May 24 – A Blessing within a Parenthesis

Duties were divvied up in preparation to build the Temple.  Priests were needed as well as singers, musicians, gatekeepers, treasurers, judges, and the military, not to mention the manpower it took in skilled and manual labor to actually build the Temple.  On one of the lists of names of gatekeepers, Obed-Edem and his eight capable sons were acknowledged. And then a little parenthesis: (For God had blessed Obed-Edom.)  Do you remember this family?  They were the ones entrusted with the ark of God before King David moved it to Jerusalem.  They had a job to do, they faithfully followed through, and they were blessed.  It took all kinds to live for God back then, and it takes all kinds now.

I’m grateful that Dr. Cutrer followed God and used his medical training to save my life, deliver Hannah with an emergency C-section and then fourteen months later, he brought Sophie from purple to healthy when she was born.  The following year, Isaiah was born and Dr. Bill was recovering from heart surgery.  Then about twenty years later, on a Saturday morning, Dr. Bill began the day on a bike ride and ended it in the presence of the God he loved.

Russell and I met Dr. Bill Cutrer and his wife Jane in the Sunday school class he taught for newly married couples.  Back in those days many of these young husbands were students at Bible colleges in Dallas.  The godly influence of the Cutrer family continues to point people to live for Jesus, to study diligently, to overcome by God’s grace and to joyfully serve through the job they’ve been given.   This morning I awoke with a line from Dr. Bill’s favorite praise hymn on my mind.  The song,  And Can it Be that I Should Gain, is rich in theology and asks the question, “How can it be that thou, my God shouldst die for me?”  Like the song goes on to point out, this kind of love is amazing.  And it gives us plenty to ponder.

God blessed Obed-Edom.  He blessed the eighteenth century songwriter Charles Wesley.  He blessed Bill Curter.  Each of these men, and many more throughout His Story, have lived and have now passed from this life.  Let’s live doing good today, for today is what we have been given.

1 Chronicles 26:5b NIV

 

May 23 – Pronounce Blessings in His Name Forever

David was at the end of his life so he got his affairs in order and obtained many of the supplies needed so his now grown son Solomon could build the Temple.  The Temple was a symbol of the nation’s commitment to God.  At a large assembly, David enlisted the help of Israel’s leaders to work in unity on the upcoming Temple project; responsibilities were assigned and genealogies were chronicled.

It was a time to ponder their heritage.  David read the names of Levi’s sons, and then said this about Aaron, Levi’s grandson and the firstborn to Amram,  “Aaron, along with his descendants, was set apart forever to consecrate the most holy things, to burn incense in the presence of Yahweh, to minister to Him, and to pronounce blessings in His name forever.”   Although blessings in the name of the Lord would go on forever, it was the beginning of the end for King David.  Reflection is a good thing, especially when looking back upon a godly heritage.  I hope that as he thought about his life, David’s mind was full of meaningful memories, for he was a hero to many.

One of my heroes is Ted Hope.  By the time we got to know him in the initial stages of Bible translation for the people group we served in Asia, he had already been involved with over fifty Bible translation projects.  He and his dear wife Nell helped the Lisu tribe in Thailand become Christians. When Dr. Hope and Russell traveled together in China, they sought out the grave of yet another godly man, a British missionary named J.O. Fraser who brought the Good News of Jesus to the Chinese Lisu.  Inscribed on his gravestone are Jesus’ words from John 12:24, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Aaron and his descendants were set apart to pronounce God’s blessings.  King David strongly led in his generation and his songs still lead us to worship God today. God used James Fraser in incredible ways to bless the Lisu of China.  Ted Hope carried on that good work with the Lisu in Thailand.  We are all given one life to live.  Will those who come after us remember us for our love for God and His people?   Are we bearing fruit as people who die to self to live for God?

1 Chronicles 23:13b HCSB

May 22 – Blessed Be God – He Adopts Us into His Family

The poetry of David keeps flowing like a living river from God’s royal throne.  In some Bibles, Psalm 68 is sub-titled, “God is the Father of the Fatherless”.  This lengthy poem was sung to a tune written by the Chief Musician. Verse 6 says, “God sets the lonely in families; he leads the prisoners with singing.”  May this song give hope to many in our generation; to those who are slaves to human trafficking, to orphans in great need for loving families, and to the lonely and the elderly who long for meaningful connection.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah.” I picture those faithful believers with tambourines, singing out, “Bless God in the great congregation, the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!”  With a strong finale the song concludes with, “Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!”  The entire psalm is a powerful masterpiece!  All praise and blessing go to God, for He cares for the needs of the fatherless, the oppressed, and the lonely.  We can unload all of our anxieties upon Him for He cares for us and He uses us to be the blessing for others.

Way beyond the normal age for adopting children, two Christ-centered teachers who taught our kiddos in northern Thailand, traveled to Cambodia and began a long and laborious process to adopt not just one, but two young girls. Their story is one of hope and trust, and their lives, as well as the lives of their new daughters, will never be the same.

And the good examples continue:  Colleagues who focused on getting God’s goodness to those in Vietnam adopted a girl from China, and then three years later were able to return to the same overcrowded orphanage to adopt the childhood friend of their new daughter.

A young, single woman who served in a Guatemalan orphanage continues to have meaningful impact.  When a baby was abandoned and not expected to survive, she adopted him, and all praise to God, he is now a thriving teen!

Friends we mentored in China traveled to India to bring a neglected baby boy into their home, making them a happy family of six.

And, long time friends from North Carolina are faithfully parenting their son with fetal alcohol syndrome whom they adopted from Russia in 2001.  Glory to God for this young man’s recent baptism!

One day all who place their faith in God will be united as one big family.  Let us not miss out on living like a family here and now, blessing others as we have been generously blessed by God. In order to really do this well, we need what the psalmist joyfully sings about: power and strength from God.

Psalm 68:19, 26, 35 ESV

May 21 – Full Families Are a Blessing

Families are fascinating.  The same parents in the same environments can bring about very different and unique offspring.  I am so grateful to God for the children He blessed Russell and me with.  Isaiah’s December birthday in 2012 completed our second decade of raising and enjoying three great kids.  They keep growing into interesting and fun-to-be-around adults.  I also love how families are not static.  I’m continually blessed by Russell’s family who took me in as one of their own on the day I became his wife.  And I’m so thankful that my Michigan family loves my Texan husband and extends warm welcomes to us whenever we return for visits.  Hannah’s marriage to Andrew blesses us with a whole new family of in-laws to love as well as our first grandson.

Psalm 127 is a psalm I believe that David wrote to his son Solomon. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!”   A man may hold an arrow but it requires dedicated training to make that arrow valuable in the hands of a warrior.  Parents too require training.  In order to effectively teach discipline that is needed to hit godly bull’s eyes in life, it is best if parents are actually living out healthy spiritual disciplines.

It is incredible that although a father wrote this psalm many generations ago, the same sentiment of blessedness is felt today concerning the gift of children.  God, thank You for the heritage of family.  I pray that the children of my youth will always delight You.  May those of us who are parents rejoice in Your good blessings.  God please give us patience and strength and the ability to make wise choices in every season of training children up in the way that each of them should go.  And as You grow our family tree, may it be our desire to actively choose to love each branch You add to it. Amen.

Psalm 127:3-5a ESV

May 20 – Be Blessed and Bless!

Mentorship, apprenticeship, and life coaching are all present day practices that have been around since ancient times.  Someone who has built a chair (or maybe a web-site) can teach someone who has never built a chair, etc.  The same principle applies to spiritual disciplines we need to build.  Being in this type of one-on-one teacher-novice relationship is a huge benefit when we seek to learn a variety of skills.  But let us not overlook the guidance God gives to us through those in His Story.  If we want to grow in our ability to authentically bless God, David is a wonderful teacher.

He never tires of singing God’s praise.  Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.”  David seems to suggest that God was his trainer as well as his refuge.  David then lists several benefits of belonging to the Lord and says, “Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!  Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!” 

In another psalm, David encourages us not to worry about the wicked, but instead to trust and take delight in the Lord.  Focus on doing what is right. “Those the Lord blesses will possess the land, but those he curses will die.  It is best to be on the team of the godly not the wicked.  So what do the godly do?  Honest and good things. They offer wise counsel and they put their hope in the Lord. “The godly always give generous loans to others, and their children are a blessing.  Do good, practice generosity, be blessed, and bless. These are skills worth learning and living by, and in doing so we pass them on to others to learn as well.

P.S. As I type, we’ve been living at Harvard House (our home in Houston) for just over three years, and an ongoing blessing has been the boulevard jogging path which is perfect for walking and talking. As I walk with ladies from various backgrounds, mutual mentorship and Christ-like character grows deeper, and we intentionally seek to process and live out godly principles. Praise God with me that His ways are now being shared through these ladies in China, Washington DC, Brazil, Las Vegas, Laos, and another gal preparing to launch out to New York City. Throughout the world, which also includes Houston and where you live too, “Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!”

Psalm 144:1-2, 15 ESV; Psalm 37:22, 26 NLT

May 19 – Although Others May Curse Me, Bless Me Lord!

David continued to write songs including this one, Psalm 109, about his deceitful enemies.  He asks God to deal with them in very harsh ways because they have repaid him evil for kindness, and hatred for love. Talking about one enemy in particular, David wrote,  For he refused all kindness to others; he persecuted the poor and needy, and he hounded the brokenhearted to death. He loved to curse others; now you curse him. He never blessed others; now don’t you bless him.”  

Then, in the second half of the psalm, David calls out to God,  Help me, O Lord my God! Save me because of your unfailing love… Then let them curse me if they like, but you will bless me! When they attack me, they will be disgraced! But I, your servant, will go right on rejoicing!”  Do we as God’s servants go right on rejoicing regardless of our present situation and circumstance?  Or do we give permission to the enemy to distract us from our goal of living to praise God?  When we are undervalued instead of promoted, cursed at rather than praised, unfairly attacked due to the convictions we hold – do we lash back or take our hurt to God?

Help us, O Lord our God to keep right on praising You, for ultimately You will have the final say.  When our mind shifts to this kind of thinking, we can have the compassion that Jesus talks about to actually pray for our enemies.  When our lives are hidden in Christ we can go beyond the law of  “an eye for an eye”, to showing mercy in the same way that He showed mercy to us.  Father, help us to live like Your Son lived.  Amen.

Psalm 109:16-17, 26, 28 NLT

May 18 – God Blesses the Godly with a Shield of Love

From the time David was a child, war was a part of his life.  Against all odds, he killed the giant combatant Goliath with a slingshot and a stone, and as David reigned over God’s people, he was personally involved in many battles.  The Philistines remained an enemy, and many descendants of Goliath (all were giants themselves) fought against the Israelites.  With this in mind, we can better understand his frame of reference when we read some of the psalms written by David when he was a warrior.

