Daniel was getting old and he had lived his role in God’s Story well. He had served alongside several kings through his many years in Babylon. His life had been full of visions, dreams, interpretations, and a visit to a den of lions. He rallied God’s people in prayer. He stood up for good and for God. He purposed early on to be faithful to God, and God blessed him.
Cyrus, king of Persia, is now in charge and he decreed that the Israelites, now called Jews, could return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and re-establish the desolate post-war land. We hear from Daniel one last time, a series of challenging end-time prophesies which include an interesting statement: And blessed are those who wait and remain until the end of the 1,335 days! I will not pretend to know what that means, but Daniel was blessed and received a final promise of rest and an allotted inheritance.
He was a good man and lived a good life. Thank You God for Daniel and for his life that continues to inspire. May we make resolutions about things that really matter and then be faithful to keep them our whole lives through. Help us to remember that life is not over until it is over, and then for those who love You, life really begins! Amen.
Daniel 12:12 NLT
Here is another psalm, and although it was written years before, it was sung during the time of the captivity. It describes Israel’s history and it’s also a prayer for rescue. Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord! When times are tragic, people call out to the Lord.
The House of Hope Orphanage is an answer to the prayers of crying children left as orphans by the on-going civil war in Burma. Founded in 1999 in the hills of Mae Hong Son, Thailand, House of Hope is home to many children elementary age up through high school. Christmas of 2004 I joined my Thai language teacher for a nearly seven-hour mountainous drive to spend our holiday at House of Hope. I was blessed beyond measure by the love this “family” had for one another. Their hardship brought them together and their reliance on God keeps them together.
With joy, the children and young adults put on a Christmas party for the community complete with hand-made decorations, traditional dancing, and special food. We experienced God’s adoptive love through song, the Christmas Story was read, and several people shared their own personal stories of His goodness too. There was a lot of thanksgiving going on that Christmas. Everyone who gathered, from the community to the newest member of the orphanage, was offered the opportunity to know God in His greatness, God who saves in so many ways. God, we pause to thank You, to bless You our great Rescuer. O Lord, in the little things, in the massive things, You gather us to You. You are our Father who adopts us into Your family to live a life of hope. Thanks be to God! Halleluiah! Amen.
Psalm 106:47-48 ESV
Even with the hopeful conclusion of Job’s story to encourage those who reflected upon it while in captivity, there was a whole lot of lamenting among God’s people in Babylon, and for good reason. We may have been taunted at a sports event by the opposing team but God’s people were being more than taunted; their lives were radically turned upside-down by their oppressors. The Israelites shed tears of pain, hurt, frustration, and great loss. Some of them wept along a river where their tormentors demanded songs of joy. In the later years of his short life Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley sang about what many of the Jewish captives experienced. The song By the Rivers of Babylon describes weeping along a river as those in exile remembered their dearly loved Zion.
Oppression is appalling; it has to be in order to consider the last verses of Psalm 137: O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! This imagery is too much for me to take in. I almost did not include this “blessing” in the book, but maybe we need to be reminded of the awful consequences of evil. People can really hurt other people. Sometimes it’s us being hurt, or those we love, or the weak who cannot defend themselves. And the damage done can cause us to want to take matters into our own hands. God, help us to hate sin of all kinds and yet love our enemies. This is not an easy prayer but a needed one. We are blessed, God, to have You as our righteous Judge and Defender. Vengeance is not ours, it is Yours. Amen.
Psalm 137:8-9 ESV
Job is not a make-believe story that happened once upon a time. He was a real man with a real family who encountered real affliction. Later in history, several prophets will quote from Job’s life as they address the needs of the people during their own difficulties. God did not remain silent at the time of Job’s suffering. At the end of the written account He questioned Job, and then in front of his friends, God validated Job for his pure heart and steadfast faithfulness. Job prayed for his friends, like the Lord told him to do, and everyone celebrated gathering at Job’s home.
And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters. Job lived for another 140 years, seeing even his great-great grandchildren. Job’s time of trial was severe but he remained loyal to God and was incredibly blessed. I think his biggest blessing was seeing God. I love this little verse tucked in at the conclusion of Job’s story. Job said, “I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You.” How marvelously blessed we will be when it is our turn to see God with our own eyes! Jesus tells His followers that the pure in heart are blessed for they will see God.
Job 42:12-13 ESV
A fourth scholarly friend is a younger one named Elihu who chimes in to try to make sense of Job’s circumstance. He reflects and then claims, “If they listen and obey God, they will be blessed with prosperity throughout their lives. All their years will be pleasant. But if they refuse to listen to him, they will be killed by the sword and die from lack of understanding.” This response follows a familiar line of reasoning: people sin, and God’s mercy is that He shows them their sins (even if it takes a drastic situation) so that they can repent and be blessed. This is not untrue.
However, not all suffering comes directly from sin. Job is an example of a righteous person suffering. The world is a place of deep affliction and anguish for many people and suffering is not always related to choices within the control of any one individual. Jesus tells us that we will have trials and tribulations but to take heart, for He has overcome the world. Hold tight to Him in the pain. Through Jesus we too can overcome the hindrances of even deep suffering.
Job 36:11-12 NLT
Because of God’s majesty, Job chose to live his life to please God. His friends could not fathom Job’s great loss and suffering unless it was connected to sin; that was how they were able to make sense of what they knew. Job tried to tell them again that he was innocent. “…if I have seen anyone dying for lack of clothing or a needy person without a cloak, if he did not bless me while warming himself with the fleece from my sheep…then let my shoulder blade fall from my back, and my arm be pulled from its socket.” Job acted on his faith, cared for others, and was loyal to God. So why was he suffering?
It was at an Unreached Peoples conference in 2002 where Russell and I first met Simon and his sweet wife, Ai Ling. Native Singaporeans, they were passionate about God’s love and Kingdom going forth. Simon has had lupus since he was nineteen years old and he suffers bravely while continuing to live joyfully and sacrificially in spite of severe pain and medical uncertainty. Whether setting up a school to teach English in rural China, leading his house church in Singapore, or sharing God’s love in meaningful ways during his lengthy hospital stays, Simon and his family offer praise to God.
May you be as blessed as I was from reading excerpts of a correspondence he wrote at the end of 2011. “Ai Ling and I believe and want this illness for the glory of God… We do not want to waste my sickness but to make much of Him in it…We see Jesus more clearly for Who He really is since my lupus relapse… He cares about my lupus, cellulitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and every pain that I feel in my body. He cares about my anxieties and emotional stress and even how I look… Oh, how I pray that many more will know that Jesus did not come to give us an easy life, but eternal life!”
Simon is perhaps the most Job-like person that I know. His wife remains cheerful despite their many challenges. Their young daughter wants to grow up to help orphans. We often are left unsure of “why” we suffer, but we are assured of how to suffer. Simon’s response to life’s circumstances and his faithfulness to God offer perspective and hope. He lives for God’s majesty, like Job did.
P.S. Russell and I were blessed to visit Simon and his family in Singapore during the summer of 2015. His health remains unstable yet his faith is unshakable. I’m so happy to share that even while in and out of the hospital, Simon was able to complete his book, A Bruised Reed that Jesus did not Break. It is an inspirational story of his lupus and God’s glory. Those who read it will be blessed indeed.
Job 31:19-22 HCSB
Job looked back on his good life, the time before his intense suffering. “Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me…” Job lived a righteous life and he used his wealth and influence to care for his family and care for the needy people in his community. He recalled how he was highly respected among people of authority. “When they heard me, they blessed me, and when they saw me, they spoke well of me. For I rescued the poor man who cried out for help, and the fatherless child who had no one to support him. The dying man blessed me, and I made the widow’s heart rejoice. I clothed myself in righteousness, and it enveloped me; my just decisions were like a robe and a turban.” Job will learn that God had not left him, but certainly those long days of testing were very hard. Remember, God is with us always. In all times, in all places, He is there. Remain faithful. If it helps, think about Job.
Job 29:4-5 NIV; Job 29:11-14 HCSB
Job’s suffering grew more intense and more personal. Painful boils covered his entire body and even his wife told him that he should curse God and die. But Job did not lose his integrity. Three scholarly friends came to visit Job and offered their theological understanding. They concluded that Job had sinned and that God was punishing him. One friend said,“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” There is truth in this statement; it just does not apply to Job’s situation. And later, God will let Job’s friends know that they were off track when it came to their accusations about Job’s life.
God’s people living in Babylonian captivity (and all who suffer unjustly now and throughout time) certainly could relate to the extreme adversity that Job faced. When suffering is upon us, each of us must choose how we will respond. If our suffering is a form of correction, we are wise and even blessed to accept the Lord’s discipline and change. If we suffer through what we feel to be unwarranted, may God give us the courage to suffer bravely. May we keep in mind that our affliction will not last forever and that God is with us during our suffering. It is interesting that I find myself today, doing edits on the entries of Job, on the heels of a three-day migraine. At times we can be very thankful that the Lord takes away. His grace saw me through another headache series, and it is during these times that I rely upon Him in more intimate ways. When the migraine is behind me, once again I’m blessed to enjoy sunlight, and noise and fully engage in the life He gives.
Job 5:17 NIV
Life became very challenging for Job. Within a few paragraphs we read that he had lost his livelihood, his servants, and each of his grown children had been killed. He was totally devastated. What would you do? How would I respond if I were Job? Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Great suffering just hit and what did Job do? He worshipped!
Job was full of sadness but his faith was strong. This is just the beginning of over forty more chapters of Job’s suffering. Until real tragedy strikes us it is hard to know how we will respond. It is wise to contemplate the truth that we live in an upside-down world and even as God’s children, we are not exempt from suffering. In fact, the New Testament teaches us that it is through our trials that maturity comes. When Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” can you picture along with me all that Job had lost? It is challenging to imagine his great loss and yet his faith is going to continue to be tested.
