Remain true to the Lord. This was part of the encouragement, advice, and news that Barnabas brought from Jerusalem to the church that gathered at Antioch. The early disciples were living very full lives, sharing with others the way to have full life in Jesus. They preached and taught; they healed those in need, and miracles gave credibility to their words. As the disciples followed the teachings of Jesus, more people began to follow Jesus’ disciples. Unfortunately, this all made for some jealous religious leaders. A couple of the disciples were even imprisoned but were miraculously released by an angel. Stephen became the first Christian martyr and as persecution continued, the church scattered and yet continued to grow.
Saul was amazingly converted to Paul and joined Jesus’ team to spread the good news that there was purpose to life. Up to this point in God’s Story, the message was mainly told to the Jews. God’s plan was for all nations to be blessed, and how surprised the church in Jerusalem was to hear that Greeks too were being brought into God’s Kingdom. When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. When we think about those who have faithfully shared the love of God with us, I hope it fills us with joy. It is great news to know that God’s love is for everyone; there are no exceptions. No one is too good and no one is too bad. Who will experience more of God’s love through us today? May we be encouragers like Barnabas was back in the days of the early church.
Acts 11:22-23 NLT
For believers it was an exciting time to live! The Christian community was unified, and people shared the things they owned and made the good news known to others. Real needs were really being met. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. Our God is great in power and generous with grace and He gives us hope and a way to authentically live life with His hope.
I love looking back to Deuteronomy 15 when God’s people were first entering the land He promised to them. We read how God so consistently desires that the poor be cared for. God’s great blessings often flow when people are living in awareness, really searching out the great God of that blessing. Today, how can we connect to God, know His blessing, and bless others who are in need of blessing? A thankful heart is a great place to start. It is best for us not to hoard God’s blessings but to allow them to flow through us. This takes practice. May we fold our hands in gratitude and open them up for godly giving and service.
Acts 4:33-35 NLT
Peter continued to talk to the crowd and he reminded the Jewish community of the story of Moses and the prophets and how they, the Jews, were connected to the past and how they would be blessed if they would turn from the wicked way they were living. “You are the children of those prophets, and you are included in the covenant God promised to your ancestors. For God said to Abraham, ‘Through your descendants all the families on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, Jesus, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.” This message that was offered up in hope earned Peter and his friend John a night in prison because the religious leaders did not want people to hear more about Jesus and His resurrection.
Who would not want to hear the good news of such a good blessing? Who would not want to be shown the way to life, especially if they were walking close to the edge of death’s cliff? God, I’m so thankful that You place people in my life to tell me and show me how to turn from my sinful ways. May this good news continue to change lives, generation after generation. At one point, Peter denied even knowing Jesus. But Jesus provided a way for reconciliation, and with a clear identity, Peter courageously invited others into the covenant that You offered way back in the lifetime of Abraham. God, may we live bravely for You. Amen.
Acts 3:25-26 NLT
The Story does not end here! Soon after Jesus returned to His Father, His apprentices began the good work of spreading the good news about Him. Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a historical record of how the Holy Spirit worked within the new and growing church. Peter preached on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem and many people called on the name of the Lord to save them. Believers were baptized and the community was filled with great joy and deep caring. A crowd formed when Peter healed a crippled beggar and then Peter explained that this miraculous power came from God alone. He took the opportunity to tell the gathering Jews about Jesus and their need for Him. “Now it’s time to change your ways! Turn to face God so he can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing to refresh you, and send you the Messiah he prepared for you, namely, Jesus.”
Oh, that we too would fully trust Jesus, and in doing so receive a fresh shower of blessings in our lives. Thai New Year festivities take place in mid-April each year and last about a week. The highlight for most people is a mobile, full-scale, water soaking party. Our first water splashing celebration was a lot of fun with our new Thai neighbors. It was a hot day, so riding around Chiang Mai’s ancient moat in the back of a pick-up truck, splashing water and being splashed, felt good. Then it started to rain. Smiling, I told my neighbor Khun Ploi that God was water splashing with us too. Then with my limited Thai, I continued to build on what I had been sharing with her about Jesus being the way to God. I’m so thankful for God who cares for us and He indeed provides blessings that shower down in a multitude of ways. May the Thai people embrace Jesus and experience the refreshment that comes from all sin being wiped away.
