Jesus is coming back! It is important news and we do not want to miss out on the reward and blessing that awaits those prepared for Him. Jesus also says what will happen if we are not ready, and just to let you know, it is the very opposite of a blessing. If I knew you were coming through town I would be sure to have chili in the crock-pot or cookies baked up, ready for your visit. How much more excited I get thinking of the visit of our Lord Jesus!
This is how Jesus puts it: “Be ready for service and have your lamps lit. You must be like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet so that when he comes and knocks, they can open the door for him at once. Those slaves the master will find alert when he comes will be blessed. I assure you: He will get ready, have them recline at the table, then come and serve them. If he comes in the middle of the night, or even near dawn, and finds them alert, those slaves are blessed.”
Did you catch it? I missed it the first few time I read this through, but Jesus says He will serve the ones that are ready for the Master’s return. But not everyone will be prepared, and no one knows when the time will be, but each day it gets closer. Expect the unexpected and until then may we humbly serve our servant King by serving one another. Live ready!
Luke 12:35-38 HCSB
And Jesus said to him, You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live [enjoy active, blessed, endless life in the kingdom of God]. Who was Jesus talking with and what were the questions and answers? It was on one occasion that an expert in the law asked Jesus, “What can I do to get everlasting life?” Jesus answered his question with a question, “What does the law of Moses say?” The lawyer replied, “Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got—heart, soul, strength and mind—and love your neighbor as yourself.” “Good answer!”, Jesus replied. But then the man asked one more question. “Um, just who is my neighbor?”
The parable of the Good Samaritan followed. Blessed life can be boiled down to “love God, love people.” When I wrote this in bold black letters on the front of the desk I used while homeschooling our kiddos in China back in 2002, it gave me the clarity to focus on the important things. There was a lot of time for questions and answers and my desire was to instill in my students the joy of learning. Not only were they each other’s only classmates, there were no other foreign children in our town, so they also learned how to play and interact with those different from them. On some days, “loving our neighbors” came during “school-time” and they learned life lessons outside of the room that was filled with bookshelves, a time-line and maps drawn onto the concrete painted walls. Our children are grown now and living in a very diverse world. Neighbors move in and out. They may not look, believe or act like we do and yet Jesus still calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. God, help us to daily refocus our attention on You and live to love those around us in ways for their good and Your honor. Amen.
Luke 10:28 AMP
When the seventy-two disciples Jesus sent out returned to joyfully tell Him all that had happened on their mission trip, Jesus was also filled with joy. Jesus prayed to His Father thanking Him for revealing important things to those who had child-like faith. Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” Do we see things from God’s perspective? When we know Jesus, we cannot help but introduce others to Him too and doing this as part of a team reminds me of how it was done back in Jesus’ days.
One of the things that brought me joy during our year of living in London was serving in a café that was housed in a renovated part of an ancient church. I loved walking through two lush green parks on my way to work, taking in God’s beauty in creation and praising Him because it prepared me for whatever might come in the café. And I loved being a part of a team of people from several countries who also wanted to serve. Some days I served up the food and it was fun learning about British dishes. On other days I cleared tables or I would sit with the lonely or the drug-users or the elderly and talk with them. Because I had tasted and I knew that the Lord was good, it was easy to turn the conversation to Him.
But one dialogue became a bit heated when a fellow volunteer voiced his dislike for Christian do-gooders. When he asked what I thought, I asked him what he thought about the advances in medicine. I told him that if I had the cure for cancer I certainly would not keep it to myself but I would share it. How much more would I want to share the good news that Jesus came to rescue us from death to life! Jesus is not aspirin; He is the giver of life! Lord, please keep our eyes and ears open to You. Choose us to be a part of the joyful team that You use to change the world, one person at a time. Amen.
Luke 10:23 NIV
Now Jesus’ students were about to experience some practical application of all that they had learned and all that Jesus had modeled. Jesus prepared them to take His teaching into neighboring towns so that others could learn what they had been taught. Seventy-two interns were divided in groups of two, and Jesus gave instructions and advised them to pray, to eat what was set before them, to heal the sick, and to let everyone know the good news that the Kingdom of God is near. His advice then is still applicable for us today as we seek to share God’s goodness with those around us. Jesus told His students when they entered a new town, “If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you.”
What an incredible privilege it must have been to spread the message of Jesus in that day and time. What a privilege it still is for those who pray and go and give. If God has blessed you with good news to share, have fun as you share the blessing. My first mission trip was to a very rural area of Mexico in December 1989. Russell and I had been married about six months when we drove across the Texas border and we kept driving until the roads became dirt trails. I couldn’t speak Spanish fluently but I learned the words “un regalo” and said them over and over as I passed out messages of good news. I believe God blessed me just as He blessed those who received the gift. Thankfulness grows when we remember that we do not just pass a gift on, but that we really are recipients of God’s good gift of salvation. Jesus is the best regalo ever! My heart needs to be reminded often of this gift. I have a feeling I’m not alone with that need.
Luke 10:6 NLT
As God’s Story went forward, the teaching ministry of Jesus continued. Many followed after Him to hear His messages on how to live the blessed life. On this particular occasion after a three-day teaching conference in a remote place, the crowds had run out of food, again. Instead of sending them home hungry, Jesus took seven loaves of bread and after He had thanked God for it, passed the bread out to about 4,000 people. A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them. Jesus is good to meet the needs of those who follow Him because He is tenderhearted and His blessings multiply. We are not Jesus, but do we interact with others using our lives so that blessings are multiplied? Jesus tells us to do good deeds so that our Father in Heaven is made known. Blessing people also blesses God. Let’s bless on!
Mark 8:7 NLT (also in Matthew 15:36)
The crowd that was miraculously fed by Jesus the day before was getting hungry again. By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master. So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn’t coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus. Unfortunately, some of these people were only trying to find Jesus because they wanted another free lunch. Jesus knew this and He told them not to live that way but instead to spend energy seeking the eternal life that can only be found in Him. What does God want for us to do? He wants us to believe in the One He has sent. Do not be a “bread-Christian” but instead follow after the One who is the Bread of Life! It is a good idea to seek the Giver of the blessing and not just the blessing. Living on the foundation of gratitude blesses us to be a blessing.
