February 14 A Hard Heart toward God’s Blessing
About half a century later Joseph died. Joseph’s death concludes the Genesis record and the first of many chapters in God’s Story. Years passed and a new leader emerged in the Story; Moses. Family heritage is important to God as we will often see in listed genealogies. It is interesting to know that Moses was a great-grandson of Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. The youngest of three children, Moses was born in Egypt, rescued from the Nile River as a baby, grew up in the Egyptian palace, spent years in the outback as a shepherd for his father-in-law, and would be used by God to deliver His people from the hand of the Egyptians to be brought into the land of blessing and promise.
This would not be an easy rescue mission but a very fascinating one as God’s provision, protection and blessing continually guided His people. By this time in history the Egyptians do not remember Joseph and all the good he had done for them. Even as slaves in the land, the Israelite community grew and because they were seen as a threat, they were mistreated. Moses, as God’s spokesperson, asked that all the Israelites be given permission to leave to worship Yahweh and this new Pharaoh did not want to lose his workforce. Pharaoh said, “I’d sooner send you off with God’s blessings than let you go with your children.” Once again, Moses and Aaron (his brother and ministry partner) were thrown out of Pharaoh’s sight. Pharaoh, with his hard heart, did not get a blessing from God and another plague, this time of locusts, filled his land. God, may our hearts be soft to Your ways in our days. Amen.
February 16 Blessed by God Who Delivers
With the multitudes departing, the Exodus began. The Egyptians even gave the Israelites gold to take with them as they made their exit! As God guided him by a cloud and by fire, Moses led the people. The Israelites passed through the parted Red Sea, the Egyptians who pursued them were destroyed, and the liberated sang songs of praise to God. God provided water, manna, and quail and the Israelites journeyed on.
Moses had a wonderful family reunion when his wife, their two sons and Jethro, his father-in-law, met up with him in the desert. I love these little personal glimpses into the big Story, for they are like a small puzzle piece put into place and the whole picture is made more complete. Jethro was thrilled to hear that the Israelites were delivered from the oppression in Egypt and how it was all due to God’s strength and goodness to bless His people. Jethro said, “Blessed be God who has delivered you from the power of Egypt and Pharaoh, who has delivered his people from the oppression of Egypt. Now I know that God is greater than all gods because he’s done this to all those who treated Israel arrogantly.”
While we lived outside of the US, our family experienced a lighter version of this kind of a reunion during our annual group meetings. Christian workers would gather together representing extended families and tribes, and celebrate the Father’s blessings from the past year. Fellow missionaries became uncles and aunts to our children, their own children were like cousins to ours, and to this day our family is blessed with those deep relationships forged from rejoicing in God’s redemption. Reflecting upon and sharing God’s blessings with others leads us to thank and bless God. A thankful life is a blessed life, and the goodness course continues.
February 21 Painful Blessing of Loyalty
All of Israel had just agreed whole-heartedly to the covenant with the Lord. This was not a small deal so God called Moses into an exclusive executive meeting and gave him massive amounts of information including specific plans so Moses could construct a tent of meeting where God’s people would worship Him. The plans included instructions for the priests and described the items required inside the tabernacle too.
Moses was gone for over a month for this administrative meeting with God. He then came down the mountain with the first hard copy of the Ten Commandments, written on stone tablets. But while Moses was away, the people begged Aaron to give them “gods” they could see, so Aaron gave them what they wanted: a golden calf. The people chose to break the promises they had made to God and this made the Lord, and Moses, furious. God told Moses that He was going to destroy them all; however, Moses interceded on behalf of the Israelites. He demolished the god of gold and also broke the tablets of stone.
Moses then called those who were for the Lord to come to him and the tribe of Levi responded. With swords the Levites went through the camp killing 3,000 of the disobedient Israelites. Purity is not a small thing in the eyes of a holy God. I cannot begin to imagine the grief experienced in the camp that day. With great reverence to God, Moses spoke to the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the LORD, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” What a sobering experience. The blessing earned would not be quickly forgotten.
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.
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.
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.
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 that 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!”
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.
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.”
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.