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.

Sacrifices and Gifts

This year has been an exercise in sacrifice for many of us. Some of us have put our lives on the line to try to help heal others, some of us have put our lives and energies out in great excess to keep essential services running, some of us have sacrificed what should be big milestones in our lives, some of us have sacrificed reliable income, some of us have lost what could have been many more years with family members had they not gotten sick. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary to get what you want next, for example the sacrifices that are involved with selling and moving from your current residence to a new, bigger/better one, or the sacrifices involved in starting up the business you’ve always wanted, or the sacrifices you make to have and raise kids and not just support you and your partner. But other times there isn’t much reward on the other end, it’s just something you have to do for the greater good.

Of course, that doesn’t take into account what God can do outside of or separate from the sacrifices that you’re making, or what can happen when you see the work as something other than painful and difficult. Luke 6:38 says: “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

While the year is far from over and there are several hurdles to get through for most of us, I don’t see why we can’t think and pray positively and ask God to bless and return in abundance the sacrifices (that we’re now going to look at as gifts) that we’ve given over the past 8 months. Do take note though that in this verse in Luke 6 it talks about how much activity may surround the returning of the gift, so be open to the blessings God sends your way to be wrapped in some unusual wrappings or that they may take a little work to uncover and incorporate all of the goodness.

We can all count up the challenges of this year, so what have been some gifts that you’ve received?

Who Blesses Whom?

Have you been a blessing to someone lately? I don’t think it’s our job or responsibility to be a blessing to everyone, but I do think we’re here to be a blessing in whatever ways we can as often as we can. It’s unfortunate that some people simply aren’t receptive to being blessed, and aren’t willing to accept good things in their lives, but most people are not only open to but excited about getting those little (and big) gifts and blessings that come their way.

Blessings can be something like a store having the product you want and having one left that someone decided not to buy more than one of which meant you get one too, or getting the parking space you really like, or getting a really inspirational email, or getting an email or social post with a great deal for something you’ve been thinking about buying, or having your neighbor call and tell you that your car light is on, or a coworker sharing some insights they have from a project they did previously that’s similar to or with the same client that you’re working on now, or having your kids share a special moment in their day with you rather than arguing or just being on their phones, or your family really complimenting the food you worked to prepare for them, or getting words of encouragement from the people who support your organization after you experienced a challenge or in response to some thoughtless words posted online.

The thing to remember is that each of us do have special gifts, even if they seem rather ordinary, but all the same they’re special qualities that we’re able to use in support of ourselves and others, and often in spreading the word, story and heart of God to the world. It may not seem like a big thing to be good at math, but there are lots of people who aren’t and rely on those skills. Likewise, it may not seem like a big thing to be good at technology or cooking or business or marketing or teaching or planning, but it is. It’s not always about how you can benefit from those skills and abilities and blessings, but about how you can support others with them. Often the blessing you get is the appreciation and joy that they experience when you use your gifts and talents.  What blessings will you help share this week?

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” 1 Peter 4:10

Good Works, Good Deeds

The other day I got to thinking again about the idea of good works or good deeds. These two terms are both used throughout the New Testament, for example:

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” James 2: 17
“And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind.” Titus 2:7a
“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
“Don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” Hebrews 13:16

There are a couple of a couple of stories in the New Testament of people who think that good deeds/works are what will get them into Heaven, which isn’t the case.  The only way to get to Heaven is by being saved by Jesus (John 3:16). But tied in with being a true believer and follower of Christ is the idea of good deeds/works. Jesus did good while He was here on Earth. He also spent time talking with God, teaching and building relationships, and loving others.

We all mess up from time to time because we’re sinners and not (yet) perfect, but life always seems to go a little smoother and be a little more rewarding when we’re doing good. As Hebrews 13:16 said, yes, sometimes a sacrifice is required as part of doing good. Maybe it means you’re sacrificing your vacation to go and do construction in a needy part of the world, or you’re giving up your free time to teach a VBS class, or you’re making a little extra food each week to share with your elderly neighbors. The virus has given us some new opportunities to do good including buying high-demand products in moderation and wearing masks, both of which are sacrifices that we haven’t had to work on before, but can really help others out.

And that’s what it really comes down to, is being willing to help others on many levels and ways both big and small, just like Jesus did day in and day out. And if you don’t know what to give or how to help, or don’t have the ability to get out and about or donate to charities, start with the advice of Romans 13:8: “Owe nothing to anyone-except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.” Doing good can be as simple and sometimes challenging as loving others.

What good will you do this week?

A Little Spice to Life

You’ve probably heard the saying “variety is the spice of life,” and I believe there’s a lot of truth in that statement. I’ve always been someone who enjoys a variety of things (from dogs to TV to foods to people to places), but equally important with variety in that statement is the mention of spice. I know some people aren’t fans of spicy foods, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a life, food, job, relationship with vitality, personality, passion and flavor. I don’t believe life should be dull and uniform, I believe that we’ve been created to enjoy life and live a creative, colorful and meaningful life.