Job 1:20-22 ESV
The background of the story of Job is difficult to determine. His was a life of incredible suffering, tried faith, and restored blessings but the timeframe for when the book was written is hard to pinpoint. Job lived even before Abraham and it is possible that the account of his life had been passed down orally from generation to generation, each father telling his family. If ever God’s people needed a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the midst of tremendous suffering, now was that time. Due to on-going national sin, the faithless, the unfaithful as well as those loyal to God were oppressed in Babylon and stripped of familiarity and of comfort. Turning bitter would have been easy, returning to God offered hope and the blessing of restoration.
Being reminded of Job’s life still spurs us on to much needed hope. Job’s story begins with a dialogue between God and Satan, and Satan posed this question: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t You placed a hedge around him, his household, and everything he owns? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out Your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse You to Your face.” This sets the stage for what was a sobering and life-changing time for Job and for those in his sphere of influence. What did Job do when the hedge of protection around him was removed? We can learn so much from his integrity during hard times.
Job 1:9-11 HCSB
The Israelites, now the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, grew in their ungratefulness and rebellion. Fighting, hotter than Texas in July, took place on multiple levels and increased the instability. God’s spokespersons, (Hosea, Amos, Micah and Isaiah) faithfully urged both Kingdoms to return to Him, but to no avail. Then the unthinkable happened: captivity of God’s people by God’s enemy. Daniel, Ezekiel, Zephaniah and Jeremiah entered the Story yet the stubborn refusal of God’s blessings meant life got worse before it got any better.
An interesting thing happened to King Nebuchadnezzar near the end of his reign. He had another dream. It was a very scary dream and when he called for Daniel’s interpretation, he chose not to heed Daniel’s warning. So about a year later, as the king was proudly boasting about his own majesty, the nightmare came true. He descended into madness and became like a wild animal. King Nebuchadnezzar stayed this way until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms.
When he yielded to God he came to his senses and said, “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation…” The insanity was temporary and his mind was changed, and joyfully he honored God and wanted everyone to know the greatness of the Most High.
King Nebuchadnezzar had spent most of his life oppressing God’s people and then he himself became a true believer. In a way he had a conversion much like Saul to Paul in the New Testament, but this man had lived many years earlier. God’s power and His grace are still alive and active in our days. I pray we live fully embracing our role in His Story.
Daniel 4:34 ESV
Over a dozen years after Jerusalem’s fall, and while still in exile, Ezekiel received another vision from God. This new vision was for a new Temple. Along with many precise details of its measurements and what materials to use, God also explained the duties and the privileges of the faithful Levite priests. The first of the ripe fruits and all the gifts brought to the Lord will go to the priests. The first samples of each grain harvest and the first of your flour must also be given to the priests so the Lord will bless your homes.
This blessing from God contained conditions for God’s people. As a real reminder to them that all blessings come from Him, they were to give the first of their harvest back to the Lord. In this case the gift was given to the priests who had been set apart to serve God. Once this was done, God would bless their homes. Ezekiel’s devoted ministry prepared many people to return to the Lord, and to see afresh that He is the Giver of all things good. Centuries after Ezekiel faithfully served, godly leaders continue to teach that the blessings received from God are not to be hoarded but given.
With much prayer and informational build-up, Houston’s First Baptist Church launched an incredible giving opportunity in February 2013 called Mission 1:8. Funds given would support numerous ministries in our city, country, and world. Russell and I were committed as a couple to embrace the incentive by contributing financially as well as with our service. But I wanted to give money individually too. The challenge was that I did not have a job. So as I prayed, I wrote on my pledge card that my desire was to offer my first paycheck. What blessing was mine as within a month, I was able to give my “first fruits” check, for God provided me with a wonderful job! He continues to bless our home, our family and the work of our hands. It is a joy to give back to God and give forward to people.
Ezekiel 44:30 NLT
As you have probably guessed by now, this was not a peaceful time in history. Battles raged and on-going struggles for power shaped each reign as kings were killed and new ones were set up. God continued to send prophets to warn unfaithful people but they continued to do what seemed right in their own eyes – neglect God.
Back in Babylon, jealous leaders in King Nebuchadnezzar’s regime made arrangements for Daniel’s friends to be thrown in a fiery furnace. When the three men were not burned, King Nebuchadnezzar, who liked Daniel, rejoiced, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!”
Nebuchadnezzar went on to say that only the God of Daniel and his friends could rescue like this, and if others did not follow Him, they would be cut to pieces and their houses burned down. He was not exactly the father of friendship evangelism. It may have taken many years for King Nebuchadnezzar to fully understand God’s love and power and to trust in Him alone. We will see later in his life how his pride eclipsed his loyalty to God.
Although this part of God’s Story mainly reveals the failure of His people as a nation to see how they had been blessed so that they could be a blessing, I love the glimpse we get of God’s love for individuals as well. Nebuchadnezzar is an encouraging example as I look at my own life (I have never been a political leader but I do struggle at times with control) and God shows how He is the One who is ultimately in control of it all. This portion of Daniel’s story also encourages us to keep on praying for belief and trust in God to come to those we love. Do others know of our allegiance to the King? There is no blessing in being a secret saint, but with a clear conscience we need to do what we do so that others can be blessed, and then everyone will give glory to our Father in Heaven. Can it be said of us, “Blessed be the God of…”?
Daniel 3:28b NKJV
Themes are found throughout God’s Story. Love, redemption, justice, mercy, peace, freedom, and responsibility are just a few. One of the responsibilities God gave Ezekiel was to let the leaders of Israel know that they were bad shepherds, and that they would be held responsible because they did not care for their flocks. God says that He himself will look after the lost sheep. “I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate dangerous animals in the land, so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the forest. I will make them and the area around My hill a blessing: I will send down showers in their season—showers of blessing. The trees of the field will give their fruit, and the land will yield its produce; My flock will be secure in their land. They will know that I am Yahweh when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslave them.”
God’s loving care never stops. Through all generations He shows justice and mercy far beyond what humanity deserves. He even gave Jesus, His dearly loved Son, to mankind to offer us life instead of sin and death. Jesus is the Good Shepherd for all of us who are still like sheep and go astray. He cares for us. Thank You, Lord, for Your shower of blessings! Thank You, Lord Jesus, for washing us clean! Thank You for breaking us free from our habitual shortcomings and giving us true peace in You. Amen.
Ezekiel 34:25-27 HCSB
Meanwhile, 500 miles away from Babylon (if you marched in a straight and direct line) back in Jerusalem, as the city was about to be totally devastated by the Babylonians, Jeremiah was still faithfully proclaiming the Word of the Lord. God’s people needed encouragement but they would face the ramifications of their sin before they would experience the rescue from God. This is what the LORD says: “Those who survive the coming destruction will find blessings even in the barren land, for I will give rest to the people of Israel.” …This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: “When I bring them back from captivity, the people of Judah and its towns will again say, ‘The LORD bless you, O righteous home, O holy mountain!’
This promise became reality, but first the people experienced sin’s consequence: seventy years of captivity. Make no mistake, sin is a trap, a deadly snare and only God can save us from it. And oh, how we rejoice when the Lord of Heaven’s Armies comes in to rescue us. Are we calling out for Him to hear us? Be wise to know that we cannot handle sin’s net on our own.
Jeremiah 31:2, 23 NLT
As a good priest serving in Jerusalem (where Jeremiah continued to prophesy) Ezekiel was another man who was brought into Babylonian captivity. These were dark years in Judah’s history and God’s Story does not shirk from showing them to us. Ezekiel and Daniel were about the same age and by this time, Daniel was established within the government, and Ezekiel’s new job was to be a missionary to his fellow captives. The language barrier was not a problematic issue as it often is on the mission field. What Ezekiel faced in Babylon was similar to what he encountered in Jerusalem: hard, stubborn hearts that refused to respond to God’s love and lordship and His offer for restoration.
God gave dramatic signs to Ezekiel, to strengthen him during the two decades of challenging service before him. Ezekiel wrote, “Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake: “Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!” It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, and the sound of a great earthquake.”
Ezekiel recorded over sixty interactions with God and each conversation ended with God saying, “Then they will know that I am the LORD.” Do we live today knowing that He is the Lord? If so, we will seek to obey our Lord and when we get off track, we will be quick to turn our way back to Jesus who is the Way. A restored relationship with God gives us hope. Being filled with His love helps us as well as those we seek to communicate His love with. Blessed be the glory of the Lord! May we be like Ezekiel, a magnifying glass of God’s goodness wherever God seeks to move us.
Ezekiel 3:12-13 ESV
King Nebuchadnezzar, as we will find out, is an interesting character in God’s Story. At first glimpse we might stereotype him as the bad guy for he powerfully ruled an enemy kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar ordered that the smart and handsome young men of Judah’s royal family be taken captive and trained to serve in his palace in Babylon. Daniel was one of the Southern Kingdom’s elite and he was selected for this role. Early on he resolved not to defile himself in this new environment and instead remain faithful to God.
Daniel was given an opportunity to declare the power, wisdom and goodness of God when he volunteered to interpret a disturbing dream that bothered King Nebuchadnezzar. Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.” Daniel did not take the credit himself but gave credit where credit was due: to God.
What we resolve to do, or not to do, says so much about us. Living faithfully in that steadfast resolve builds character, and God uses people of character to communicate to others that they too can know God and grow in His good character. That is the way He does it; don’t we need human examples of godly living? Healthy teaching coupled with learners who desire to mature, is like seeds falling on suitable soil; growth will happen.
During the end our last year of living in Thailand, Russell taught the book of Daniel at our house church. Each Tuesday the ladies of our church gathered to discuss the lesson and study more verses from Daniel. We prayed together and helped each other with individual applications. Like Daniel, we wanted to live out our resolves. Because I knew the year before us would be filled with lots of transition and lots of uncertainty, my resolve was to live presently and thankfully each day. To make this resolve more concrete, I chose to take at least one photo a day and then journal why I was thankful. God gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams for the king. He gave me peace and gratitude as I lived trusting in Him with resolve through a very unresolved year.
