January 9 We Are Blessed to Bless
We now fast forward several generations to the time of a man named Abram. God calls Abram to leave the familiar to go to where He will show him. God then makes an extraordinary promise to Abram: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God’s Story goes on to say that Abram left, as the Lord had told him. Oh, the blessings that obedience brings!
An old timey gospel chorus comes to my mind, “Wherever He leads, I’ll go.” I wonder what came to Abram’s mind as he stepped out in faith. He could have ignored God, and gone on living as before. Aren’t you glad he obeyed? We are blessed because he listened and followed God. God blessed Abram to be a blessing and we too are blessed to bless. How are we extending God’s blessing today? Think about the many ways we are loved and cared for by God. His Presence is with us always. Blessing continues to be God’s plan for all people so let’s not miss out on His strategy, but look for ways to join Him in blessing.
January 12 Blessed to Change
Can you imagine what it would be like if you received a name change in your nineties? That is what God gave Abram and Sarai. Abram was ninety-nine when he got his new name, Abraham, to remind him that he would be the father of many nations. The covenant was to be an everlasting one between God, Abraham and the descendants who were yet to come. God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Never give up on a promise God gives. He is faithful and can change more than just our names.
I’ve been called by a variety of names through the years. Back in the summer of 1965 my parents named me Karla Kay. Because I love the song Ave Maria I chose Maria as my confirmation name. After graduating high school I lived with a family in Germany as a summer exchange student and my host dad changed my name to Speedy because I liked to run. Marine Corps friends shorted my name to K.K., which I liked so much better than being called by my last name, which is commonly done in the military. Many women take their husband’s last name when they marry, and my name changed from Spindler to Minick in 1989. In our early married years, when Russ and I served among Spanish-speakers in Dallas, I was called Karlacita, a term of endearment. As each of our babies were born, their names were lovingly changed too by the wonderful people in our first church for Hispanics. We moved to China in 1996 and one of my Chinese friends took it upon herself to rename me Ming Yang Yan. In China, people are called by their last name first, so Ming was chosen because it is close to Minick. Ming means bright and Yang Yan translates to sunshine. It is hard not to be cheerful when you are called Bright Sunshine! Our ministry to the minorities in China moved us to Thailand and my name changed yet again. To the ears of most Thai people the letters “r” and “l” sound the same, so I answer to Kaalaa or Kaaraa when I’m in Thailand, that wonderful land of smiles. With the birth of our first grandchild I’m adding “Grammie”to my long list of names.
I have lived in many interesting places but I always thank God that my citizenship is in Heaven. We read in the second chapter in the book of Revelation that those who overcome will be given a white stone with a new name on it. I can’t wait to receive the name that God will bless me with on that day when I see Him face-to-Face!
January 15 Blessed to Pass the Test
In the ancient Near East, child sacrifice was an unfortunately common practice. People believed that the gods demanded the blood of children as signs of worship. As horrific as that seems to us, this was the world that Abraham and Sarah inhabited. It is crucial to remember this point when reading about Abraham’s most difficult test. One day, God called out to Abraham and asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. In addition to being a heartbreaking request, this must also have been confusing to Abraham. Wasn’t Isaac the child God had promised? Hadn’t Abraham waited for years to have a son? These thoughts undoubtedly raced through his mind, but Abraham again obeyed God.
As a parent of three beautiful children, I cannot even imagine Abraham’s heavy heart as he and Isaac climbed the mountain together. My heart grows heavier still when I think of how he had to then tie Isaac down to the altar, and how, with a trembling hand, he drew the knife to slay his son. This is horrible to imagine. But God had something besides death in store, for He is different from the pagan gods. At the last minute, just as Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham and said that now it was known that Abraham feared God above all else. Then the angel of the LORD called again to Abraham from heaven. “This is what the LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” What an incredible test. Again, Abraham obeyed God, and God’s blessing followed his obedience.
To prepare to serve God in China, our family received a series of injections, some of which could actually infect us with enough virus to make us extremely sick and even die. Although we sensed God’s leading to move our young family to the other side of the world, our trust in Him was truly tested when our four-year-old child, Sophie, began to show an adverse response to the injections. In some ways, like Abraham, we needed to obey God fully before we saw His provision. We intentionally reflected on the truth that our children were given to us from God, but that they belonged to Him. God, I pray that we continually trust You with the lives of those we love most dearly. Loving You and living obediently will never disappoint us even when the situation at hand may not be what we would naturally choose. In the end, Sophie was okay and with grateful hearts we boarded the plane, blessed to grow closer to God than ever before.
January 20 Blessed Future
Rebekah’s father, brother and mother all gave permission for Rebekah to marry Isaac for they understood this opportunity was from the Lord. But the choice was left to Rebekah. When she said “yes”, they gave her this blessing as she parted: “Our sister, may you become the mother of many millions! May your descendants be strong and conquer the cities of their enemies.” Many were blessed with this arrangement and wedding plans were quickly formulated. Along with her childhood nurse, Rebekah left all that was familiar to her and traveled a long distance to be married to a man she had never met. Her future was unknown yet she trusted enough to get on a camel and begin the journey. It must have given her comfort and assurance to know that this wedding was arranged and blessed by God. May He be the foundation in each marriage.
