Blessings Required

Everyone is given a name when they’re born. A person’s name is typically one of the few things that doesn’t change in life. Yes, some people are known by a nickname or shortened version of their given name, and some people choose to legally change their name, but the large majority of people are born and die with one name. If you’ve ever been around a parent-to-be, you probably have witnessed the work that most people put into naming their children, which in many ways is fascinating because you have no idea what that baby will be like or what name will really be a good representation of them. Which is why many parents give their child a name that they hope they will live up to, or a name that they think will stand strong for the child through all their stages of life.

The Bible has several interesting name related stories, including in the New Testament with Jesus’ relative John the Baptist who was given that name by a temporarily mute father and mother following instructions by God Himself (see Luke 1 for the story), and Jesus also renames Peter as part of his apostle journey. Of course there are a couple of name stories in the book of Genesis including Adam and Eve, and Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah, but one of the most interesting is Jacob’s story.

Jacob, a twin, does some things he shouldn’t do and so he ran away from home for a season, and as he was returning back many years later with wives and children in tow, has an evening wrestling match with a man who he learns is God. It’s a unique story among the many unique stories that the Bible shares and Jacob actually has several of those unique stories. But this one is different because it is a human interaction with God and God says some special things about Jacob at the end of the encounter:

“”You can’t go until you bless me,” Jacob replied. Then the man asked, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won. That’s why your name will be Israel.”” Genesis 32:26b-28 (CEV)

Jacob has fought really hard for where he is in life at this point and has made some big mistakes too. It’s not necessarily a unique story, it’s one that many of us can identify with, but Jacob has fought for enough in his life that he isn’t willing to just call it a tie and let God go, so he asks for a blessing. God has an interesting way of giving a blessing, and it’s actually a three-fold blessing. First, you’ve got the wrestling match in the first place, which God used as a way to see where Jacob was and if he was really willing to fight for his life. Second, you’ve got the blessing of being named by God. And finally, you’ve got the blessing of God’s compliment and recognition for Jacob having wrestled with both God and man and won.

I’m not big on winners and losers, I don’t think that every situation calls for people to end up in first place (or last place), but I am big on victories, and I think that that’s what this is all about. God is making sure that Jacob is up to the challenge He has for him, the purpose He’s put him there for, and Jacob proves that even though he’s made some mistakes in the past, this time he’s ready to step up. What about you? Are you ready to take up the challenge that God puts in your life? Are you ready to overcome the mistakes you’ve made in the past? Are you ready for forgiveness and a fresh start? Maybe today is exactly the right time for you to step up and into that victory.

A Question of Blessings

Recently I’ve started rereading the book of Genesis. I wouldn’t say that I forgot some of the stories in there, but there seem to be more stories there than I remember! It’s almost like the holidays when you see family you haven’t seen in a while and they tell the old stories you heard when you were a kid; it feels like reconnecting with family and friends you haven’t seen or heard from in a while. One of the stories I read recently was one featuring Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s two sons (Genesis 27). The story is at the end of Isaac’s life and the practice was that when the father felt it was time he would call in his oldest son and give him a blessing. The story goes that Jacob tricks Isaac and gets his brother’s blessing. When Esau finds out he talks with his dad about it (Genesis 27:34-35, 38):

“”Oh my father, what about me? Bless me, too!” he begged. But Isaac said, “Your brother was here, and he tricked me. He has taken away your blessing.” …Esau pleaded, “But do you have only one blessing? Oh my father, bless me, too!””

Isaac manages to come up with something, but it’s not the blessing that Esau was expecting or the one he should have gotten. But Esau’s second question caught my attention: do you have only one blessing? Right now it certainly seems like the number of blessings we have access to are as limited as toilet paper was several months ago. It seems like for every blessing we get there’s another setback or challenge we have to face, that there’s not even enough to go around for everyone to get at least one blessing.