John 6:23-24 MSG
All four of the Gospel writers record this amazing event of how Jesus met the physical needs of the masses who followed Him. Matthew wrote that the evening picnic was on the heels of Jesus hearing that His cousin John had been beheaded, and Jesus was going off for some time by Himself. But as it often happened, crowds of needy people went where Jesus went, and Jesus, being who He is, had compassion. He healed and He taught and it was now past dinnertime at the remote place where they had all gathered.
Five loaves of bread, two fish and one prayer to God in Heaven was all it took for over 5000 men, not including all the women and children, to eat until they were satisfied. That was a meal no one would forget! He told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people.
Sunday Soup is kind of like our family’s equivalent to fish and loaves. In our second home in China we had a freezer just big enough to hold a container for our weekly leftovers and it was in that home that we began our tradition of Sunday Soup. While baking bread before our house church met, I would simmer up the soup and by adding water and at times extra vegetables, we could feed however many joined to worship with us that day. May we follow Jesus’ example and bless our food (meaning to offer thanks to God for what He provides) and be quick to share what we have so that others may also be satisfied. Jesus fed those who followed Him with what He taught and by meeting physical needs as well.
Matthew 14:19 NLT (also in Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16; John 6:11)
This story might sound familiar. Many years ago there was a woman who became very poor as she sought doctor after doctor for a dozen years, and longed for a cure from her constant bleeding only to find her health getting worse. She had heard enough about Jesus to want to be near Him so she joined the crowd following Him. Her faith moved her to action and she reached down and touched the hem of His robe, thinking, “If I can just touch His robe I will be healed.” And she was! Now Jesus confronted the crowd, “Who touched Me?” She was terrified to single herself out. She also knew that she was healed. Would she flee in panic? No, instead she fell on her knees in front of Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.”
She had suffered long and reaching out to Jesus in faith healed her. Her joy was made complete by His words, “live blessed”. What areas of our lives do we need to leave at the hem of Jesus’ robe? Our healing may or may not be immediate, but the peace we have knowing we are not alone in our suffering gives us the strength to bravely go forward.
Isaiah passed his driver’s test the summer of 2012, so he and I made a 1,000-mile trip from Texas to Michigan and enjoyed visiting old friends along the way. When we arrived, we had a family reunion and celebrated my oldest nephew’s birthday. The following Sunday I sat between my mom and my stepdad as their priest wonderfully taught about Jesus as He encountered this specific woman of faith who had reached out for the hem of His robe. Although my issue was not bleeding, I related to the situation because migraine headaches affected my life for longer than a dozen years. As I pondered all of this, I was becoming more and more ill and I nearly passed out in church. And that was the beginning of yet another three-day migraine cycle. Three days and nights in bed, even with a head that is throbbing, allows a lot of time to think and pray. Jesus can heal; there is no doubt in my mind about that. I will not give up faith and I will praise Him with great joy when that time comes!
Mark 5:34 MSG (also in Luke 8:48 and Matthew 9:22)
Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven and taught many lessons by telling stories and parables, and after He shared the parable of the sower with a large group, the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the crowds in parables. Jesus replied that Isaiah’s prophecy, which would have been familiar to those listening, is fulfilled about a people who will listen but not understand and look and yet not perceive. And then He says something so encouraging: “But your eyes are blessed because they do see, and your ears because they do hear! For I assure you: Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn’t hear them.”
All of Israel’s history was leading up to Jesus. Up until Jesus, the Israelites had leaders, some good, some not so good, but all were incomplete. God’s fullness dwelt fully in Jesus. Were his followers ready to embrace this? Dear Lord, in these days I pray that we would have blessed eyes and blessed ears to understand Your teaching, line up our lives with it, and live with wisdom and joy. Amen.
Matthew 13:16 HCSB
Blessed and more blessed. Jesus was in the middle of rebuking the religious leaders of the day. They had a crazy idea and accused Him of getting His power to remove demons from Satan. In the mix of this, a woman’s voice cried out from the crowd,“The womb that bore You and the one who nursed You are blessed!” Jesus accepted what this woman said and he replied for all to hear, “Even more, those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed!” It is interesting that Jesus does not at all deny that His mother is blessed, but He takes it one step further by saying that those who obey God’s Word are even more blessed. Let’s choose to live in blessed obedience, for that is true blessedness.
Luke 11:27-28 HCSB
What are we to do when our troubles are too heavy for us to lift, when we are too weary to go on? We are not to give up, or to text our complaint to those in our address book, but instead we are blessed when we go to Jesus. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.”
I love the definition here of rest: relief, ease, refreshment, recreation and blessed quiet. For me, there are few places that better paint a picture of this kind of rest than time spent in nature. So with the warm sunlight shining through the trees on a late spring 2012 afternoon in North Carolina, and a calm lake a stone’s throw away, I felt at ease knowing that my Creator is in control. I relished the blessed quietness of the setting and peace seemed to wrap around me like a soft blanket.
Jesus’ invitation recorded by Matthew suggests that this kind of soul rest is available when anyone with a heavy burden brings it to Jesus and the blessed quiet will come whether we are by a lakeside or not. Although the surroundings were serene, several of my friends – ladies I had not seen for years – came to me that weekend with hearts heavy and hurting. I remain thankful for arms for hugging and for wisdom that does not come from me, but from God’s Word. Thank You Jesus; for in the midst of it all, we can come to You, learn from You, know Your love that will never leave us and in doing so, experience relief. Amen.
Matthew 11:29 AMP
Jesus gave his cousin John the affirmation he needed. We are at the point in God’s Story when John the Baptizer is now in prison. Things did not go well for John when he rightly condemned Herod for marrying his own brother Philip’s wife. So from a prison cell, John basically wanted to know, “Jesus, are you the Messiah or is someone else coming?” John desired reassurance that he had lived his life with meaning and purpose as he pointed people to Jesus.
Jesus gave this confirmation: “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” Yes, John, your life has been worth it! Don’t give up now. All of us, from time to time, need this kind of encouragement. Press on; know that God does care when we stand up for the sake of righteousness. He will bless us. Do not give up. Don’t turn away. Not all blessings materialize on earth.
