Oh how those days must have sped by! Jesus was back and alive, answering questions and the disciples’ trust grew. But the time had come in God’s Story for Jesus to return to His Father and before He left, He gave the promise of the Holy Spirit. He also left His friends with instructions to share the good news: Jesus lived to love us, died to redeem us and rose again to conquer sin and death forever. His job on earth was complete and it was time to get back to Heaven, His home. Jesus was with His friends when He ascended. He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. I cannot even imagine how wonderful it must have been to receive that final personal blessing from Jesus. It led them to worship Him and true worship leads to obedience and we can read about the adventure of obedience in the Book of Acts. Let us live a life to bless God, and let’s live it with great joy!
Jesus died on the cross that He had carried. His death paid for all the sins of all mankind. For my sins, your sins and beyond, He died. He died, but He did not stay dead. He is alive! And this news seems too good to be true. After God raised Jesus from the grave, Jesus met with several of His close friends who were all astonished to see Him. Then Jesus walked down a road with two of His own followers and talked about everything that had just taken place and explained so many things to them about Israel’s history; God’s Story. But on this seven-mile journey toward Emmaus, they did not know that it was Jesus with them. When they reached their destination they invited their travel companion in by saying, “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them. It was as He reclined at the table with them that He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their sight.
Sometimes I wonder, “What will it really take for us to see Jesus?” Lord, open our eyes to You. Lord, let us see that You are the blessing. Amen.
Pilate, the Roman governor, did not find any reason to put Jesus to death, but because the Jews demanded crucifixion he complied. Jesus was mistreated in many excruciating ways on the road to His death. Exhausted beyond what most humans will ever experience, He began that journey carrying His own death weapon, the cross. Many people wept for Jesus; their love, confusion and anguish poured out in tears. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’” Hard times would come and Jesus knew it. He also knew He would overcome. Through Him, we can too.
One of my favorite promises of Jesus was spoken by Him near the end of His life. I can picture Him with His disciples as they left the Upper Room and walked together to the garden. On the way, Jesus shared with them so much that it must have been hard to take it all in. Just before Jesus turned His eyes toward Heaven to pray, He told His friends, “in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” As their world came tumbling down, did His followers remember His words? Do we experience peace when we know that Jesus overcame the world? Jesus was not taken by surprise, but when we are, let’s remember His words of peace and follow His example of prayer.
In the spring of 2014, I experienced (in a way I had not yet encountered, even by watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ) just a little bit of the reality that was Jesus’ as He died in agony. Lying in the emergency room with several bones of my ankle crushed, I thought of Jesus with not one, but both of his feet nailed to the cross, supporting the weight of His body and the weight of mankind’s sin. In pain, I prayed to Him. His reply brought peace in the midst of suffering. “You are experiencing the pain of the world but remember that I overcame this world of hurt, sin and even death. You are not going to have this pain forever. Trust Me. Take heart. In Me you may have peace.”
The Passover meal had been prepared in the Upper Room. Jesus had humbly washed the feet of His followers that were around the table and then He spoke the words that we often hear when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said, “Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I’ll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives.” Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.” As often as we do this, may we always remember Jesus – broken for us, to have wholeness through Him.
The small youth group at a rural church in North Carolina grew in number and in maturity during the time Russell was the associate pastor and oversaw the youth ministry. I had the privilege of teaching this same group of teenagers on Sunday mornings, and we met in an attic room of the church which we dubbed the Upper Room. Week by week we read the Gospel of John as if we were acting out a play so each of us could better understand the interactions Jesus had with people. When we came to the part where Jesus was having His final meal with His friends, our Upper Room group sensed the seriousness of what was taking place. Jesus offered a new agreement. This new covenant was, and still is today, what He offers to those who trust Him: His lifeblood poured out for our death-sins to be forgiven. Jesus, thank You.
Luke 22:18-19 MSG (also in Matthew 26:26-27; Mark 14:22)
Jesus obediently entered Jerusalem just the way the prophets foretold: on the back of a donkey. This week was going to change His life and it would change the lives of everyone who would believe in Him throughout time. What was on Jesus’ mind as the donkey eased its way along the road that would lead to suffering? What would we have been thinking had we been one of those who walked beside Him?
The Catholic Church originated the Stations of the Cross, which poignantly depict the final hours of Jesus’ life. The first outdoor encounter of the Stations of the Cross that I can remember was in a forest in northern Michigan. Heavy pine scent took the place of words as I walked from one station to the next. I was a young girl and I tried to imagine how painful it must have been for Jesus to die. As the sun streamed through the large trees, my family came upon a clearing, and there before us was the world’s largest crucifix. The thirty-one foot high bronze Jesus on an even larger wooden cross had an impact upon me. Luke’s Gospel account will record Jesus on the cross, but for now let’s read the prelude of what would be world changing history.
As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives— the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Does that sound familiar? When Jesus was born, an angelic choir sang out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” From His birth to His death and beyond, Jesus is announced with blessings and with an incredible amount of rejoicing. He knew His purpose and did not waver from it. The fourteenth, and generally the final Station of the Cross, portrays Jesus in the tomb. But He did not stay there! There is peace in Heaven and glory in the highest because death cannot hold our King.
Some religious leaders told Jesus that He should flee Jerusalem if He wanted to stay alive. Hundreds of years earlier, the enemies of God’s people had taken captives from Jerusalem and now was the time for One captive to set all mankind free. Jesus did not run away; instead He embraced what was before Him. He knew God’s Story. He knows that God’s Story includes making a mighty nation out of one person and blessing the world, over and over. Instead of fleeing, Jesus grieved over Jerusalem and said how He wanted to protect her like a mother hen would protect her chicks.
Then Jesus told the Pharisees, “And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!’” Here Jesus quoted from Psalm 118:26, a song He will sing with eleven of His twelve disciples right after the Last Supper. The time was growing close for Jesus’ life purpose to be fulfilled. He did not take the easy way out, but He pressed on with the work yet before Him all the way to the cross. He indeed will come again. All blessings on King Jesus! May we bless in His name. May we bless Him for His steadfast commitment to all that is right.
Luke 13:35 NLT (also in Matthew 23:38-39)
Tonight while I’m working on edits for this part of God’s Story of blessings it is Super Bowl XLVII. Those Roman numerals equal 2013, and I’m only halfway embarrassed not to know which two teams are playing. Each year, during this season, there are all kinds of parties taking place as football games are watched and cheered. My supper bowl holds tomato soup and after a pleasant time of roller-skating on the bike trail, I’m enjoying the quiet evening alone. But, if I were to throw a celebration, I would want it to be a good one; a fun time for all who would come.
Jesus gives great advice for how to host a blessed gathering. He says, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Not all reward comes immediately, but blessing others, in this case, those who can’t pay you back, brings a greater kind of blessing to the one who blesses initially. When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Now that’s one party I sure do not want to miss! I may not know football, but I know God and I’m so happy to be on His team! I look forward to seeing you at the party!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Matthew records “the golden rule” in the seventh chapter of the Gospel written by him and then Luke unpacked it some. Luke wrote: Jesus says, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” Good advice worth living by. Jesus is the best teacher ever! May the blessings boomerang back as we seek to bless God and bless people.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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!
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!
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.
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.