February 17 – Remember, We Are Blessed to Rest!

It is hard to know exactly, but about 500-650 years have passed since God promised Abraham that he would be blessed and all peoples would be blessed through him.  God’s Story is a long one!  Three months after God led the Israelites from Egypt, He was ready to make a very personal covenant with His people.  Were His people ready to live out their part of the agreement?

At Mount Sinai, with dense smoke coming from the mountain, God spoke what we would later refer to as the Ten Commandments.  Right before the commandment “Honor your mother and father”, God gave this one: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work… For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” 

The Israelites’ leader was God Himself and they learned that loyalty and allegiance is shown through obedience, even when obeying is hard.  Resting is a difficult thing for me.  I think my issue with this command ultimately has to do with trust.  Do I trust that God is really in control and that things will not fall apart if I put my lists aside to rest?  My head knows the right answer, but living out what I know is right is an on-going process.

During the years of raising our family while working in Asia, two of my most cherished rests were vacations only an hour’s drive from home.  Leaving behind the computer and language books and packing lots of snacks and board games we “camped out” at a mountain hotel near a British soccer camp that our kiddos attended.  In the crisp morning air Russ took the kids to training and I took long runs in the countryside and allowed my mind to be refreshed in the beauty of God’s creation.  Afternoons and evenings were intentionally restful as we enjoyed being together as a family.  God has blessed us to rest.  In fact, as part of the Ten Commandments, He has commanded us to do so each week as we set aside time to purposely meet with Him.  Just like the Israelites of the Old Testament, when we obey, we live out our loyalty.

Exodus 20:8-11 NIV

February 16 – Blessed by God Who Delivers

With the multitudes departing, the Exodus began.  The Egyptians even gave the Israelites gold to take with them as they made their exit!  As God guided him by a cloud and by fire, Moses led the people.  The Israelites passed through the parted Red Sea, the Egyptians who pursued them were destroyed, and the liberated sang songs of praise to God.  God provided water, manna, and quail and the Israelites journeyed on.

Moses had a wonderful family reunion when his wife, their two sons and Jethro, his father-in-law, met up with him in the desert.  I love these little personal glimpses into the big Story, for they are like a small puzzle piece put into place and the whole picture is made more complete.  Jethro was thrilled to hear that the Israelites were delivered from the oppression in Egypt and how it was all due to God’s strength and goodness to bless His people. Jethro told Moses, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.”

While we lived outside of the US, our family experienced a lighter version of this kind of a reunion during our annual group meetings.  Christian workers would gather together representing extended families and tribes, and celebrate the Father’s blessings from the past year.  Fellow missionaries became uncles and aunts to our children, their own children were like cousins to ours, and to this day our family is blessed with those deep relationships forged from rejoicing in God’s redemption.  Reflecting upon and sharing God’s blessings with others leads us to thank and bless God.  A thankful life is a blessed life, and the goodness course continues.

Exodus 18:10 ESV

 

February 15 – Bless Me as You Leave

Moses was eighty years old and the task before him must have seemed insurmountable. Pharaoh was not budging but God told Moses it would be that way for a reason:  all would know that He is the Lord when the Story of God’s miraculous power would be told.  It took several devastating plagues for Pharaoh’s eyes to be opened to see that God was in charge.

One night, Pharaoh finally summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Get out!  Leave my people—and take the rest of the Israelites with you! Go and worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you said, and be gone. Go, but bless me as you leave.”  Pharaoh ultimately saw God as powerful.  The leader of all of Egypt bowed to ask for God’s blessing.

No matter if we see ourselves as weak or strong, the reality is that God is the most powerful and He is able.  May He bless us today as we choose to connect with Him.  May we then follow Him as we continue to make choices that come before us; the easy ones and the hard ones.  Let’s seek to see from God’s perspective and bless people, even those who have hearts that to us may seem like stone.

Exodus 12:31b-32 NLT

February 14 – God’s Great Love as Lent Begins

Ash Wednesday 2015.  I only know that because my walking partner for Wednesdays texted to say she would need to reschedule our walk.  Intrigued, I looked online for churches within a bike ride that held an Ash Wednesday service. And All Saints Catholic Church on 10th was where I pedaled to at noon. Crisp, bright, air made an invigorating 5-block ride and the parking lot was filling up as I locked my bike to an empty green bike rack.  A little path through a garden-like area lead me to the large front doors where I was handed a paper about Lent and joined people of every age.
Wow!  I could never be bored in this church! Built in the early 1900’s it houses history, art, and years of families have sat in these pews.  There was so much to look at, from the many styles of stain glass windows to paintings covering nearly all the wall space.  And the ceiling!  Way too many golden stars to even count, but I could systematically count them if given enough Sundays especially if I allowed my mind to drift.  I did not want to drift today. My desire is to connect with God, the same God that provides me with sunshine in the day and starts at night and lungs to breathe His air both inside and outside of the space we call sacred. It is He who I want to connect with.
High heels on newly restored wooden floors, hushed children’s questions, kneelers being put down and put back up again.  No church bells, no incense, no organ. Ushers found seats for late-comers and the filling the church became full.  And it was Wednesday, in the middle of the day.
A man with a robe and white hair began by saying this was a time for intentional change and concluded by repeating person-by-person, “remember you were dust and to dust you will return” as a dark smudge of ashes, in the form of a cross, was rubbed into the forehead of each person in line.
When I think about it, and I do, often, life is really short. What am I doing, or not doing, that makes the One that gives me life happy?  In light of cremation becoming a popular after-death choice, ashes on the forehead in a church filled with people makes me think that apart from Jesus, are we not all walking dead people?  I want life.  Full life.  Meaningful life.  Purpose-filled and blessed life.
Familiar readings were read, and nothing added to them, from the prophet Joel, bits from the Psalms were spoken as a congregational response, then more readings: 2 Corinthians and parts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  We were then encouraged not to take the wide way of the world but to follow Robert Frost, and Jesus before him, to take the path less traveled.  Three areas of helpful change were expounded upon concerning prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I agreed with it all, I think most people that filled the church do too, but there is more to it than agreeing.  In order for a meaningful change in these areas, or in other areas, action needs to come after belief.  What will change me in these 40 days leading up to celebrating Jesus victorious over sin and death is actually praying, actually fasting, actually giving.
I left the empty church a little more full, grateful for the time to think about God’s love for me and increasing my desire to put thought into action. Specifically, really talk to God about the people and situations that fill my days. To give up anxiety, which takes more self-control then giving up chocolate and to choose to really depend on Him, for He cares for me. And as He cares for me, He also cares for others, may He use me to give to others needs too.  Blessed to be a blessing happens when my life is connected to God, day-by-day.
Today is Ash Wednesday 2018. Many churches in my neighborhood will offer a variety of times to meet. One church even offers drive-thru ashes from 7-10 am.  May we be mindful of God the author of life and love on today Valentine’s Day as intentionally many will focus on the life of Jesus at the culmination of His life lived on this earth. Love is so good.

 

 

Back to the Blessing Book….

A Hard Heart toward God’s Blessing

About half a century later Joseph died.  Joseph’s death concludes the Genesis record and the first of many chapters in God’s Story.  Years passed and a new leader emerged in the Story; Moses.  Family heritage is important to God as we will often see in listed genealogies.  It is interesting to know that Moses was a great-grandson of Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob.  The youngest of three children, Moses was born in Egypt, rescued from the Nile River as a baby, grew up in the Egyptian palace, spent years in the outback as a shepherd for his father-in-law, and would be used by God to deliver His people from the hand of the Egyptians to be brought into the land of blessing and promise.