Acts 3:19 MSG
Oh how those days must have sped by! Jesus was back and alive, answering questions and the disciples’ trust grew. But the time had come in God’s Story for Jesus to return to His Father and before He left, He gave the promise of the Holy Spirit. He also left His friends with instructions to share the good news: Jesus lived to love us, died to redeem us and rose again to conquer sin and death forever. His job on earth was complete and it was time to get back to Heaven, His home. Jesus was with His friends when He ascended. He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. I cannot even imagine how wonderful it must have been to receive that final personal blessing from Jesus. It led them to worship Him and true worship leads to obedience and we can read about the adventure of obedience in the Book of Acts. Let us live a life to bless God, and let’s live it with great joy!
Luke 24:50-53 ESV
Thomas was with Jesus and the other disciples when they celebrated the last Passover together, but he wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus initially met up with the group after His resurrection. Thomas found it hard to really believe that Jesus was alive again. Would we be quick to believe the stories our friends told us if we had not seen for ourselves? Thomas, like all of the disciples, had been through a lot. He needed proof. And Jesus provided just what Thomas needed. “Peace be with you”, started off the conversation and then Jesus offered His hands and His side to Thomas so he would no longer doubt, but believe. Astounded, Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
We who believe in Jesus today are the “blessed ones” Jesus is talking about. We believe by faith and not by sight and in doing so, we are blessed by Jesus. I hope we can let that goodness soak in a bit. And then out of gratitude, live in His glorious Presence as we go through our days. It is natural to reach out to others when our hearts are continually filled with thankfulness for all that Jesus has done for us. There are still many people who have not yet seen. In what ways will they see Jesus in us? Will they too believe and be blessed?
John 20:28b-29 ESV
Jesus died on the cross that He had carried. His death paid for all the sins of all mankind. For my sins, your sins and beyond, He died. He died, but He did not stay dead. He is alive! And this news seems too good to be true. After God raised Jesus from the grave, Jesus met with several of His close friends who were all astonished to see Him. Then Jesus walked down a road with two of His own followers and talked about everything that had just taken place and explained so many things to them about Israel’s history; God’s Story. But on this seven-mile journey toward Emmaus, they did not know that it was Jesus with them. When they reached their destination they invited their travel companion in by saying, “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them. It was as He reclined at the table with them that He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their sight.
Sometimes I wonder, “What will it really take for us to see Jesus?” Lord, open our eyes to You. Lord, let us see that You are the blessing. Amen.
Luke 24:29b-31 HCSB
Pilate, the Roman governor, did not find any reason to put Jesus to death, but because the Jews demanded crucifixion he complied. Jesus was mistreated in many excruciating ways on the road to His death. Exhausted beyond what most humans will ever experience, He began that journey carrying His own death weapon, the cross. Many people wept for Jesus; their love, confusion and anguish poured out in tears. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’” Hard times would come and Jesus knew it. He also knew He would overcome. Through Him, we can too.
One of my favorite promises of Jesus was spoken by Him near the end of His life. I can picture Him with His disciples as they left the Upper Room and walked together to the garden. On the way, Jesus shared with them so much that it must have been hard to take it all in. Just before Jesus turned His eyes toward Heaven to pray, He told His friends, “in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” As their world came tumbling down, did His followers remember His words? Do we experience peace when we know that Jesus overcame the world? Jesus was not taken by surprise, but when we are, let’s remember His words of peace and follow His example of prayer.
In the spring of 2014, I experienced (in a way I had not yet encountered, even by watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ) just a little bit of the reality that was Jesus’ as He died in agony. Lying in the emergency room with several bones of my ankle crushed, I thought of Jesus with not one, but both of his feet nailed to the cross, supporting the weight of His body and the weight of mankind’s sin. In pain, I prayed to Him. His reply brought peace in the midst of suffering. “You are experiencing the pain of the world but remember that I overcame this world of hurt, sin and even death. You are not going to have this pain forever. Trust Me. Take heart. In Me you may have peace.”
Luke 23:28-30 ESV
Jesus went from His last meal with His disciples to a garden where He prayed. It was in this garden where He was then betrayed and arrested. His friends fled in fear. Peter denied Him, and Jesus was brought before the Jewish Supreme Court to be questioned. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus replied truthfully but the Jewish leaders called it blasphemy and insisted that He was worthy of death. But because the religious leaders did hold any power in the Roman world, the next step was to get the Roman government to authorize the death sentence for Jesus.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. Two small words: “I am.” Jesus really is who He says He is. Death did not hold the Author of life and He will come again because He is trustworthy. Will He come today? Oh, for the day when Jesus returns and all is made right! Until then, we trust Jesus who sits at the Mighty One’s right-hand-side as the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and the Savior of our hearts. He is the Son of the Blessed One.