For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love.  Warriors value shields.  No matter what battle we find ourselves in, when we picture God’s love as a protective shield surrounding us, we need not give up hope.  His 360-degree surround-shield is what protects us, for our enemy is like a roaring hungry lion whose desire is to devour us.  From which direction will the devil attack?  Because it’s different for each of us we are warned by Peter in the New Testament to be alert and to stand firm in our faith.   We do not battle alone and there have been many throughout His Story who have battled before us.  But God is with us and He continues to bless the godly.

Psalm 5:12 NLT

May 17 – Blessed Inheritance

During King David’s reign, the land suffered through a three-year famine.  When David asked God about it, God said that it was because of the Gibeonites who had been killed by King Saul.  So, David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?”  They gave him their answer, King David followed through with action, and afterward, God answered David’s prayer for the land.  Some Old Testament accounts are difficult to understand from our present day perspective. God’s mercy and justice, however, are consistent with His character, even when we might not see the full picture.

This principle has not changed.  It is a timeless truth that God is trustworthy so we can trust  Him.  At times we would love to know the full story; we want to see more clearly the step in front of us, and the step in front of that step.  Walking by faith is what God calls His people to do.  It’s not like the blind leading the blind.  He faithfully leads those who are faithful to Him.  This kind of faith journey increases our dependency on the One who knows what is best for each of His children.

2 Samuel 21:3 NIV

May 16 – Compassion, Mercy, and Generosity to Bless

Even in the midst of turmoil, David seeks to bless.  War continued and King David and his family were still in danger.  In a move to protect the king, Joab, David’s military commander kills Absalom, the king’s rebellion-leading son.  David bitterly mourned his son’s death but with the opposition scattered, King David and the rest of his family were safe to return to Jerusalem.

At a crossing point on the Jordan River, King David forgave and spared the life of a servant named Shimei, he restored Saul’s crippled grandson Mephibosheth back to a position at his table, and then a man named Barzillai greeted the group.  This rich man had helped King David before and David wanted to generously honor him in Jerusalem.  But Barzillai was now an old man so instead he offered Kimham as a servant to be honored in his place, and King David agreed to this exchange.   So all the people crossed the Jordan with the king. After David had blessed Barzillai and kissed him, Barzillai returned to his own home. King David’s compassion, mercy, kindness and generosity are indeed signs of a ruler after God’s own heart.

2 Samuel 19:39 NLT

May 15 – Blessed Is the One Who Trusts in the Lord

God’s Story involves ancient history, yet it lives on in every generation.  In 1999 Hank became the first Christian among a minority people.   Hank and his family live in a village in Southeast Asia.  As a skilled artisan, he was very familiar with idols for he had carved quite a few in his day.  Hank knew these idols could not save him; they were only made of stone or wood and their eyes could not see nor could their ears hear.   Even though his generation, like the many generations before him, bowed before these false gods, deep inside Hank knew there needed to be something more.

When Hank heard of the Most High God, he placed his trust in Him and God gave Hank a new skill: Hank wrote the first worship chorus among his people and it is still sung today.  Let us continue to pray for Hank, his family, his village and the people in surrounding areas.

Father, God, there are many who still need to hear that You are God.  Idols cannot rescue us from death, or give us life—only You can.  Open up eyes and draw people to You so many will see You and put their trust in You alone.  Not You and idols or rituals, or traditions.  But You alone.  Amen.  “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.  Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.”

Psalm 40:3-4 NIV

May 14 – Bless God When I am Blessed

When David was victorious in battle, others also benefited.  We read how blessings lead to more blessings:  Now when Tou king of Hamath heard that David had defeated all the army of Hadadezer king of Zobah, he sent Hadoram his son to King David, to greet him and bless him, because he had fought against Hadadezer and defeated him (for Hadadezer had been at war with Tou); and Hadoram brought with him all kinds of articles of gold, silver, and bronze.

Although these names may be unfamiliar to us, I pray that the principle of extending blessings is more than just an idea but is a part of our lives. David received these valuable gifts and treasures from other nations, and he blessed the Lord by dedicating these items to Him.  David recognized that he did not win the battle alone – God was with him, and so he gave back to God as different nations gave to him.

Church economics are similar:  God blesses people within a church family (in various ways) and out of gratitude we give a portion back to Him through the church (in various ways).  A healthy church will then bless people both near and far who have a variety of needs, and the blessings continue.  It’s not so much paying God back as it is applying the blessing He gives us to bless others.  Being a part of the joy of His good blessings as they go forward sure can be a delight!

1 Chronicles 18:9-10 NKJV

May 13 – Blessed into Everlasting!

In this psalm of David’s, two elements stand out: the poor, and our enemies.  In the New Testament, Jesus says we will always have the poor among us, and as we care for those who cannot care for themselves, it is as if we are caring for the needs of Jesus Himself.  We are blessed so we can provide for others, and in providing, we receive blessing.  This is a great win-win situation.  Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land, you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.   We still have the poor, but do we have enemies in modern days?

Some in active military service will face real adversaries. For others, time – too much or the lack of it, can be considered a challenging foe.  Disease and depression are both described as something we need to fight.  Peter, as a follower of Jesus, reminds us that our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us. We do have enemies. But we also have hope: God does not give us up to the will of our enemies. This is a great reason to praise!

The thing or situation the enemy might use to bring about fear can be the very thing that leads us closer to God, the One we can rely on at all times.   I love being active.  I thrive while running, walking, riding my bike, and truth be known, I even enjoy cleaning our home.  All these things came to a screeching halt the day of my bike accident.  At the time of this revision I’m into the third month of immobility.  The enemy would win if I allowed my inability to physically walk rob me of my close “walk with the Lord.”  Discontentedness is a slippery slope to self-pity which can lead to all kinds of unhealthy attitudes.  How thankful I am to God who draws me near.  Praising Him for what I do have rather than dwelling on what I do not, keeps me from a pit and it will do the same for you.

No matter what the enemy may try, when we are in God’s family we are blessed into everlasting – forever to live with the God of forever!  Even with real enemies around him, David remained focused on God and concluded this psalm by praising Him.  Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.

Psalm 41:1-2, 13 ESV

May 12 – A Blessed Heritage

Other deep, heart-felt psalms were written during this turbulent time in King David’s life.  A few excerpts that reflect not only the trouble that was presently at hand also include the blessings that come from a faithful God.  Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever. We need honest, strong care.  Based on God’s past faithfulness in his life, David had full assurance that God would continue to carry him and His people.  We should remember the interaction that God has had with us personally and then rely on Him for the rescue yet to come.

God’s enemies will try whatever it takes to throw God down, even causing harm to His children.  They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.  The complications of living in a fallen world originated in the time after Adam and Eve’s rejection of God.  If we are not fully for God, are we even for Him at all?  David reminds us that we are to trust in God alone.  When it comes to God, don’t be wishy-washy.  David continues this psalm like a prayer: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”   My hope is in You, Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 28:9 ESV; Psalm 62:4-6 ESV

May 11 – Blessed by God to Bless the Lord

King David and his son Absalom eventually reconciled over the tragedy that left Amnon dead, but Absalom was bent on rebellion and conspired to overthrow his father and replace King David as king.  David was torn: he did not want Absalom to be harmed yet he wanted to protect the rest of his family too.   King David fled with his family to keep them safe and to focus on his responsibility of reigning over and leading Israel.

Psalm 3 is a prayer of desperation, and David called to God because many enemies had risen up against him. What begins in fear becomes a song of assurance as David proclaims that the Lord is his shield and the One who sustains. By the end, David is singing, “From the LORD comes deliverance. May Your blessing be on Your people.”

Psalm 26 includes a similar theme of thankfulness for deliverance and ends with, “My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.”  In painful times of great uncertainty and betrayal, David found reassurance in the Lord who is faithful.  Do we look for and find reassurance in Him?  May God’s blessing be on His people, and as His people, may we be faithful to bless the Lord.

P.S. It was a normal check-up on a Monday when a newlywed couple heard the happy news that they were expecting a baby. Upon further examination there was not a baby but a potentially cancerous five pound cyst that needed immediate removal. “God is good. We had decided that we would say and believe this statement regardless of the results.” I am thankful to God for Asia and Tyler and their commitment to faithfully trust God’s goodness in times of great uncertainty.

Psalm 3:8 NIV; Psalm 26:12 ESV

May 10 – Parents Are Blessed to Bless

Among the responsibilities of running a kingdom, which required fighting many battles, the honor of writing psalms, and the desire to build a Temple for the Lord he loved, King David was surrounded by a challenging family life.  At this point in his life, David had several concubines and a few wives including Bathsheba, who had been the wife of one of his great warriors.  Bathsheba and David mourned the death of their first baby.  Then Solomon was born and this little one was added to the great number of King David’s children, many of whom were grown.

It is in this complex family tree that we find tragedy: Amnon, David’s son by one of his wives, raped Tamar, David’s daughter by another of his wives.  Absalom, the brother of the defiled girl, planned to take revenge.  Absalom invited King David and all of the king’s sons to his home for a feast, as it was sheep sheering time.  But David told Absalom, “No, my son. If we all came, we would be too much of a burden on you.” Absalom pressed him, but the king would not come, though he gave Absalom his blessing.  Although David did not go to Absalom’s party, the others did, and that day Absalom took justice into his own hands, and killed his brother Amnon.

Even as king, David was not exempt from the deep pain caused by those closest to him.  It is hard to really imagine the shock, anger, and grief that David and his various wives must have felt during this tragic time.  Dysfunctional families are not a modern day phenomenon.  And it is not a mystery that our actions come from our thoughts; and consequences, good and bad, will eventually follow what we choose to do.  Circumstances can certainly get complicated.

When I think of David, the thoughts that come to my mind are a shepherd boy, a brave giant slayer, a gifted musician, a mighty warrior, a great king and a man after God’s own heart.  David was all of these things but maybe the role many of us can relate to most naturally is that of his role as a parent.  David was the kind of father who wanted to bless his children, even the child intent on revenge.

Our Heavenly Father, no matter what role or position or title we may bear, I pray that as parents (or as aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends) we would seek You and Your wisdom and we would invest wisely in those You have blessed us with.  Help us, Lord God, to be part of the solution in a world that needs to see Your love in action.  Justice and mercy can best be pursued when we choose to walk humbly with You.  Lead us Father to love like You love.  Amen.

2 Samuel 13:25 NLT

May 9 – Bless the Lord, O My Soul

Shortly after Russell and I joined Houston’s First Baptist Church in the summer of 2012, the worship team introduced a new song based on an old psalm, and I was hooked.  I often find myself praising God throughout the day by singing out the lyrics to Matt Redman’s song, 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord).  Read the original psalm with a focus on the blessing verses: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Bless the Lord, O my soul. And forget not all his benefits…  Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul! 

The morning may start with singing on our lips, but it is only by intentionally reflecting on the many benefits of the Lord that praise can go forward in a non-delusional way, no matter what the day brings. May we still be joyfully singing God’s praises into the evening and beyond!

Psalm 103:1-2, 20-22 ESV

May 8 – One Day All Nations Will Know God’s Blessedness

“May God be gracious to us and bless us; look on us with favor Selah so that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.  Let the peoples praise You, God, let all the peoples praise You… The earth has produced its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear Him.”