Luke 7:22-23 NLT (also in Matthew 11:4-6)
If you have lived long enough, you have probably experienced the truth that hurt people hurt people. That painfully destructive cycle has unfortunately spun through the ages. How different life can be if we choose to follow Jesus’ advice on this topic: “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.”
Sabina was old when I met her, but age did not define her, joy did. Her family had been killed in Romanian Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Her husband, Richard Wurmbrand, had been tortured for Christ for over a dozen years while in several Romanian prisons. Richard spoke passionately at Russell’s Bible school sharing how one night he met the brutal soldier who had killed his wife’s family and lead him to repentance and trust in the Lord. Returning to his home and gently awakening his wife, Richard introduced this man to Sabina. She reached out with hands of peace to embrace her new brother in Christ. Sabina lived loving her enemies, praying for them to know God’s forgiveness and blessing those who had caused her great pain.
Lord, I pray that the cycle of hurt can end with us. Please use us as instruments of healing to bless people even when our natural instincts are far from it. We need to remember how You forgave us and then call us to forgive others in order to live the way of blessing. This is hard. Please help us. We read about saints throughout history who have learned to trust You for justice and forgiveness. For some practical application right now, I pray for ………. who has hurt me. God, help me to give the situation to You. Help me to do good and love appropriately with Jesus as my Helper. Amen.
Luke 6:27-28 NLT
“What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.” Adjusting our understanding of what can bring happiness is an important action to take.
Jesus’ idea of blessings may surprise us, but it is good to remember that He was very aware of what was still to come in His own life. With the cross yet before Him, His joy was set beyond the pain of this world. He knew that taking on mankind’s shame was going to be brutal. Dying stripped and stretched upon a Roman cross with thugs seemingly in charge is not the death anyone would desire. His hope was beyond those hours when the Father turned His face from Him.
Jesus knew His reward and knew the reason for His death. He lived and died on earth while He was obedient and Heaven-focused. When we are so much like Jesus that people who do not love Him take out their frustration and hatred on us, have hope. Aligning our way of seeing life in light of His truth can fill us with joy. God wants us to live blessed now, keeping in mind the reward that is yet to come.
Luke 6:22-23 NLT
Jesus holds a seminar similar to the Sermon on the Mount but this time the venue is along a plain. Luke is the one who recorded this teaching with all of its important insights. The down-to-earth way in which The Message translation puts it makes it easy to see why so many people eagerly followed Jesus and wanted to hear His teaching. Today we still have needs and Jesus still meets the needs of those who trust in Him.
“You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding. You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal. You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.” Not exactly the first things that may come to mind when we think of living the blessed life, but then again, Jesus teaches to the heart of the situation. He goes deep where our needs really are and when we live His way, we are blessed.
Luke 6:21-22 MSG
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…” This verse begins the more lengthy explanation Jesus gives to each of the teaching points He had just shared in Matthew 5:3-10. He started with the ending and then over the next few chapters Jesus filled out more of what it all means to be blessed.
Being blessed comes down to living life right, not just in actions like the law put forth in the Old Testament, but also in our innermost being where our thoughts are. Jesus is holistic; He desires all of me; all of you. Our wisdom grows as we take in and live out what Jesus teaches and He is good to spell out the plan in detail. I encourage you to take the time to read through Matthew 5-7 in one sitting and if you can, go outside with your Bible and pretend you are on a mountainside. See if you do not respond with amazement and astonishment like the crowds did when they first heard this good news message. Live blessed!
When you get to the pivotal verse of Jesus’ message (the last verse of chapter 5), you will read in most Bibles the word “perfect” to describe both God and how we are to be. Here are my two favorite translations for that verse, for they help to better communicate what Jesus taught. “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” That one is from The Message, and the next one from the Amplified Bible also gives good clarification: “You, therefore, must be perfect [growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity], as your heavenly Father is perfect.” For those who choose to live by Jesus’ teachings there is great reward coming.
P.S. After a very winding drive I had the pleasure to read portions of Jesus’ sermon from the top of one of Colorado’s highest mountains, Pikes Peak, September, 2014. The high elevation made the air cold so I was very content with the evening sun warming me through the windows of the rental car and Jesus’ teachings warming my heart to press on in blessedness.
Matthew 5:11-12a NIV
The last of the beatitudes taught by Jesus that day on the mountain is similar to His first one. The “blessed person” receives the Kingdom of Heaven. I love how Jesus does not sway from what He knows is needed. And what we all need is awareness of, and entrance into, the Kingdom of Heaven. Although it includes the place where the redeemed go when life on earth is over, there is more to it. The Kingdom of Heaven is wherever God, the King, is in charge and reigns.
While living in the kingdom of Thailand it is very easy to recognize who the king is. His image is everywhere: on billboards, on the currency, in the form of statues, clips about his life are shown before each movie in the theaters, and his photo is displayed as the highest picture in the homes of Thai families. Thai citizens know what it is like to live in a kingdom, yet less then 2% of the population know the King of Heaven.
One rainy morning I ran with friends through Thailand’s second largest city. Crossing a bridge with banners of the king waving in the breeze we caught a glimpse of a cross on the other side of the river marking the location of Chiang Mai’s first Christian church. As we ran through the ancient city passing temples, markets, monks and others going about their day, we prayed, and as we prayed we sang out Jesus’ teaching from the day He taught on a mountain. I started us off with, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirt” and my running companions replied, “For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” When we got to the eighth beatitude, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”, I thought of the cemetery where some of the early Christian workers had been buried.
If we are persecuted, wronged, offended, ill treated, or oppressed because we are on the side of rightness, Jesus tells us to be happy. We are living in the place where God is in control. Rather than seeing His photo everywhere, we see and live in the very world He spoke into existence. Stay on His side and at His side. He loves you and is giving to you His Kingdom.“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” As God reigns here and now, we have access to Him and His Kingdom, even though we do not see Him fully. There is the present blessing of knowing this truth and there is a blessing coming that is so worth holding on to. Hold on to hope in times of persecution. God is still King.