Mark 14:61b-62 NIV
The Passover meal had been prepared in the Upper Room. Jesus had humbly washed the feet of His followers that were around the table and then He spoke the words that we often hear when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said, “Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I’ll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives.” Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.” As often as we do this, may we always remember Jesus – broken for us, to have wholeness through Him.
The small youth group at a rural church in North Carolina grew in number and in maturity during the time Russell was the associate pastor and oversaw the youth ministry. I had the privilege of teaching this same group of teenagers on Sunday mornings, and we met in an attic room of the church which we dubbed the Upper Room. Week by week we read the Gospel of John as if we were acting out a play so each of us could better understand the interactions Jesus had with people. When we came to the part where Jesus was having His final meal with His friends, our Upper Room group sensed the seriousness of what was taking place. Jesus offered a new agreement. This new covenant was, and still is today, what He offers to those who trust Him: His lifeblood poured out for our death-sins to be forgiven. Jesus, thank You.
Luke 22:18-19 MSG (also in Matthew 26:26-27; Mark 14:22)
First we need to know what we are supposed to do, and then we need to do what we are supposed to do. The outcome will be blessing. “I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” Jesus taught this lesson to his disciples by giving them an example. During what would become known as the Last Supper, He knelt before each one and washed their feet. Jesus taught how to serve by serving. He taught love by loving. When He forgave, he demonstrated forgiveness, and He asks us to forgive others too. People will know we are His disciples if we love and serve one another. Knowing this truth is one thing; doing it is a whole other thing. But the blessing does not come in the knowing, or even in memorizing the chapter and verse, but in the doing, the serving.
Jesus is our Master and the message He gives us is His plan for abundant life: appropriately love God and people; repeat. Our guidebook, God’s Word, will keep us on the right path and when we do get off track, Jesus says to confess it and get back to a healthy relationship with Him and with people. Russell and I were at a marriage retreat just after we celebrated our fifteenth year of marriage. We gathered with other couples, some we knew, others we did not, and a ministry team from Chic-fil-A, the WinShape Foundation, met us at the resort setting in a Chinese city. In married life, sometimes we are gloriously on track and other times miserably off course. The humbling act of receiving a foot washing by Russell as part of the retreat was a very healthy re-set. May we not only remember the ways which Jesus taught, but carry on the actions of His message. That is how a student honors his teacher. And Jesus is the best teacher I know.
John 13:16-17 NLT
Jesus took the time for more teaching. There will be a final judgment and He gives us a peek at what that will look like. Could it be that He shared this so that when we have a choice to make, we would choose wisely? “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’…
The stakes are high and the blessings are greater than we could ever imagine. Inheritance in a Kingdom prepared by God is going to be even better than any Disney princess movie ever made. But what will happen to those on His left? They will experience an unending and unimaginable separation from all that is life. Jesus goes on to tell how the actions lived out of love for “the least of these my brothers and sisters” made all the difference. Out of love are we caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the one in need of clothing, the sick and the prisoner? If there is still a today, then there is still time. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts, get involved and serve. The blessings will be now and forever more.
Matthew 25:31-34 HCSB
A lot took place in that brief period between the road to Jerusalem and the road to Emmaus. Time was short and Jesus knew how to spend it wisely. After a day in the Temple, Jesus used His time to tell His disciples about the end times. He warned them not to be fooled by false prophets because no one other than God the Father will know exactly when the last day or hour would be. Jesus said that those who are serving faithfully and are sensible until the end would receive a reward, a blessing. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”
Do you remember when Jesus mentioned this “be prepared concept” in an earlier parable? Now He is even more emphatic as He teaches those who love Him to be ready to serve faithfully right up until the end. Jesus not only told His students, but He would show them just what He meant. He is our living example. Thank You Lord Jesus for Your faithful life. You are not selfish or self-centered but humble, strong, and obedient. No one took Your life from You but You laid it down, sacrificed it voluntarily so that we may have life in You. Help us Jesus to ponder how You lived, cared, taught, and loved so that we can make the most of our days, serving bravely with compassion. Amen.