This would not be an easy rescue mission but a very fascinating one as God’s provision, protection and blessing continually guided His people.  By this time in history the Egyptians do not remember Joseph and all the good he had done for them.  Even as slaves in the land, the Israelite community grew and because they were seen as a threat, they were mistreated.  Moses, as God’s spokesperson, asked that all the Israelites be given permission to leave to worship Yahweh and this new Pharaoh did not want to lose his workforce.  Pharaoh said, “I’d sooner send you off with God’s blessings than let you go with your children.”  Once again, Moses and Aaron (his brother and ministry partner) were thrown out of Pharaoh’s sight. Pharaoh, with his hard heart, did not get a blessing from God and another plague, this time of locusts, filled his land. God, may our hearts be soft to Your ways in our days.  Amen.

Exodus 10:10a MSG

February 13 – Bless until You Die

Israel said his final good-byes to his twelve sons, and as he did so he blessed each of them.  All these are the tribes of Israel, the twelve tribes. And this is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each one with his own special farewell blessing.  Jacob (Israel) went on to repeat his burial desires while he had everyone assembled, and then he died.  The whole community (both the Israelites and the Egyptians) mourned his death and a very impressive procession traveled from Egypt to Canaan.  Jacob was buried next to his wife Leah since Rachel had been buried where she had died while giving birth to Benjamin on the journey to Bethlehem.   Jacob’s parents and grandparents were all buried together in the same cave back where it all began when God gave Abraham the promise and blessing that he would be a great nation and all nations would be blessed through him.

Three generations of God’s blessed people have now died.  But the blessing lives on.  God blesses people to be a blessing.  It is humbling to realize that we are a part of God’s blessing cycle.  Thank You, our Father for Your loving kindness toward us.  Way beyond what we will ever know, You give to us good gifts.  May we live lives that honor You as we share with others from the abundant favor You have supplied so that all can know You.  Amen.

Genesis 49:28 MSG

February 12 – Blessings like a Crown

Before he died, Jacob gathered his sons around him to tell each one, in the form of a blessing, what would happen in the days to come.  So he “blessed” all twelve of his sons in the order in which they were born.  When he got to son number eleven (Joseph), again we can read the way Jacob loved him more because he blessed him more.  Joseph will be fruitful and strong due to the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, by the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, and blessings of the breasts and the womb.  The blessings of your father excel the blessings of my ancestors and the bounty of the eternal hills. May they rest on the head of Joseph, on the crown of the prince of his brothers.

Now that is a whole lot of blessing!  God did bless Joseph extra; He blessed him with humility to trust Him in the hard times and to forgive his brothers.  Joseph had the wisdom to know that what his brothers had initially meant for evil, God turned to good.  Out of God’s goodness Israel’s family did not die of famine but lived!  God placed Joseph just where he needed to be.  I want to be faithful to humbly live out my life where God places me.

Genesis 49:24b-26 HCSB

February 11- One Day Our Ability to Bless Will End

When Jacob was blessing Joseph’s sons, Joseph tried to correct his father about which son was older, for the older son was due the special blessing.  Jacob however, refused Joseph’s guidance and said, “I know, my son; I know. Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.”  So Jacob blessed the boys that day with this blessing: “The people of Israel will use your names when they give a blessing. They will say, ‘May God make you as prosperous as Ephraim and Manasseh.’” In this way, Jacob put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. 

There in Egypt, in the land of Pharaoh, Jacob blessed his two grandsons from Joseph.  Jacob then went on to bless the other men in his family.  What a special occasion that must have been, but it was also bittersweet.  These blessings were given at the end of Jacob’s time on earth.  Not all of us will be granted a time for giving bedside blessings.  One of our saddest sacrifices was being overseas when Russell’s mother, Ann, died.  Though we spent the previous Christmas with her, it was difficult not to have one more chance to give and receive blessings before she passed from this world.  We continue to learn to live each day extending blessings while we can.

Genesis 48:19b-20 NLT

February 10 – Blessing Grandchildren

Jacob asked about Joseph’s two sons who were born to him in Egypt.  The grandfather then said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”  Even though age had robbed Jacob of clear sight he hugged and kissed his two grandsons.  With his hand on the heads of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim (the younger) and Manasseh (the older), Israel began.  Then he blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys.  May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly on the earth.”  It was a very moving time for the three generations of men, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  This unexpected reunion was indeed a blessing from God.  And blessings continued to flow from Israel’s heart and lips.

Genesis 48:9b, 15-16 NIV

February 9 – End of Life Blessings

The Israelites (Israel’s family) moved to Egypt and Israel (Jacob) lived the last seventeen years of his life there.  Jacob made Joseph promise to bury his body where his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham were buried.  I’m curious if Jacob thought back to the time of his own father’s funeral and how he and his brother Esau had buried Isaac.  When we know we are at the end of our lives, what will we look back on with joy?

A whole lot of blessing takes place at the end of Jacob’s life and it begins with Jacob recalling the way in which God had blessed him.  Jacob reminisced and told his son Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’”  Who can forget a blessing like that?

The twelve tribes of Israel came from Jacob, and indeed the Promised Land would be theirs. God’s good Story is worth passing down from generation to generation.  What has He done in our lives that we are sharing with the generations that follow us?  Are we purposefully leaving a legacy of thanksgiving?  If not, it may not be too late to rethink and align afresh to God the giver of all blessings.  We have been given the gift of life; I pray we would choose to live wisely.

Genesis 48:3b-4 ESV

February 8 – Blessing Others as a Result of Being Blessed

The handsome and well-built Joseph became quite the Egyptian ruler over the years but before that happened he finds himself thrown into prison because he did not give in to the advances of his master’s wife.  Although not as serious as the episode with Potiphar’s wife, I’m grateful that Russell knew how to resist an unwanted approach.  In broad daylight on a public street in our little Chinese town, a “professional” woman asked him to come into her shop for a haircut.  He responded, “Uh, I don’t have any hair.”  “That’s ok,” she purred, “I don’t have any scissors.”

Back in Egypt, Joseph was put in charge of the prison that he himself was thrown into. Through a series of dreams and interpretation of dreams Pharaoh is made aware that the spirit of God was in Joseph, so he promoted Joseph over all of Egypt.  During this time there is an extreme famine and who comes asking for food, but Joseph’s brothers.  Long story short, there was great rejoicing when Joseph finds out that his father, Jacob, is still living.

When Jacob arrived in Egypt with the rest of his clan, Joseph presented his father before Pharaoh.   After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.  I have a feeling that in his wildest dreams Jacob never thought that he would one day be blessing Egypt’s number one man. Russell did not start out in a prison or end up in a royal palace, but he eventually led church planting work in five countries.  When we stay near God, who knows how we may be led by Him to bless others.

Genesis 47:7b-10 NIV

February 7 – Blessed for the Sake of Another

For some reason, Jacob (Israel) loved his eleventh son Joseph more than his other children. Maybe it was because Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn.  Things took a turn for the worse for Joseph when he was about seventeen years old.  The favoritism of his father coupled with the seemingly arrogant dreams that Joseph had about his own brothers pushed his brothers over the edge.   In a series of challenging events Joseph ends up in the bottom of a well and then sold to a man named Potiphar in Egypt, far from the father who loved him.

But Joseph found favor with the Lord. From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the LORD began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. All his household affairs ran smoothly, and his crops and livestock flourished.  Even in this far away land God did not forget Joseph and He blessed the work of his hands.  At times we might ask ourselves, “What in the world am I doing here?”  I bet Joseph wondered that while down in the pits a few times in his life.  Hold on, the story is not over yet.  God is a God who redeems and blesses!  The stark contrast between our darkness and His light is often the backdrop we read about in His Story as well as experience in our own lives.

God, may we be quick to turn to You when life does not make sense.  Thank You for the precedent that has been set and lived over and over, that You are able to release us from the darkness of our own prisons and give beauty in place of ashes.  Amen.