Yes, some people do hoard blessings: some people aren’t willing to share with others like they should or don’t feel that others deserve blessings like they do. But that’s kind of the beauty of a blessing, it happens in your life regardless of being deserving or not, at least according to human standards. When it comes to God, He often chooses to bless and bless abundantly, especially to those who have a heart like His. If you ask me, I don’t know why you’d want to stop at one blessing if you really have a choice, I’d love to be able to bless many people, more than I already try to, if I had the resources to do so.

Often being a blessing has more to do with being in the right time and place than financial or related resources. So this week I encourage you to try to bless many people, and don’t limit yourself to the blessings you think you can give, give in partnership with God through His abundance. Start with a kind word on social media or hold a door open for someone so they don’t have to touch it, and then be open to other opportunities God will give you to be a blessing, as well as the creative and new ways He may want to bless you that you aren’t expecting.

Work and Rest

There’s a set of seemingly conflicting messages about Labor Day, which was yesterday: the importance of work and the importance of taking breaks. Even just in the first chapter of the Bible we see God working incredibly hard to create the universe and all the parts of it including the planets, the lights and the animals, followed by God doing something interesting, and that’s resting. The creation story continues in Genesis 2 and 3 with God creating humans and then takes a break at the end of the day to hang out with them.

If there’s anyone who knows what a hard day looks like, it’s God who has to be on top of what is going on in every corner of the world. He has to keep things creating and growing, listen to all the requests and prayers, care for each person, create miracles and sometimes destruction. I can’t imagine what it takes to create a planet, let alone a leaf on a tree.

As much as God knows how to work, He also knows how to rest. He wasn’t shy about taking the seventh day to rest or taking time to hang out with Adam and Eve in the garden. I don’t think the creation story would have been negatively impacted if God rested at the end of each day of creation, rather than waiting until the seventh day, but there is value in the statement of God finishing His work before He rested.

Rest is important because it gives us time to get perspective, to reflect on what we’ve done and make sure that we’re going in the best direction, as well as give our bodies and minds time to renew themselves, since we’re not designed to be on the go and making physical demands of them 24/7. But I think it’s significant that God worked much more than He rested, especially initially, as it’s a statement about the importance of work and making sure that you get it done.

So this week as we enter a new work week in a new month, I encourage you to find a happy medium between working hard, getting all the work done, doing your work well, and taking time to rest, rejuvenate and reconnect with the important people in your life.

Ready for Blessings

Lent is a time for reflection, both on our relationship with God and on how we’re living our lives, and often that opens up to some very sobering realizations. But as I was reading one of the Lent devotionals I’ve subscribed to, they shared a passage and a perspective that got me thinking. The passage they shared was one of the many about the story of Abraham, or at the time he was known as Abram. The passage from Genesis 12 shares God’s promise to Abram, that God was giving Abram and his descendents the land of the Canaanites.

Abram/Abraham went through many tests and trials in his lifetime, he wasn’t perfect and made some cringe-worthy decisions and mistakes. But he was one of the few who had a very up close and personal relationship with God, and God gave him some of the biggest blessings anyone in the Bible got, including the blessing in Genesis 12, of lots of land.

Maybe the realization that you’re coming to in this time of reflection and evaluation, is that you’re not asking God for the blessings, especially the big ones, or expecting that God can send blessings your way. It’s not about being stuck in the challenges of this life, but about believing that even when life is challenging God is still sending blessings your way daily, including big ones. Maybe it’s time to remember that after these 40 days of searching and humility and the death of Jesus we get to the celebration of Easter and Jesus’ resurrection, which is a gift and promise of eternal life to all who believe.  I’m ready for some blessings, what about you?

A Celebration of Produce

The other day I commented to my partner how much I miss the summer. I love the summer for many reasons but one of the biggest reasons is because of all of the readily available produce. I love fruits and vegetables, and while I’m not a vegetarian, I definitely have more interest in produce than some. It’s something I regularly incorporate into my diet and into my partner’s as well, fortunately we both enjoy fruits and vegetables. Today I stopped in at one of my favorite food stores, a grocery store that is kind of like an indoor farmer’s market. It’s open all year and not only do they have great prices on produce, their produce is often better than what I see at many other grocery stores. It always makes me feel good to go there and I find it exciting and satisfying to fill up my refrigerator with lots of different fruits and vegetables.