Matthew 24:45-47 ESV
Matthew joined the other gospel writers and recorded the excitement that was felt by many as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. Can you hear the multitudes cheering Him on? Those who loved Jesus and acknowledged Him as their King surrounded Him. And the crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed Him kept shouting, Hosanna (O be propitious, graciously inclined) to the Son of David, [the Messiah]! Blessed (praised, glorified) is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna (O be favorably disposed) in the highest [heaven]! Everyone was enthusiastically getting caught up in the movement. Our King is coming! Our King is coming!
Mark also penned what happened that day: Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD! Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!” Was anyone besides Jesus prepared for the change of direction that each would soon encounter? Within the week emotions would swing wildly from joyfully celebrating His jubilant arrival, to fear, anger, betrayal, deep sadness, confusion, and pain. But for now, in God’s Story, it was a joyful time for many people. If we had been there to witness it all, what would we have said in the crowds?
Matthew 21:9 AMP; Mark 11:9-10 NLT
Jesus obediently entered Jerusalem just the way the prophets foretold: on the back of a donkey. This week was going to change His life and it would change the lives of everyone who would believe in Him throughout time. What was on Jesus’ mind as the donkey eased its way along the road that would lead to suffering? What would we have been thinking had we been one of those who walked beside Him?
The Catholic Church originated the Stations of the Cross, which poignantly depict the final hours of Jesus’ life. The first outdoor encounter of the Stations of the Cross that I can remember was in a forest in northern Michigan. Heavy pine scent took the place of words as I walked from one station to the next. I was a young girl and I tried to imagine how painful it must have been for Jesus to die. As the sun streamed through the large trees, my family came upon a clearing, and there before us was the world’s largest crucifix. The thirty-one foot high bronze Jesus on an even larger wooden cross had an impact upon me. Luke’s Gospel account will record Jesus on the cross, but for now let’s read the prelude of what would be world changing history.
As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives— the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Does that sound familiar? When Jesus was born, an angelic choir sang out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” From His birth to His death and beyond, Jesus is announced with blessings and with an incredible amount of rejoicing. He knew His purpose and did not waver from it. The fourteenth, and generally the final Station of the Cross, portrays Jesus in the tomb. But He did not stay there! There is peace in Heaven and glory in the highest because death cannot hold our King.
Luke 19:37-38 ESV
In September we were so blessed to read from Jesus Himself how to live the blessed life. Jesus faithfully modeled those teachings as He healed, fed, and comforted people in various locations during His ministry on earth. He is strong and He is smart and He leads in ways so that His followers can also lead with truth and love. His cousin John and His twelve disciples may have known Him best, but the four Gospel writers (Matthew, Luke, Mark and John) recorded the life of Jesus so that we too can know and be blessed by Him.
Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem was a very big event. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each wrote about this day that we now celebrate as Palm Sunday. The scene had been set and the Holy Week began with Jesus the King of Everything riding into the religious center of the time on the back of a young donkey. The next day, when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting: “Hosanna! He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One—the King of Israel!” Hosanna is an expression of adoration, praise and joy. The crowds could not be happier; they were celebrating and they were there to participate in it all. Lord Jesus, You continue to be praise-worthy. May we live faithful to You in the time of celebration and in the time of trial that will surely come for those that truly follow You. Amen.
John 12:12-13 HCSB
Some religious leaders told Jesus that He should flee Jerusalem if He wanted to stay alive. Hundreds of years earlier, the enemies of God’s people had taken captives from Jerusalem and now was the time for One captive to set all mankind free. Jesus did not run away; instead He embraced what was before Him. He knew God’s Story. He knows that God’s Story includes making a mighty nation out of one person and blessing the world, over and over. Instead of fleeing, Jesus grieved over Jerusalem and said how He wanted to protect her like a mother hen would protect her chicks.
Then Jesus told the Pharisees, “And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!’” Here Jesus quoted from Psalm 118:26, a song He will sing with eleven of His twelve disciples right after the Last Supper. The time was growing close for Jesus’ life purpose to be fulfilled. He did not take the easy way out, but He pressed on with the work yet before Him all the way to the cross. He indeed will come again. All blessings on King Jesus! May we bless in His name. May we bless Him for His steadfast commitment to all that is right.