Genesis 39:5 NLT

February 6 – Remember Former Blessings in Hard Times

Just because we are blessed does not mean we will live life free of hard times.  We see in the life of Jacob that some of his young adult children made some bad choices that led to bad consequences and challenging times, yet God did not leave Jacob.  God faithfully led Jacob.  He was told by God to move once more to Bethel and to build an altar where he had lived back in the day of the blessing from his father Isaac.  When they arrived, God appeared to him again and blessed him. Restating what was told to Jacob during the all-night wrestling match, he was told by God, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.”   Another pillar was set up, like the time after Jacob’s dream of the stairway, and with wine poured over it, Israel worshipped God. The recording of God’s Story goes back and forth sometimes calling Jacob, “Jacob” and at other times “Israel”.  I wonder what name his wives used to call him by?

After God described the promise of a great nation with great land, Israel and his family moved on toward Bethlehem.  On the way there, Benjamin was born but he lost Rachel, the wife he loved most, as she gave birth to his twelfth and last son.  Israel held a brand new baby instead of the love of his life.  This unexpected death must have been devastating.  Even though we are blessed we will not be exempt from times of suffering.  The world is a fallen, broken one, but remember, God is over this world and He gives us hope.

Genesis 35:9b-10 NIV

February 5 – The Blessing of Forgiveness

It was a very scary time for Israel (Jacob) and his large traveling family.  Instead of being refreshed by a night of sleep he had just wrestled until dawn.  It must have been encouraging to know God was near him, even blessing him, yet he did not know how Esau would respond to seeing him again.  How relieved Israel must have been when Esau met him with forgiveness.  With a big bear hug and weeping the two powerful men were filled with joy from their reconciliation and were genuinely happy to see each other again.  Israel urged, Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.”  Esau accepted the gift then Israel and his family moved on to settle in Succoth.  How completely wonderful is reconciliation!  God is a God of forgiveness and He must beam with joy when His children forgive one another.  Jesus came so that we could be reconciled to God Himself.  What an amazing gift that is.

Genesis 33:11 NKJV

February 4 – Wrestling Blessing

During our seminary days we wrestled with our calling.  Were we to settle into our lives in rural North Carolina, go deeper into Hispanic ministry or take up a challenge to travel to the other side of the world to pioneer work with an unreached people group?  Long talks and pro/con worksheets played their parts, but wrestling with God in prayer for direction is what led us to gather up our young kiddos and journey to China.

Jacob continued his journey with all that belonged to him and he too knew what it meant to wrestle.  As he approached his brother’s land it was inevitable that he would need to face Esau.  Jacob had not seen Esau in over twenty years, ever since the time their father had blessed Jacob with Esau’s blessing and Esau had threatened to take Jacob’s life.  This meet-up could be life threatening for Jacob and the family he loved.  With this in mind, Jacob separated gifts of animals and people to go on ahead of him, then he placed his wives and children in the safest place he could find and he remained alone for the night.

He prayed to God reminding Him of the promises God had given and was thankful for God’s great provision.  But instead of his prayers leading to sleep, he had an all-night wrestling match with God.  When the sun began to rise Jacob heard, “Let Me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.”  Jacob was given a new name “Israel” and then the One he was wrestling with blessed him there.  Do we value wrestling with God long enough for a breakthrough to come with a blessing?  I pray we do even if it means sleepless nights.

Genesis 32:26, 29 HCSB

February 3 – A Parent’s Blessing

After a seven-day pursuit, Laban caught up with Jacob, and there was a heated confrontation and then a resolution, which ended with an oath that neither man would harm the other.  A meal was eaten together and they all spent the night peacefully on the mountain.  Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.  Although God’s Story does not record it, I have a feeling the blessing of their father made for a better trip for his two grown daughters, Leah and Rachel.  Let us never hold back on blessing those we love, especially when it involves our children as they start out for lives on their own.

I felt a lot of emotion the summer of 2011 when Isaiah, our last to fly from the nest, walked through security checks at the Chiang Mai airport to board the plane that would take him from our home in Thailand to a new life in America.  I remembered Sophie making the same solo flight the year before and how a short time before that we helped Hannah unpack into her freshman dorm then we said good-bye and flew to a new nest in London.  So many changes in such a short time, yet God remained faithful through it all.  A part of me wanted to hang on with a long hug at each departure, but instead I kissed each of our kiddos good-bye, as parents have been doing for generations before me, and I thanked God through tears for the life and time we shared as a family.  One thing I love about God is that He is everywhere.  No matter what time zones we are scattered through, He is near those we love and our prayers are heard by Him who cares even more than we ever can.

P.S. Time ticks forward and God blessed my children with three different Texas university experiences and each have now graduated: Hannah from Baylor, Sophie from Rice and Isaiah from UMHB. Life continues to change yet God remains faithfully constant, lovingly Present.

 

Genesis 31:55 NIV

February 2 – Open Handed Blessings

Jacob wanted to leave Laban’s control and start a life away from his uncle.  Because Laban recognized the blessing of God upon the life of Jacob, he does not want Jacob to leave.  Laban thinks that maybe God’s blessing will go when Jacob goes.  Laban tells Jacob, “I have become wealthy, for the LORD has blessed me because of you. Tell me how much I owe you. Whatever it is, I’ll pay it.”  Jacob explained that he worked very hard (seven years for each wife then six more years for the flocks) and that during those two decades, Laban’s wealth also increased enormously.  Jacob then gives the credit to God. “The LORD has blessed you through everything I’ve done. But now, what about me? When can I start providing for my own family?”  When Laban did not give his blessing for Jacob and his family to leave, Jacob left secretly.  He packed up his wives, their maids, a dozen children (eleven sons and a daughter) and all he owned.  The whole family headed back to the land of Jacob’s father Isaac, like God had said to do.

As a young adult, Rebecca arrived in Thailand ready to serve only to find that her team leaders had resigned.  We brought Rebecca on board with our team and began to invest in her life. We were blessed by Rebecca’s friendship and by her contributions as she faithfully served her two year commitment.  When the time came for her to decide her future service Rebecca chose to join a different team.   We liked Rebecca; it would have been easy to want to hold on to her, or we could have let her go, but done so grudgingly.  I’m glad we chose to bless her as she left and be thankful for how God matured her to go forth as a blessing to the new team that He had provided.

Laban was Jacob’s provision when Jacob needed a fresh start in life. Jacob worked hard for Laban and the time had come for him to step out on his own.  This type of a relationship dynamic continues in many ways still today.  May we not turn it into an unhealthy form of co-dependency, but allow for good growth, even when it means change will be involved. It is best if we do not hoard blessings (especially those that come to us in the form of people) but to allow blessings to flow.  I’m so thankful that in doing so with Rebecca we maintain a joyful friendship and she continues to bless so many through the experiences God keeps giving to her.

Genesis 30:27, 30 NLT

February 1 – Asher: Blessed to Be Happy

Jacob fell head over heels in love with Rachel, his Uncle Laban’s youngest daughter.  Jacob worked hard for seven years to earn her hand in marriage only to discover on the morning after his wedding night that he had married her older sister, Leah instead!  How did he handle this deception? How did Leah feel about the whole situation?  I’m sure this state of affairs caused a little tension in Rachel’s life too.   Tricky Uncle Laban offered another work incentive program to Jacob and he worked an additional seven years for Rachel.   As Jacob spent time shepherding did he reflect on his life and remember how he had deceived his own brother Esau out of his blessing?

Sometimes what goes around comes around.  At any rate, the years had added up and by that point, Jacob had acquired many herds and flocks of animals, which meant his livelihood had grown.  Jacob’s family also grew.  His wives who were sisters were in steady competition to give him sons.  Rachel and Leah even provided Jacob with their maidservants to expand the family.  Zilpah, Leah’s maid, bore Jacob [her] second son. And Leah said, I am happy, for women will call me blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied); and she named him Asher [happy].  Jacob now had eight sons.  His number was indeed increasing and this was just the beginning of the blessing passed down from God to Abraham to Isaac and now to Jacob coming to fruition.