Daniel 2:19-20 ESV
King Josiah listened to Jeremiah’s wise counsel and brought about some spiritual reforms during his reign. But what about the next generation? Would Josiah’s son follow in his footsteps? When Josiah died, God told Jeremiah to go right up to the palace in Jerusalem and address the new king. What are the signs that make a king a good leader? Jeremiah boldly proclaimed, “But a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king! Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink. But he was just and right in all his dealings. That is why God blessed him.”
Tragedy would strike because Josiah’s son was wholeheartedly set on dishonest profit. He did not provide care for people who could not care for themselves. He and those who followed his evil ways faced captivity by Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and Judah was about to find out that life was not going to be lived in luxury for much longer. The beautiful cedar palace did not protect them. The only thing that will ultimately protect us is a right relationship with God. He blesses those who deal with situations in right and just ways.
Jeremiah 22:15 NLT
Jeremiah used an illustration from a potter’s shop for his next sermon. The same way a potter, when forming a bowl, can reshape the clay if it is not going the way he wants, so God can reshape a nation. He is the Potter; nations are the clay. God says, “…if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would. Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’”
The leaders did not want to hear news like this! They brought so much ridicule and punishment for Jeremiah that he says, “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!” Hang in there, Jeremiah, God is on your side! He is on the side of all who turn to Him and His right ways. When God is for us, what are those who are against us but mere humans, clay in the hands of a great Potter.
Jeremiah 18:9-11 NLT; Jeremiah 20:14 NIV
The summer of 2011 was a blessed season of reunions. It had been three years since we had been together with our extended families in the US. Our family of five arrived in Michigan from Thailand on different days and after a lot of travel we enjoyed a wonderful party hosted by my mom to celebrate Sophie and Isaiah’s high school graduations. Before meeting up with the Minick family in Branson, Missouri for another meaningful family reunion, Isaiah attended a pre-college retreat for missionary kids in Illinois. Resting from the drive, Hannah and I laughed through a quirky movie in our rented room. The main character was seeking to rescue a gal but she was not so sure that he was the good guy. So he tried to persuade her of her need to trust him by raising and lowering his hand. Her chances for survival were better with him (hand raised) than without him (hand lowered). Maybe because the young lady in the scene was under some stress, the rescuing man needed to repeat his illustration.
Without meaning to be irreverent, I can picture God lowering and raising His hand when He says: “The man who trusts in mankind, who makes human flesh his strength and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed. The man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence indeed is the LORD, is blessed.” We are oh so much better off with God than without Him. With God we are blessed; without Him we are cursed. Do we not see our total need for Him to rescue us? Thank You, Father God, for showing us in so many ways how You are trustworthy. With You we not only survive but we have the ability to thrive as Your Holy Spirit lives within us. May we sing with joy about the joy that is for those whose confidence is in the Lord. Amen.
Jeremiah 17:5, 7 HCSB
Jeremiah’s role of being a prophet was a thankless job. God’s people, Israel (called “faithless”) and her sister Judah (called “unfaithful”) rebelled all the more and refused to return to the Lord. As their disobedience heightened, and Jeremiah’s plea for their re-thinking intensified, some even tried to kill Jeremiah for giving a “negative” prophecy. It was a very low point in God’s recorded Story. Those He created in His image, those He loved and rescued and designed a covenant with, were far away from Him and far away from living out any of His virtues and values.
Then, God said it was too late, that Jeremiah shouldn’t even bother praying for them anymore since destruction was coming. The Lord gave clear instructions: “Do not enter a house where there is a funeral meal; do not go to mourn or show sympathy, because I have withdrawn my blessing, my love and my pity from this people,” declares the LORD.
How disheartening that the people did not take God’s warnings to heart or His rebukes through Jeremiah seriously, and they completely rejected His loving kindness. Will we learn from history? I pray that our nation, our world, has not pushed God too far. Please, God, do not withdraw Your love from us. May we fully return to You while there is still time. Amen.
Jeremiah 16:5b NIV
Rather than living in awe of an awesome God, God’s people not only neglected to thank Him for His blessings, but they pursued evil as if wickedness were a treasure. As they broke all of the Ten Commandments and then some, their sins left them hungry for more sin. Goodness from a good God is not at all what they were experiencing at this point in the Story. Your wickedness has deprived you of these wonderful blessings. Your sin has robbed you of all these good things. Throughout history, mankind has not been content with good alone, as was established in the Garden of Eden, but has added evil to it. May God help us break this cycle of treasuring sin in our own lives and in our communities, so once again we can thank Him for His generous blessings to us.
As I edit this portion of The Blessing Book it is November and I’m reflecting on the Lord’s goodness. I’m so thankful for forgiveness of my sins and I’m so grateful for the bonus of living in God’s wonderful blessings – too many to count. My sin could have robbed me of all the joy of being in God’s family but thanks to Jesus, I am forgiven. And I’m blessed as my family is extended and includes Hannah’s new married family too. Our kitchen was filled with the smells of Thanksgiving. I had time before the Minicks met up at the Roberts’ to enjoy good food together, so I rode my bike to Houston’s Memorial Park and locked it to a pole. The crisp autumn air was perfect for running laps. My eyes and ears focused on people from a variety of countries who were spending their holiday morning at the park. I thought back to the first Thanksgiving when Pilgrims and Native Americans thanked God together. Praying for those on the running trail increased my gratitude. I asked God to bless everyone I saw with good food to share with family, and more than that, to know the God of every good blessing.
Getting back to Jeremiah’s admonition, may we trade wickedness (if that is too strong of a word we could use selfishness, or a number of other words that mean sin) for wholesomeness, and live in awe of God with gratitude. As God’s people we can celebrate Thanksgiving in July too!
Jeremiah 5:25 NLT
Jeremiah was the next prophet God used to try to get the attention of His straying people. It is interesting that along with strong admonitions, Jeremiah’s conversations with the Lord are also recorded in God’s Story. Jeremiah’s ministry lasted nearly half a century and he is known as the weeping prophet.
“O Israel,” says the Lord, “if you wanted to return to me, you could. You could throw away your detestable idols and stray away no more… Then you would be a blessing to the nations of the world, and all people would come and praise my name.” Our Heavenly Father pleads like a loving parent yet His children ignored Him and in doing so they missed the opportunity to be a blessing to the nations of the world! They passed on their turn to bless. And not only did they miss out on being a blessing, but things go from bad to worse as chapter after chapter, year after year, hard stubborn hearts refused to return fully to God who loves them.
Contrary to Buddhist thought, we only get to live once; let’s take our chance to bless while we can. How will we be used by God to be a blessing to the nations of the world? He can only use us when we yield to Him and when we let go of the things we value more than God. In our day and time, idols are not necessarily carved from stone or wood, but boy do we have things that are important in our eyes that may distract us from seeing the Lord clearly.
Jeremiah 4:1-2b NLT
In the last chapter of Isaiah’s book, we read what God has been saying since the beginning of time: “My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the LORD, have spoken! I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word. But those who choose their own ways— delighting in their detestable sins— will not have their offerings accepted… When they burn frankincense, it’s as if they had blessed an idol.” Again we see that God acknowledges our ability to make choices. He will also be faithful and deliver the consequences of our choices.
He is the One who rewards, and He is the One who executes judgment; a time is coming when this will all be clear. Everyone will see the LORD’s hand of blessing on his servants— and his anger against his enemies. So far, that final judgment time has not yet come. That means we have today to choose to humble our hearts and serve the God who created everything. We can seek Him and be blessed, or we can choose to delight in the detestable and meet God as an enemy. The end of the Story tells us that God’s enemies do not stand a chance against Him. Isaiah was a brave prophet and we would be wise to learn all that God wrote through this man of integrity. Isaiah himself announced early on that he was a man of unclean lips. God cleansed him and used him mightily. God can do the same for us.
Isaiah 66:2-3, 14b NLT
Prophets had been crying out to the people about their rebellion against God, but very few listened. The Assyrian empire was a major military power and after they invaded Israel (the Northern Kingdom), they took many people captive from those ten northern tribes. The prophets continued to cry out against rebellion and against the cruelty of the Assyrians toward the captives, and God’s wrath came down on His enemies no matter who they were, where they lived or where they were from.
The Southern Kingdom, Judah, had a new and godly king but he was young so God called his relative, Zephaniah, to be His spokesman. Judah is shocked by the message: “I will crush Judah and Jerusalem with my fist and destroy every last trace of their Baal worship. I will put an end to all the idolatrous priests, so that even the memory of them will disappear. For they go up to their roofs and bow down to the sun, moon, and stars. They claim to follow the Lord, but then they worship Molech, too. And I will destroy those who used to worship me but now no longer do. They no longer ask for the Lord’s guidance or seek my blessings.”
Let’s be wise and not fall for trendy false worship, or think that God is irrelevant in today’s world. There have always been advocates for world-views that are contrary to God’s truth. Don’t let the days and then the years slip away to where “seeking God” becomes something that we used to do. Instead let’s keep asking God to lead us today. It is good to seek His blessings, and God does not mumble when He says that He is to be our exclusive choice. God, create in us a desire to know You more deeply. Please guide all of us who seek to follow You. No matter what is taking place around us, may we choose to focus on You, invite You into the situation, and listen for Your wise counsel. Day-by-day, step-by-step, may we obediently follow You. Amen.
Zephaniah 1:4-6 NLT
Isaiah’s prophecies are coming to an end, and as in earlier chapters in God’s Story, we see that His desire for redemption continues. Listen to the hope that Isaiah recorded as the Lord spoke: “As the new wine is found in the cluster, and they say, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,’ so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all… So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes… They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them.”
Those of us who are the Lord’s servants are the descendants of the Lord’s blessings. We’re blessed because the people who came before us were blessed. We are blessed to be a blessing. And the blessings don’t stop! There is no reason to fill our days mindlessly doing busy work when we can actively live and move and work in the God of truth. Jesus tells us to know the truth for the truth will set us free. Real freedom comes only through Him.
Please continue to pray for the young women in the Thai juvenile detention center. Great freedom has been given to teach God’s good news to them and hearts are changing. Some of the girls have begun a probation period and are starting fresh lives as nannies at an orphanage run by Christians. As these young ladies embrace God’s forgiveness and see how their lives can be different, may they forget their former troubles and thrive in the blessings of the Lord of second chances.