Luke 13:35 NLT (also in Matthew 23:38-39)
During our years of living in Thailand seeking to expand God’s Kingdom through love and awareness of Him, Russell traveled a lot. A minority group in China was our major focus and after years of interaction Bible translation was just beginning among them. To help bring greater awareness to our praying partners, I wrote a prayer journal that focused on each of the sixty-six books of the Bible combined with the customs and needs relating to this particular group. The prayer journal became a book, His First Bible, and it was printed towards the end of 2006. Here is an excerpt from it highlighting how Jesus blesses:
In his biography of Jesus, Mark describes the ultimate Servant. Event after event we see Christ’s character as he interacts with people. Tucked between Jesus answering the Pharisees’ testing about divorce and His encounter with the ambitious young ruler, Jesus engaged not the powerful or the rich but the meek. His disciples were brushing these little people aside, thinking the Teacher was too busy to be bothered. But Jesus values children. Can you envision His arms open wide, while children run to Him drawn in by His love? “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you, anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God.”
God’s Kingdom belongs to those who long for His love and closeness. What a contrast between the religious know-it-alls and the children who are pure in heart. Jesus tells us our faith should be like that of children running into His arms. Lord, we thank You for still calling children of all ages and all nations into Your love. May we run to You, holding nothing back. We pray for the SD children to know You at a young age. Jesus, teach us to learn from You never to be too busy to reach out to the little ones in our lives. What joy we would experience if we would follow Your example: “Then he took the children into his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.”
Mark 10:13-16 NLT (also in Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17)
One day Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus answered him, Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) are you, Simon Bar-Jonah. For flesh and blood [men] have not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven. How blessed we are when we see Jesus for who He really is. Jesus, You are God’s Anointed One. Savior of the world. Prince of Peace. Lord and Teacher. Jesus is the Son of the living God. And Jesus wants us to know Him. Do you?
1997 was our first Christmas in a village setting in China and it gave us many opportunities to ask that question to new friends and fellow students at the college where we were language students. In ways, the “commercial Christmas” was invading even this remote no-traffic-light area near the border with Burma, but few knew the name of the Man whose birth was being celebrated. How blessed our family was to unwrap the gift of the Christmas Story by sharing truth and offering hope that could last for all eternity.
Matthew 16:17 AMP
Tonight while I’m working on edits for this part of God’s Story of blessings it is Super Bowl XLVII. Those Roman numerals equal 2013, and I’m only halfway embarrassed not to know which two teams are playing. Each year, during this season, there are all kinds of parties taking place as football games are watched and cheered. My supper bowl holds tomato soup and after a pleasant time of roller-skating on the bike trail, I’m enjoying the quiet evening alone. But, if I were to throw a celebration, I would want it to be a good one; a fun time for all who would come.
Jesus gives great advice for how to host a blessed gathering. He says, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Not all reward comes immediately, but blessing others, in this case, those who can’t pay you back, brings a greater kind of blessing to the one who blesses initially. When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Now that’s one party I sure do not want to miss! I may not know football, but I know God and I’m so happy to be on His team! I look forward to seeing you at the party!
Luke 14:13-15 NIV
Jesus is coming back! It is important news and we do not want to miss out on the reward and blessing that awaits those prepared for Him. Jesus also says what will happen if we are not ready, and just to let you know, it is the very opposite of a blessing. If I knew you were coming through town I would be sure to have chili in the crock-pot or cookies baked up, ready for your visit. How much more excited I get thinking of the visit of our Lord Jesus!
This is how Jesus puts it: “Be ready for service and have your lamps lit. You must be like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet so that when he comes and knocks, they can open the door for him at once. Those slaves the master will find alert when he comes will be blessed. I assure you: He will get ready, have them recline at the table, then come and serve them. If he comes in the middle of the night, or even near dawn, and finds them alert, those slaves are blessed.”
Did you catch it? I missed it the first few time I read this through, but Jesus says He will serve the ones that are ready for the Master’s return. But not everyone will be prepared, and no one knows when the time will be, but each day it gets closer. Expect the unexpected and until then may we humbly serve our servant King by serving one another. Live ready!
Luke 12:35-38 HCSB
And Jesus said to him, You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live [enjoy active, blessed, endless life in the kingdom of God]. Who was Jesus talking with and what were the questions and answers? It was on one occasion that an expert in the law asked Jesus, “What can I do to get everlasting life?” Jesus answered his question with a question, “What does the law of Moses say?” The lawyer replied, “Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got—heart, soul, strength and mind—and love your neighbor as yourself.” “Good answer!”, Jesus replied. But then the man asked one more question. “Um, just who is my neighbor?”