Be in awe of God.  Said another way, fear Him.  God is more than awesome; He is the ultimate and is worthy of all exhortation, honor, and blessing.  He is gracious and shows us His favor.  He cannot be controlled.  But in a relationship with Him, we can ask Him anything.  We can ask to be blessed, and when we are, may we be quick to thank Him and praise Him, the giver of every good and perfect gift.  May His good ways be known to all, so all the nations may know the God who blesses.

Psalm 67:1-3, 6-7 HCSB

May 7 – God Does Not Reject Me – I’m Blessed!

Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip…  Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!  It is an incredible blessing to call out to God and to be heard by Him in prayer. Sometimes, although we know that God’s love is steadfast and faithful, we may not feel it.  Calling out to God does not always come easy, so what can we do when we get off track with Him?   Go ahead and tell God the trouble you face.  David did, and as he did he remembered God’s past faithfulness, thought about why God is bless-worthy, and this lead to praising Him.

When we choose to be thankful for what God has most recently done for us or given to us, (how He has blessed us) somehow our feelings change – even if our situation does not, and we line up with the reality that God is near and He has not rejected us.   Praise Him for one thing, then another.  Don’t let pride, pity, or any other ungodly act or feeling keep you off track, but take it to God.  Near Him is the place where concerns and fears disappear, and goodness, acceptance and abiding peace remain.

David was not always on a mountaintop with a choir surrounding him, but like us, he was at times in the pit of despair.  Why didn’t despair win and hold him?  David chose thankfulness.  Gratitude opens the door to closeness with God.  I pray that as God’s children, we would be thankful kids.  And from our core, we would let the sound of His praise be heard.  Amen.

Psalm 66:8-9, 20 ESV

May 6 – Jesus Is the Blessed Bread of My Life

David’s reflection on challenging times begins the 132nd Psalm, but then he becomes hopeful and his writing reveals it. Faithfulness is God’s desire for His people, and He tells David that his descendants would always be on the throne if they keep His decrees.  God is a Promise Keeper and we can trace the genealogy of Jesus back to King David.  Praise the Lord that King Jesus will forever be on the throne!

This is My resting place forever; I will make My home here because I have desired it. I will abundantly bless its food; I will satisfy its needy with bread.”  Isn’t it interesting that many years later Jesus says that He is the Bread of Life?  Do we see ourselves as needy?  A good perspective is when we recognize that our need for being fulfilled is met by God.  When we feast on Jesus we will never go hungry.  Jesus wants us to have blessed lives, full and satisfying.

Psalm 132:14-15 HCSB

May 5 – Blessed to Be an Upright Generation

Hallelujah! Happy is the man who fears the Lord, taking great delight in His commands. His descendants will be powerful in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.”  Russell and I desired that the descendants who came after us would know that God does bless.  So years ago our family developed a crest.  Instead of seeking the origin of our name and then finding the coat of arms that may have corresponded to that name, we contemplated the values we hold and we drew from those.

This painted and framed crest, given to me by Russell on my forty-first birthday, has hung in five homes on three continents since I unwrapped it, and it is my hope it will continue to go where we go. The background of our crest is a tree with roots, which represent being rooted in God’s teachings and trusting Him for all that we need.  Think about the Psalm 1 tree that is thriving, growing uniquely, and drinking in deeply from the river of God’s Story. That is how the wise person is blessed. The crest has been a good reminder to our family, as well as a visual teaching aid to others, when we share how those who fear the Lord can live happily and fulfilled.

God has created in His people through all generations, the ability to choose.  Let’s choose God.  Let’s choose to live upright even in a world that is upside-down.  Our generation depends on it!  Let’s be eager to learn from God’s good ways and then live out what we learn.  There is great delight in living right. This idea can be enhanced significantly when we’re part of a community that holds the same values.  Ultimately, by advancing the Kingdom of God, good overcomes evil and communities of righteousness can grow.  More and more people, out of gratitude of being rescued from worthless ways to meaningful life, can join in with the multitudes whose joy comes from the Lord.  This can happen –  one person at a time, one generation at a time.  Be a part of the link with one hand holding on to God’s blessings and the other hand reaching out to others who need to be blessed.

Psalm 112:1-2 HCSB

May 4 – Blessed to Have My Sins Covered

What if our sins, the obvious ones and the ones we rationalize, were not just covered up, but covered? Not buried or hidden but brought to light, and paid for in full?  What if all that we’ve done wrong really could be forgiven?  That is what Jesus made possible for us.

I praise God that He opened my eyes and then my heart on a rainy Michigan night back in 1988 when I was twenty-three.  As I prayed to God, the Holy Spirit brought to my lips the sins that I had buried deep inside me, the ones that I had tried to cover up by stacking good works on top.  He forgave me and made me whole. For Jesus this great exchange took place as He hung with the sin of all humanity on a cross; mine included.  God showed that His good overcomes sin when He brought Jesus back to life again.  My awareness of this exchange took place in a car parked along a dark road with windshield wipers swishing away the rain. Not my effort, but His grace.  And then began what I like to think of as “the bonus”: living a blessed life.

“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”   When we experience forgiveness, we realize we have the freedom to live blessed, happy, clean lives, and we get to share this simple yet profound goodness with others.

Psalm 32:1-2 NIV

May 3 – Drawing Near to God Blesses Me

Various Bible translations choose different words to communicate the idea of “blessed” in English.  Words like happy, joyful and fortunate are used to describe a person blessed by God.  These scenarios show us a few examples of where blessings are found:

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.  Think of a storm that suddenly appears and threatens to overtake you on your walk home.  While fighting strong winds and hailing rain, relief comes as you approach your home and see a blazing fire in the hearth. In all of our storms, God is a warm, safe shelter.  You are happy and fortunate to enter in.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. Imagine a nation that is so faithful that everyone within its political boundaries honors the Lord.  Oh how joyful that place would be!  See the daily goodness that would be experienced at the family level when love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness and gentleness are lived out, like breathing clean, pure air. Blessed are all whose God is the Lord!

Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  In drawing near, you will experience a fortunate, happy, joyful, satisfied blessedness.  It is His promise.

Psalm 2:12c ESV; Psalm 33:12 NIV; Psalm 65:4a ESV

May 2 – Blessed to Be Fruitful, Fresh and Fulfilled

I love listening to Russell teach Psalm 1 because he explains things in ways that make sense.  After reading the first Psalm at a church north of Houston, Russell looked out at the assembled crowd and said, “Blessed is:  Ahhhhhhh, things are right!”   Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 

The psalm goes on to describe a tree that is planted by streams of water.  If we want to grow fully into our God-given potential and live “ahhhhhhhh,” then we need to stop mocking and scoffing and instead drink deeply from God’s wisdom.  Then we will be like a healthy tree: Fruitful when the season is right, knowing there is a time to work and a time for play.  We will also be Fresh as we breathe out confessions of sin and breathe in God’s peace.  As well as being fruitful and fresh, we will be Fulfilled when we know that we are created to represent Jesus, whatever our individual role in society may be.

This first psalm introduces an ongoing theme that contrasts the concepts of living for God (the righteous) and living for self (the wicked).  There is a difference between delighting in the Lord and living selfishly. God blesses the righteous and He watches, helps, and comforts them; not so for the wicked.

Psalm 1:1-2 NIV

May 1 – Forever Blessed

Psalm 107 is a long song about the Lord’s acts of faithful love.  God’s character as our Redeemer, Provider and Protector is revealed as we read about His people in various situations.  He is powerful yet merciful, and firmly establishes His people who love Him. God gives His people fertile soil to work into a fruitful harvest.  How he blesses them! They raise large families there, and their herds of livestock increase.  Things are going well for God’s people and for the king that He has placed over them.

By this time in God’s Story, King David is well established in Jerusalem, living in his fine house of cedar.  David desires to build a house for God but Nathan the prophet informs David that he will not be be the builder of the Temple, but that his son will build it.   When David heard this news, he shared his gratitude to God and ends his prayer with:  “Now, please bless Your servant’s house so that it will continue before You forever. For You, Lord God, have spoken, and with Your blessing Your servant’s house will be blessed forever.”

Forever blessed.  Whether kings or paupers or somewhere in between when we serve the God of all blessings we are blessed forever.  God is a loving Father who redeems, provides for, and protects His children.

Psalm 107:38 NLT; 2 Samuel 7:29 HCSB (also in 1 Chronicles 17:27)

April highlights:

April began as a romantic love story between Ruth and Boaz and we see how God blesses commitments.  Samuel, Israel’s last judge, a great prophet, and the one God used to anoint Israel’s first and second kings enters the Story as a prayed for little baby.  We are introduced to King Saul as God’s Story records the shift from a Theocracy to a monarchy, but whoever may rule on earth God remains our good King who blesses.  Battles are frequent and life is turbulent.  We read how David is a man after God’s heart and we get a glimpse of David’s heart in the many psalms he penned that emphasize both being blessed by God and blessing God.

April 30 – Blessed to Sing a New Song

Declaring God’s glory among the nations and His wonderful works among all peoples is a main theme of Christian missions. For about a decade and a half, from 1997-2011, our family met annually with many other families in a big group setting. For roughly a week we would focus on training which would increase our abilities to share God’s love with those who did not yet know Him who were living in various Asian cultures.  We gathered together to pray and to sing and often we were introduced to new songs expressing honor to our Creator and Redeemer.

This concept of singing new songs to God is at least as old as the Psalms.  Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.  The rhythm and melody may change over the years, but the profound need to sing praise to an unchanging God remains the same.  May we wholeheartedly sing out God’s praises and faithfully tell of His goodness to all nations, among all peoples, no matter where in God’s world we live.  Bless His name!

Psalm 96:1-2 ESV

April 29 – Bless God in Private and in Public

In Psalm 24, David writes how everything belongs to the Lord, but then he asks, “Who can go to the Lord’s holy place?” The ones with clean hands, a pure heart and truthful lips will meet up with God. God blesses those who worship Him. They will receive the Lord’s blessing and have a right relationship with God their savior.  This idea of God’s holy throne is carried further in Psalm 89.  Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.  

How can we acclaim God today?  It can make a big difference when we learn to walk with Him daily and intentionally acknowledge, celebrate and rave about Him privately.  Then, when the opportunity comes up, we can tell others how He is worthy of praise.  This is “outside the sanctuary” kind of worship. When we live this way, we are more purposefully in tune with God in the little details (lost keys becoming found) and in the big (lost nations turning to God).  As we mature, our awareness of the scope of life and understanding of God increases our ability to praise the Lord for all things.

Psalm 24:5 NLT; Psalm 89:14-15 NIV

April 28 – My Cup Overflows with Blessings!

Perhaps the most familiar of all psalms is Psalm 23.  I have fond memories of teaching this one to our kiddos when we lived in North Carolina in 1996 preparing to move to China.  They were younger then than David was back when he was a shepherd boy caring for sheep.  David grew into manhood and he learned that people and sheep have at least one thing in common: they go astray.  They both have the need of a competent shepherd’s guidance, protection and care.