Even though there are many baked/cooked dishes you can make with vegetables, and lots you can do with fruits, you still have to have a good source for them and you have to buy them. There’s definitely such a thing as seasonal produce, and living in a place that can have freezing temperatures throughout as many as 6 months per year means that if it were up to the location I live in I’d be eating canned (from a can at the store or homemade in mason jars) fruits and vegetables, or I’d have to have a greenhouse. But thanks to all of the sharing we do as a country and world, I’m able to have fresh (and tasty) strawberries, zucchini and peppers in February almost as conveniently as I do in the warm months.

As I was washing off some strawberries tonight I was reminded how thankful and blessed I am and we are. We’re able to tap into resources and people around the world to make our lives better and the future better for the next generation. I’m also thankful that God created the variety of produce that He did and as a result we’re able to have a choice in what we eat. It also feels good to eat foods that are good for the body that God has entrusted me with.

I know it may sound simple or silly to be thankful for strawberries in February, but why would God have taken the time to create each thing He did in the Garden of Eden if He didn’t want us to appreciate, enjoy or have a healthy respect for it? This week I would encourage you to open eyes to all that God has created, and appreciate the abundance He has given you.

Celebrating A New Year Everyday

This week is the celebration of Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year. It celebrates something that Christians are familiar with, the creation of Adam and Eve. More than anything else it’s a period of celebration, of joy and of prayers for peace, prosperity and blessing for the new year. While it’s not a day that Christians celebrate, it is one that can teach us a few important lessons about life, faith/spirituality and our journey.

One of the most interesting things to note is that it is a celebration of Adam and Eve. If you remember they’re the people the Bible begins with, the people everyone can trace their roots back to. They’re also the people who connected this world and our lives with sin when they ate from the tree that God told them not to eat from. It’s not exactly the best moment in our collective spiritual history is it? And yet we can all agree these people are worth remembering, and their creation worth celebrating.

The other thing that I’m reminded of by the celebration of a new year in September, what is known to many as the 9th month of the given year, is that everyone has different beginnings. If you’re familiar with the business world at all you know that many businesses start their year at some time other than January 1st. Personally, it would drive me nuts to try and balance more than one calendar. But if you really think about it we’ve all got a different calendar we could go by, because very few of us were born on January 1st (technically my year begins in October).

So what can we learn from the celebration of Rosh Hashanah? First and foremost that you don’t have to be perfect, do perfect things or get it right all the time to celebrate. Sometimes the little moments and victories should be celebrated more than the big ones. Second, any day is a great day for a fresh start. Don’t say that you have to wait for 2018 to make changes in your life, you can begin today, or tomorrow, or whenever you feel inspired. Third, if God says that Adam and Eve are worth remembering, even with their really big mistake, I would say that each of us are worth remembering and celebrating as well. Finally, take time today to celebrate, and if you can’t come up with anything to celebrate, you can celebrate that you’re alive and have another day to live, learn, and love.   What will you do with today?

God Remembers

The past few days and weeks in the US have been filled with remembering as we’ve remembered past hurricanes and what cities and homes used to look like. That remembering trend will continue after Hurricane Irma finishes wreaking havoc and as we’ve worked through another September 11th, remembering the men and women who died in the attacks and the men and women who worked tirelessly afterward to rescue and rebuild.

The Bible talks a lot about remembering, including one noteworthy event with Noah. After Noah and his family survive the flood God tells them that the rainbow is a promise and a sign to remember, that seeing it will remind them and God that He won’t send another flood like that to destroy the earth. Genesis 9:12-15 says:

“Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life….””