The parable of the Good Samaritan followed. Blessed life can be boiled down to “love God, love people.” When I wrote this in bold black letters on the front of the desk I used while homeschooling our kiddos in China back in 2002, it gave me the clarity to focus on the important things. There was a lot of time for questions and answers and my desire was to instill in my students the joy of learning. Not only were they each other’s only classmates, there were no other foreign children in our town, so they also learned how to play and interact with those different from them. On some days, “loving our neighbors” came during “school-time” and they learned life lessons outside of the room that was filled with bookshelves, a time-line and maps drawn onto the concrete painted walls. Our children are grown now and living in a very diverse world. Neighbors move in and out. They may not look, believe or act like we do and yet Jesus still calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. God, help us to daily refocus our attention on You and live to love those around us in ways for their good and Your honor. Amen.
Luke 10:28 AMP
When the seventy-two disciples Jesus sent out returned to joyfully tell Him all that had happened on their mission trip, Jesus was also filled with joy. Jesus prayed to His Father thanking Him for revealing important things to those who had child-like faith. Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” Do we see things from God’s perspective? When we know Jesus, we cannot help but introduce others to Him too and doing this as part of a team reminds me of how it was done back in Jesus’ days.
One of the things that brought me joy during our year of living in London was serving in a café that was housed in a renovated part of an ancient church. I loved walking through two lush green parks on my way to work, taking in God’s beauty in creation and praising Him because it prepared me for whatever might come in the café. And I loved being a part of a team of people from several countries who also wanted to serve. Some days I served up the food and it was fun learning about British dishes. On other days I cleared tables or I would sit with the lonely or the drug-users or the elderly and talk with them. Because I had tasted and I knew that the Lord was good, it was easy to turn the conversation to Him.
But one dialogue became a bit heated when a fellow volunteer voiced his dislike for Christian do-gooders. When he asked what I thought, I asked him what he thought about the advances in medicine. I told him that if I had the cure for cancer I certainly would not keep it to myself but I would share it. How much more would I want to share the good news that Jesus came to rescue us from death to life! Jesus is not aspirin; He is the giver of life! Lord, please keep our eyes and ears open to You. Choose us to be a part of the joyful team that You use to change the world, one person at a time. Amen.
Luke 10:23 NIV
Now Jesus’ students were about to experience some practical application of all that they had learned and all that Jesus had modeled. Jesus prepared them to take His teaching into neighboring towns so that others could learn what they had been taught. Seventy-two interns were divided in groups of two, and Jesus gave instructions and advised them to pray, to eat what was set before them, to heal the sick, and to let everyone know the good news that the Kingdom of God is near. His advice then is still applicable for us today as we seek to share God’s goodness with those around us. Jesus told His students when they entered a new town, “If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you.”
What an incredible privilege it must have been to spread the message of Jesus in that day and time. What a privilege it still is for those who pray and go and give. If God has blessed you with good news to share, have fun as you share the blessing. My first mission trip was to a very rural area of Mexico in December 1989. Russell and I had been married about six months when we drove across the Texas border and we kept driving until the roads became dirt trails. I couldn’t speak Spanish fluently but I learned the words “un regalo” and said them over and over as I passed out messages of good news. I believe God blessed me just as He blessed those who received the gift. Thankfulness grows when we remember that we do not just pass a gift on, but that we really are recipients of God’s good gift of salvation. Jesus is the best regalo ever! My heart needs to be reminded often of this gift. I have a feeling I’m not alone with that need.
Luke 10:6 NLT
As God’s Story went forward, the teaching ministry of Jesus continued. Many followed after Him to hear His messages on how to live the blessed life. On this particular occasion after a three-day teaching conference in a remote place, the crowds had run out of food, again. Instead of sending them home hungry, Jesus took seven loaves of bread and after He had thanked God for it, passed the bread out to about 4,000 people. A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them. Jesus is good to meet the needs of those who follow Him because He is tenderhearted and His blessings multiply. We are not Jesus, but do we interact with others using our lives so that blessings are multiplied? Jesus tells us to do good deeds so that our Father in Heaven is made known. Blessing people also blesses God. Let’s bless on!