Through many generations this psalm has been sung out as a prayer and a reminder of the Shepherd we have in God.  When Jesus came to earth, John introduced Him as the Good Shepherd worthy of our trust and loyalty.  Verse 5 of the twenty-third psalm in the New Living Translation caught my eye because most translations stop with “my cup overflows.”  Ever wonder, “overflows” with what?  You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.  You honor me by anointing my head with oil.  My cup overflows with blessings.  May the investments we make in children when they are young continue to bless them all their lives.  As a parent, what could be a better blessing to receive, than seeing God’s blessings overflowing in our children, when they are blessing others as they have been blessed?

Psalm 23:5 NLT

April 27 – Blessed to Bless

I believe we live life differently- maybe it’s more thankfully, more aware, more abundantly- when there is a real realization that we are blessed.  Confirmation from the Lord helps too when living purpose-filled lives.  King David was indeed blessed by God.  He recognized that the Lord’s confirmation of his new job assignment as king was not for his good alone. David realized that the LORD had confirmed him as king over Israel and had greatly blessed his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.

God, I pray we live in the reality that we are blessed by You and are blessed to bless others.  May we wake up with the intentional purpose of blessing someone each day.  As we resolutely do this, the world might actually become a little more like, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”  Amen.

1 Chronicles 14:2 NLT

April 26 – Bless God with Great Rejoicing

Even kings need a time of transition to settle into the role and put things in order as they should be.  Such was the case for David and the ark of God.   After an unsuccessful attempt of transporting the ark of God to Jerusalem, it was left at the house of Obed-edom for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his whole family.  Then King David received this report: “The Lord has blessed Obed-edom’s family and all that belongs to him because of the ark of God.” So David went and had the ark of God brought up from Obed-edom’s house to the city of David with rejoicing.  It seemed everyone, except David’s wife Michal, was extremely joyful. Great thankfulness was expressed as they celebrated the return of the ark.  When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of Yahweh of Hosts.

1 Chronicles 16 records the same events and shares some additional interesting detail including a song that David wrote for the event.  The passage ends with: Then all the people returned to their homes, and David turned and went home to bless his own family.  I love how blessings and rejoicing go together.  We can often feel a sense of being blessed after a meaningful time with God in church. Be blessed and happy, celebrate, then return home to be a blessing to your family as you joyfully seek to meet their needs.  And even after the emotional mountaintop experience levels out into the valley of day-to-day living, bless on.

2 Samuel 6:11b-12, 18 HCSB; 1 Chronicles 16:43 NLT

April 25 – Sing Blessings Back to the Lord

As God’s Story continues on David and other gifted songwriters pen many more blessings that are recorded in the Psalms.

Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) are those who dwell in Your house and Your presence; they will be singing Your praises all the day long. Selah[pause, and calmly think of that]!  Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; the early rain also fills [the pools] with blessings.   What a vibrant  picture the psalmist paints of peace.

 Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.  Lord, you poured out blessings on your land! You restored the fortunes of Israel. Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings. Our land will yield its bountiful harvest.  Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.

The blessings continue to flow because God is the giver of strength. He is our trustworthy Provider and He believes in restoration.  He is the One who pours down blessings. The harvest He gives in our lives is a great testimony to His loving care.  Harmony in song and harmony in life are both  blessings that can stream from our grateful hearts to our gracious Lord.

Psalm 84:4-6 AMP; Psalm 84:12 NIV; Psalm 85:1, 12 NLT; Psalm 133:3 NLT

April 24 – Blessed Be My Rock

Psalm 18 has been sung throughout the ages, probably with a variety of musical styles. Michael O’Shields composed a recent tune to the ancient words in the 1970’s as a young traveling minister.  The original author however was King David.  David wrote the song of thanksgiving after he was delivered from the hands of his enemies, again.

It may have been that even in David’s day the men began the song with a catchy echo:  I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.” Did the women back then repeat each line after the men, like it is often done today?  No matter what the style may have been, the song’s conclusion is strong and triumphant: The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.”   This good truth is worth repeating so let the chorus ring on and on!

The next time we hear this song, let’s think back to David and the closeness he shared with the Lord who protected him from his enemies.  We can ponder David’s desire as a warrior to openly praise the Lord in song, then sing out loudly to God, our audience of One.  May He be our blessed rock, our firm foundation and worthy of heartfelt praise and adoration.

Psalm 18:3, 46 KJV

April 23 – The Gift of Blessings

Blessing is the theme of many of the psalms that David wrote.   It is great to read these psalms and get a good taste of the Lord’s blessings that David experienced, and then to choose to continue to sing God’s praises today.   Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. I will bless the Lord who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. David, as the king over all of Israel, rejoiced in the Lord’s strength and blessings.  For You meet him with rich blessings; You place a crown of pure gold on his head.  You give him blessings forever; You cheer him with joy in Your presence. Inheritance, guidance, instruction, richness, cheerfulness and joy are all gifts from the Lord.  When we experience these good fortunes we can count them as blessings, naming them one-by-one.

Psalm 16:5a, 7 NLT; Psalm 21:3, 6 HCSB

April 22 – Bless God’s Name Forever and Ever!

About at the halfway mark during our engagement, Russell and I decided to prepare our hearts for the wedding by reading the Psalms.  He was in Texas and I was in Michigan, and starting with Psalm 1 we began reading a psalm a day leading up to the reading of Psalm 150 on our wedding day in the summer of 1988.  I was a new Christian and by pondering the many reasons God was praised, I learned so much about His faithful character in these ancient songs.

Six days before the Big Day, we read Psalm 145, a tremendous testimony of God’s great acts.  Here are a few of the blessing verses:  I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.  Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.   All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you! My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever. May we continue to meditate on the glory of His splendor and bless His holy name.  Earth is our training ground and years of marriage have provided me opportunity again and again to grow in blessing God and loving people.

Psalm 145:1-2, 10, 21 ESV

April 21 – When to Bless, When Not to Bless

In this song David writes about his enemies who continually attack him.  Since his youth, David was acquainted with military campaigns.  Over the years, men he knew and had great respect and compassion for, had been killed on the battlefields.  And even now as king, there is no lack of adversaries who seek to assault him.  It is about these enemies of Zion that David is referring to when he describes them as becoming like dried out grass planted on the rooftops.   And may those who pass by refuse to give them this blessing: “The Lord bless you; we bless you in the Lord’s name.”  Having God’s blessing means everything.  To not be blessed by God is reason to fear indeed, whether in battle or in day-to-day life.  God, I pray that we would live loyally to You, our Lord, and in doing so receive Your blessing.  May we be alive and growing, not dead, dried out grass.  Amen.

Psalm 129:8 NLT

April 20 – Blessed Is Everyone Who Fears the Lord

King David wrote meaningful praise songs, from the heart, and over seventy of them can be found in the book of Psalms.  These songs tell us the story of David’s life and they include timeless themes of praise, rescue, provision and blessing.  The songs were recorded so the whole nation of Israel could reflect upon the message sung during special times of the year. Psalm 128 describes those who walk in the ways of the Lord and it shows the various ways in which those who fear the Lord are blessed.

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!  You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.  The Lord bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!  May you see your children’s children! Peace be upon Israel!

We are blessed when we choose to live life following God’s blueprints.  King David was blessed with children, but it was several long years after this song was written before Israel experienced great peace.  Our choices can affect the peace that we experience.  At times David’s ungodly behavior robbed him of peace and blessings. We can also learn from David’s desire for true repentance that we do not need to remain separated from God.  Confession restores our relationship and we can return to walking in the ways of our Lord who is our greatest blessing.

Psalm 128:1-6 ESV

April 19 – Kindness Returns Blessing for Blessing

David became the king of Judah and continued to honor Saul even after his death.  Men of Jabesh-Gilead carefully buried King Saul and David sent this message to them, “The Lord bless you, because you have shown this kindness to Saul your lord when you buried him. Now, may the Lord show kindness and faithfulness to you, and I will also show the same goodness to you because you have done this deed. Therefore, be strong and courageous, for though Saul your lord is dead, the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.” 

Many years later David was anointed king over all of Israel, fulfilling the promise the Lord made through Samuel.  David would learn that with a very powerful position comes great responsibility.  David went out of his way to bless those who had acted in kindness.  Have we had some form of kindness shown to us recently?  If so, how will we return that blessing with a blessing?

2 Samuel 2:5-7 HCSB

April 18 – As Peacemakers We Are Blessed

Even though Saul was fixated on taking David’s life, David modeled great restraint and respect toward Saul, honoring him as God’s anointed king.  David had an opportunity to put an end to the one who wanted to destroy him and the soldier with David was perplexed as to why he did not take that chance.  Instead of killing Saul as he lay sleeping, David took Saul’s spear and water jug.  From the other side of the mountain, David called out to Saul.

Saul came to his senses and said to David, “You are blessed, my son David. You will certainly do great things and will also prevail.” Then David went on his way, and Saul returned home.  Saul and David had made peace, but life in general was far from peaceful.  Not too long after this meeting with David, Saul’s sons were killed during a great battle against Israel’s enemy, the Philistines.  Saul himself was critically injured by an archer and to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy, he took his own life.

David deeply lamented the deaths of these prominent men—Saul and his sons.  After Saul’s death, David became the king of Judah and he certainly did go on to do great things. I’m thankful for this passage in God’s Story for it shows us how reconciliation really can take place.  Let us be like David and actively seek peace while we can.

1 Samuel 26:25 HCSB

April 17 – Blessed with Peace to Praise God All Day Long

Although David had many life-long enemies who were out to get him, he also had many advocates.  David was not yet the king but he was a well-followed leader and I have a feeling he had a special way of making those under his leadership know that they were all part of a big team.  They worked together in awareness of God and gave Him the praise for His interactions that led to their good.  And that is the way it should be today.

David sings out, But give great joy to those who came to my defense. Let them continually say, ‘Great is the Lord, who delights in blessing his servant with peace!’ Then I will proclaim your justice, and I will praise you all day long.”   What is it that we find ourselves continually saying?  Do we praise God all day long, or just on Sunday as we offer up a song?  Let’s make sure we are on God’s team and let’s be sure to come to the defense of others who wear His uniform too.

Psalm 35:27-28 NLT

April 16 – Blessed When We Do Right Because It Is Right

We would never want Nabal to marry anyone we loved.  Although he was rich, Nabal was also a selfish, harsh, evil, drinking fool.  David and his men were traveling through Nabal’s territory and the interaction went so poorly when Nabal rudely repaid evil for good that David wanted to kill him.  It is a good thing that Abigail, Nabal’s wife, was insightful and brave and when she heard of the situation she took matters into her own hands.

Immediately Abigail prepared gifts of food and drinks and with wise and humble words approached David and his troops to make peace.  David received her message and gifts and thanked Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!

Nabal died about ten days later and when David heard this news David continued his thanksgiving to God, “Blessed be the LORD who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. The LORD has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head.”