Marriage is not an easy partnership as it will, maybe more than any other relationship, bring out what is really inside of us. Character traits, like the good, the bad and the changing are often shown most intensely to those we are the closest to. Some would say that marriage is not just meant to make us happy but that God uses marriage to make us holy. And even the most mature are still on a journey in becoming complete. I’m happiest when I am holy (pure, un-mixed) and enjoy the blessings that come with married life. As Rebekah entered into marriage she was given a blessing to be the mother of millions. Content with the three children God has blessed Russell and me with, I look forward to embrace those who may one day extend our family through additional marriages and grandchildren. This blessing promise that began with Abraham continues on through the ages.
January 22 God’s Blessing Passed Down
It was during this time of famine when the LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” Isaac grew up hearing that his father Abraham was blessed by the Lord. There was God’s promise that all nations would be blessed through Abraham. Now the Lord spoke this same blessing to Isaac, giving him confirmation and assurance. What peace Isaac must have felt knowing God would be with him. I pray we sense that kind of peace from our Father today. Lord, may we draw near to You and take time to reflect on Your many blessings in our own lives. We thank You for Your decrees that show us the way to truth and full life. Thank You for peace that over-comes the world. Amen.
January 26 Blessing of Heaven’s Dew and Earth’s Richness
So now we find Jacob posing as his brother Esau to gain the blessing of their father Isaac. After telling his father that he was his firstborn, Jacob urged, “Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.” At first, Isaac is not convinced because the voice sounded like Jacob’s but the fur that Rebekah had placed on Jacob’s hands convinced him, and he proceeded to bless him. Isaac asked again if Jacob was really his firstborn son Esau and Jacob replied that he was. So Isaac continued, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.” Jacob moved closer to his father and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.” This blessing should sound familiar to us as it is similar to the blessing that God gave to Abraham back in Genesis chapter twelve. We will see that this blessing story is far from over!
February 1 Asher—Blessed to Be Happy
Jacob fell head over heels in love with Rachel, his Uncle Laban’s youngest daughter. Jacob worked hard for seven years to earn her hand in marriage only to discover on the morning after his wedding night that he had married her older sister, Leah instead! How did he handle this deception? How did Leah feel about the whole situation? I’m sure this state of affairs caused a little tension in Rachel’s life too. Tricky Uncle Laban offered another work incentive program to Jacob and he worked an additional seven years for Rachel. As Jacob spent time shepherding did he reflect on his life and remember how he had deceived his own brother Esau out of his blessing?
Sometimes what goes around comes around. At any rate, the years had added up and by that point, Jacob had acquired many herds and flocks of animals, which meant his livelihood had grown. Jacob’s family also grew. His wives who were sisters were in steady competition to give him sons. Rachel and Leah even provided Jacob with their maidservants to expand the family. Zilpah, Leah’s maid, bore Jacob [her] second son. And Leah said, I am happy, for women will call me blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied); and she named him Asher [happy]. Jacob now had eight sons. His number was indeed increasing and this was just the beginning of the blessing passed down from God to Abraham to Isaac and now to Jacob coming to fruition.
February 5 The Blessing of Forgiveness
It was a very scary time for Israel (Jacob) and his large traveling family. Instead of being refreshed by a night of sleep he had just wrestled until dawn. It must have been encouraging to know God was near him, even blessing him, yet he did not know how Esau would respond to seeing him again. How relieved Israel must have been when Esau met him with forgiveness. With a big bear hug and weeping the two powerful men were filled with joy from their reconciliation and were genuinely happy to see each other again. Israel urged, “Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Esau accepted the gift then Israel and his family moved on to settle in Succoth. How completely wonderful is reconciliation! God is a God of forgiveness and He must beam with joy when His children forgive one another. Jesus came so that we could be reconciled to God Himself. What an amazing gift that is.
February 7 Blessed for the Sake of Another
For some reason, Jacob (Israel) loved his eleventh son Joseph more than his other children. Maybe it was because Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn. Things took a turn for the worse for Joseph when he was about seventeen years old. The favoritism of his father coupled with the seemingly arrogant dreams that Joseph had about his own brothers pushed his brothers over the edge. In a series of challenging events Joseph ends up in the bottom of a well and then sold to a man named Potiphar in Egypt, far from the father who loved him.
But Joseph found favor with the Lord. From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the LORD began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. All his household affairs ran smoothly, and his crops and livestock flourished. Even in this far away land God did not forget Joseph and He blessed the work of his hands. At times we might ask ourselves, “What in the world am I doing here?” I bet Joseph wondered that while down in the pits a few times in his life. Hold on, the story is not over yet. God is a God who redeems and blesses! The stark contrast between our darkness and His light is often the backdrop we read about in His Story as well as experience in our own lives.
God, may we be quick to turn to You when life does not make sense. Thank You for the precedent that has been set and lived over and over, that You are able to release us from the darkness of our own prisons and give beauty in place of ashes. Amen.
February 9 End of Life Blessings
The Israelites (Israel’s family) moved to Egypt and Israel (Jacob) lived the last seventeen years of his life there. Jacob made Joseph promise to bury his body where his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham were buried. I’m curious if Jacob thought back to the time of his own father’s funeral and how he and his brother Esau had buried Isaac. When we know we are at the end of our lives, what will we look back on with joy?
A whole lot of blessing takes place at the end of Jacob’s life and it begins with Jacob recalling the way in which God had blessed him. Jacob reminisced and told his son Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’” Who can forget a blessing like that?
The twelve tribes of Israel came from Jacob, and indeed the Promised Land would be theirs. God’s good Story is worth passing down from generation to generation. What has He done in our lives that we are sharing with the generations that follow us? Are we purposefully leaving a legacy of thanksgiving? If not, it may not be too late to rethink and align afresh to God the giver of all blessings. We have been given the gift of life; I pray we would choose to live wisely.