Isaiah 65:8, 16, 23 ESV
Years later when Jesus was in Nazareth teaching in a synagogue, He read a portion of the scroll from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” I picture Jesus pausing and lowering the scroll to look out at those He had been reading to with eyes of deep compassion. He then said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Isaiah’s prophecy goes on to say, “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.” May God’s glory shine in our lives. Yahweh the faithful One, loves justice. He will reward His servants, His ministers with garments of salvation and robes of righteousness. “Their descendants will be recognized and honored among the nations. Everyone will realize that they are a people the LORD has blessed.” God’s Story has amazing continuity. His theme to bless excites and encourages and energizes all at once! Fill me Lord, so I can go forward as a blessing. Amen.
P.S. What a joy it was to prayerfully read this entry in my own copy of The Blessing Book onboard a plane heading for Singapore, four years after leaving Asia. I pray that the excitement of being in a certain place leads us to a heightened sense of hope to yet again go forward as a blessing. God, bless Your children to bless no matter where in the world you have us. Amen.
Isaiah 61:3, 9 NLT
God’s blessings are extended beyond His people Israel to even foreigners! I have lived more than half of my adult life as a foreigner and now that I’m back in the US, it is not a surprise that I seem to be drawn to people from other countries. Sophie’s plane from Africa was several hours delayed. So while waiting in the international terminal I watched weary people arrive from around the world. I wanted to have a cooler filled with bottled water and a big sign and a hug to welcome everyone coming to Houston for the first time. I think it would make God smile, for He too wants to bless and rescue the foreigner.
This is what the Lord says: “Be just and fair to all. Do what is right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you and to display my righteousness among you. Blessed are all those who are careful to do this. Blessed are those who honor my Sabbath days of rest and keep themselves from doing wrong… For this is what the Lord says: “I will bless those eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me”… “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant.”
God, bless the foreigners among us. May we honor You by how we treat others, those that are similar to us and those that are different. Your desire is for all to know and love Your name and to wholeheartedly worship You, for in doing so we are blessed. Amen.
Isaiah 56:1-2, 4, 6 NLT
Looking back on the faithfulness of the Lord increases our faith; as we reflect on God’s goodness, we gain courage to live in the present and have real hope to face the future. Isaiah encouraged King Hezekiah as he sought the Lord and reminded the king of God’s promise of a nation that was to come out of one couple. “Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain. When I called him, he was only one; I blessed him and made him many.”
God made a nation for Himself out of one man and woman, and through the years led this nation into the land He promised. But again, God’s people were in hard times brought on by their own rebellion and sin; they needed a wake-up call to God’s mercy. “For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the LORD, who has mercy on you. Because of God’s benevolent faithful love we have hope. This is a call worth answering with thanksgiving.
Isaiah 51:2 HCSB; Isaiah 54:10 NLT
Let me list a few more blessings from the prophet Isaiah allowing the blessings to flow and to show God’s faithfulness. Then the LORD will bless you with rain at planting time. There will be wonderful harvests and plenty of pastureland for your livestock… how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free… For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. God cares about the things we need and He wonderfully provides.
Chiang Mai, the city our children call home, is nestled in the mountains of northern Thailand. For about nine months out of the year I find the weather to be perfect, but then comes the extremely hot, dry, smoky season. Pollution from burning the remains of the harvested crops lingers in the valley, making it challenging to breathe, and a thick haze blocks the mountains from view. Vegetation wilts and browns, and all of God’s creation anticipates the coming rains. Distant thunder brings hope, as year after year God faithfully provides what is needed.
We do need rain in due season (or whatever equivalent is relevant to our present day livelihood) and we need the Holy Spirit poured out. God, please pour out Your blessings upon us, the Thai people and those all over the earth, just like rain clouds pour the rain. I pray that we would take in Your Word the way a thirsty land absorbs the showers. Amen.
Isaiah 30:23 NLT; Isaiah 32:20 NIV; Isaiah 44:3 ESV
Israel, the nation, was not healthy. Her founding fathers held to godly principles but they were not valued in Isaiah’s time and this abandonment was having its due effect. Scoffing, arrogant evil plotting, and outright lying dominated the times and people of authority perverted righteousness. God said to the people of Israel, hold on. In God’s timing justice will come. “My people will no longer be ashamed or turn pale with fear. For when they see their many children and all the blessings I have given them, they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Israel. They will stand in awe of the God of Jacob.” God extends hope that the wayward and the confused and the complainers will gain instruction and understanding.
Is He still waiting all these years later for humanity to humbly come to Him? So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are all those who wait for his help. God waits for us. We are not fully grown spiritually. We often demand immediate justice; we do not want to wait for God to administer it. But when we wait, trusting Him, we are blessed. Stand in awe and recognize God for His many blessings; wait for Him to deliver justice and with open hands and hearts receive His compassion.
This is easier to write than to do, but life is better when individuals and groups are restored to a vibrant and healthy relationship with Holy God. Because growth is a process, restoration takes place on one level, and that new rebuild then prepares us to see where more renovation is needed. Our hearts are complex and our faithful God is compassionate. Let’s keep growing, for He is willing to help us.
Isaiah 29:22b-23 NLT; Isaiah 30:18 NLT
When Russell and I first got married and before the babies came, we read the book of Isaiah aloud together. It was my first exposure to this book. Isaiah’s writings cover many warnings and blessings over a wide span of years and he wrote of prophecies that have now been fulfilled and of prophecies that offer future expectations. He remains Russell’s favorite prophet and it was easy for the two of us to agree on “Isaiah” as the name of our only son, an early Christmas gift given to our family in 1992. I love remembering how his two older sisters, who were quite young themselves, held their baby brother with great care. In order to keep up with them, Isaiah was walking on his first birthday and since then, I have prayed that he would walk with integrity.
A man of great integrity, Isaiah the prophet, told it the way it was during the dark times for God’s people. Isaiah also offered hope for that period as well as hope for the future. Isaiah said that God would destroy death forever and that He would wipe away the tears from every face. In that day people will proclaim, “This is our God! We trusted in him and he saved us! This is the Lord, in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings! For the Lord’s hand of blessing will rest on Jerusalem.”
Sometimes the blessings we read about are for the future and our anticipation grows when we think about what is yet to come. Justice will prevail. God indeed has a hand of blessing. And this is not the only time we will read about His hand wiping away all tears. There is a lot of good yet before us! Bless God!
Isaiah 25:9-10a NLT
In order for priests and Levites to devote their energy to the law of the Lord, King Hezekiah told the others to give a tenth of their blessings to bless those set apart by God to serve in these distinct ways. Look what happened. When Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the Lord and his people Israel. And Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites about the heaps. Here’s the answer King Hezekiah received: “Since they began to bring the contributions into the house of the Lord, we have eaten and had enough and have plenty left, for the Lord has blessed his people, so that we have this large amount left.”
Have you ever received a heap of blessings? Sometimes our eyes are not even open to see the heap. Other times we see God’s goodness and blessings all over the situation. Let’s keep our eyes open and focused, and offer up the blessing of thanksgiving to God when our heaps are before us. And from our blessings let us bless others. Joy overflowing!
2 Chronicles 31:8-9, 10b ESV
At this point in history, God’s people lived in a sinful state no matter which nation they were in. Injustice, idolatry, pride, greed, immoral self-indulgence and arrogance ruled the day. And then there was the sin that all of this behavior could be rationalized as they went through the religious motions even though their hearts were far from God. Did they think that God is blind? Do we? The prophets continued to warn the people and they experienced God’s holy anger. Some people repented and were rescued, and praise was offered to God for His deliverance.
The reforming King Hezekiah offered hope, and spiritual renewal began to take place, as the Temple was again used to honor God. Invitations to celebrate the Passover were extended beyond Jerusalem to all of Israel. Then the priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard their voice, and their prayer came into His holy dwelling place in heaven. Oh, what joy there is when individuals and whole nations return to the Lord! Back then some people lived as if they could handle life just fine on their own. They were wrong. All people at all times have needs that cannot be fully satisfied apart from God.
We need right relationships, not rationalization. Let’s not be deceived and kept from life that is full and abundant and dependent upon God. When we realize God is the One who can, and will, meet our needs and we humbly turn to Him, joy and deep peace like never before can be ours.
P.S. The depth of our knowledge of God can grow. We do not need to be stagnant in our relationship with Him. Russell’s teaching called Essentials for Responsible Christian Growth shows how simple faith has deep implications. I’m so blessed to be able to see the joy-filled outcomes. We grow, often through hard situations, as God cares about our spiritual renewal.
2 Chronicles 30:27 HCSB
The most evangelistic prophet of all times was perhaps the prophet Isaiah. Used by God for over forty years, Isaiah spoke truthfully about the sins of the people Judah, and the severe punishment that will follow those choices. He offered hope that people would realize they can change and return to the Lord. Isaiah lived during the times of many kings and he witnessed first-hand the need that all have for a Savior. After nineteen chapters of warnings, Isaiah talks of a day of blessing. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” This is an interesting alliance but we will find that true peace comes only when we are aligned to the Lord.
I love how in the minority area of China, where we lived, there was a man who became like the prophet Isaiah. This “Tai Isaiah” knew there needed to be more than idols and he was thrilled to learn about God’s plan for abundant life through Jesus. But why had the Christians in the area neglected to share this good news with his tribe? The answer is much like how it was in the time of Isaiah: God’s people had turned inward and they did not offer His blessings to others so more could be blessed. Russell and the Tai Isaiah pressed on, reaching out to others who had never heard God’s Story and challenging those who knew God to share His goodness. As more people align to God, His hope and peace can change hearts and nations.
Isaiah 19:24-25 ESV
Through the prophet Micah, God tells the rebellious to plead their case against Him, and then He gives them a quick reminder of His faithfulness throughout His Story. He says, “Don’t you remember, my people, how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead? And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal, when I, the LORD, did everything I could to teach you about my faithfulness.” God tells us to be just, merciful and humble and too often we think that living in our own “wisdom” is all we need.