Matthew 5:10 KJV
I wonder if a cool breeze was peacefully blowing through the grass as Jesus continued to teach the gathered ones while they listened, taking it all in. Jesus is the Prince of Peace so it only makes sense that the children of God would long to be peacemakers too, like our Brother, like our Father. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” James, the half-brother of Jesus also understood and taught on this subject of peacemaking. He says that peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
Do we love to be involved in a good conflict? Does it excite us to put another log on the flame in an argument? If our goal is not resolution, restoration and peace then it might be best to check our motives. Jesus says that the peacemakers will be the blessed ones. It is not too late, or too early, to get good at being a peacemaker. It will help if certain things like anger and contempt are thought of as working against the goal of being a peacemaker. Some of the best peacemakers have peace with God, and out of that settled assurance they can offer peace to others.
Being a peacemaker is a worthy prize to pursue. The treasure is eternal as well as immediate. Lord, I pray that You would make us instruments of Your peace. May we be so thankful to You for the mercy that You have shown us that we would be quick to overlook an offense when it comes to our feelings being hurt, or our pride being bruised. As much as it is up to us, help us to live at peace with those around us. Amen.
Matthew 5:9 ESV
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” To be pure means to be holy, set apart, clean, not mixed. Think of 100% pure orange juice; it does not have anything else added. God says, “Be holy” because He is holy and He is whole. He is not mixed when it comes to His motives. He says from the beginning we are not to add to Him. So do not worship Him and also worship idols of any kind. When our motives and lives are pure we will see God.
The year 2002 was the second time we lived in a village in China and as part of home schooling the kiddos we studied the Beatitudes. What helped us learn all eight of these principles Jesus taught was our attempt to draw them. The sixth of these blessings, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” was illustrated by a pair of glasses with bright yellow and gold colors coming from them. We need to do what it takes to make the teachings of Jesus a part of our life.
Practicing purity does not stop when marriage starts nor does purity only refer to marital fidelity. Keeping a pure heart affects all of our thinking. Pollution of a variety of kinds can have significant damaging effects. But choosing to live pure, non-mixed lives is a choice that will bless us our whole life long. And what about the benefit? The pure in heart will see God.
Matthew 5:8 NIV
Mercy. What are some good mercy words? How about: compassion, kindness, forgiveness, sympathy, and empathy. We all want mercy, but do we really want to give it when others are in need of it? In God’s economy, we are blessed to receive mercy when we are filled with mercy to the point it is flowing from us to others. Interesting! “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.”
God’s Story tells us we are more blessed to give than to receive, and here the blessing seems to work both ways. When we give mercy it opens us up so we can receive even more! God is the best at giving mercy – undeserved goodness. When we think about all He has given, all that He has forgiven, and we allow gratitude, instead of guilt, to well up within us, we are at a good starting point for being able to give mercy.
Treating others the way we would like to be treated really can work for the good of everyone, especially where mercy is concerned. We need to take compassion and put it to action! Sending a heart-felt sympathy card makes sense, but what about extending kindness in traffic, offering forgiveness instead of letting a grudge grow, and listening from the other person’s point of view? We are blessed when we care.
P.S. I Thank God for mercy during the fall 2015 retreat in Virginia with dear ladies from Antioch. Even with a three-day headache, God gave me clarity to teach and great joy by reconnecting with friends. I found myself very cared for during those rainy days away from home.
Matthew 5:7 MSG
And then there are the hungry ones. They are not hungry for Tex-Mex or a good Thai meal or even for bread and water. They are hungry and thirsty for things to be right. They want life to be honest, decent and virtuous. “Blessed and fortunate and happy and spiritually prosperous (in that state in which the born-again child of God enjoys His favor and salvation) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (uprightness and right standing with God), for they shall be completely satisfied!”
What will it take to make us feel complete? Not lonely, not grabby, but fully satisfied and filled? By pursuing a right relationship with both God and people, we will be blessed. Here is a little caution to add: we will experience opposition on this quest to be fully satisfied with God’s character of righteousness. Our choice to abstain from things that no longer bring about real satisfaction may cause others to feel defensive. But the rewards? Ahhhhhh. Blessed.
Matthew 5:6 AMP
Those who are mild, patient, long-suffering, content, and meek are the kinds of people who are blessed to become the heirs of the earth. We are to be meek toward God and I wonder what the world would be like if each country in it were ruled by the humble? What would it be like if pride, arrogance and greediness no longer dictated the plan for the day? Picture people driving their cars with patience, workers content with their pay, co-workers, neighbors and family members actually esteeming others more highly than themselves. It makes me think of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
God, give us that kind of goodness that is in Heaven while we are here on this upside-down earth. “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” I have heard it said that humility is shy; shine light on humility and she will look for a shadow. Then I saw it happen. On Tuesdays at noon a group of godly ladies, most closer to eighty years old than forty, meet faithfully to pray for missionaries around the world. I have learned so much from these ladies since joining them in the autumn of 2011. We studied a book together which taught us that we are to put on godly character like clothing, and the next lesson we would discuss focused on humility. Not one hand shot up quickly; no voice boldly said, “Sure, I’m great at being humble, I will tell you all about it.” These humble ladies have grown in their Christ-like maturity by spending time with Jesus. Jesus displayed patience, long-suffering, and contentment as a humble servant. Does a watching world see us wearing humility? I have a feeling it would look good on us.
Matthew 5:5 NLT
Some have renamed this particular teaching of Jesus, the “Be Happy Attitudes”, and a few modern translations use the word “happy” for “blessed”. Mourners, the meek, those who really want righteousness, the merciful ones, the pure, those who are peacemakers – all of these are blessed, are happy. Even though outwardly it may not look or feel like it, when our hearts connect to the heart of God over these things, there can be a settled assurance, a rightness, a “happy” no matter the circumstance. Don’t miss out on opportunities to be blessed.
“Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.”
It may take weeping through the night but healing joy can come in the mourning. Yes, the mourning. It could be said that the comfort, relief, and freedom from grief comes through healthy mourning. We mourn because things are not the way they are supposed to be. There is often a process of grieving we experience before we feel comfort.