Genesis 30:12-13 AMP

January highlights:

We have traveled through a whole lot of blessings!   God blessed humanity over and over and we were introduced to people like Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, as well as Isaac and Rebekah.  God’s great covenant blessing in Genesis 12, that we are blessed to be a blessing, is now being passed on to Jacob.  February holds some great stories of how God’s Story continues to unfold, blessing after blessing.  Read on, be blessed and bless!  Feel free to pass along TheBlessingBook to those you would like to bless.  Love, Karla

January 31 – Pillow to Pillar Blessing

Ready to find his wife, Jacob set out for his mother’s land. Along the way, he grew tired and using a stone for a pillow he fell asleep and dreamed.  During his unusual dream of a stairway to Heaven, God spoke to Jacob saying he would have many descendants.  “Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south.  All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.”  God told Jacob that He would watch over him and give to him the land on which he slept.  The blessing given to Abraham and Isaac has now been passed on to Jacob. Are we keen to listen when God speaks to us through dreams, His Word or through messengers He sends?  What blessings are we passing on to the generations that follow us?

Jacob turned his “pillow” into a pillar, poured oil over it and after making a vow to God, continued his journey.  It was a pivotal time in Jacob’s life and he took ownership of his own faith in the Lord.  The world offers many roads for young adults to choose as they venture out into life on their own.  Wise discernment is needed now just as it was needed back in the days of Jacob. Father, we pray for ourselves and for the next generation. Please provide us with direction and increase our desire to choose to walk in step with Jesus.   Open our ears to hear You speak, and then like Jacob, may we follow in obedience.  Amen.

Genesis 28:14 HCSB

January 30 – Pray for Blessed Marriages

By being obedient to his parents and leaving when he did, Jacob’s life was spared because his brother Esau was plotting to take it.  Esau knew that his father, Isaac, had blessed Jacob and sent him to Paddan-aram to find a wife, and that he had warned Jacob, “You must not marry a Canaanite woman.”  By this time Esau had already married two Canaanite women and the pagan daughters-in-law made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.  Esau added another wife to the mix,  this one was from his dad’s brother’s family.  For the hope of the generations to come, for those who would inherit the blessing of Abraham, a lot was resting on the need for a healthy wife for Jacob.  I’m sure Isaac and Rebekah were hoping for some peaceful family reunions too.  Just think of how the conflicts grew even more intense for the elderly couple due to the proximity of the tents in which their extended family lived. Family relational struggles can be a hindrance to the joy of living in peace and harmony, no matter what time period.  Let’s pray deliberately for those who will one day marry into our families and continue to pray for those who we are committed to through marriage.  May we practice loving God now with all that we are, and may God bless our families with people who love and honor Him and one another.

Genesis 28:6 NLT

January 29 – Generational Blessing

In 1990, on the first Christmas with our firstborn, Hannah, I gave my mom a daily scripture calendar by Dr. James Dobson called The Heart of the Family. The next Christmas, she gave a copy to each of her grown children so we could read the same passages day-by-day.   Over the years I continue to use it to record special events. On a very meaningful Thanksgiving with our house church family in Thailand, I jotted down a blessing I did not want to forget.  It was 2006 and our thankful hearts were quite aware that soon the oldest children in our group would be leaving for college.  With the smells of special food filling the room it was great to hear different voices reflecting on holidays from the past.  Looking over at the kids’ table it was obvious that our kiddos had grown up and life was about to change as they each would head out on their own.  

My calendar for that day held a blessing from Genesis 28.  May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you until you become a group of peoples.” This original blessing was given by Isaac to his son Jacob, but I couldn’t help but feel blessed by the Lord who had formed our group of families into a blessed church called Sojos.  As Jacob was about to head out on his own, his father, talking about God, said,  “May He give the blessing [He gave to] Abraham to you and your descendants with you, that you may inherit the land He gave to Abraham, in which you are a sojourner.”  In time we will see that the blessing from Isaac was passed down again from father to son.  Present times will become memories but the future holds hope because of God’s faithful promises. Even as sojourners, God provides the blessing of communion with Him and with others.

P.S. Nearly a decade after that special Thanksgiving, Russell and I reconnected again with Sojos. It was a joy to visit with a once troubled teen who Russ baptized in his senior year. Joey is now leading a thriving ministry to those with disabilities and has a beautiful young family of his own. He and his wife have just adopted a daughter with special needs from Serbia. God’s blessings continue to multiply as His love is lived out.

Genesis 28:3-4 AMP

January 28 – Blessed to Be Spared

Tension continued to build in Isaac’s family.  Once again Rebekah tried to protect Jacob; this time, using marriage.  When she heard that Esau wanted to kill his brother Jacob, she made a plan for Jacob’s escape.  Rebekah told Isaac that she didn’t want Jacob to marry a Hittite woman but instead he needed to travel to her hometown to marry a woman from her family line.  Isaac summoned Jacob, blessed him, and commanded him: “Don’t take a wife from the Canaanite women.”  As a father, Isaac sends his son on the same journey that Abraham sent his trusted servant on years before.  Isaac instructed Jacob to marry one of his mother’s brother’s daughters.  And it will be intriguing how Rebekah’s brother Laban again becomes a part of God’s Story. I think that Laban might have had a challenge with greed and manipulation.  It is interesting that Jacob, on the run from out-maneuvering his brother, finds himself on a journey to live with Uncle Laban.  Uncle Laban was the needed shelter from this storm, however, God desires for there to be peace within our families.  Because we are often stiff-necked and stubborn, sometimes a little time and space is required for that desired peace to come about.  Jacob will find out later that pursuing peace is not for the cowardly.  May we be brave in the Lord to offer and accept both forgiveness and apologies for the sake of peace.

Genesis 28:1 HCSB

January 27 – Grabby for Blessings?

After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting.  Esau approached his father with the meal he had freshly prepared and said, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”  This interaction really confused Isaac and he had to tell Esau that he had already given away the blessing to his brother Jacob:  “I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!” Esau took this news really hard and with a loud and bitter cry he said: “Bless me—me too, my father!”  Isaac answered, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”  With growing hurt and anger Esau spoke what was on his mind,  “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!”  

Esau asked his father, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?” Isaac told Esau plainly that he had given it all to Jacob.  Can you hear the desperation in Esau’s voice?  “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.  Esau received a sad “blessing” and held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him.  When we think about the present and we reflect on this part of God’s Story written years ago, the names may be different, but the challenge to living morally upright lives in complicated settings is the same.  May we learn from the examples of others, and seek God for His guidance to lead us through the confusion.

Genesis 27:30-41 NIV

January 26 – Blessing of Heaven’s Dew and Earth’s Richness

So now we find Jacob posing as his brother Esau to gain the blessing of their father Isaac. After telling his father that he was his firstborn, Jacob urged, Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.”  At first, Isaac is not convinced because the voice sounded like Jacob’s but the fur that Rebekah had placed on Jacob’s hands convinced him, and he proceeded to bless him.   Isaac asked again if Jacob was really his firstborn son Esau and Jacob replied that he was.  So Isaac continued, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”  Jacob moved closer to his father and kissed him.  When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed.  May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine.  May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.  May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”  This blessing should sound familiar to us as it is similar to the blessing that God gave to Abraham back in Genesis chapter twelve.  We will see that this blessing story is far from over!