David remembered Abigail who was now a widow, and asked her to become his wife. Abigail had no idea that the blessing she had offered would not only spare her life, but would also lead to a wedding proposal from Israel’s next king!  How good it is to do right because it is right. God knows our motives and in His good timing blessings will come.

1 Samuel 25:32b-33, 39a ESV

April 15 – Blessed before a Watching World

Psalm 31 is another vivid reminder of God’s goodness.  David reflects on this goodness not only when life is going great, but also when he is in need of protection from his enemies.  How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world.

Sometimes we forget that we don’t live in a vacuum, nor move through life in a darkly tinted bubble.  Instead, people are watching to see just how we react to challenging situations in our lives.  One gal waiting for help with food and clothing from a ministry of Houston’s First Baptist Church, said she was curious to see how the Christian volunteers would respond when the computer holding critical information would not turn on.  When we are squeezed by trials, what comes out? Praise, trust, and hope came out of David, and may that be what others see in us as well.

What about when blessings of various kinds come our way?   Does a watching world see us praise God from whom all blessings flow? The woman at the Faith Center saw that instead of us getting flustered with the computer, we circled to pray and then when the computer began to work, thanksgiving to God was offered up.  As God’s children we can ask Him for all kinds of needs.  At times His reply is right away and when we express our thanksgiving, people around us see His blessing too.

Psalm 31:19 NLT

April 14 – Your Hand of Blessing is on My Head

Omnipresent is a word that when spoken about God, means that He is everywhere; all places at all times.  God’s own Son is called Emmanuel, meaning God with us. This news is good, very good indeed.  David does not write about God as some sort of stalker, but rather His Presence gives comfort, peace and protection.  Oh, the joy of being led by the Lord, to be held by Him, to be blessed by Him.

When my kiddos were ten, eleven, and twelve years old, my dad came from Michigan for a visit to our home in China.  After a great trip to Xian and Beijing and celebrating his birthday, my dad flew back to the US.  Russell stayed in Beijing for meetings, so he put me and the kids on the train with a treasure of Subway sandwiches, and we saw some stunning countryside on our fifty-hour journey to Kunming.

The next stage of the trip home was an overnight bus that would twist through many mountains to our town near Burma.  Exhausted from the trip the kiddos fell right to sleep.  Throughout the long, bumpy ride I found myself checking on them and praying for safety, protection, and God’s peace.  On a stop just before dawn for breakfast noodles and makeshift restrooms, I saw a friend who was also returning to our town and he asked me if we still had our backpacks and money.  Nearly everyone on the bus had been robbed that night and I, as a foreign woman with young children, would have been an easy target.

At that time, our friend Ken did not understand my explanation of God’s protection, but I keep praying that one day he too will trust in God’s goodness.  May we daily know His nearness.  You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.   I am not alone.  You are not alone. We do not need to be afraid. God is with us, no matter where we go, when we walk with God we go with His blessing.

Psalm 139:3-5 NLT

April 13 – Blessed with Peace

David, a gifted poet and songwriter, wrote Psalm 29, a short song about the powerful, majestic and thunderous voice of the Lord.  Many examples from nature illustrate God’s voice.  Imagine listening to the music of this song – loud instruments, drums beating and cymbals clashing, to drive home the point that God’s voice is powerful.  Slowly, one by one, the instruments stop playing and all that can be heard is a single strum of a guitar and the singer whispers the final line of the chorus: “God bless you with peace.”

The Lord has a range from thunderstorms to a still small voice that whispers: peace.  Jesus told his disciples that He leaves them with peace; it is His peace that He gives.  The Lord rules over the floodwaters. The Lord reigns as king forever. The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.  

Peace be with you.  If I try, I can hear the reply from the congregation in the beautiful stained-glass Catholic Church of my youth, “and also with you.”  Peace with God comes through His Son.  What wonderful joy to be at peace with the reigning King who offers His strength to those who are loyal to Him.  When we are at peace with God, we can extend this peace to those around us as well.  A heart filled with peace has little room for regret.

P.S. The field stones that once held those vibrant 1916 windows in place were replaced by new brick, and a choir member from my teenage years is now the village priest. Change takes place, and yet peace continues to be extended as the church’s front entrance inscription of “Love one another as I love you” is lived out in community.

Psalm 29:10-11 NLT

April 12 – Blessed to Be Freed

David is very aware of where his help comes from.  He writes this song, Psalm 124, to remind God’s people that if the Lord had not been on their side, it would have been a very different story!  They would have been swallowed up alive.  So all praise and blessing go to God!  Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us
 as prey to their teeth!We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken and we have escaped! Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Where do we turn for help?  Who is it that we call out to in times of need? God desires that our dependency is on Him alone.  At times I feel He gives us a pop-test, a little glitch in our day, so that we can stop and assess just where it is that we place our trust.  Father, You are the Creator of Heaven and earth and all that is in them and yet You hear us when we call out to You for help.  Thank You, Lord, for helping us when we feel trapped and for freeing us from the sin that would like to keep us in bondage.  May Your name be blessed.  Amen.

Psalm 124:6-8 ESV

April 11- Bless the Lord at All Times

David’s praise and refuge were in the Lord even when Saul pursued him to take his life.  I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.”   It was easy to contemplate this psalm of praise in the spring of 2012 when I was at a weekend silent retreat and the nature surrounding me was majestic.  Brilliant peacocks were climbing deep scented pine trees and it seemed natural to boast in the Lord who created such variety.  But weeks later when I read the verse, copied into a friend’s prayer letter, my head was throbbing with a headache in time with the computer’s cursor.  Yet the same God is Lord of all and like the psalmist I’m called to bless Him at all times.

In Hebrew, David’s language, Psalm 34 is an acrostic poem and each verse begins with the letters of the alphabet in order like A, B, C, etc.  The poem is a wonderful lesson to always praise the Lord and it concludes in confidence that God’s servants will be redeemed.  On the good days and on the days that are harder, Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”  

David found this to be true so he shared it with us in song.  Have we tasted the goodness of God for ourselves?  Do those around us get a taste of His goodness from us?  May His praise be in our mouth as we boast in Him alone.   He is our place of retreat, of refuge, and we are blessed when we go to Him at all times.  

Psalm 34:1-2, 8 ESV

April 10 – Blessed to Be Close to God

God indeed will replace Saul with a man after God’s own heart and Samuel anointed David but he does not become the new king right away.  As a shepherd boy, David learned many valuable life skills.  The close relationship he developed and maintained with God was perhaps his greatest asset.  David, seeking to honor God, killed Goliath when he was still too young to fill out Saul’s armor. Saul got to know David better when David came to play music to comfort him. Saul’s own son Jonathan established a meaningful friendship with David and David even married Saul’s daughter.  By this time, David was an intricate part of Saul’s family.

But because of David’s growing popularity as a warrior, Saul became increasingly jealous of him and even wanted to take his life.  One time in particular, Saul was out searching for David and got a lead on David’s whereabouts.  Saul replied to those who had helped him, “The Lord bless you for your concern for me.”  Even when it may have seemed to David that everyone was out to get him, God protected David from Saul’s pursuits.

It was during this season that David poured out his heart to the Lord in songs.  How we respond in times of unfair treatment can tell us a lot about ourselves.  Closeness to God can make all the difference.

1 Samuel 23:21 NIV

April 9 – A Cheerful “Blessing” Does Not Cover Disobedience

To obey is better than sacrifice.”  This is the truth that cost King Saul his crown.  The basic story is that God gave a very specific message to Saul and sadly, Saul only partially followed God’s command.  Half-obedience is not obedience at all and Samuel was sent to let Saul know that the consequences of his choice would be grave.

When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the LORD bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the LORD’s command!”  Cheerfulness cannot cover sin and Samuel got right to the heart of the matter.  Saul’s glad greeting turned to rationalization which then turned to shifting the blame.  Saul begged for forgiveness when he heard Samuel’s words: “because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”

Unfortunately we  are often like Saul. We rationalize here, or partially follow truth there. And then upon careful reflection we realize that our way of taking care of a situation is not obeying God’s way at all. God does not want our “sacrifice” but our loyalty.  Lord, have mercy on us.  Amen.

1 Samuel 15:13 NLT

April 8 – From Blessing a Sacrifice to Anointing a King

Samuel, who was once a small baby and then a boy in Eli’s care, grew to be a man of faith and prayer, and at this point in God’s Story is now an old man.  Times are at a spiritual low for the Israelites and the people join together and clamor for an earthly king.  God chooses a tall young man named Saul.

It might not make for the most exciting of coronation ceremonies but it is interesting how Samuel first met Saul.  Saul’s dad’s donkeys had gone missing and Saul was sent out to find them. After three days he was about to give up but he heard that a man of God was in the next town.  Maybe he could help.  Some girls drawing water told Saul, “As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.”   Saul found Samuel and Samuel went from blessing the sacrifice to anointing Israel’s first king.

But the Israelites would soon realize that they should have never given up a theocracy by asking for a monarchy.  We need to learn to be very wise with our requests.

1 Samuel 9:13 NIV

April 7 – The Childless Blessed to Have Children

Just a few weeks before our first child was born in August 1990, I read from God’s Story of a remarkable woman named Hannah who longed for a child.  It touched me so deeply that when Russell returned from a mission trip I asked him if we could name our daughter Hannah.  We prayed that our baby girl would grow to be like the Hannah of the Bible who was dedicated, faithful and trusting.

The ancient Hannah poured out her request and her tears before the Lord.  When a son, Samuel, was born to her and Elkanah, she followed through with her promise to give him back to the Lord.  Samuel grew up in the Temple where he served under the leadership of a priest named Eli. Hannah’s prayer and praise to the Lord was a wonderful testimony of her faith.  Each year she would make a new robe for her growing son and when they traveled to the Temple for worship she would give it to Samuel.   Before they returned home, Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you other children to take the place of this one she gave to the Lord.”  God answered that prayer too and blessed the couple with five additional children!  The Lord used Samuel, the first born, in a great way and he was the last and greatest of Israel’s judges, a mighty prophet, and he was chosen by God to anoint Israel’s first and second kings.

May we be like Hannah and never underestimate the power of prayer and then faithfully live and model a healthy spiritual life of thanksgiving.

P.S. Nearly twenty-five years after our Hannah was born, God blessed Hannah and and her husband Andrew with their firstborn son, Eamon Mark.  What a joy he is to our family. May he grow to know and love the Lord, trusting in His faithfulness.

1 Samuel 2:20 HCSB

April 6 – Blessed Be the Lord Who Redeems, Renews and Sustains

God blessed their marriage and Boaz and Ruth gave birth to a son, Obed, who would become the grandfather to Israel’s future king, David.  We will see these names again as Matthew lists the genealogy of Jesus in the opening book of the New Testament.  Ruth and Boaz’s story concludes with the first chapter’s main character: Naomi.   Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel!  He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age.  For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”  And everyone lived happily ever after!