To really experience the blessedness that Jesus teaches about we should also mourn our sins. Not just brush them aside, but truly mourn how we choose our selfishness over God’s goodness. When we take our sick feeling, the grieving we have because of sinful choices, to Jesus for forgiveness He changes our mourning to comfort. When His comforting comes, there is peace where once there was grief, and we know it as a blessing. Jesus is offering to His followers a new way of living life. A way that is blessed, a way that He alone can provide.
Matthew 5:4 NKJV
The cousins John and Jesus are now men; John fulfilled the prophecy to prepare the way for the Lord and Jesus began His ministry by preaching repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Jesus was baptized, was tempted after a forty-day desert fast, chose his twelve apprentices and taught about living life in a way that has meaning. In each of the Gospel accounts Jesus always does what is right. He is brave, smart, compassionate and powerful. He traveled extensively, meeting the needs of people. He healed all kinds of ailments, delivered others from demons, and returned sight and hearing to people who lacked these senses. He fed the masses and modeled the way to connect with His Father.
Now the time had come for Jesus’ first formal and maybe most famous of all His teachings. With a crowd gathered around Him, He went up on a mountain, sat down and taught. And Matthew, one of Jesus’ followers, recorded the sermon so all who later would read it would have the opportunity to be blessed. “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Whole books can be written about the meaning of this first “blessed” alone. Jesus could have stopped right here with this first teaching point and given a lifetime to ponder it, could we really know the implications of being poor in spirit and how that is a blessing, not to mention what it means to have the Kingdom of Heaven?
We are blessed when we realize we do not yet have all we can have when it comes to living in God’s Spirit, and so we eagerly press into God. We will see the phrase, “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” again. The first and also the final of those mountain top blessings bookend all the blessings in between. If you want to go a little deeper in your study of Jesus’ teachings of how to live the blessed life, look up the daily verse in a different translation and read Matthew 5 in its entirety each day. Time spent with Jesus is blessed time indeed.
Matthew 5:3 HCSB
God’s people, still in Babylonian captivity, needed hope so the first week of August we read of Job’s story of extreme faithfulness in intense suffering. God’s prophets provided assurance as the Israelites, now called the Jews, traveled back to their war-torn land. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemiah helped to restore the hearts of God’s people and rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. We then meet the main character in God’s Story. Jesus, God’s greatest blessing, comes to earth! Luke tells of the birth and early childhood of Jesus.
Fast-forward twelve years. Jesus and his whole family made the annual excursion to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. When their group began the journey home, Jesus stayed behind without his parents knowing it, and spent His time with the teachers at the Temple. After three days of frantically searching for Jesus, Mary and Joseph found Him. If you have ever experienced the panic attack that comes when a child in your care is lost, you have more than likely felt the emotional rollercoaster of terrifying fear then relief and great joy when the child is found. We can almost hear that extreme emotion in Mary’s voice when she and Joseph find Jesus.
Meanwhile, all who had heard Jesus at the Temple were amazed with Him. When his parents arrived he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people. Jesus lived a blessed life; blessed does not always equate to easy. Often, blessings flow freely when we practice obedience but choosing obedience can be hard for us. Think of Jesus in His life, tempted beyond what we will ever face, yet He chose to obey. Even up to death on a cross.
Lord Jesus, You lived the life of love and obedience that we should live, but we don’t. You died the death that we should have died because of our sins. Your goodness in exchange for mankind’s badness is news too good to be true. Yet You are true, blessed by Your Father to bless the world with perfect love. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! Amen. It is good though to remember that at this point in God’s Story, Jesus is still a boy. Although we do not have a picture of Jesus climbing a tree, building His first birdhouse, or winning a soccer game, Jesus grew. He went through all the ages and stages, from infancy to manhood as He matured. Jesus, keep growing us, I pray.
Luke 2:51-52 MSG
Jesus’ first day in the Temple began with joyful praise and thanksgiving to God as Simeon proclaimed that his own eyes had seen salvation. Holding the eight-day-old Baby, he was looking at the Light of the world. He turned to address Jesus’ stunned parents. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him.” This “mixed blessing” must have been a challenge for the young mother to take in. Mary pondered all these things and more. Jesus was the Son of God yet He was an infant in her arms. She would live to see Him adored and opposed. Diverse responses to Jesus continue today. O come let us adore Him!
My own son, Isaiah, had just turned one year old when the five of us celebrated our first Christmas in North Carolina. Following my mom’s Christmas tradition, I made rock candy and then we left the warm kitchen for an outdoor adventure. The kiddos were all bundled up as we approached the live nativity scene in our rural town. Laying decorated bags of the candy at the cradle in the makeshift stall, they were in awe of “Baby Jesus”. I thought of Mary and all that her heart must have experienced in the thirty-three years that her Son lived on earth. The good times, the sad times, the times that may have seemed too hard to endure. God creates us with a wide range of emotion. Jesus is with us in all times and He remains a joy to many, just like Simeon said in his blessing.
Luke 2:34 NLT
Jesus was born, peace and salvation and justice and power and compassion all wrapped up and lying in a manger. When it was time for the Baby’s dedication, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. There in Jerusalem was a man named Simeon, devout and righteous, and he had waited his whole life for the coming Messiah. That day was just an ordinary day and then something extraordinary happened. Simeon’s joy burst forth when he saw Jesus and he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word for my eyes have seen your salvation…”
What are we expectantly waiting our whole lifetime to experience? What joy are we longing for? Just picture taking God in your very arms and blessing Him. That is what Simeon was allowed to do. What a day that must have been. Jesus, You are an incredible blessing to behold.
Russell and I were living in Dallas and one Saturday joined others for Shabbat at Baruch Hashem Messianic Synagogue. It was my first time to worship Yahweh in a Jewish context and I loved the festive music and dancing. It was after a reverent reading and teaching of Torah that the unexpected happened. An eighty-something-year-old Jew from New York held his hands to his face and exclaimed, again and again, as happy tears freely flowed, “Yeshua! I have found Messiah!” My eyes too filled with tears of joy as this man saw with his own eyes that Jesus is Lord! He is our salvation.