Genesis 27:19b, 23b, 25, 27-29 NIV

January 25 – Battle over the Blessing

Generally speaking, having favorites is an unhealthy habit for parents.  We can see this statement lived out in the lives of Jacob and Esau as their parents each had their favorite son.  Even though Isaac’s firstborn son Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of bean soup, Isaac still planned to give Esau his blessing.  Just before he died, Isaac told Esau, “Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” Rebekah overheard Isaac and since she loved Jacob and wanted the best for him, she schemed with her favorite son, Jacob.  Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it.  Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”  Jacob wasn’t so sure the plan would work, for although Isaac had lost his eyesight, he hadn’t lost his sense of touch.  If Isaac touched Jacob he would know Jacob was not his hairy son Esau.  Jacob replied, “I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.”  The backdrop is set for the battle over the blessing.

Genesis 27:4, 8-10, 12b NIV

January 24 – Surprise Blessing

Isaac and his family were now in Beersheba, and the Lord appeared to him one night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you.  I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of My servant Abraham.”  Again, God blesses Isaac, and reminds him that He is faithful. He tells him that just as He was with Abraham, He will be with Isaac, too.  Isaac had moved quite a bit and it must have felt good to be settling his family in Beersheba.  He had just built an altar to worship the Lord and maybe Rebekah got the last picture hung on the tent wall before they received a surprise visitor.  Remember the king who sent Isaac away because he felt threatened by Isaac’s power?  Well now he traveled to find Isaac.  Was he coming for war or for peace? Did Isaac’s recent dream flash through his mind, hearing afresh that he did not need to be afraid?  The king came for peace and he wanted a treaty with Isaac because he could see that the Lord was with him. Along with other things the king said, You are now blessed by the Lord.”  In life we will have surprises.  There will be good times, hard times and times when we are astonished at how the times can change around.  May we seek and stay near to God during our transitions as well as in times of settledness.  Like Isaac, may we not be afraid, for He is with us.

Genesis 26:24, 29 HCSB

January 23 – Blessed Provisions

God also blessed Isaac’s finances.  Substantially.  When Isaac planted his crops that year, he harvested a hundred times more grain than he planted, for the LORD blessed him.  The increase in Isaac’s wealth and power caused the king of that land to be fearful of Isaac so he sent him away.  Then there were conflicts over water rights and wells.  These disagreements brought about many quarrels and more moving.  It must have been a stressful time for the whole family.  But in stressed-filled times we can draw near to God who desires our closeness at all times as He provides what we need.

What I needed for my family back in the winter of 1992 was diapers.  God had blessed us with three babies in the span of twenty-eight months, which meant we went through a lot of diapers.  At the end of one of those months there were no diapers, and no money to buy them.  How we rejoiced when there was a check in our mailbox for just enough to get us through another round of diapers!  Years later we had three kiddos in college; diapers are expensive but college even more so!  Our mission board generously provided “X” amount toward scholarships but when we took a leave of absence from the mission field those scholarships were no longer available to us.  We would have a tuition fund shortage. God knew this and the very next day a Marine Corps scholarship was presented to us for the exact amount that the mission board previously provided.  God used the time we served in the Marine Corps as singles, to bless us as a family almost thirty years later.  Isaac was blessed with grain.  We were blessed with diapers and scholarships, and so much more.  God likes to bless His children.

Genesis 26:12 NLT

January 22 – God’s Blessing Passed Down

It was during this time of famine when the LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.  For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”  Isaac grew up hearing that his father Abraham was blessed by the Lord.  There was God’s promise that all nations would be blessed through Abraham.  Now the Lord spoke this same blessing to Isaac, giving him confirmation and assurance.  What peace Isaac must have felt knowing God would be with him.  I pray we sense that kind of peace from our Father today.  Lord, may we draw near to You and take time to reflect on Your many blessings in our own lives.  We thank You for Your decrees that show us the way to truth and full life.  Thank You for peace that over-comes the world.  Amen.

Genesis 26:2-5 NIV

January 21- Double Blessing: Twins!

Isaac was meditating as he walked along his property when he first saw Rebekah approaching on the back of a camel.  Whether or not it was love at first sight, we do not know, but God’s Story does say that Rebekah was beautiful.  Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah and she comforted him greatly in the loss of his mother.  Isaac deeply loved his wife and the couple had quite a while to get to know each other for Rebekah was barren for twenty years.  By this time Father Abraham lived until he reached the ripe old age of 175.  When he died his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, buried him in the same cave with his dear wife Sarah.  After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi. 

One of the ways that God blessed Isaac was to answer his prayers on behalf of his wife who could not have children.  After two decades of married life, twins were born to Isaac and Rebekah.  What joy must have filled their tent!  The brothers grew up and Esau, the older of the two, became a skillful hunter.  Isaac loved the taste of wild meat, so of the two boys, Isaac favored Esau.  Rebekah, however, favored their son Jacob as he quietly enjoyed time with her among the tents.  Due to a famine in the land, the family moved to Gerar, yet God remained faithful in His promise to bless Isaac.  In the days to come, we will see more clearly how God continued to bless Isaac.

Genesis 25:11 NIV

January 20 – Blessed Future

Rebekah’s father, brother and mother all gave permission for Rebekah to marry Isaac for they understood this opportunity was from the Lord.  But the choice was left to Rebekah.  When she said “yes”, they gave her this blessing as she parted: “Our sister, may you become the mother of many millions!  May your descendants be strong and conquer the cities of their enemies.”  Many were blessed with this arrangement and wedding plans were quickly formulated.   Along with her childhood nurse, Rebekah left all that was familiar to her and traveled a long distance to be married to a man she had never met.  Her future was unknown yet she trusted enough to get on a camel and begin the journey.  It must have given her comfort and assurance to know that this wedding was arranged and blessed by God.  May He be the foundation in each marriage.

Marriage is not an easy partnership as it will, maybe more than any other relationship, bring out what is really inside of us.  Character traits, like the good, the bad and the changing are often shown most intensely to those we are the closest to.  Some would say that marriage is not just meant to make us happy but that God uses marriage to make us holy.  And even the most mature are still on a journey in becoming complete.  I’m happiest when I am holy (pure, un-mixed) and enjoy the blessings that come with married life.  As Rebekah entered into marriage she was given a blessing to be the mother of millions.  Content with the three children God has blessed Russell and me with, I look forward to embrace those who may one day extend our family through additional marriages and grandchildren.  This blessing promise that began with Abraham continues on through the ages.

Genesis 24:60 NLT

January 19 – Bless God Who Leads in the Way of Truth

Oh, to be a prayerful, faithful servant.  When we start our day, do we ask for God’s direction and then take time to pray specifically for His intervention as we go about on our mission?  Abraham’s servant is a wonderful role model to us.  He not only prays but he wastes no time to praise God for providing an answer.  God’s Story records this account twice, first as the servant does it and then as he retells his story of God’s faithfulness to Rebekah’s family. And I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son.  The servant felt Rebekah was the answer to his prayer for Isaac but she still needed to respond.  That was a huge decision to make all in one day.  Her whole life could possibly change if she said yes.  But that is how life works.  One decision leads to a whole new set of possibilities.

What if a girl from Michigan never went to boot camp in South Carolina, and then on to training in Florida for an intelligence unit where she met a young Marine from Texas who was in Florida learning Morse code?  What if he never pursued her to Spain?  What if God did not intervene and reconcile each of them into His family?  What if on a rainy night he never asked the marriage question?  What if she did not reply, “Yes, I’ll marry you!”   As I have experienced in my own life, the journey offers several opportunities to respond and a different choice along the way brings about a very different conclusion.   A whole lot was resting on how Rebekah and her family took in the news from Abraham’s servant concerning a bride for Isaac.