When you think about it, this is a miniature telling of God’s Story.  Before the famine, life was rich within the community. (If you are familiar with the tool Crown, Heart, World, this is Column 1). Then, loss caused sorrow and separation (Column 2).  Following this separation, God provided a way of redemption (Column 3).  People learned how to trust and love well and preparations were made for a wedding, just like the wedding God’s people will celebrate with Jesus as the bridegroom (Column 4). At last, we will all live with God in a community where there will be no more tears, worshipping happily through all eternity (Column 5). I love God’s Story!

Ruth 4:14-15 ESV

April 5 – Proper Pursuit Led to Blessings

Ruth met with Boaz at the threshing floor and he was pleased to see her. I envision him looking at her with adoration as he said,  “May the LORD bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness now than before, because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor.”   Wedding bells are going to ring for Ruth and Boaz!  By following Naomi’s guidance, Ruth has met a man who not only cares for her but is also able to provide her a place in the community.  Boaz was offering Ruth a second chance at married love and by doing so he was blessed with a lovely, loyal wife.

It looks like God was answering the prayer that Naomi prayed when she was about to leave Moab.  Back in Moab there were tears of sadness and even bitterness. Rather than taking matters into her own hands, Naomi took the situation to God and prayed for something specific for her daughters-in-law.  Naomi asked that God would bless them with a second happy marriage.  With God in the picture, bitter hearts can change making room for joy to come.  Blessings can then flow.  It happened then, and with God in charge, His blessings continue to flow today.  Everyone was delighted with the arrangement but the story doesn’t end here.

Ruth 3:10 HCSB 

April 4 – Blessed to Be Noticed

Ruth brought back a large bundle of grain and her mother-in-law asked,  “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”   Ruth filled Naomi in on her good fortune concerning her work situation and then told her that the kind man that had helped her was named Boaz.  The story gets even better when Naomi shares that Boaz is a respectable member of her deceased husband’s family: “The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.”  This relationship tie meant that Boaz had a responsibility toward the two women.

In time, Naomi will put a little matchmaking plan into action so Ruth and Boaz can have a more intimate encounter.  I have learned that matchmaking is not one of my God-given gifts.  However, I love the joy and excitement that comes when a couple gets engaged and seeks God for their future.  Ruth was blessed when Boaz noticed her and I sure was blessed the day that Russell took notice of me, a young Marine wearing combat boots and cammies.  It is healthy to reflect on the truth that all goodness comes from God and He knows the plan way before we do.

Ruth 2:19-20 NIV

April 3 – The Lord Bless You!

The two women, Naomi and Ruth, arrived in Bethlehem and were warmly greeted.  How wonderful it feels to be welcomed after a long trip.  They were, however, still without a male provider and they needed food, so Ruth went out to the barley fields to pick up whatever had been left after the harvesters had gone through the crops.  While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The LORD be with you!” he said. “The LORD bless you!” the harvesters replied.  At that time, Boaz had no idea just how the Lord was about to really bless him.  If he was a socks-wearing man, we could say God blessed his socks off!

When he caught a glimpse of Ruth and heard of her faithful character, Boaz chose to offer her protection and provision while she worked in his fields.  I picture their first meeting and I think it must have been love at first sight, but I’m getting a little ahead of the story.  By-the-way, when Russell and I first met in the Gunnery Sergeant’s office in Pensacola, Florida, he claims it was love at first sight.  It makes me smile to go back to that time when we were two eighteen-year-old Marines and to think about all that God has brought us through since those days.  That is a different story altogether, yet one still filled with God’s blessings.

Ruth 2:4 NLT

April 2 – Blessed with a Second Chance

Naomi did not expect her pagan daughters-in-law to actually leave all that was familiar to them and travel with her back to her hometown.  With tears, Naomi prepared to go and said her farewells:  “May the LORD bless you with the security of another marriage.” Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept.  But Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law surprised Naomi by saying, “I’m going with you and your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.  I will even be buried wherever it is that you die and are buried.”

I wonder what went through the minds of the two traveling companions as they made the fifty mile or so journey.  As Naomi passed by familiar landmarks, did she remember the trip she and her husband and young sons made in her younger years?  Was Ruth still grieving the husband she lost?  Did each step toward Bethlehem give Ruth hope toward her future or fear that she might not be accepted?  There is a lot to speculate, but what we do know is that Ruth was committed to Naomi and we will see how God blessed Ruth’s commitment. True love and commitment go hand in hand.  When we say, “May the Lord bless you with…” do we have faith that He will bless?

Ruth 1:9 NLT

April 1 – From Bitter to Better to Blessed

Get ready!  God’s big Story is narrowing in on one particular family and this attention gives us a glimpse of how God’s blessings make a difference in the lives of people like you and me.  I really like Ruth’s story, the four-chapter romantic mini-drama, although the beginning is tragic.

A famine in Bethlehem (a little town in Judah) forces a young family of four to migrate to Moab.  In a short time, Naomi’s husband dies leaving her with two sons to raise.  Her sons both grow up and marry local Moabite women and then unexpectedly the brothers die as well. Naomi is left with only memories of what had been her family.  Can you imagine losing your entire family while living in a foreign land?  It would be easy to despair.  Naomi is sad and even bitter about her situation.

But read on as the conclusion might just be the first recorded “and they all lived happily ever after” kind of ending.  Then Naomi heard in Moab that the LORD had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. The story is about to turn from bitter to better.  Oh, for the times when the bitter to better transformation takes place in our lives, when we experience the journey with God, having faith that He leads us for our good.

Ruth 1:6 NLT

March highlights:

As we march through the month of March, Moses paused with God’s people to refocus them on the holiness and goodness of God.  We too are reminded that blessings come when we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Before Moses died, he blessed the tribes of Israel and Joshua was appointed as the new leader.  Joshua faithfully led the beginning conquest of the Promised Land.  After his death, we get a sampling of what life was like during the period of the Judges.

 

March 31 – Blessedness Should Not Lead to Corruption

There was not a king in Israel at this time and everyone did as he saw fit. “Everyone did as he saw fit” could describe the driving practices of Burma (Myanmar).  When I was thirty-five years old Russell cared for our kiddos in Thailand and for twelve days I traveled throughout Burma’s Shan State with two younger ladies.   National traffic flow had changed from the left to the right but several cars still operate for right side driving, which means a passenger sees oncoming traffic on a curve long before the driver does.  Adding to the chaos, horns are preferred over turn signals, stop signs treated as optional and the roads that were maintained when the British occupied Burma had become a series of potholes.  It was very natural to talk to God frequently about our safety as well as the human rights issues that affect so many in what should be a thriving country.

Israel also should have been a thriving nation, but instead of following God and His ways, they did as they saw fit and it led to head-on-collisions with sin.  Micah was a man who lived during this time and told his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you and about which I heard you utter a curse—I have that silver with me; I took it.” Then his mother said, “The LORD bless you, my son!”  This story goes on to illustrate the corrupt nature of the Israelites as some of them sought to live disconnected from God.

Now, just like then, a compromise with even the smallest things can lead to big deviations that affect more people than we might ever guess.  In Burma the situation has gone from bad to horrendous.  God, we pray for the people within Burma to have not only Your protection but to know You as their Savior.  May the corruption end and Your justice go forth.  Amen.

Judges 17:2 NIV

March 30 – Set Apart and Blessed

During this time in history, the Israelites wavered continually concerning their faithfulness to the Lord.  Once more, after doing evil in the eyes of the Lord, they were delivered into the hands of their enemies, the Philistines; at this point for a period of forty years.  Then someone who looked like an angel delivered life-changing news to a childless couple.  The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir within him…

Even those who may not know much about the Bible have probably heard of Samson, a man made supernaturally strong by God.  Before birth Samson was set apart with a purpose from God: to begin to rescue the Israelites from the hands of their enemies.  He may not have always made the best choices when it came to women, but when he lived according to his purpose, he did great things.

Five chapters of God’s Story are reserved for telling Samson’s movie-worthy story.  Not everyone who is born has a starring role in the big Story, but each of us can be faithful with what God has called us to do.  It is good for us to give some thought as to how God has created and gifted us individually, and how living out our calling can make a difference.   Samson’s uneven faithfulness in life was meaningful, but his wholehearted devotion at his death ended up being more effective than all he had done to that point.

The sooner we use our uniqueness to honor the Lord with our lives, living on purpose for Him, the better.  But even if we have been uneven up to now, there is still time to trust Him.

Judges 13:24-25a NIV

March 29 – Blessed for Victory

The courageous judge Deborah, who bravely took God’s army into battle, led the troops home with a song of praise to the Lord when God provided the victory (and He saw fit to include Jael as well).  Although Barak was slow to accept the plan, I like it that he joined in with the victory praise to God. Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day: “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD!”  The song continues to tell of the Lord’s praise-worthiness:  “My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the LORD.” 
 At times we may need to lead out courageously in order to take action and when God blesses us with the victory, let us not forget to offer praise right back to Him.

Judges 5:1-2; 9 ESV

March 28 – Blessed among Tent-Dwelling Women

Summers in Michigan are best when they are spent by a lake and when I was growing up my family did a lot of lakeside camping.  Meals around a campfire, waterskiing, and catching fireflies are all wonderful childhood memories.  The experience of living from time-to-time in a tent blessed me to better connect with a tent-dwelling woman of the Old Testament.

After Joshua died, having served the Lord faithfully, there was still more of the Promised Land to conquer.  Unfortunately, this conquest did not go well.  By embracing pagan influences the Israelites allow themselves to be led astray and immediately the people of God found themselves far from Him.  Time after time though, as they repented, God continued to provide for them.   God told Deborah (the nation’s judge at that time) that He would bring about the victory they needed.  However, when Israel’s commander Barak, heard the battle plan he balked.  God was not thwarted and used a woman to achieve the goal in an intriguing manner.

Jael was very brave, strong and yet gentle.  When Sisera the fleeing enemy commander approached her tent for a respite, Jael tended his needs by offering milk to drink and a blanket to make him feel cozy.  When he fell asleep exhausted from battle, she softly entered the tent and drove a tent peg through his temple with a hammer.  Jael accomplished what a mighty military army failed to do and Sisera lay dead at her feet. Deborah wrote a song praising Jael and giving the glory to God for the victory.

I re-pictured Jael’s story while pitching a tent for a camping weekend with my sisters and their families in the summer of 2012.  My reflection on this interesting part of God’s Story, is to use the tools God provides us so we can faithfully serve Him.  I hope my tools will not be hammers and tent pegs, but that is what they were for Jael and she was blessed for using them.  “Jael is most blessed of women, the wife of Heber the Kenite; she is most blessed among tent-dwelling women.” 

Judges 5:24 HCSB

March 27 – Rescued and Blessed

A lot of good true stories are repeated.  Ancient stories along with stories we hear today can be passed down to the next generation for teaching points,  encouragement,  and to be a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness.  This is exactly what took place just before Joshua made a covenant with the Israelites and sent them away, each to his own piece of Promised Land.