Luke 2:28-30 ESV
Are you as curious as I am to hear what it was that Zechariah first said now that he could speak? He began with: “Blessed (praised and extolled and thanked) be the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and brought deliverance and redemption to His people!” Zechariah ends his praise and prophecy by saying that his son John would prepare the way for the Lord, the Lord who will give light to those in darkness and guidance to the path of peace. We can be so thankful that the Lord Jesus still guides His children from darkness to peace. Praise God for how He rescues and redeems and redirects. Later John would indeed call out as one in the desert. Known as John the Baptizer, he prepared the way for the Lord and he urged people to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. This was an exciting time and John raised a bit of a stir among the religious leaders of that day. But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself in God’s Story.
Luke 1:68 AMP
Several months had passed and at the end of the first chapter of Luke’s first book, we read about the birth of the baby that leaped in Elizabeth’s womb back when Mary visited. Now it is Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah’s turn to speak out a blessing. For the past nine months, Zechariah had been unable to talk because he doubted the angel who said that he would have a son. So when he was asked about naming his son, he wrote on a tablet, “His name is John.” And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. How happy he must have been to get his voice back! I pray we would never lose our voice when we have the opportunity to sing forth the praises of God who is so very worthy.
My mind goes back to the many different times in my life when I have strived to learn a new language. Some people appear to be blessed and new languages seem to flow effortlessly; not so with me. Intentional language study can build up vocabulary and confidence. Intentional Bible study can increase wisdom and love for God. But in both cases the need to take the study and put it into loving action is essential to really live out the purpose of the study. Life changes when we give appropriate love to those God places in our path, those who need to know and see and hear and feel just how real and good God is. How happy I am when words do come together and my tongue is loosed and the things I say intersect with a kind deed and the outcome blesses God. After nearly a year of silence, Zechariah blessed God with his voice.
An added side-note: In August of 2014 our family gathered for what we thought was a surprise birthday party for Hannah, but we were all surprised when Hannah and Andrew announced that they were expecting a baby! In order for them to personally tell others, she asked me not to share the happy news for a few days. I felt like Zechariah during that time, but then the world heard, “I’m going to be a Grammie!”
Luke 1:64 ESV
The joy inside Mary could not be kept there. In a song called the Magnificat, Mary poured out her great happiness to God her Savior: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” What a glorious reminder that we are blessed because of what God has done for us. Holy is His name! His name is worthy of our songs and praise.
The little Baby in Mary’s womb would one day be her Savior. And He would be the Savior for all who would call out to Him for mercy. There is mercy for those who fear the Lord, mercy instead of what we deserve. August 26th is my birthday and as I grow older each year I’m more aware of God’s many gifts in my life: the present of His Presence, the gift of mercy, and peace, and joy. God has done great things for me by giving me the loving family I was born into. He blessed me with Russell and then blessed us with a family of our own that continues to grow. I am so happy to have meaningful friendships with people all over the world and I see these relationships as a gift from God. Mary was blessed, and so is each one of us. May we magnify the Lord and take great joy in God our Savior!
Luke 1:46b-50 ESV
Both Mary and Elizabeth were refreshed and encouraged by the special time they shared together. Their bellies were growing and so were the hopes for the child each would bear. These boys would grow up as cousins. Picture Mary so young and not even married and then Elizabeth so old that her husband Zechariah doubted the angel when he was told that a son would be born to him. Perhaps Elizabeth embraced Mary again as she looked deep in her eyes and said, “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” This blessing was linked to belief, belief in the faithfulness of God. How blessed we are indeed when we believe the Lord.
It did not make logical sense to me that God would call us back to Asia within a year of leaving Thailand. This was some of my reasoning: Our China team was well prepared to go forward with the ministry and we were excitedly engaged in new ministry opportunities in England. With Hannah, our oldest daughter in her first semester of college in Texas, my heart was thankful that we lived in London, just one plane ride away, rather than halfway around the globe. Sophie and Isaiah were thriving with new challenges, stretched with their college-like classes, contributing to their British football teams, and interacting with peers from very diverse backgrounds. And besides, I really liked being able to interact in English! To me, returning to Asia seemed like going backwards. But we believed it was God calling us, so we followed God’s guidance.
In the summer of 2009 we said our good-byes to new friends in England, sold and gave away what we owned and moved to Thailand for the third time, this time in an extended leadership role. It was during this two-year assignment that as I read through the Bible, the word “bless” popped out more and more as I reflected on God’s ongoing blessings in history. I also began to see the many ways He blessed us in our obedience to follow Him, even when it did not initially make sense to move from London.
I sensed He was prompting me to write a book, to proclaim His many blessings throughout His Story. My desire is that through God this blessing book will be accomplished. I pray that He will be honored with it, and we would live on in His blessings, being blessed and blessing others. My hope is that belief in the Lord will grow which would lead to thankfulness in the lives of His children. Lord, this book of blessings is a bit ambitious; please keep giving me Your wisdom as we build it page by page. You are so good to continue to bless me as I write; please bless all of us as we read. Amen.
P.S. In the early spring of 2015, Russell was given a gift of a week at a timeshare in Arkansas for presiding over the marriage of a delightful couple. We enjoyed the change in scenery and the remote setting was a great place to re-read The Blessing Book and prayerfully jot down Action Options for the new editions. I love that what began in a notebook so many years ago continues to grow and grow me!
Luke 1:45 NLT
Gabriel told Mary that she was going to be the mother of the Son of the Most High. Mary asked the announcing angel a question, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” She got her answer and humbly took in all this new information. Young Mary’s wedding plans could have come to a screeching halt when Joseph heard that she was pregnant. But Joseph, after receiving some confirming news in a dream, went forward with the wedding arrangements.
Mary left her hometown, traveled to a town in Judea’s hill country and spent her first trimester with her older cousin Elizabeth who was thrilled to see her. When Mary entered Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth excitedly greeted Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.” What a greeting! Mary was glowing with happiness as she shared the intriguingly good news with her relative and received from Elizabeth an encouraging double blessing. Mary was blessed and so was her Child. Good news is even better when it is shared.