Genesis 24:48 NKJV

January 18 – Blessed by the Lord

The servant shared the interesting wedding proposal situation with Rebekah, the beautiful girl at the spring, and gave her jewelry. She excitedly passed on this unexpected news to her mother and brother Laban.  Laban rushed back to the well and invited the servant to their home.  “Come and stay with us, you who are blessed by the Lord!  Why are you standing here outside the town when I have a room all ready for you and a place prepared for the camels?”  Inside, with the family gathered, the servant told them the reason for his visit.  “I am Abraham’s servant,” he explained.  “And the LORD has greatly blessed my master; he has become a wealthy man.”  He added that Isaac was his master’s son and he was sent to bring back a wife for him. If you were Rebekah’s parents how would you take such news?  Life was going along with normal activities, then one day, one visit, and all that would be customary for the future of your daughter, could potentially be radically different.  Did Rebekah’s parents have the boy-next-door picked out for her to marry?  Would giving her hand in marriage to a man miles away mean never seeing their grandchildren grow up?  What about Rebekah; would she be given a say in the matter?

Genesis 24:31, 34-35a NLT

January 17 – Blessed Be the Lord for Answered Prayer

Abraham asked one of his servants to be the matchmaker for his son and so he traveled to Abraham’s hometown in search of a wife for Isaac.  As the servant journeyed he prayed to God for guidance and success.  When a beautiful maiden gave him water to drink from the spring and watered his camels too he knew God had answered this specific request.  The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master.  As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.”

In order to get an answer from a specific prayer we need to go to God and voice our specific needs.  Sometimes the answer comes quickly as it did for Abraham’s servant and sometimes our faith is grown as we wait upon God’s timing.  Our young family had a great lesson in faith growing during our second time of living in a Chinese village.  Duke, an adorable puppy brought lots of joy to our household, and Sophie was especially attached to the little guy.  One afternoon right out of the blue, a man walked into our courtyard, picked up Duke and ran away before we could catch him.  Duke’s “dognapping” led to several trips to the local market in hopes of finding him and nightly prayers were lifted to God, pleading to bring Duke back.  Thirty days later, Sophie still leading the prayer campaign, a local friend called saying they spotted Duke with a thug.  Russell rushed to the rescue, decisively dealt with the drug dealer and Duke returned to our home with much rejoicing to God!  God cares about our cares, whether they be dog-sized or concerning a new bride.  Blessed be the Lord!

Genesis 24:26-27 ESV

January 16 – Blessed with Marriage

Thirty-seven years have passed since the birth of Isaac.  Sarah, Abraham’s faithful wife, has just died.  Abraham mourned the loss of his wife, who was his partner, companion and friend through life.  By this time, Abraham was now a very old man, and the LORD had blessed him in every way.  When his grieving subsided, the next thing on Abraham’s mind was to find a wife for Isaac.  He did not want Isaac to marry a local girl from the pagan land where they now lived, but instead Abraham looked to his hometown to find a mate suitable for his son.  I picture Abraham reminiscing about the years of life lived with his dedicated wife and he must have desired his son to be blessed with a godly wife as well.  As we will find out in the story of Isaac’s wife, it is a good and godly thing to pray for the future marriage partner of the children God has blessed us with.  Lord, I pray we would honor You by living faithfully with the spouse You have given to us and in doing so be a godly example for the next generation.  Please provide for our children marriage partners who love You above all else. May we live with the joy and blessing that comes when marriage is built on Your foundation.  Amen.

Genesis 24:1 NLT

January 15 -Blessed to Pass the Test

In the ancient Near East, child sacrifice was an unfortunately common practice. People believed that the gods demanded the blood of children as signs of worship.  As horrific as that seems to us, this was the world that Abraham and Sarah inhabited. It is crucial to remember this point when reading about Abraham’s most difficult test. One day, God called out to Abraham and asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac.  In addition to being a heartbreaking request, this must also have been confusing to Abraham.  Wasn’t Isaac the child God had promised? Hadn’t Abraham waited for years to have a son? These thoughts undoubtedly raced through his mind, but Abraham again obeyed God.

As a parent of three beautiful children, I cannot even imagine Abraham’s heavy heart as he and Isaac climbed the mountain together. My heart grows heavier still when I think of how he had to then tie Isaac down to the altar, and how, with a trembling hand, he drew the knife to slay his son. This is horrible to imagine.  But God had something besides death in store, for He is different from the pagan gods.  At the last minute, just as Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham and said that now it was known that Abraham feared God above all else.  Then the angel of the LORD called again to Abraham from heaven.  “This is what the LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.  Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies.  And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”  What an incredible test.  Again, Abraham obeyed God, and God’s blessing followed his obedience.

To prepare to serve God in China, our family received a series of injections, some of which could actually infect us with enough virus to make us extremely sick and even die. Although we sensed God’s leading to move our young family to the other side of the world, our trust in Him was truly tested when our four-year-old child, Sophie, began to show an adverse response to the injections.  In some ways, like Abraham, we needed to obey God fully before we saw His provision.   We intentionally reflected on the truth that our children were given to us from God, but that they belonged to Him. God, I pray that we continually trust You with the lives of those we love most dearly.  Loving You and living obediently will never disappoint us even when the situation at hand may not be what we would naturally choose.  In the end, Sophie was okay and with grateful hearts we boarded the plane, blessed to grow closer to God than ever before.

Genesis 22:15-18 NLT

January 14 – Repeated Blessings

The grievous sins of Sodom and Gomorrah reached an all-time high and destruction by the Lord was at its doorstep.  Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family still lived in that area and Abraham bartered with the Lord not to destroy the righteous along with the wicked.  During this conversation with Abraham, God restated His promise. “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.  For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” 

Does keeping the way of the Lord make a difference to God when we ask Him for His help?  It did for Abraham, and because of it, Lot was spared again. How we live our life matters.  Abraham knew that righteousness and justice were important to God.  He could choose to obey the commands that God gave to him or reject His instruction. Obedience was the only wisdom he had.  Let’s be wise and learn to listen to God’s voice. Obeying God leads us to wisdom. Lord, may we seek to make progress on changing according to Your plan rather than repeating the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Amen.

Genesis 18:18-19 NIV

January 13 – Not All Blessings Are the Same

Backtrack a few chapters and thirteen years earlier in the life of Abraham. He had seen the power of God and knew His promises. Yet he remained childless and so Sarah came up with a plan to offer her maidservant to Abraham to start a family through her. Abraham was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.  Now Ishmael is a teenager and Sarah is soon to be expecting her first child.  Abraham had just been retold that the blessing (all nations would be blessed through him) would come through the son born of Sarah.  Listen to the concern and dilemma in this father’s voice regarding his first son as Abraham said to God: “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!”  But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you.  You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant.  As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked.”  May we learn this lesson from Abraham that God’s ways and His timing are best.  We cannot always make sense of the natural order of situations in our life.  I believe this is to grow our trust and it aids us in seeking God’s Presence for guidance.  If we saw everything clearly, we would be walking by sight, but God calls us to walk by faith, trusting Him with each step.

We missed out on a blessing once.  Russell sensed that God was leading our young family to Costa Rica, but we could not figure out why.  Isaiah was a baby, and his sisters were just one and two years old.  All was going well with the Hispanic church we started, and Russ had just completed Bible College and had been ordained.  Costa Rica?  Pushing the thought from his mind, we packed up and took the next logical step; seminary. We may never know of the blessings God had in store for us had we moved to Costa Rica at that time, but the experience grew us to trust Him more, even when we don’t have the full picture before us.  Later, when the opportunity to serve in communist China came up, we pursued God’s leading. Lots of prayer and preparation went into this life-changing decision, yet confirmation that we were truly following God’s plan for that time came on the airplane, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.  We would get to participate in the blessing of Abraham, that all nations would be blessed by God, including those that had never even heard of His name.

Genesis 17:18-20a NLT

January 12 – Blessed to Change

Can you imagine what it would be like if you received a name change in your nineties?  That is what God gave Abram and Sarai.  Abram was ninety-nine when he got his new name, Abraham, to remind him that he would be the father of many nations.  The covenant was to be an everlasting one between God, Abraham and the descendants who were yet to come.  God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah.  I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her.  I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”  Never give up on a promise God gives.  He is faithful and can change more than just our names. 