Joshua retold God’s Story starting with Abraham’s father.  He highlighted key elements of their unique history and reemphasized God’s faithfulness, power and compassion.  Joshua mentioned Balaam who had been sent to curse the Israelites.  Quoting God, Joshua says,  “…but I would not listen to him. Instead, I made Balaam bless you, and so I rescued you from Balak.” God reminded the Israelites, through Joshua, that it was He who had provided victory after victory and in gratitude, the people responded saying they would serve and obey the Lord.  Later the prophet Micah also encouraged the people of his lifetime by retelling  the account of the Lord’s blessings through Balaam and Balak.

One reason why I am writing this book is to remember God’s blessings.  By working through God’s Story of blessings and retelling stories of how He blessed our family time after time, I am blessed all over again.

On our first Easter among an unreached people of China, the town’s eight foreigners rode through the quiet pre-dawn with the desire to pray and worship the Redeemer on a mountaintop as the sun rose.  Isaiah, five years old, excitedly raced past Sophie and slipping on a stone bridge, he gashed his head open when he fell backwards.  Russ applied pressure to Isaiah’s wound and used my jacket to absorb the bleeding, and we went on with worshipping our Lord.  In time, and with the help of our neighbor, a nurse, Isaiah’s head grew back together.  He did not suffer any ongoing damage; his scar became a physical reminder to me of God’s goodness. How good it is for us to reflect on God’s faithful blessings and refresh our vow to honor Him.

Joshua 24:10 NLT

March 26 – Blessed to Be Peacemakers

After initial conquests had been made, Joshua commended those who had chosen to settle on the east side of the Jordan for their faithful service and told them they could return to their homes.  Before they journeyed on, he urged them to continue to love the Lord, walk in His ways, obey His commands, hold fast to Him and to serve Him completely.   So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents. 

Later a bit of a misunderstanding took place among the clans and when reconciliation was reached the tribes of Israel experience the joy of peace-filled unity.  And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled.

What a blessing it is for families to live at peace with each other!  Even though it often takes work to understand and to be understood, it is so worth it to live in a restored relationship. Jesus expounds on this peace-making theme in His public teaching that took place on a mountain, saying that those who work for peace will be blessed.  Years later a 13th-century Catholic saint named Francis begins his well-known prayer with: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.”  Our greatest need is peace with God and perhaps the greatest gift we can give is peace in our relationships.

Joshua 22:6; 33b ESV

March 25 – The Blessing of Good Leaders

Joshua’s main role at this point in history was to divide territories for all the tribes and clans of Israel.   This division was accomplished by casting lots and recognizing which tribes were big enough to completely take over the new land. Dividing up the Promised Land was not always a clear-cut easy job for God’s leader and, at times, Joshua’s decisions were questioned.

The descendants of Joseph came to Joshua and asked, “Why have you given us only one portion of land as our homeland when the Lord has blessed us with so many people?”  Joshua reassessed, gave more territory to Joseph’s tribe and encouraged them that even though the Canaanites were strong and had chariots of iron, Joseph’s descendants could drive them out.

Good, godly leadership is not easy to come by.  God told Joshua often to be brave and I believe that this encouraged him.  We can then see in the life of Joshua how he encouraged others to be brave too.  God, we pray for our leaders today.  May those that are in authority take the time to seek You for wisdom and to lead with integrity.  I pray that when it is our time to lead (in big and little ways) we would do the same.  Thank You God for being our good Leader.  Amen.

Joshua 17:14b NLT

March 24 – Some Blessings Need to Be Asked For

Caleb was one mighty octogenarian. He received his portion of land and began to drive out the inhabitants who did not honor God.  This took strength, bravery, wisdom and trust that God was on his side.  Caleb offered his daughter in marriage to the man who was able to capture a certain city within his new domain.  When she arrived to set up her new home her dad Caleb asked her what it was she wanted.

I wonder if Achsah thought about asking for fine china as a wedding gift, but then decided it would be even better to have water. “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me the springs of water also.” So he gave her the upper and lower springs.   This pioneer woman was then able to water her gardens, her herds, do laundry and have fresh water for cooking and for making lemonade. What a good blessing to ask for and to receive.  Her husband and household would indeed be blessed!

Can you imagine how challenging simple day-to-day living would be without access to water?  At times when we lived in various places there would be days without the convenience of electricity. Even in countries which are considered to be developed, when a major storm hits, power outages can be experienced and often the extended community steps in to offer help.  But when there is not access to water, life takes on a whole new level of challenge.  Caleb’s daughter, Achsah, got the special favor she asked for: water.

Sometimes we go without because we do not ask.  Other times we are like Caleb, the ones who are in the position to extend the blessing.  Around the world today people still have the need to receive clean water.  The good news is there are many opportunities to be involved with well drilling projects. Let’s be part of the solution!

P.S. It makes me so happy that a portion of the proceeds from The Blessing Book (the Devotional as well as the Study Guide) are given to Living Water International, a Christian well-drilling ministry that provides water for life in Jesus’ name. Thank you for blessing others around the world with the gift of water and the opportunity to demonstrate the love of God.

Joshua 15:19 HCSB

March 23 – A Forty-five Year Blessing Fulfilled

whole lot of land had been conquered by Joshua and the Israelites as God fought battle after battle for them.  At this point in the Story, Caleb, a brave, honest man, was eighty-five years old and just as strong as ever.  Back in the day, when Moses sent him and Joshua to Canaan as part of a twelve-man scouting party, Moses recognized Caleb’s integrity and promised a specific portion of the Promised Land to him.  Caleb was to receive this inheritance because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.  Now the time was right for Caleb to remind Joshua of the promise that Moses had made over four decades earlier.

Both Joshua and Caleb must have felt the building excitement as this particular promise was about to be reality. They had waited an additional forty-five years since they first spied out the good, plentiful land that flowed with milk and honey.  I can picture Joshua hugging his loyal friend, memories flooding through their minds of grape clusters so big it took two men to carry, of large fortified cities and of enemies big and strong.  A younger Joshua and Caleb sought to rally the people when they returned from their forty-day exploration.  “We can do this!  God has promised the land to us!  Don’t be afraid, for God is with us and we will swallow those people up!”  But sadly, the Israelites gave into fear and listened to the whiney report from the other ten leaders instead.  It took forty years for all of the non-trusting people to die as they wandered in the desert.  Now Joshua, following God, was leading successful military campaigns with Caleb at his side and a new generation was experiencing the promises of God fulfilled.  Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance.

Joshua 14:13 NIV

March 22 – Blessed to Carry and Pass the Baton of Faith

It was time for the baton to be passed.  Excitement builds when this is done during a middle school track meet or at the Olympic level for we know that the outcome of a good hard run race often comes down to a flawless passing of the baton.  Our family had pioneered the mission work with an unreached tribe in China near the border of Burma.  For many years prayer, language study, meeting people, sharing truth and a whole lot of life was lived as this group went from no known believers to young churches starting up to worship God in their own language.  God’s Kingdom expanded. We sensed we completed our contribution and those we trained were ready to grip the baton and run their leg of this great race.

Before he died, Moses passed on his ministry baton.  Joshua was God’s newly assigned leader for His people and several times God told Joshua to be strong and courageous.  The first eight chapters of the book named after him, are packed with action.  With the Promised Land before him, Joshua sent in two spies who were helped by Rahab.  Then with the ark of the covenant leading the way, the Israelites crossed the dry Jordan River. The Israelites set up stones as a memorial, all the men were circumcised, and the Passover was celebrated.  Finally, the fortified city of Jericho was captured with a march and a shout.  Joshua erected an altar for offerings to the Lord and the entire nation of Israel gathered expectantly on both sides of the ark of the Lord’s covenant.  They faced the Levitical priests who carried it and waited for the priests to bless the people of Israel. Afterward, Joshua read aloud all the words of the law—the blessings as well as the curses—according to all that is written in the book of the law. 

That is a lot of information to take in, and just imagine if we were there living it all out; our journals would be filled with one amazing act of God after the next!  Yet in our own lives God intervenes, blesses, guides, provides and so much more, for us, His children.  God, saying, “thanks” does not feel like enough for all that You do for us.  The very air that we breathe is a gift, a blessing from You.  Your nearness comforts, Your strength gives us strength, Your Presence guides us. Please accept our sacrifice of thanksgiving.  With deep gratitude may we run strong and pass the baton of faith to those who will run after us.  Amen.

P.S. Great joy is mine to pass on this update from one who has gripped the baton and is running strong. “As of October 2015, we have completed 50% of the New Testament and have published the following Scripture portions: Luke (2011), Acts (2013), and a booklet including 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, and James (2015). We have early drafts of most of the rest of the New Testament. The SD church is using the published portions for teaching and study at church gatherings and for personal Bible reading. We often hear reports that the SD believers are eager to receive more of the Scriptures. Keep praying for us toward that end—that we would speedily complete the New Testament for the glory of Christ!”

Joshua 8:33b-34 HCSB

March 21 – Blessed to Live a Full and Interesting Life

Mountaintop views are stunning!  While Russell was at meetings for Asia Harvest, the board members’ wives hiked each afternoon around the New Zealand countryside.  Our time in this part of God’s creation was rejuvenating.  Beauty as far as the eye could see. One day we climbed the highest local hill, and I thought about Moses.  Mountain climbing is not for the faint of heart, yet the view from the top is spectacular and oh so worth each step.

After blessing each tribe individually, God’s righteous servant Moses shared one more verse of written words before he climbed alone up the mountain God told him to climb.  He marveled at the vast land before him that the Lord promised His people, then he died after living 120 years.  Final words are often words remembered and Moses did not want Israel to forget that they are a blessed people. 

“How blessed you are, O Israel! Who else is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your protecting shield and your triumphant sword! Your enemies will cringe before you, and you will stomp on their backs!”  Pretty strong and zesty final words from one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.  Moses led an incredibly diverse and exciting life.  He may have begun the rescue mission with a speech impediment but Moses ended his life speaking strongly for the Lord he loved.  He was a blessed man.

Deuteronomy 33:29 NLT

March 20 – Blessed Tribes

In a book filled with blessings, it is appropriate that the end of Deuteronomy would have another concentration of blessings.  This is the blessing that Moses, the man of God, gave the Israelites before his death.  Years before, these names were simply the names of Jacob’s sons.  Now we read that these same names have expanded into the tribes of Israel.  We see how God’s promises come true as each “son” is now a tribe and each tribe grows like stars in the sky.

About the tribe of Levi Moses said, “LORD, bless his possessions, and accept the work of his hands.” Joseph’s clan’s blessings:  “May his land be blessed by the LORD…”  He said this about Gad’s people: “The one who enlarges Gad’s territory will be blessed.”  Picture Moses looking right into the eyes of those in Naphtali’s tribe when he spoke the next blessing. “Naphtali, enjoying approval, full of the LORD’s blessing, take possession to the west and the south.”  Do you remember how happy Leah was when her maid gave birth to Jacob’s eighth son?  The final blessing was for this eighth son, for Asher’s descendants. The Hebrew meaning of his name is “happy, blessed, fortunate”: “May Asher be the most blessed of the sons 

Moses blessed each tribe and each blessing was a little different because each of God’s people is a little different, yet God loves us all. The abounding blessing of redemption through His Son Jesus is now offered to every one of us.  How will we respond to the blessings we are given?