Luke 1:42b NLT
We are introduced to the lead character in God’s Story, and Jesus changes everything! The time for God’s promised One to live on earth had come. God chose His holy messenger Gabriel to bring the first blessing of the New Testament, and it was delivered to a young maiden named Mary. Mary was a simple, country girl from a small town called Galilee in Nazareth and she was engaged to a hard working carpenter. I wonder what she was doing when the holy visitor arrived. Was she pondering her upcoming wedding as she went about her daily chores?
Gabriel’s appearance may have startled her as he proclaimed, “Hail, O favored one [endued with grace]! The Lord is with you! Blessed (favored of God) are you before all other women!” Then seeing her shock, Gabriel told her not to be afraid. How would Mary respond to the news he was sent to give? Would she receive this blessing and assignment from God? How would it affect the rest of her life?
Sometimes a blessing can confuse and even disturb us, like this news did for Mary. We also receive invitations that require faith to go forward and we then choose to either disregard the message or to accept the blessing (that often will require change). What we decide can affect not only our future but also the future of many others. Mary’s news included the phrase, “the Lord is with you.” Great joy can be experienced as we live knowing that the Lord is always with us. May we focus on His Presence when faced with decisions that are far too big for us to handle on our own.
Luke 1:28b AMP
Celebrate with me one more time, lifting high our great God as we bless His holy name! This was a meaningful time for all who were present as God’s Story continued to unfold. Levites joined together and prayed: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” People recited pages of God’s faithfulness throughout history and everyone at the gathering swore an oath to commit themselves to follow God.
Oh how I wanted this time of dedicated celebration to be what His people focused on during the four hundred-year silence between the Old and New Testaments. But sadly, God’s dearly loved and chosen people drifted into neglecting Him and in time they were again living in their self-centered rebellious ways. This tragic shift did not happen overnight but it happened. How easy it would have been, and justified too, for God to have let mankind go on down the road to destruction. Praise be to God; He does not leave us in our sin, but through His Son Jesus He offers hope upon hope when we turn to Him.
Nehemiah 9:5b-6 NIV
There was a lot to be sorted out for the newly re-established city with its completed walls. Ezra and Nehemiah were a great team. With Jerusalem now stable again, some of God’s people chose to live within her walls and were blessed to do so, and the rest returned to their towns throughout Israel. The most important thing in the lives of those who had traveled from exile was the re-institution of the holidays, and for God’s law to be read again in public.
They needed God’s wisdom and were ready to hear it. The time was right and all of the Israelites who were old enough to understand gathered. God’s law was read. There was mass confession of sins, then great joy and celebration followed. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
The joy of the Lord truly was their strength as they lived in blessedness, and for a time, close to Him. Lord, You indeed are the great God of all, and worthy of praise and worship. As we Your people read Your Story and see how You have called us as a people to worship You, may we honor You with obedience and thankfulness. May we often celebrate Your goodness to us. May we see Your blessings as gifts we love to unwrap and delight in and share. Amen.
Nehemiah 8:6 ESV
It had been fourteen years since Ezra returned to Jerusalem. Word got back to Nehemiah, a Jew serving in the Persian palace, that Jerusalem’s city walls were still in disarray. As the newly appointed governor to Jerusalem, Nehemiah received a commission from the Persian king to make the journey to Jerusalem to help revitalize the city. Nehemiah was faithful and put into motion the task before him as he rallied the work force to focus on rebuilding the city walls. Nehemiah was a man who cared for God’s people and talked to the Lord in prayer. Remember, O my God, all that I have done for these people, and bless me for it. God did bless him: the wall was completed in fifty-two days! Even Israel’s enemies had acknowledged that God had accomplished the task!
We had been living in our supervisor’s home in London while they were on an extended stay in the US, and my Bible reading for the year had me at this point in God’s Story. Although a lot of good was coming from our living situation, I was anxious to move into our own place and begin to establish our identity in that new area. For fifty-two days in a row I prayed, and house after house that we sought to rent fell through. I remember thinking how Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of a whole city with God’s help. Certainly God could help us find a home. And He did. And I grew closer to God in the anticipation of His provision.
His desire was to give us more than just a house; He provided this home at just the right time so we could host a house-warming Christmas party as the conclusion of a counseling class I attended at the local university. So, my classmates – students of various ages from a variety of countries, heard more good news of Jesus while we gathered in our new 110-year-old home. What great (or small) thing does the Lord want to accomplish through you? Are you talking to Him about it? Prayer brings us closer to the One who desires to give to us the desires of our hearts.
Nehemiah 5:19 NLT
Genealogies and national archives are an important part of any nation’s history and it is possible that Ezra may have been the one who took the time to record name upon name for the official records of the nation of Israel. Tucked in a list of names of those from the tribe of Judah is a request of blessing made to God by an individual. Jabez called out to the God of Israel: “If only You would bless me, extend my border, let Your hand be with me, and keep me from harm, so that I will not cause any pain.” And God granted his request.
That’s about all we know about Jabez, a man who God’s Story says was more honorable than his brothers. Are we bold to call out to God in prayer like Jabez did? God, I pray that Your hand of protection would be on us and that we would not cause others pain as we go through our days. But because we live in a fallen world, we will not always be free from giving or receiving pain. We need to focus on You no matter what the situation holds. This life is a training ground for how we relate to You. Bless us Lord, yes, bless us and may we live faithfully in the realm of influence that You give to us. Amen.
1 Chronicles 4:10 HCSB
Ezra was a priest, a committed teacher of God’s law, a faithful scribe, and a successful diplomat. He and 1,500 of his fellow Jews made up the second assembly to return to Jerusalem from Babylon and they did so with the blessings, as well as the provisions, of the new Persian king. Ezra shared his gratitude as he took his teaching ministry on the road; the road back home. Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.
This journey took Ezra and his companions five months but the final restoration of the city would take much longer. Ezra was a man of godly action and that was a good thing. The city walls were not the only things in need of rebuilding. Ezra was also used by God to rebuild the lives of the disloyal people who lived within those city walls. He was God’s man for the job and his teachings and example can encourage and influence us even today. May we too take courage for whatever God puts before us. If God is for us, who can be against us?