I’ve been called by a variety of names through the years.  Back in the summer of 1965 my parents named me Karla Kay.  Because I love the song Ave Maria I chose Maria as my confirmation name. After graduating high school I lived with a family in Germany as a summer exchange student and my host dad changed my name to Speedy because I liked to run.  Marine Corps friends shortened my name to K.K., which I liked so much better than being called by my last name, which is commonly done in the military. Many women take their husband’s last name when they marry, and my name changed from Spindler to Minick in 1989.  In our early married years, when Russ and I served among Spanish-speakers in Dallas, I was called Karlacita, a term of endearment.  As each of our babies were born, their names were lovingly changed too by the wonderful people in our first church for Hispanics.  We moved to China in 1996 and one of my Chinese friends took it upon herself to rename me Ming Yang Yan. In China, people are called by their last name first, so Ming was chosen because it is close to Minick.  Ming means bright and Yang Yan translates to sunshine.  It is hard not to be cheerful when you are called Bright Sunshine!  Our ministry to the minorities in China moved us to Thailand and my name changed yet again. To the ears of most Thai people the letters “r” and “l” sound the same, so I answer to Kaalaa or Kaaraa when I’m in Thailand, that wonderful land of smiles. With the birth of our first grandchild I’m adding “Grammie”to my long list of names.

I have lived in many interesting places but I always thank God that my citizenship is in Heaven.  We read in the second chapter in the book of Revelation that those who overcome will be given a white stone with a new name on it. I can’t wait to receive the name that God will bless me with on that day when I see Him face-to-Face!

Genesis 17:15-16 NIV

January 11 – Blessed to Believe

God called out to Abram in a vision to reassure him that the Lord is his shield and his great reward.  But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son?  Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth.  God said again that Abram’s descendants will be more than the sand of the earth and the stars in the sky.  Abram believed Him, and God affirmed this righteousness. We will read several accounts of how belief and blessings can go hand in hand.  Abram is just the beginning.  Is there a truth about God that we are struggling to believe?  Let God’s Word reassure us and grow our trust.  Believe, obey, be blessed.  This is one pattern that appears throughout God’s Story, and still applies.  “O Sovereign Lord” is more than stating a title, it is a declaration that God has absolute authority and nothing happens without His direction or permission.  God is trustworthy.  He was the source of Abram’s blessings and He blesses His children today.

Genesis 15:2 NLT

January 10 – Rescued into Blessing

Abram’s nephew, Lot, traveled with Abram and his wife, Sarai, and over time both men prospered with their herds.  After a while, it became necessary for the men to separate. It was best that they went different ways so that the land could support their large flocks and herds.  Lot pitched his tents near Sodom because the valley was well watered.  Unfortunately, this was a volatile area and during a war involving several kings, Lot and his family were captured in the mix of battle.  Uncle Abram and 318 trained men bravely rescued Lot and his family.  Then Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.” I can imagine Lot and his family being really thankful for the God of Abram and for the mighty rescue.  How wonderful when blessings from God return to God in praise.  We can sing about receiving a blessing from the Lord and giving back to Him praise for it, and that is a wonderful principle to live by.  Sometimes singing how we ought to live is a great start to form up our mindset.  We can then move it from principle to practice and live from a grateful heart.

Genesis 14:19b-20a NLT

January 9 – We Are Blessed to Bless

We now fast forward several generations to the time of a man named Abram.  God calls Abram to leave the familiar to go to where He will show him.  God then makes an extraordinary promise to Abram: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  God’s Story goes on to say that Abram left, as the Lord had told him.  Oh, the blessings that obedience brings!

An old timey gospel chorus comes to my mind, “Wherever He leads, I’ll go.”  I wonder what came to Abram’s mind as he stepped out in faith. He could have ignored God, and gone on living as before.  Aren’t you glad he obeyed?  We are blessed because he listened and followed God.  God blessed Abram to be a blessing and we too are blessed to bless.  How are we extending God’s blessing today?  Think about the many ways we are loved and cared for by God.  His Presence is with us always. Blessing continues to be God’s plan for all people so let’s not miss out on His strategy, but look for ways to join Him in blessing.

Genesis 12:2-3 NIV

January 8 – Blessed Be the Lord

After the great flood the ground dried and Noah and his family began to work the land.  Noah drank some wine from a vineyard he had planted and he became drunk.  In his drunkenness, his son Ham disrespected him. Noah then cursed Ham’s son, Canaan. “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”  He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” One grandson was cursed and two sons benefitted but the account does not give much more detail than that.  Sometimes stories like these help us, centuries later, to get a feel for the grittiness of life and offer some hope in our messed up situations too.  Although Shem and Japheth profited, Noah says it is the Lord who is to be blessed.

Genesis 9:25-27 ESV

January 7 – Blessed to Be Fruitful

One generation followed another and things turned bad.  Mankind’s wickedness grew to the point that there were only evil thoughts and utter corruption at the heart of man.  God grieved that He had made the human race and with an aching heart He planned to wipe out everyone and everything that was alive.  Now enter the story of Noah, his family, the ark, animals coming in pairs and how they were spared as a great flood washed away everything else.  A rainbow was placed in the sky as a sign of the promise God made that a flood will never again destroy the earth.  Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth.” This new beginning began with a blessing.

In 2010 I taught Noah’s story with joy to a dozen young ladies in a Thai juvenile detention center.   Several in our group had been there long enough to contemplate the actions that led to their incarceration, which would interrupt life as they knew it for many years.  The world cast them off, but God was able to use their confinement for His goodness to be experienced.  On Tuesday and Thursday mornings they would meet with a team of ladies dedicated to sharing and showing God’s unconditional love.  Sitting in a circle on a cement floor, adding colors to a paper rainbow, I could see the beginning of hope in some faces as they took in the truth that God cares about justice and yet He offers the possibility of redemption- a new start even for those who feel as though their lives are over.  Please pray with me for one teenager in particular named Rain; may she trust in the God who made the rainbow and live in His blessings.

P.S. After over four and a half years in the detention center, Rain was released and I was blessed to reconnect with her in Thailand in the summer of 2015. As life is far from uncomplicated, please continue to pray for Rain to live out the full freedom she has in Jesus.

 

Genesis 9:1 NLT

January 6 – Blessed to Start Again

From the beginning of time we find God’s bountiful goodness in everything. But the goodness He provided in the Garden of Eden was not enough for Adam and Eve.  Falling for the temptation offered by the serpent, humanity’s rebellion against God began.  Adam and Eve were forced to leave Eden because they chose to trust the creation rather than the Creator.  In between the tragic story of Adam’s first two sons and the birth of his third son, Seth (when Adam was 130 years old), we can read again of the original creation of mankind.  This is the family tree of the human race: When God created the human race, he made it godlike, with a nature akin to God. He created both male and female and blessed them, the whole human race. 

Could it be that Seth was a kind of re-start?  At the birth of Seth’s son Enoch, God’s Story states that people began to call on the name of the Lord. Do we not need to hear afresh, and often, that God blessed and continues to bless those who call on His name?  Jesus will later describe this phenomenon to a teacher named Nicodemus as a “born again encounter” that comes from trusting in the One whom the Father has sent to rescue.  Thank You, Lord, that You do not leave us like we are but You continue to provide for us a way to have new life, full life, blessed life in You.  Amen.