Deuteronomy 33:1; 11; 13; 20; 23; 24 HCSB

March 19 – Blessed to Choose Life

God has blessed us to live abundantly and yet He still leaves it up to us to make the choice.  Moses, as God’s spokesman, pleaded to the Israelites that they would choose life.  Today, the opportunity to live the abundant life is offered to us through Jesus Christ. Oh, that we would choose life!

For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.” After describing what would happen if disobedience was chosen, which doesn’t sound good at all, we read: “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!”

Deuteronomy 30:16; 19 NLT

March 18 – Blessed to Be Restored

Even before we go our own way, God is fully aware of our propensity to stray.  “When all these things happen to you—the blessings and curses I have set before you—and you come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul by doing everything I am giving you today, then He will restore your fortunes, have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.”

Our God is famous for His mercy and compassion and He knows we are bound to wander. He lets us know just how great our restoration will be when true repentance takes place. Locations and time periods may vary, however, His Storyline loops back around to a recurring theme: there is goodness and blessing in God.  Humanity fails, redemption takes place for the repentant, restoration comes from a compassionate God whose desire is to bless, and when all is said and done, there will be more blessings than we could ever imagine! We are blessed to go forth and love those who live in a world that is still upside-down.  We can do this best when we reflect on how Jesus loved and look forward with joy in the hope that is yet before us.

Russell’s explanation of a biblical worldview through CrownHeartWorld, coupled with his insights from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, has been an ongoing life transformation for me.  God, as we grow in Christ-likeness, may we turn to You quickly when we do fail.  Thank You for gathering us into Your family, Your Story.  Help us to come to our senses and live like life matters.  Loving You with all we have should lead to loving people too.  Fill us with compassion enough to care, then wisdom enough to act.   Amen.

Deuteronomy 30:1-3 HCSB

 

March 17 – Stubborn Hearts Will Not Be Blessed

I think I learn best with positive reinforcement, but God knows that not everyone is motivated by affirmation.  Sometimes we also need to be aware of the negative consequences of a situation.  After a detailed description of the blessings that would come from following God’s ways, we read more than fifty verses that describe what will happen (in heart-wrenching detail) if God is not obeyed.  It is tragically sad that these warnings foreshadow what will take place in years to come for the Israelites.

The Book of Proverbs, written later in history, wisely  warn us to guard our hearts. That is what Moses seeks to convey as he retells the story of the Israelites, preparing them for their future. Everything we do flows from our hearts, where we decide and then act upon the options before us.  I pray we would stay near to God and value His love and wisdom above all else.  Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ ”

The consequence for a rebellious attitude is severe.  No matter how much we might try to rationalize the situation, when we are separated from God we are far from safe.  Beware, beware!  Stubborn independence is not a virtue but a strong vice.  Although we may feel free, God warns us that an obstinate mindset is a lethal trap.

Deuteronomy 29:18-19a ESV

March 16 – The Blessing of Food, Rain, and Children

Moses may not have used alliteration as he spoke, but I can imagine somewhere along the line a preacher saying, “Now if blessed cities, blessed countryside, blessed citizens, blessed cash crops and blessed cows are not enough to get a nation’s attention, God continued speaking through Moses to tell of the additional blessings that await the Israelites.”  Your fruit baskets and breadboards will be blessed. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be blessed.”

God’s plans also involved safety from their enemies. To a people in need of physical protection, this was a very big concern and God was offering to again defend and provide for His people. “The Lord will guarantee a blessing on everything you do and will fill your storehouses with grain. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.” Moses then recaps the message; “The Lord will give you prosperity in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, blessing you with many children, numerous livestock, and abundant crops.  The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do.”

It is as if God Almighty wrote His people a blank blessing check.  And for them to cash it, all they needed to do was remain faithful to the God who cares for them and who has time and time again shown His covenant love.  Will they love Him in return?  Do we?

Deuteronomy 28:5-6; 8, 11-12a NLT

March 15 – Overtaken with Blessings

So many blessings come from the Lord when we are obedient.  Some of the detailed blessings God offered to the Israelites were dependent on their obedience to Him.  “Now if you faithfully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all His commands I am giving you today, the Lord your God will put you far above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come and overtake you, because you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. Your descendants will be blessed, and your land’s produce, and the offspring of your livestock, including the young of your herds and the newborn of your flocks.”

I love the phrase, “All these blessings will come and overtake you.”  Think about it: to be overtaken with blessings!  And that is not all.  The Israelites will experience even more specific blessings if they remain faithfully obedient to the Lord, so read on!

Deuteronomy 28:1-4 HCSB

March 14 – Blessings Flowing like Milk and Honey

God was concerned with the well-being of the priests, the foreigners, the orphans, and widows, and to meet their needs, a special tithe was offered every third year.   Those who presented the offering followed the commands of the Lord and then said to God, “Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  When we give our “first fruits” to the Lord to help those who cannot help themselves, everyone is blessed!

We can bless people in a variety of ways today because many churches have foundations in place to help the poor, the widows, and the orphans in their communities.  Even a tithe of time can bless us and those we share our time with.  We can teach English as a Second Language, giving a much-needed life skill to people in our country who need to learn a new language.  Time is a precious gift to those in retirement homes.  Can we share a little of our time with them?  We can make a difference for good by reaching out to foreign students in colleges near us.  The impact we could have on other countries without even getting a passport is potentially incredible!  By donating to and shopping at Salvation Army, or other stores like it, we can promote good.  Recently I was helping a lady “shop” at our community benevolent center.  It was as if a light bulb of hope came on for her when I said,  “Sure, take as many of these shirts as you need, and when you don’t need them anymore, bring them back or pass them on so then you can bless someone else.”  All of us can be a part of the blessing cycle.  Be creative, be generous, be a blessing!

Deuteronomy 26:15 ESV

March 13 – Blessed Not to Be Greedy

In God we trust” appears on US coins and paper currency.  The Israelites needed to decide if they were going to trust in God when it came to money matters and the following verse gave them guidance:  You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.”  Other laws were put in place to ensure that people were provided for: “Return the cloak to its owner by sunset so he can stay warm through the night and bless you, and the Lord your God will count you as righteous.”  Later on we will see how the following principle was lived out in Ruth’s life to further God’s Story:  When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”  These specific examples helped establish the operating manual for life in the new land.  God cares how we treat one another and blesses us for loving as He does.

Deuteronomy 23:20 NIV, 24:13 NLT, 24:19 NIV

March 12 – Curses into Blessings Due to Love

Moses retells a story found in Numbers 22-24 about a spiritualist name Balaam who was ordered by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites.  In the end, the potential cursing turned to blessings, but why?  Because again God showed His love toward His people.  When Russell and I worked to start a fresh church for Spanish speakers in Texas, an outspoken man mocked us while doing door-to-door outreach. This man, Juan de Leon, made fun of the nervous way that Russell’s disciple, Mario, was trying to share the good news.  Russell took an opportunity to stand up to the challenge with a pun based on the man’s last name “of the Lion”.  He quoted a verse in Ecclesiastes and shared how it is better to be a live dog than a dead lion.  Juan hesitated, nodded, and invited us in.  Mario was encouraged, Juan became a Christian, and Juan’s wife made us some great tamales.  We were all blessed!  There is no promise that we will go through life free of enemies who would like to see us cursed. So we, like the Israelites in their time, need to be reminded of God’s love for us.  
Yet the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam, but He turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you.  Trust in the simple yet profound truth that God loves you.

Deuteronomy 23:5 HCSB

March 11 – Blessed with Complete Joy

Would you like to live in complete joy?  The people of Israel were told to give back to God.  This giving was a celebration and in proportion to what He had provided and what He would continue to provide: blessings including success with work and abundant joy.  Why would we not want to return blessing for blessing and to do so with a happy heart? 
Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you.  Remember, life is not all about work and making a profit.  Take time out from working to celebrate the Lord.  For seven days celebrate the festival to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.  What price would you pay for complete joy?  God has provided salvation, material blessings, His Word as a handbook for living a purposeful life, and so much more.  Thank You God!

Deuteronomy 16:10; 15 NIV

March 10 – Blessed to Give Generously

We read in the New Testament that God loves a cheerful giver. This concept goes way back to the times of Moses.  There will always be the poor among us, so those who have more should give more.  Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.  We are happier when we live life with an open hand rather than with a stingy heart.  It is helpful to keep in mind that God has created all people, those who have and those who don’t have.  When we are given the opportunity to give, we should do so, for it is God who has blessed the work of our hands by providing us with the wealth to give.  It is a delight to live as part of the solution, staying close to God to know His desires for the good of all.  In the way of giving, we are blessed to be a blessing too.  Giving generously is more than just giving financially.  People need care, a listening ear, time.  Do you have peace with God?  If so, offer peace to others so they can know God and know peace too. Give generously, live generously; for we can trust that the Lord our God will bless us.

Deuteronomy 15:10 NLT

March 9 – Blessed to Bless the Poor

However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.”

To a newly established nation, this blessing from God must have seemed almost too good to be true.  The Book of Deuteronomy is mostly one long message, and those initially hearing it had been listening for quite some time at this point.  I have a feeling their ears perked up when Moses got to this part.  Although sandals did not wear out from all the desert walking they did, presently they were not particularly rich.

When Russell and I started our married life together we encountered some challenging financial times.  Every penny was stretched.  We even sold a partial book of postage stamps to some friends so we could have enough change to buy a cold drink on one hot day.  Even though we were poor, we decided to trust God and give at least a tenth of everything we earned toward God’s work.  As the years have passed and our blessings have grown, we have been able to help others and this has been one of our greatest joys.

When God’s people remembered their history of being poor and enslaved in Egypt, and then reflected on all the years of living in the desert, the promise of wealth and power was a great contrast.  This contrast offered hope in so many ways.  
The Israelites had an opportunity for a fresh start and it was due to God’s faithfulness and blessings.  And again we see that in the middle of it all was a big “if.”  The blessings are there if we are careful to obey.

Deuteronomy 15:4-6 NIV

March 8 – Blessed to Be Joyful, Thankful and Prayerful

Moses knew that he was not going with the Israelites when they crossed the Jordan River to occupy the land promised to them.  With great care he continued to address the assembly by telling them more specific instructions that would be vital for them to follow. When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. 

Then Moses detailed the importance of pure worship that pleases God.  Again both negative and positive conclusions were explained.  Moses desired those he lead for the past forty years to thrive in their new land.

So many benefits awaited those who choose to obey. There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.  God was blessing them with a land promised to them.  No more wandering, but meaningful work and life with their families was before them.  Joy should be a part of work, of life, and it really can be as we live in the Presence of the Lord.  I pray that as we live lives that are joyful, thankful and prayerful our times of personal worship as well as corporate worship would bless the Lord our God.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 11:29, 12:7 NIV