Mark 8:7 NLT (also in Matthew 15:36)
The crowd that was miraculously fed by Jesus the day before was getting hungry again. By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master. So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn’t coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus. Unfortunately, some of these people were only trying to find Jesus because they wanted another free lunch. Jesus knew this and He told them not to live that way but instead to spend energy seeking the eternal life that can only be found in Him. What does God want for us to do? He wants us to believe in the One He has sent. Do not be a “bread-Christian” but instead follow after the One who is the Bread of Life! It is a good idea to seek the Giver of the blessing and not just the blessing. Living on the foundation of gratitude blesses us to be a blessing.
John 6:23-24 MSG
All four of the Gospel writers record this amazing event of how Jesus met the physical needs of the masses who followed Him. Matthew wrote that the evening picnic was on the heels of Jesus hearing that His cousin John had been beheaded, and Jesus was going off for some time by Himself. But as it often happened, crowds of needy people went where Jesus went, and Jesus, being who He is, had compassion. He healed and He taught and it was now past dinnertime at the remote place where they had all gathered.
Five loaves of bread, two fish and one prayer to God in Heaven was all it took for over 5000 men, not including all the women and children, to eat until they were satisfied. That was a meal no one would forget! He told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people.
Sunday Soup is kind of like our family’s equivalent to fish and loaves. In our second home in China we had a freezer just big enough to hold a container for our weekly leftovers and it was in that home that we began our tradition of Sunday Soup. While baking bread before our house church met, I would simmer up the soup and by adding water and at times extra vegetables, we could feed however many joined to worship with us that day. May we follow Jesus’ example and bless our food (meaning to offer thanks to God for what He provides) and be quick to share what we have so that others may also be satisfied. Jesus fed those who followed Him with what He taught and by meeting physical needs as well.
Matthew 14:19 NLT (also in Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16; John 6:11)
This story might sound familiar. Many years ago there was a woman who became very poor as she sought doctor after doctor for a dozen years, and longed for a cure from her constant bleeding only to find her health getting worse. She had heard enough about Jesus to want to be near Him so she joined the crowd following Him. Her faith moved her to action and she reached down and touched the hem of His robe, thinking, “If I can just touch His robe I will be healed.” And she was! Now Jesus confronted the crowd, “Who touched Me?” She was terrified to single herself out. She also knew that she was healed. Would she flee in panic? No, instead she fell on her knees in front of Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.”
She had suffered long and reaching out to Jesus in faith healed her. Her joy was made complete by His words, “live blessed”. What areas of our lives do we need to leave at the hem of Jesus’ robe? Our healing may or may not be immediate, but the peace we have knowing we are not alone in our suffering gives us the strength to bravely go forward.
Isaiah passed his driver’s test the summer of 2012, so he and I made a 1,000-mile trip from Texas to Michigan and enjoyed visiting old friends along the way. When we arrived, we had a family reunion and celebrated my oldest nephew’s birthday. The following Sunday I sat between my mom and my stepdad as their priest wonderfully taught about Jesus as He encountered this specific woman of faith who had reached out for the hem of His robe. Although my issue was not bleeding, I related to the situation because migraine headaches affected my life for longer than a dozen years. As I pondered all of this, I was becoming more and more ill and I nearly passed out in church. And that was the beginning of yet another three-day migraine cycle. Three days and nights in bed, even with a head that is throbbing, allows a lot of time to think and pray. Jesus can heal; there is no doubt in my mind about that. I will not give up faith and I will praise Him with great joy when that time comes!
Mark 5:34 MSG (also in Luke 8:48 and Matthew 9:22)
Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven and taught many lessons by telling stories and parables, and after He shared the parable of the sower with a large group, the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the crowds in parables. Jesus replied that Isaiah’s prophecy, which would have been familiar to those listening, is fulfilled about a people who will listen but not understand and look and yet not perceive. And then He says something so encouraging: “But your eyes are blessed because they do see, and your ears because they do hear! For I assure you: Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn’t hear them.”
All of Israel’s history was leading up to Jesus. Up until Jesus, the Israelites had leaders, some good, some not so good, but all were incomplete. God’s fullness dwelt fully in Jesus. Were his followers ready to embrace this? Dear Lord, in these days I pray that we would have blessed eyes and blessed ears to understand Your teaching, line up our lives with it, and live with wisdom and joy. Amen.