Genesis 5:1-2 MSG

January 5 – Bless the Lord All My Days

“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live…”

Psalm 104 echoes God’s creation story.  Written many years after the establishment of the world we can join the psalmist in singing praise to God for the wonders of His handiwork and for His provision.  The song starts out with, Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty…” And verse after verse tells of God’s wonderful work in creation and how the earth is filled with goodness because God is a good God worthy of all praise. In many places throughout the Psalms the use of the words “bless” and “praise” are intertwined.  Isn’t it great how we, the creation, can bless the Lord, the Creator?  The author of this astonishing praise song exclaims how he will sing praise to the Lord all his life. “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.”

These verses blessed me in January of 1998 as I read them while waiting for the results of an extensive procedure including tests for cancer.  I resolved that no matter how many days were yet before me, my lips would sing praise to God.  Russell and I sat across a worn wooden desk from a Chinese doctor in a Thai hospital to hear, “I so happy, you no cancer.”  My reply: “I so happy too!” From that appointment, we resumed our family vacation on a beach in Thailand.  My senses were newly alive. God’s love was deeper than the salty ocean that we splashed in with the kiddos.  Heavy elephants ambled while horses galloped across the sand under a brilliant blue expanse and all was framed by vibrant green mountains. When I heard my children’s laughter I smiled with thankfulness.  Time transformed day to night and warm air blew through a bejeweled sky.  My gratitude was made complete as I held Russell’s hand, so glad for the husband God gave to me to enjoy His goodness with.  The conclusion to Psalm 104 rings out loud and clear what we as those blessed by God are to do: Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!

Psalms 104:1, 35b NKJV

January 4 – Blessing upon Blessing

God the Father created the world out of nothing, but He was not alone. Jesus was there too, one with God from before time began. In the opening of John’s Gospel he makes it clear just who Jesus is: the Word that was with God from the very beginning, the Maker of all things, the Source of life and light, through whom a relationship with God the Father is established. Jesus became flesh and lived among humanity on earth.  Referring to Jesus, John the apostle recorded the excitement of John the baptizer: “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”  From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. May we be aware of one blessing after another today because of the grace that Jesus gives.  We will read more of His life on earth later, but it is good to remember that Jesus was with the Father right from the start.  He, like His Father, treasures giving good gifts.  Our God is not stingy; He is not a miser. All goodness comes from Him. He is the source of blessing upon blessing.

John 1:15b-18 NLT

January 3 – Blessed to Rest

What a spectacular universe the Lord has made!  Day after day He adds more splendor to the mix.  By the seventh day of creation, God had completed His masterpiece. Seeing that it was good, He stopped and He rested.  Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.  God rested. Be blessed to rest.  Trust that our heavenly Father knows best what we need, and we need time to set work aside and to rest.  Reflecting on His goodness refreshes us.

It was while in Spain during my enlistment in the Marine Corps, that I was first introduced to the concept of “siestas”, a time in early afternoon when business stopped and the Spaniards enjoyed naps.  Years later, when our family moved to China, we embraced an activity in the culture called “xiu xi”.  For an hour or so, in the afternoon, doors would not be knocked upon and all of China could rejuvenate for the evening interactions yet to take place.  These resting principles are similar to rest in God’s Story.  Sadly, many societies value work but do not value rest.  Often people try to get ahead by pushing through, seeking to fit more into a day already packed full, leaving little room for margin. From the beginning, however, God demonstrated that He valued rest a great deal.  It is good to work, and it is good to rest.  God did both.  May we have wisdom to do the same.

Genesis 2:3 NIV

January 1 – Blessed to Sing God’s Praises, Like the Birds

Long before the sun is up, the birds awake to sing God’s praises for the new day. Creation rises to bless God their Creator and the Author of all blessings. The Bible overflows with blessings yet the first of all blessings that appear is reserved not for humankind but for birds and fish.  After He formed the water creatures and every kind of bird, God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”  This is the first blessing that occurs in God’s Story. God knows goodness when He sees it and from the very beginning He blessed creation to multiply so that the goodness that He created would fill the earth.  From the depths of the sea to the heights of Heaven the first blessing continues to point our hearts to God.

But we will see that God is much more than a Creator who is content to sit back and enjoy His handiwork. We will experience the King through history and through His promises for the future.  As we encounter blessings in places both familiar and surprising, it is my prayer that we’ll look back by faith and forward with hope and choose to serve in love, seeking His Presence daily.

Genesis 1:21b-22 NIV

January 2 – Made in God’s Image and Blessed!

During the sixth day of creative creations, the Master of Everything did something extraordinary: He created mankind in His own image!  Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” We are created in the very image of God, and blessed! It is important for us to remember that God blessed humanity before there was any opportunity to earn that blessing.  Yet being blessed entails a call to action. We were not called to be passive but to take dominion over the earth that God made.  Let us then live wisely because we know that we are blessed by the Creator, who created us in His image.  As He blessed us, so we should bless the world around us.  God is love; it only makes sense that being created in His image means that we were made for love and designed to be loving.

Genesis 1:28 NLT

All year, all around the world; blessed to be blessings!

Did you miss the Blessing message not coming in your inbox this morning? I did!

2014 was a great year, and sharing it with each of you is part of what made it great. The website was viewed around the world; 71 countries in all! It is truly amazing how interconnected we all are. I am glad when we use the blessing of being connected to bless.

Although the daily e-mails are complete, The Blessing Book is still available in 3 forms:

1) TheBlessingBook.com will continue to be available for free.

2) The Blessing Book is on Kindle.

3) The Blessing Book in paperback can also be ordered through Amazon, and when you do you get the Kindle version for free.

Thanks for joining me in our journey of blessings.  A special thank you to those who take the time to write a review on Amazon. These reviews are one of the most effective ways for the book to reach more people. Special thanks also to so many of you who have encouraged me personally, and to all of you who have passed on The Blessing Book to others!

I pray that God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless you with peace! (Ephesians 1:2 CEV)   Many blessings for 2015!  It is great starting off a New Year knowing that our God loves and blesses us.

Love,

Karla

 

The Blessing Book Now Available in Print!

cover

Available CreateSpace & Amazon in time for Christmas 

Dear Friends,

What joy it has been to travel with you through God’s blessings for the past 11 months.  My love for God and for people has  grown as I have daily journaled from the entries that have arrived fresh to my in-box each morning from His Story.  Your comments to me sharing how certain entries have personally blessed you have been an encouragement and increase my awareness of how we are blessed to be a blessing. As we will read in December, the best part of living out God’s Story is yet to come!

If The Blessing Book has blessed you this year, even if you would not like to order the print book, would you consider taking a moment to review it on either Amazon or CreateSpace? A few quick lines about what made it special for you might help others.

What we began together on January 1, 2014 with the web-site, actually started much earlier. Five years ago, while reading my Bible chronologically, verses about blessings started to catch my eye in fresh ways and I sensed then that God wanted me to somehow share these blessings.  I began jotting them down in my notebook, that led to making a list on my computer, then one day I wondered if there were at least 365 blessings throughout God’s Story (there are even more than that!)   It has been an interesting growing experience to work through all of the details from arranging the entries, choosing translations for each, giving unique titles to them, and adding bits of my life experience as I felt it helped others to see God’s goodness in our generation.

I’m so happy to soon be able to hold my own printed copy! I love to read with a pen and circle and underline and place stars in places that are special. Looking back on dated notes jotted in my devotionals helps me to remember ways God has blessed me on certain days and it increases my trust.  I don’t know why God chose me to do this book, but I’m glad He did and I’m thrilled to be able to offer it to you.

Many Blessings!

Karla

May the Lord bless his people with peace and happiness and let them celebrate. PS 64:10 CEV

countdown – 2 more days!

Happy New Year 2014 is just a few days away.  I’m so excited to soon start the blessing journey with you! For a warm-up, listen to birds sing in the days to come, reflect on God’s faithfulness to you in the past year and get ready to experience the blessings of God as His Story unfolds them.
“May the Lord bless his people with peace and happiness and let them celebrate.” Psalm 64:10 CEV