Yet as humanity we go astray like sheep, as if we had no Good Shepherd. God, please continue to have mercy, all the while knowing judgment is coming. Thank You God, that even in the dark times You give a glimmer of hope with prophecies fulfilled through Jesus. Amen.
God knows the direction of His Story and we as His people can have hope in our future, even on days when our present feels uncertain. What can help us is to intentionally remember God’s past faithfulness and in doing so, be thankful. The faithful shepherds, teachers, preachers and prophets continue to seek to assist people so all can see and experience the blessings that God has in store for those who hear His voice and choose to follow.
P.S. While in her fifties, German Mary came to live with our family in Thailand for several months to learn English. In the evenings we played a dice game called Yahtzee. Mary, in her halting English, after rolling three of a kind, would say, “It is enough”. I love how dice games can springboard to conversations about God, and how He is more than enough.
Micah 6:5 NLT
History is long and complicated and sometimes I wonder if people really ever make lasting personal changes from studying the past. God’s people have had good examples, bad examples, warnings, punishment, restoration, and I marvel at God’s loving patience and mankind’s stubborn rebellion. I also marvel at God’s continued patience in my own life and I am daily thankful. As a prophet to the people of Judah, Micah observed that although leaders should know what is right and what is just, they instead love evil and hate good. How sad it is that the enemy of God is His very own people.
Micah speaks for God when he says, “You force the women of My people out of their comfortable homes, and you take My blessing from their children forever.” No one wants to hear the news that judgment is coming, or that captivity is a result of our own selfish, evil, repetitive crimes of injustice. When we live fat and comfortable in our sin, why would we want to change? Micah’s warnings are mixed with the blessings that are for the remnant who remain faithful to God. Are we in the camp of the rebels, or are we living loyally to the Lord? In this situation there is no Switzerland.
Micah 2:9 HCSB
God’s wrath on unrepentant rebellious people is real. And so is His forgiveness, restoration, and blessings for those who return to Him with all that they have. Only a holy God has the perfect way to give mercy and justice, and He is trustworthy. If we choose to live as if He does not exist we are choosing to be His enemy and He will faithfully honor that decision. A time is coming when those disloyal to God will no longer have access to Him or the good that He graciously provides. I pray we seek His face while we still can.
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine and all the hills shall melt [that is, everything heretofore barren and unfruitful shall overflow with spiritual blessing]. That is a picture of restoration. But it is not for everyone, it is for those who call out to God for help. What do we value more, our pride which will eventually lead to barren lives or humility that comes before overflowing blessing? Oh how good life can be when we connect to the Giver of all things good. God, please continue to extend Your mercy and fill us afresh today with spiritual blessings as we seek Your Presence. Amen.
Amos 9:13 AMP
God called a shepherd named Amos to speak to His people, to warn those who needed to hear it. Amos lived at the same time as Hosea so we know that at least two people were seeking to help God’s people get back on track with the Lord. Through Amos, God’s message about the judgment to come was directed at those who appeared religious, but in their actual day-to-day lives they oppressed the poor and the needy. “On Judgment Day, lovely young girls will faint of Word-thirst, robust young men will faint of God-thirst, along with those who take oaths at the Samaria Sin-and-Sex Center, saying, ‘As the lord god of Dan is my witness!’ and ‘The lady goddess of Beer-sheba bless you!’ Their lives will fall to pieces. They’ll never put it together again.”
Although this message was spoken long ago, do we need to pay attention to the warnings today? Yes. There is a day of judgment coming, and looking “religious” is not going to cut it with God. If the alternative to looking religious is that we could really enjoy life and live for God now, what changes would we need to make? Asking “who is God?” is a very good starting point. If God is God, and we are not, let us drink in His teaching with great expectations! But if we live like we are God, then good luck; judgment day may find us very thirsty.
Amos 8:13-14 MSG
Because of rampant immorality, violence, lies, and all sorts of idolatry, both Israel and Judah will fall as their rebellions continue. Hosea’s reference to God’s Story is a reminder that the Israelites came from a heritage that knew and loved the Lord. Then Hosea mentioned Jacob. Yes, he wrestled with the angel and won. He wept and pleaded for a blessing from him. There at Bethel he met God face to face, and God spoke to him—the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord is his name! So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him.
I wrestle every day – my will or God’s will? We again need to hear what Hosea clearly said: “Come back to your God!” May our hearts beat for the things that God is for: justice, mercy, love, and humility. God, we need to depend on You. And when we do have deep dependency on You, You empower us not to give in to immorality, violence, cheating and other vices that tempt us. Help us not to fall for substitutions but to find our satisfaction in You. God, we plead for Your blessing. Amen.
Hosea 12:4-6 NLT
Hosea’s ministry lasted over sixty years as God’s people lived in and out of faithfulness. National leaders were not strong for the Lord, and even the priests did not faithfully follow Him or teach others to do so. God said through Hosea, “My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me. Since you priests refuse to know me, I refuse to recognize you as my priests. Since you have forgotten the laws of your God, I will forget to bless your children.” God said that the destruction that was taking place was related to His people not knowing Him. Knowing God changes everything.
Geographically speaking, China is closer to the land that Jesus walked than America is yet when we arrived in China in 1996, the number of people I met who had never even heard of Him was phenomenal. News of Jesus reached those in China in the seventh century, so why didn’t more Chinese people, centuries later, know Him? The basic answer is the sad truth for all of mankind: we turn from our Creator to worship creation instead. We choose to refuse to know God.
It is natural to pass on good news about someone we really know and love. If our children and their children after them don’t hear about the greatness of our God from us, maybe it is because we do not think God is that great. If we all knew and loved God and really lived out that love in the way we treated people, would there still be a need for missionaries to go to China or to the US? If we really know God, we will want to make Him known. If I really love God, and God and I have a great relationship, how can that not come out in conversations with my children, my friends, and even strangers? We may or may not be priests, but we can certainly heed the message that Hosea sought to make clear during his lifetime. For our own sake and for the sake of our children, I pray we do not get all caught up in “life” and forget God who blesses us with breath.
Hosea 4:6 NLT
June focused on the life of King Solomon, known for his wisdom, a gift from the Lord. Solomon shared this wisdom with us by writing proverbs and insightful poetry. When Solomon built the Temple, God’s fame spread as the One who blesses. Unfortunately, Solomon’s choices to turn from God affect the whole community and the Israelites become a divided kingdom. Obedience and blessings are often linked and God used prophets Joel and Hosea to try to get the attention of His disobedient people.
Hosea’s ministry spanned the reigns of four of Judah’s kings and began during the reign of Israel’s ninth king, Jeroboam. At various times the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah would repent and God would faithfully forgive His people and even delivered them from their enemies. Sadly, Judah and Israel were bent on worshiping stone carvings and wooden poles. God’s people became like an adulterous wife, betraying the One who loved them. Hosea knew all too well what an unfaithful wife was like; he was married to one, and like God, he mercifully extended hope.
Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days. It had been years since David was alive, but he was known as a man who was after God’s own heart and I think Hosea wanted to stir that deep level of commitment within God’s un-committed people. The word-picture of a nation trembling back to God and to the blessing He gives is interesting. It reminds me of the advice Paul gave many years later about working out our salvation with fear and trembling. What frightens us? A healthy realization of our sin should bring about fear and mourning. When we take our sin to God in Christ with repentance, we receive forgiveness, and real comfort and blessing from God can return. God does not want for us to continue in estranged arrangements, but to live wholly connected to Him. He is our faithful Example.
Hosea 3:5 NIV
A prophet speaks the truth concerning present or future events. In the Bible a prophet is often called a man of God, and the prophet Joel was certainly a man of God used by God, to point people back to God. We need to remember that although prophets are prophets, they are also people, and like all people they live in time and space. At this point in God’s Story, Joel’s time and space was in the middle of great destruction. An army, not of men but of locusts, devastated Judah. Every aspect of life was changed. I have a feeling Joel got the people’s attention when he went on to explain that an even greater devastation would come at the hand of the Lord if the people did not return to Him with all their heart; with fasting, weeping and mourning. “Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse.”
The passage continues with encouragement of how the Lord is compassionate, and present, and everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved. Centuries later, both Peter and Paul quoted the prophet Joel as they preached to people and offered God’s good news.
Some days it may feel as if we too are living in a time of great devastation. It may be on a nation-wide level, or maybe the hardship is personal. God offers us the same promise He gave those living in Old Testament times. Will we properly assess our situation and realize that without Him we have no lasting rescue? Will we call on Him?
Joel 2:14a NLT
Judah continued more or less in God’s ways and more than less its people received God’s blessings. However, many kings who rejected God ruled over Israel. It is good to keep in mind that no matter who is in charge on earth, there are always some people faithful to God who is in charge of it all. Once there was a raid on Israel and a young girl was taken captive. She became the maid to the wife of Naaman the commander for the Aramean army. This girl knew God and was not afraid to share what she knew with her mistress.
Naaman’s story is intriguing. He had a skin disease cured by dipping seven times in the Jordan River according to the direction of the godly prophet Elisha. Miracles in countless forms pointed people back to God, for it is His desire that all would know, follow, and be blessed by Him. Naaman was at first angry about the medical procedure that Elisha prescribed but after he was persuaded to give it a try, he was thrilled with the outcome! He praised God and he and all his men returned to Elisha and said, “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.” What was the blessing that Naaman offered to Elisha? Did Elisha take the gift? The story has an interesting twist, so go ahead and read it in its entirety. Clue: do not take a blessing that does not belong to you.
2 Kings 5:15b KJV
We have discovered that somewhere along the journey of leading Israel as their third king, Solomon took his eyes off God. One thousand marriage partners was not enough, and tragically Solomon’s disobedient choices had grave consequences for himself and for Israel after him. The large nation that began with Abraham was now divided in two: the Northern Kingdom, which was still called Israel; and the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Peace became a rare thing; outside kingdoms attacked the newly divided kingdom with a vengeance, and even Israel and Judah fought against each other.
