed now, keeping in mind the reward that is yet to come.
Luke 6:22-23 NLT