Ezra 7:27-28 ESV
Return to God what belongs to Him and He will return a blessing to you. It is not too late. Listen to what He says: “You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. A blessed nation is a nation that acts on its faith in Almighty God. God doesn’t desire mere lip service; He wants the real deal. Even though we cannot fully see or comprehend Him now, there is nothing more real than God. How we obey His Word is a reflection of our values and it has always been that way.
This warning about robbing God reminds me of a story that did not end well for a king in New Testament times. Herod the Great’s grandson was the new leader on the throne and he caused much trouble for the early church. Although I do not know of his tithing practices, King Herod robbed God of the praise and glory due Him and was immediately eaten by worms and then he died. There may be a number of reasons that motivate us to give to God. I love giving back to Him because all good blessings come from Him.
Malachi 3:9-10, 12 NIV
Although the word “bless” is not found in the story of Esther, she herself was certainly blessed by God and by man. The beautiful chosen queen did not selfishly enjoy her elevated position but she humbly used it to bless others. In fact, she saved the lives of the Jews who were scattered across 127 provinces. Esther lived during a pivotal time in Israel’s history: the Temple had been rebuilt (the same Temple that Jesus would visit during His time on earth) yet many of God’s people living in Esther’s time had grown tired of doing good. It is hard to believe that again after all God had rescued them from that they dishonored God and ignored His covenant promises, and “going to church” became a meaningless and routine task.
God warned the unethical priests through the prophet Malachi: “And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if you will not take it to heart, to give glory to My name,” says the Lord of hosts,“I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings.” God’s warnings are not idle words. If rewards did not woo the leaders back, then strong correction would certainly come.
It is the same now as it was then: those in leadership positions hold a great responsibility. Peace is what God offers but evil is what many of His people seek. Wise people honor God and listen to His Words. If we need to make changes in our attitude toward God, His Story, and church, I pray we would do so. He is not like some college professors who give credit to students just for attending; God desires for us to actually know Him by spending time with Him. It is true that He expects us to learn and apply what He teaches so that our lives will be lived in better, blessed ways. When we are living blessed, may we, like Esther, live to bless others.
Malachi 2:1-2a NKJV
With vivid detail, the last of Zechariah’s prophecies points to the Messiah yet to come. Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt… your king will bring peace to the nations. His realm will stretch from sea to sea… Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon. Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles.
What a promise! What an awesome King is Jesus! I love how we are blessed to have the New Testament and can read in wonderful detail of the life of Jesus. He really knows how to bless because He does what He sees His Father do. Jesus lived to restore whatever needed to be restored in the lives of those who trusted Him. He died to bring us into a holy relationship with Him and His Father whom He loves. It has always been and always will be, that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, rescued, redeemed, restored. Thank You, Lord Jesus!
Zechariah 9:9-12 NLT
The barren and desolate land of Jerusalem was about to be revived! Judah and Israel had a bad reputation from the neighboring countries. But God was about to change that around by giving His people what they would need to succeed as they valued justice and mercy. This was good news. And good news has a way of traveling. “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.”
People today are still blessed by a visit to Jerusalem. Back in 1985 as an atheistic existentialist in the Marine Corps, Russell walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. And as he walked this road of Jesus’ suffering, he began to think about the man Jesus. This reflection led to questions, reading, searching, and more questions. About a year later in the Pacific Northwest, Russell became a follower of Jesus. Although Russell has not spent much of his life in Washington, I think it’s interesting that both his physical birth and his spiritual birth both took place in that state.
Jesus changed Russell’s life. Knowing Jesus revolutionizes everything. He is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. He is the Prince of Peace. He is worthy of our praise. Wherever we are, let us worship the Lord and search out His good blessings in our lives. Maybe even write them down, if that helps us. May the good news of His blessings continue to travel around the world to people of every nation. Russell is one of my favorite good news teachers and I love learning about the teachings of Jesus from him.
Zechariah 8:20-22 NLT
The Jews needed assurance reestablishing their lives based on following God. God gave Zechariah eight visions that provided affirmation and affected areas of their lives as a community. During this point in God’s Story, Zerubbabel was the governor of Judea and he is mentioned in the fifth vision that involved the completion of the Temple. “Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him! And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone of the Temple in place, the people will shout: ‘May God bless it! May God bless it!’ ”
They blessed God with their obedience and asked Him to bless the work of their hands as they built the second Temple. Today God’s people are not building an edifice to show loyalty to Him, but with the Holy Spirit living within us, we are the Temple of God. We do not belong to ourselves. God paid a high price for each of us. We have the high calling of honoring God with our bodies, minds and our action. Thinking about our identity and joyfully realizing that we really do belong to Him, gives us hope. From a sense of belonging we can then pursue a good direction for our actions. May God bless us as we grow in His ways, building our character on the foundation of His love, forgiveness and peace. In these days may God’s people pray: God, bless Your Temple, Your people working together were Your Spirit dwells! Amen.
Zechariah 4:7 NLT
With the okay from the Persian king Cyrus, over 42,000 Jews made the long trip back to Jerusalem. Can you image such a caravan? After all those years of living outside of their homeland, emotions must have been high as they walked day after day, mile after mile. Did the tired travelers sing songs of joy as they neared their beloved land after four months of walking? Provisions had been made to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and a Jewish teacher and scribe named Ezra (still living in Babylon) recorded correspondence about the progress as well as the opposition.
Prophets Haggai (an older man) and Zechariah (a younger man) tag-teamed to get the attention of God’s people who had now returned from exile. God said, “Give careful thought to your ways” and He pointed out how the people were busy making their own homes luxurious while the Temple still remained in ruins. Something needed to change. What changed was the attitude of the people, and they began in earnest to start the Temple restoration project.
Prosperity would come from their commitment to go forward with building the Temple. Up until this time, crops had not produced their yields. God then said, “But from this day on I will bless you.” And He did. And He still does! It is not that big of a leap for us to picture our lives and our priorities today. Are we spinning in circles thinking that the next new thing is going to bring lasting satisfaction? Let us be content with what we have, being sure to give attention to what draws us closer to God. There is always blessedness in the peace we have when we are near Him, when we give careful thought to our ways.
Haggai 2:19b HCSB
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