Fear, instability and destruction continued for generations. When Judah’s fourth king, Jehoshaphat, heard that three mighty armies had joined to fight Judah, he knew his people were in grave danger. He also knew idols could not save them; they needed God. King Jehoshaphat begged for the Lord’s guidance and called his people to fast. After the king’s prayer, the Lord spoke and the people of Judah obeyed. The enemies would have won if not for God’s intervention. The Lord fought this battle and not one enemy escaped. With singing and great praise to God, it took Judah over three days to collect all of the valuable plunder. On the fourth day they gathered in the Valley of Blessing, which got its name that day because the people praised and thanked the Lord there. All glory went to the Lord, and news of this event spread. And for a while everyone, God’s enemies as well as those who trusted Him, were in awe of God.
2 Chronicles 20:26a NLT
King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the world in riches and in wisdom and he did not hold back on living life fully. And like those in the Garden of Eden, he loved the good God gave, but sadly he felt it was not enough. He wrote about many of life’s experiences in a book called Ecclesiastes and captures the attention of many with his opening statement: everything is meaningless, vanity, absolutely futile. Toward the end of the book Solomon makes a proverb-like comment: Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness. I think this is an interesting thing for King Solomon to write. Was he reflecting on the present situation, or simply stating something that is true in principle? Generally when leaders make wise choices those living under their leadership also reap the benefits. We will see that the reverse is also true and those in Solomon’s kingdom will reap the consequences that came from him following idols and foreign gods.
After a careful evaluation of all he had experienced, Solomon concluded Ecclesiastes with hope. Are we searching for more than vanity and futility? Do we want a life of meaning? A very good starting point is to realize that life is a gift from God; so eat, drink, enjoy your labor, but in all you do, keep a proper perspective. Instead of being self-seeking as one only living “under the sun”, remember the One who is over the sun and above all else. Solomon asked a good question, “What is the whole duty of man?” The answer: to fear God and keep His commandments. When we learn this and really live by it, the more meaningful our lives become.
Ecclesiastes 10:17 NIV
On Mother’s Day in 1995, when our kiddos were young and we were serving at Antioch Baptist Church in North Carolina, all the moms at church received a beautiful scroll inscribed with the last few verses from the thirty-first Proverb. The godly woman that we encounter in the last proverb recorded in God’s Story intimidates many women. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” This godly woman could have disheartened, overwhelmed, and intimidated me. She appears to be somewhat of a Christian Superwoman. But instead she encouraged me, and she should encourage you too because it is wonderful to learn from a role model like this.
Back then, my kiddos were too young to know or use the word “blessed” but I certainly felt blessed by their hugs and hand-drawn cards. God does not call mothers to be super-women but daughters of the King, and He wants us to know our true identity in Him. In the joy and strength that God supplies, we serve our family faithfully, loving our Lord without reserve. How thankful I am to the women in my life, including my own mom, who continually model this kind of beauty.
Proverbs 31:27-29 ESV
Even though some people are like those described in Proverbs 30:11-14, it is wise not to be like them. There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers. There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth. There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift! There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind.
It is better for us to be wise and to bless instead of curse the loving parents and others who care for us throughout life. We can think that we are doing okay, living life according to our own standards, but it is what God thinks that really matters. Are we “clean” on the outside but inside do we have a big mess? Do we seek to raise ourselves up by cutting others down? Agur, the author of Proverbs 30, shares these valuable lessons by using contrasts, and he leaves the choice up to us. Let’s not trick ourselves into believing that everything is all right. Instead let’s take our needs to Jesus who is faithful to cleanse us from everything in our lives that is not right. With fresh joy of being clean we can live to bless and encourage rather than go with the world’s flow of faultfinding and cursing.
Proverbs 30:11-14 ESV
Solomon’s fame spread far and wide. The queen of Sheba heard how Yahweh had blessed Solomon with wisdom and wealth and she came to see for herself if it was true. She was overwhelmed and impressed with everything she saw. Real life was even greater than the rumors she had heard. She was also amazed that Solomon was able to answer all her questions so wisely. The queen said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.”
Did this kind of praise and Solomon’s many accomplishments go to his head? Did Solomon believe he was invincible? Was his turning to sin gradual, just a little here, a little there? We read one chapter later in Solomon’s portion of God’s Story, of how Solomon’s love for pagan women and then his worship of their false gods was a deep offense to God. His refusal to faithfully love and obey God cost him the kingdom. Solomon was richly blessed by God but tragically turned his back on the One who gave him everything. What a lesson for us today. How slippery is the slope of sin and disobedience.
1 Kings 10:9 ESV (also in 2 Chronicles 9:8)
A faithful, wisdom-heeding, do-righter is a blessed person. We can choose however, to be a stubborn, money-grubber who throws off restraint. If we do, we then also choose not to be blessed by God. Choices (good or bad) form our habits, and consequences (good or bad) follow our habits. Blessed are those who fear to do wrong, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble… A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished… Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction. Solomon was a very wise man and he chose to share his wisdom by writing many proverbs. God, may we too be wise people, learning from what Solomon wrote under Your inspiration. Amen.
Proverbs 28:14 NLT; Proverbs 28:20 NIV; Proverbs 29:18 NIV
Have you ever heard the saying, “too much of a good thing is not a good thing”? Well, Proverbs 27 says that too loud of a good thing (especially before noon) is not a good thing. If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. I learned this wise saying when we began our married life in an apartment in 1989 in Dallas. Our upstairs neighbor played the drums and even though he was part of a Christian band, when we heard the creative sounds from his drums too early in the morning (or late at night) it did not fall upon us like a blessing! A few years later we moved into our next apartment with three babies under three years old. I have a feeling that our “little blessings” who cried at various times of the day and night might not have always been a sweet sound to our new neighbors’ ears. But still, it is good to share goodness, so go ahead and bless your neighbors, just not too early or too loudly!
Proverbs 27:14 NIV
Here are a few more praise choruses from the writer of the Psalms to the Maker of it all. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever… Exalt the Lord, Jerusalem; praise your God, Zion! For He strengthens the bars of your gates and blesses your children within you. God blesses His people because that is the kind of God He is! We praise God with all that we have; God blesses His people, which then leads to more praising. This is a good cycle. Even if He never gives us one more blessing, He is so worthy of our praise. Exalt Him. Let’s let our children and grandchildren know that He is Heaven’s Maker and all good things are from Him. We often sing songs about what we believe; may the music from our mouths honor our God.
Psalm 146:5-6 ESV; Psalm 147:12-13 HCSB
Psalm 134 is a three-verse song that is dedicated to one major theme: to bless. Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!
Our family lived in Thailand on and off between 1999 and 2011. During those years there were many opportunities to use the Thai phrase, “Khaw Phra-jaow Huay Phawn Khoon Kha” which means, “May God bless you.” This blessing has been verbalized throughout the ages and in many different languages, and it concludes this ancient song. Please pray with me for the many people in Thailand who still do not know that the God and Maker of Heaven and earth desires to bless them. God, Your Word lets us know that You love all people, and we pray that one-by-one all will have the opportunity to bless You back. May those who leave offerings in Buddhist temples trying to make merit for past sins rejoice when they hear the truth that Jesus is the final sacrificial offering for a life of peace between You and humanity. Amen.
Psalm 134:1-3 ESV
During the Temple dedication, the people were urged to fully commit to the Lord, live by His decrees, and obey His commands. The festivities included a lot of sacrifices, and the celebration, lead by Solomon, went on for two weeks. Everyone who attended blessed the king and went home, exuberant with heartfelt gratitude for all the good God had done for his servant David and for his people Israel.
God likes a good celebration! Let’s get good at it for a whole lot of celebrating will take place in Heaven. Heaven is the future home for all who believe. How real is Heaven to you? Are we preparing now for that final move? If you knew you were going to move from the US to Germany, studying German as soon as you could would be a great investment. When our family was relocated to London, England I learned about linguistic differences between US English and British English in a little phrase book Russell gave me. Another book, Watching the English, clued me in on many cultural distinctions that helped me relate more effectively with our new neighbors.
I smile when I hear a flight attendant say, “If such-and-such city is your final destination, weather upon landing is so-and-so.” My final destination is Heaven. Long ago Jesus not only paid for my ticket with His life on a cross, he bought my permanent citizenship. There is no need to worry about turbulence or missing a connection, and it thrills me that I will travel light; I won’t even need a carry-on! Only God knows when that flight will take place, but I love preparing for life in the home He is preparing for me by celebrating life and fully living it now.
1 Kings 8:66b MSG
The dedication and blessing of the Temple continued, and the glory of the Lord began filling the Temple. Pause here for just a minute to take that in. What exactly was it like to experience the Lord’s glory filling the Temple? Then Solomon, the king, turned around and blessed the entire congregation of Israel while they were standing… When Solomon finished praying this entire prayer and petition to the Lord, he got up from kneeling before the altar of the Lord, with his hands spread out toward heaven, and he stood and blessed the whole congregation of Israel with a loud voice: “May the Lord be praised! He has given rest to His people Israel according to all He has said. Not one of all the good promises He made through His servant Moses has failed.”
This great day was full of celebration and dedication and it reminded everyone that God keeps His promises. Life in the time of Solomon and life now has a lot of layers of differences. It helps us to better understand life then if we can try and put ourselves into the Story. Can you picture yourself as a builder who helped to construct the Temple, or as one who offered needed materials or special skills? Would you have been leading up the singing, or maybe joining in with the thankful ones who had been given a rest from war? Those present that day saw God’s glory with their own eyes! What would that have been like? The outcome was certainly joyful and both their king and their God blessed all who were assembled.
1 Kings 8:14, 54-56 HCSB (also in 2 Chronicles 6:3)
Under the reign of King Solomon the magnificent Temple was completed and everything was ready for its dedication to God’s glory. Before Solomon addressed the masses, the people celebrated with trumpets and cymbals, and raised their voices together to sing out praises to God, “He is good; His love endures forever.” This familiar chorus shows up in about a half dozen other psalms and is still sung by God’s people today. Reading a little further in Psalm 106 we discover yet another blessing. Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.