We also see in the Bible reminders to honor our elders, to care for the ill, to support those in need, and to raise up children well. And we can’t forget to mention the very memorable death and resurrection of Jesus, something that has been talked about since it happened and even some before it happened. From the miracles to the simple kindnesses, the Bible reminds us to remember each other, to remember to love, to remember to care and to remember to share. And we’re not just talking the physical and emotional things of this world, but spiritual life with Jesus as well.

This week I encourage you to remember the blessings as well as the opportunities for growth God has sent your way and to thank Him for them.

Spiritual Labor

As we look ahead to this weekend and Labor Day here in the US, I thought we’d take a look at a few verses from the Bible about work and what God says about work.  A few of the results caught me by surprise, so as we head into the new month we may take time to dive deeper into a few of them.

“He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” Colossians 3:23

“The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do.” Deuteronomy 28:12

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” Proverbs 14:23

“I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.” Ecclesiastes 2:18

“Whatever you do, do well.” Ecclesiastes 9:10a

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4:10a

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9

“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.” 2 Timothy 2:15

“When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.” Romans 4:4

“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.” Romans 12:11

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24

God and work:
“But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”” John 5:17

“On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.” Genesis 2:2

“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Psalm 127:1a

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” Psalm 8:3-4

“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4

“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” Romans 1:16

“God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” 1 Corinthians 12:6

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

What are your thoughts on (spiritual) work?

What Do You See in 2017?

As we work our way into this new year I want to encourage you to make time not just to make resolutions about what you’re going to change or what you want to accomplish with this year, but really to take stock in what’s in your life, what you might be blind to and what you’ve been ignoring, and see what’s really going on around you.  Part of this is about facing the things that have hurt you, the things you may do that hurt others, the things that are holding you back, and the things that you’ve let influence your life for too long.  But the other part of this is about really opening your eyes to see the world around you and see what God wants you to see and what He has created.

In today’s verse God’s promising Abram all the land that He sees around him and letting him know that a thriving, plentiful life for himself and his future generations is all around him.   Would Abram have know that if God hadn’t pointed it out to him or took the time to listen to God and see what God was trying to show him? I think God would have blessed him anyway but Abram would not have known the impact that he would have on future generations without taking the time to look and listen.

I know that we can get really busy in our lives, let things take over, let the concerns of others take priority and forget to take time to really look around and see the world around us, not just as others are telling us it exists, but truly seeing what God wants us to see.  I encourage you to make time this week to really take a good look at your life.  Don’t let any overwhelm you feel discourage you and don’t let the problems you see stop you from trusting that God has a good plan for your life (and can and will forgive you if you repent, and will help you work through the challenges).  And maybe you’ll get lucky like Abram and see some really incredible promises.

“The Lord said to Abram after lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west.” Genesis 13:14

The New Year Before Us

Today I thought the best way to start our year off was with some words of hope, wisdom and encouragement from the Bible and wise spiritual leaders.

“None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed.  Everything was fulfilled.”  Joshua 21:45

“Be still and know that I am God. Lord, may your Spirit guide me to seek your loving presence more and more. For it is there I find rest and refreshment from this busy world.”  Loyola Press

“He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.”  Acts 9:18-19

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Let’s live like we believe God is for us.”  Melinda Mattson

“Let them all praise the name of the Eternal! For His name stands alone above all others. His glory shines greater than anything above or below.”  Psalm 148:13

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

“When we take delight we gain the very thing that was our goal all along.”  Stephanie Bryant

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”  Genesis 18:14

As we start this new year and reflect on the one that has just ended I’m reminded by these words and thoughts that not every year is a great one, not every year is one of forward progress, and not every year is one that produces tangible results.   Some years are years of personal reflection, tearing down, and rebuilding.  These tend to be years that you feel really beat up by at the end and even though some really good things may have been started, you’re still a long way from seeing results yet.  But regardless of what type of year last year was or this year will be for you, we can depend on God to be there with us and guide us through it.

I encourage you to choose to look at the year ahead with a positive attitude and confidence that it will be a good year in one way or another.  Don’t let your doubts, failures or fears rule your life.  Instead trust that God will go with you through it and you will find reasons to celebrate in 2017.