Matthew 13:16 HCSB
Blessed and more blessed. Jesus was in the middle of rebuking the religious leaders of the day. They had a crazy idea and accused Him of getting His power to remove demons from Satan. In the mix of this, a woman’s voice cried out from the crowd,“The womb that bore You and the one who nursed You are blessed!” Jesus accepted what this woman said and he replied for all to hear, “Even more, those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed!” It is interesting that Jesus does not at all deny that His mother is blessed, but He takes it one step further by saying that those who obey God’s Word are even more blessed. Let’s choose to live in blessed obedience, for that is true blessedness.
Luke 11:27-28 HCSB
What are we to do when our troubles are too heavy for us to lift, when we are too weary to go on? We are not to give up, or to text our complaint to those in our address book, but instead we are blessed when we go to Jesus. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.”
I love the definition here of rest: relief, ease, refreshment, recreation and blessed quiet. For me, there are few places that better paint a picture of this kind of rest than time spent in nature. So with the warm sunlight shining through the trees on a late spring 2012 afternoon in North Carolina, and a calm lake a stone’s throw away, I felt at ease knowing that my Creator is in control. I relished the blessed quietness of the setting and peace seemed to wrap around me like a soft blanket.
Jesus’ invitation recorded by Matthew suggests that this kind of soul rest is available when anyone with a heavy burden brings it to Jesus and the blessed quiet will come whether we are by a lakeside or not. Although the surroundings were serene, several of my friends – ladies I had not seen for years – came to me that weekend with hearts heavy and hurting. I remain thankful for arms for hugging and for wisdom that does not come from me, but from God’s Word. Thank You Jesus; for in the midst of it all, we can come to You, learn from You, know Your love that will never leave us and in doing so, experience relief. Amen.
Matthew 11:29 AMP
Jesus gave his cousin John the affirmation he needed. We are at the point in God’s Story when John the Baptizer is now in prison. Things did not go well for John when he rightly condemned Herod for marrying his own brother Philip’s wife. So from a prison cell, John basically wanted to know, “Jesus, are you the Messiah or is someone else coming?” John desired reassurance that he had lived his life with meaning and purpose as he pointed people to Jesus.
Jesus gave this confirmation: “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” Yes, John, your life has been worth it! Don’t give up now. All of us, from time to time, need this kind of encouragement. Press on; know that God does care when we stand up for the sake of righteousness. He will bless us. Do not give up. Don’t turn away. Not all blessings materialize on earth.
Luke 7:22-23 NLT (also in Matthew 11:4-6)
If you have lived long enough, you have probably experienced the truth that hurt people hurt people. That painfully destructive cycle has unfortunately spun through the ages. How different life can be if we choose to follow Jesus’ advice on this topic: “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.”
Sabina was old when I met her, but age did not define her, joy did. Her family had been killed in Romanian Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Her husband, Richard Wurmbrand, had been tortured for Christ for over a dozen years while in several Romanian prisons. Richard spoke passionately at Russell’s Bible school sharing how one night he met the brutal soldier who had killed his wife’s family and lead him to repentance and trust in the Lord. Returning to his home and gently awakening his wife, Richard introduced this man to Sabina. She reached out with hands of peace to embrace her new brother in Christ. Sabina lived loving her enemies, praying for them to know God’s forgiveness and blessing those who had caused her great pain.
Lord, I pray that the cycle of hurt can end with us. Please use us as instruments of healing to bless people even when our natural instincts are far from it. We need to remember how You forgave us and then call us to forgive others in order to live the way of blessing. This is hard. Please help us. We read about saints throughout history who have learned to trust You for justice and forgiveness. For some practical application right now, I pray for ………. who has hurt me. God, help me to give the situation to You. Help me to do good and love appropriately with Jesus as my Helper. Amen.
Luke 6:27-28 NLT
“What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.” Adjusting our understanding of what can bring happiness is an important action to take.
Jesus’ idea of blessings may surprise us, but it is good to remember that He was very aware of what was still to come in His own life. With the cross yet before Him, His joy was set beyond the pain of this world. He knew that taking on mankind’s shame was going to be brutal. Dying stripped and stretched upon a Roman cross with thugs seemingly in charge is not the death anyone would desire. His hope was beyond those hours when the Father turned His face from Him.
Jesus knew His reward and knew the reason for His death. He lived and died on earth while He was obedient and Heaven-focused. When we are so much like Jesus that people who do not love Him take out their frustration and hatred on us, have hope. Aligning our way of seeing life in light of His truth can fill us with joy. God wants us to live blessed now, keeping in mind the reward that is yet to come.
Luke 6:22-23 NLT
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