Justice is important to God. The Temple was a reminder to the people of their covenant relationship with a just God. God is faithful, that is without a doubt. The question is: are we faithful to Him? Do we value justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God each day? If so, we are blessed. Do we practice patience, exercise gentleness, overflow with gratitude? If not, why not?
Like so many things in life, desired results require disciplined resolve. We won’t become physically fit overnight. No matter how much one might dream of being in shape, if we want to see a change in the outcome, we most likely need to change our input. Imagine this cycle: treasure wisely, put off the bad, put on the good, live this out. Treasuring wisely, in this case a strong fit body, leads us to put off the habits that keep us from achieving that goal, maybe laziness and poor food choices. We then add exercise, get proper rest and nutrition and repeat the pattern until it becomes the new norm. In time we enjoy the benefits that come from our disciplined resolve to have a healthy body.
We follow this same cycle to train our minds to master a new language or a musical instrument or a computer program, but what about our most important endeavor, the maturity of our souls? Are we putting on justice and mercy or are we ignoring those qualities? Our soul’s health can improve as we put off such things as contempt and pride, and practice living peaceable, pure, humble lives. God, help us to see that it is a blessing to consistently do what is right. Help us to treasure this blessing enough to joyfully endure our workouts. When we get resistance may we see it for what it is, and press on into You. Amen.
Psalm 106:3 NIV
Not only was Solomon a prolific writer of wisdom literature, he also built a Temple. King David, Solomon’s influential father, was a big help to Solomon as he worked on this monumental building project. When Hiram, a friend of the late King David, heard that Solomon was the new king, he was really happy about the situation and said, “Blessed be the Lord this day, for He has given David a wise son over this great people!” Hiram also agreed to Solomon’s request for shipments of much-needed cedar and cypress timber. It was a win-win situation. With Hiram’s help and support, many men throughout the land were employed and the required supplies were gathered to build the Temple. God blessed the Temple building process from start to finish.
I can’t help but think that David would have been proud of his son Solomon like parents are when their children’s wise choices make the world a better place to live. Living an upright life is a blessing for us now and for our children who come after us.
P.S. The heat of Dubai, even in the cool season, can be oppressive. As I watched laborers, many from poor countries, operate yellow cranes, lifting heavy beams to support modern skyscrapers, I thought back to the Temple being built and all the work and wisdom it takes to make a dream a reality. Hiram blessed God for giving Solomon wisdom. Please pray with me for bosses to bless present-day laborers by generously providing for their needs.
1 Kings 5:7b NKJV
Every four years in the US it is a big election year. 2012 was one of those years, so whether I wanted it or not, the talk was of politics. Signs were posted for months, bumper stickers promoted or demoted nominees in clever ways, and speeches were written, evaluated and then debated. There were many candidates for various offices including the position of judge. Proverbs 24 has this to say about the person who holds that office: “A judge who says to the wicked, “You are innocent,” will be cursed by many people and denounced by the nations. But it will go well for those who convict the guilty; rich blessings will be showered on them.” May God give wisdom to those who hold political power to serve responsibly. And may our nation’s judges keep in mind that one day everything will be evaluated by the Judge who rules over all. God will not be bribed. He is not on any rung of the ladder of success, and He is not in need of anyone’s help to climb up. His judgment is right, and He will have the final say.
Proverbs 24:25 NLT
Several of the blessings found in God’s Story pertain to a specific person, like Abraham, or a certain nation, like Israel. But in the Book of Proverbs we read of how blessings follow choices and these have an impact on our lives and those of future generations. God desires right relationships. His insight is helpful and His ways can be learned. May we see things the way God does and live with uprightness of heart, making good choices, especially when it comes to the interactions within our families. The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them… If you insult your father or mother, your light will be snuffed out in total darkness. An inheritance obtained too early in life is not a blessing in the end. Understanding healthy family structures, including the importance of respect and honesty, can go a long way if one desires peaceful relationships. God-centered building blocks found in healthy families are much needed foundations for the growth of future generations. May our children be blessed as they follow in our ways as we walk humbly with God and honorably before them.
Proverbs 20:7, 20-21 NLT
Seeking good instruction, practicing trust in God, valuing discernment, are all healthy choices – decisions that lead to blessings and to living a blessed life. There is another way for us to choose but it is the path of folly (recklessness, senselessness, stupidity) and in the end there will be punishment. Fools go down that road. Sometimes we need to see the opposite to realize that going God’s way really is best. Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord. The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction. Prudence is a fountain of life to the prudent, but folly brings punishment to fools. God does not preprogram us; we get to choose. It is good to know not only what the choices are but also the consequences of those choices. Wisdom is a good teacher and the diligent student will often have an overflow of blessings.
As a new driver I made a lot of mistakes and our family car showed it with several dents and scratches. But I have never been more scared than on a Thursday night in 1982 when my friend and I were driving home from volunteering at Saginaw General Hospital. Midway across a large bridge we realized that I was driving the wrong way, against traffic. Although I had received a lot of driving instruction, I still needed more opportunities for practical application, and thanks be to God, He spared us that night from a serious accident. Experience is a very good teacher and in the more than thirty years of driving since then, I have not made that mistake again. I was an immature driver, but that night I grew up and matured real fast. In other non-driving areas of my life, I’ve learned from the same types of middle-of-the-bridge experiences. Jesus wants us to learn from our errors, not to relive them over and over. He offers us a way to go forward through God’s mercy. Let’s be wise to trust God’s ways.
Proverbs 16:20-22 NIV
Jesus says that whenever we feed those who are hungry it is as if we are feeding Him. When we are hungry and someone gives us some of their food then blessings flow. When we see someone who is hungry and we share with them, we both are blessed. The early church shared their meals with each other and the Book of Proverbs indicates that this is a good way to live life. Proverbs 14:21 encourages us to ask and identify, “Who is my neighbor?” It is a sin to belittle one’s neighbor; blessed are those who help the poor. Another way to say it is, “A generous person will be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Want to be blessed? Share.
This simple concept can become a joyful way of life and all it takes is a little awareness of the needs of those around us in our local community and the needs of people all over the world. That is step one. Step two is to intentionally practice generosity. By trusting in the Lord, listening and obeying what He says, we are better equipped to know how and what to give. This life-style pattern can help us remain focused on the One who blesses us with the desire, the ability, and the means by which we can share.
Proverbs 14:21 NLT; Proverbs 22:9 HCSB
Wisdom calls out to all who will heed her counsel. “Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it. Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For those who find me find life and receive favor (another word for blessing) from the Lord. But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death.”
That is pretty straightforward. If we choose to hate wisdom by going our own way, we hurt ourselves, and often those who care about us. One of the saddest things is the death of a relationship. God desires for our relationships to be restored and whole, including our relationship with Him. When we seek to live outside of God, the paths take us from full life and lead us to death. To live beyond the world’s wisdom, we need God’s wisdom. When we intentionally listen to instruction and actively apply it, we can live blessed. The Book of Proverbs is full of useful, relevant information that can guide us in God’s ways. We can be blessed physically, relationally, and spiritually. Healthy truths are not hidden from us, but are made available to us when we look. God wants our lives to succeed.
Proverbs 8:32-36 NIV
By comparing immoral relationships and healthy marriage, a lot of good practical advice is revealed in the fifth chapter of Proverbs. When it all gets boiled down, what comes up is one negative command – Do not commit adultery, and one positive command – Be faithful to your spouse. Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. Faithfulness leads to blessing, and blessing leads to rejoicing. God’s plan for fidelity within the husband and wife union is even better than we can imagine.
One of the most complex relationships is marriage, and a good marriage takes attention, effort, thought, time, and consideration – what some would call hard work. For a healthy, happy, and growing Christian marriage, mutual commitment to God and to each other is essential. Love like this is patient and kind. There is no room for rudeness and selfishness. If we add stubborn pride to the unhealthy mix of self-centeredness, we can create damaging barriers that can block the fountain of blessing from flowing. Respect and forgiveness are key factors in a blessed marriage. But even in the best relationship, misunderstandings will come, so it is wise to get good at making peace. Proverbs 5 suggests that there is no better gift than to grow old with the marriage partner of our youth. We can’t help but rejoice with a gift like this.
Proverbs 5:18 NLT
Proverbs are succinct statements that can bring about a change in thinking. Frequently, opposing views are presented so the informed reader can make decisions with more awareness of potential outcomes. Who other than Solomon could be better suited to be the primary author of the Book of Proverbs? I love how, at this point, God’s Story is divided into thirty-one chapters, a whole month’s worth of daily wisdom just waiting for us! Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold…She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed…The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.
It is interesting that blessing often comes after wisdom is applied. God, Your Word is rich and You are so generous to give us truth that remains stable no matter if the economy rises or falls. Rather than anxiously looking at the stock market every day, we can look to Your Word and live a life that is profitable, alive like a healthy tree, and blessed. Wisdom and blessings go hand-in-hand. May we seek both like we are hunting for treasure. Amen.
Proverbs 3:13-14, 18, 33 ESV
One of the explanations of this poetic psalm is that it was written in the time of King Solomon about the Messiah yet to come. Jesus the mighty Warrior, victorious in truth, humility and justice, will be established on a throne that will never be shaken. His position and authority are solid. And one day there will be a great wedding as Jesus is united with His bride, the church.
The time leading up to our oldest daughter, Hannah, and her fiancée Andrew’s wedding was full of happy preparations. Lists were compiled and double-checked to be sure that all of the meaningful details were adequately cared for as we kept a joyful wedding day in our sights. The morning of the wedding, we gathered in the renovated neighborhood fire station to decorate it for the reception. I love remembering how Hannah and her bridesmaids laughed as they practiced the line dance they would do together later that night. Evening came, the church filled with guests, and Hannah was a joyful, stunning, composed bride. Her mind was free to focus on their marriage vows and to savor the festivities of their wedding.
Are we, as the church, the Body of Christ, mindfully preparing for the wedding yet to come? Do we live in happy anticipation, waiting for Jesus our Bridegroom? The psalmist writes, “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.” God’s blessing mentioned here is to His Son and the poem continues on to show His strength and justice. The words form a picture of a wedding in which beauty and honor are elevated and joyful praise is the outcome. May the excitement build as each day brings the wedding celebration closer.
Psalm 45:2 NIV
Since I’m a bit of a romantic, I am glad that there is at least one blessing in the wonderful love song, the Song of Solomon. After listing several physical attributes of the one he loves (including that none of her teeth are missing), the writer continues to sing the praises of his beloved’s virtues: “My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, pure to her who bore her. The young women saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her.”
She is fortunate indeed to be chosen, treasured, and loved so deeply. These are desires that run deep within the heart of most women. Men too have desires and need to know that they are valued, loved, and respected. For those of us whom God has blessed with a spouse, I pray that we take the time to sing a love song to our beloved. Go ahead and read through Solomon’s Song if a little inspiration is needed, then sing out. Married love is a wonderful gift from God, and a blessing that is meant to last a lifetime.
Song of Solomon 6:9 ESV
Solomon was known for his wisdom, a gift he received when the Lord said He would give Solomon anything he chose. Israel’s new king put this wisdom to great use as he strengthened the kingdom. Along with great wisdom God blessed him with great wealth. Psalm 72 was written about King Solomon, and it foreshadows Jesus, the King of all kings. The psalm begins as a prayer that God would give justice and righteousness to the king so the king will reign fairly. May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day! After a prayer for the land and the people of the cities, we get a foretaste of Jesus: May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!
There is a day coming when every knee will bow to King Jesus and every tongue will proclaim that He is Lord of all. What a blessed day that will be! The world has never seen a king as good as Jesus. The world’s best diplomats, the wisest fairytale kings, leaders who have brought about the most needed reforms – Jesus is so much better than all these put together. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!
Psalm 72:15b, 17-19 ESV
When we were newlyweds in 1989, Russell studied at a Bible college in Dallas, Texas and worked at a Christian bookstore. One day he surprised me with a New King James Version Bible, my new married name etched in silver on the pink leather. It was my first leather Bible and I loved the way it felt in my hands, and when I wrote in the margin my handwriting was extra neat. My notes from a sermon on Psalm 63 read, “Passion for God: Seek Him, Bless Him, Meditate on Him, Follow Him.” O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You… Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live… When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches… My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.
These timeless truths continue to be a trustworthy compass. God’s Word is a foundation for marriage and I thank God for the many lessons that I learned at Audelia Road Baptist Church during that formative time in our lives. Over two decades later, even though the miles separate us, it is a joy to be connected to those from our newly-married Sunday school class, and we continue to learn about new stages of life and closeness to God. May God be blessed with each day He gives as we seek Him, praise Him, meditate on Him, and follow our good and faithful Guide. Passion for a spouse and passion for God can grow deeper as the years grow longer, especially as we live aware of God’s lovingkindness in each day.
Psalm 63:1, 3-4, 6, 8 NKJV
This song by the Sons of Korah is a serious dirge about the need to trust spiritual insight even more than wealth. Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life. People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish.
Is this song about you, about me? Do we trust wealth rather than God who desires to bless us even beyond the here and now? Years after this song was written Jesus was teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem. I love how John recorded Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world, He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Life with Jesus is not stumbling around in the dark, for His words light our path. He is the only way to see the light of life that Psalm 49 alludes to. We may have the means to buy tickets for most events on earth, but riches cannot redeem our souls.
Psalm 49:16-20 NIV
Bless the Lord, O house of Israel!
Bless the Lord, O house of Aaron! Bless the Lord, O house of Levi! This makes sense in a Jewish culture. Due to their personal connection with God Jews are to praise Him. But what about those who do not have a Jewish genealogy? The original blessing given to Abraham promised that all nations on earth would be blessed to be a blessing. The world is blessed to praise God. I believe that the psalmist indicated with the next verse that non-Jewish people too are included in the praising: You who fear the Lord, bless the Lord! Do we fear the Lord? That is good.
We can join in praising the Lord, like the psalmist, for His greatness in creation. We can sing of His power over the weather and His ability to defeat His enemies throughout time. God is all-powerful and we are reminded that He has no patience for idols or for those who trust in them. The sooner mankind understands this the better! Blessed be the Lord out of Zion, Who dwells in Jerusalem! Jesus came from Heaven to Jerusalem as the fulfillment of Jewish prophesy. He was God from the beginning and throughout the New Testament we see His greatness and His goodness. So what is a healthy response to our Lord? To praise Him! We were made to know Him, to bless Him, to love Him and to make Him known. Bless the Lord!
Psalm 135:19-21 NKJV
As David grew older his songs and poetry reveal more and more of what it means to be blessed as we journey on in God’s Story. The month of May also provides additional information of who David was as a king and a father. Life is challenging and it is often in hard times that we recognize afresh the need to depend upon God. Solomon, David’s son with Bathsheba becomes the new king at the end of David’s life.
The intricate acrostic poem of praise we know as Psalm 119 is, in many ways, an expansion of Psalm 1. Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!… Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!… This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts… Please guarantee a blessing for me. Don’t let the arrogant oppress me!
Back in 1992 when our second daughter Sophie was just a toddler, she wanted to add her own notes to my copy of Psalm 119. To this day I smile every time I see her scribbles in my Bible, not just in one but two colors of ink. Sophie has grown into a beautiful young lady and she has an interest in learning languages. During a semester abroad her junior year at Rice University, she had the adventure of going to Kenya where she learned Swahili.
I’m thrilled that each of our children embraces a love for learning. I pray they would continue to grow like the Psalm 1 tree, drinking in the goodness of God’s Word. May this generation be challenged and strengthened by God’s teachings, walk in His ways, and seek Him with their whole hearts. May they be blessed to bless. Amen.
Psalm 119:1-3, 12, 56 ESV; Psalm 119:122 NLT
“Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!” After living more than a dozen years of her life in Asia, our oldest child, Hannah, began university in the US. We celebrated her eighteenth birthday together, we toured her college campus, prayed, cried, and took one last photo under the trees that would be her new “home”. Then our family, now minus one, flew away.
Life in London was a big transition for me. Our family dynamics had changed, we went from tropical weather in Thailand to the cold wetness of England and from a town surrounded by mountains to a city we accessed by the Underground. There was a noticeable difference in culture too, including how people interacted. But I have learned from experience that in the midst of change, there is great comfort in the God of the Bible who not only does not change, but is here, wherever “here” is.
Listening to the London rain, I read this praise song to God in Psalm 113, and thought about how there was once a time when the sun did not set on the British Empire. Yet, no matter where in the world we go, and no matter where the sun is in its rotation (from its rising to its setting), the Lord is to be praised. Let’s pray hard for London, now home to people from almost every nation. May the city hear and rejoice in the good news of Jesus, and in many languages, bless the name of the Lord forevermore! “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!”
Psalm 113:2-4 ESV
Why are we to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise”? Why should we, “Give thanks to him; bless his name”? Because “the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” We know His goodness, and yet sometimes we choose to go our own way. God loves us too much not to pursue us. Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law…
Thank You, God, for correction so we can with clean hands and pure hearts again enter Your courts with thanksgiving and bless Your name. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for forgiveness and for the story You told of the prodigal son who went his own way, far from his father’s home, but never too far from his father’s love. Our Father in Heaven, thanks for welcoming us back with Your steadfast love. Amen.
Psalm 100:4-5 ESV; Psalm 94:12 NIV
Through the years, many meaningful choruses, hymns, and praise songs have moved me. Now when I sing them decades later, in a different setting, a flood of memories come to mind, when yet again these songs are used to lift up praises and thanksgiving to our King. Although Psalm 118 was written many generations before the birth of Jesus, it is very likely that Jesus sang it during the Last Supper with His disciples. One stanza of this song is, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you.” We can read a similar refrain in all four of the Gospel accounts when Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a colt.
Another part of this song says, “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Jesus sang this knowing what was before Him. He endured our sin and overcame His death. He was able to rejoice and be glad, trusting that God’s good purposes would not be thwarted. Good songs are meant to be sung forever. Singing God’s praises is one thing we know we will do through all eternity, so let’s keep on singing now, or as in my case, keep making a joyful noise unto the Lord!
Psalm 118:26 NIV
It is not clear who authored Psalm 115, but I like to think that David wrote it at the very end of his life. It begins by saying that glory does not belong to people, but to God alone. I envision David looking back on his life and thinking about history, all the way back to the creation of the world. I imagine that David breathed in and out the assurance of God’s goodness and trustworthiness.
The song rings of hope for generations yet to come – including us, and calls all to trust in God’s love and faithfulness. The Lord remembers us and will bless us. He will bless the people of Israel and bless the priests, the descendants of Aaron. He will bless those who fear the Lord, both great and lowly. May the Lord richly bless both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
God, who originated the whole blessing concept by creating all things good, will continue to bestow blessings on those who live to honor Him. David reigned over Israel for forty years, then Solomon became the king. God’s Story records in 1 Kings 2:45,“…King Solomon will be blessed, and David’s throne will remain established before the Lord forever.”
Psalm 115:12-15 NLT; 1 Kings 2:45 HCSB
Could it be that David would have eliminated a whole lot of family strife if he had had fewer wives? Now another of his sons, Adonijah, positioned himself to be the new king and he had quite a committed following. Adonijah and his men were huddled for a pow-wow when they heard a noise so great that the earth split open from the sound. A messenger arrived to give them the news that Adonijah’s father, King David, had just made Solomon the new king.
“And moreover the king’s servants have gone to bless our lord King David, saying, ‘May God make the name of Solomon better than your name, and may He make his throne greater than your throne.’ Then the king bowed himself on the bed. Also the king said thus, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who has given one to sit on my throne this day, while my eyes see it!’”
David lived a full life, and one of the consistent things about him was his thankfulness to God. He did not have a trouble-free life, but David did live to bless the Lord. Maybe that is what it means to have a heart after God.
1 Kings 1:47-48 NKJV