I’ve been sharing about this in recent weeks in my devotional, starting with sharing in May about the book of Ecclesiastes and how God would not have placed or allowed to be created all of the pleasurable aspects that we enjoy if we were not to enjoy them. This past week I shared about mornings, and while I’m not a morning person, I know that each one is different in the different ways the sun rises and colors the sky to the animals that move around to the flowers or plants that are growing and changing. God’s not a boring God, and in case you need more evidence, He created each of us different! That’s a huge challenge and investment right there and takes lots of creativity (over 100 billion individuals).

It can be easy to get wrapped up in your own little world and miss what’s going on around you. For example, I know that there’s a lot more that goes on throughout the day on the street I live on now that it’s summer and I’m outside to see it, than I could predict just from hearing the cars go by. But you also miss out on lots of God’s little blessings and signs that He has for you when you’re too focused on keeping your life status quo and not open to a little spice and variety. What’s the point of asking God for stuff if we’re not open and looking for it?

So this week I encourage you to add a little spice to your life and to be open to something new and different and whatever blessings God wants to send your way. I think you’ll be blessed and amazed with all that goes on around you that God has a hand in that you don’t know about, and those little blessings might be exactly what you need to give you the strength to navigate the challenges and changes that we’re going through right now.

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.

Using Our God Given Senses

One of the big gifts that God has given us are our senses. I’m sure most people have done some experimenting to find out what it would be like without one sense or another, and I semi joked the other day that my taste buds may have deserted me because I couldn’t taste an apple. But it’s a serious thing when people are born without or lose one of their senses. Yes, people can learn to compensate, but it’s not easy and not something anyone really chooses to do, and not having a sense isn’t really something to joke about. The other day I read Matthew 13:16 ERV:

“But God has blessed you. You understand what you see with your eyes. And you understand what you hear with your ears.”

As great as our senses are, sometimes I think we forget to use them to their fullest, forget to use all of them together, or forget that we even have them, or take them for granted. This verse comes from one of the many stories about Jesus, and in this chapter of Matthew Jesus talks about the different people that are on the earth, some who are completely blind to God and can’t hear what He’s trying to say, and others who are able to see and hear what God is saying and doing in the world.

As much as it would have been nice if Jesus just said what He meant, He often used parables. Parables are a great tool because different people relate to the world differently and what one person may understand or relate to because of one parable, someone else won’t. They also might not understand or easily relate to or identify with what Jesus was trying to say if He just put it out there plain and simple. So Jesus used parables to give people as many opportunities as possible to understand what He was trying to teach them.

What about you? Are you able to see down to the heart of your life and what God is trying to tell you? Are you using all tools and senses at your disposal to make the most of your life and help others? Or are you in tunnel vision, denying the truth of life around you? Accept the blessing God has given you and use your senses to see the world around you, to see the truth about others and live the way that honors God.

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?

Focus on Being a Blessing

This month one of the things we’re talking about is our focus.  Throughout a typical day we focus on tons of things from the car driving in front of ours to the person talking to us to the child we’re playfully chasing to the partner we love to the dinner we’re cooking.  There are lots of things that demand our attention and care, and that’s normal for many people today.  Part of our job as adults is to learn how to manage all those responsibilities and how to focus when we need to on what we need to.

Sometimes we also have to focus on the scary things in life or the sad things.  I know of several people who have passed away in the past few weeks, and many people around the US are dealing with loss of their belongings or livelihoods due to natural disasters.  It’s important to take time to process those fears, scary experiences and losses, they’re part of life.

But today I want to challenge you to do something different: focus on being a blessing.  This is something that everyone can do in hundreds of different ways.  From sharing a kind word to helping get something off a grocery store shelf to holding the door to sending a ‘just because’ gift or card to donating winter coats at the local food pantry or shelter.

It’s not necessarily a huge labor-intensive activity, doesn’t always require a lot of time, and doesn’t have to cost anything other.  All it takes is for you to be willing to focus your attention from yourself to others.  And not only does it mean that you’ may making someone else’s day, you can be blessed by being a blessing too!

How will you be a blessing today?

Blessed by God

In thinking about what to write today I decided what I need, and what many people need, is a little more inspiration in their lives. We’re a tired world: tired of money problems, tired of cranky kids, tired of bad food, tired of terrible drivers. So in my search for inspiration, I picked up The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson and the book of Job. I hope you’ll see the inspiration and begin your own journey for living a more inspired and blessed life.

The Prayer of Jabez:
The book the Prayer of Jabez is actually about a person who’s found in the Bible, Jabez. We read Jabez’s story in 1 Chronicles 4: “There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.”
The conclusion that Wilkinson reached when he studied the prayer was that sometimes we’re not asking the right question or praying the right prayer. The fact is that great men and women of God think differently than the rest of the people. Wilkinson writes “He [Jabez] left it entirely up to God to decide what the blessings would be and where, when, and how Jabez would receive them.”

I love this statement that Wilkinson makes as well: “Even though there is no limit to God’s goodness, if you didn’t ask Him for a blessing yesterday, you didn’t get all that you were supposed to have.” WOW. It’s so true: God never said he had a limit on the number or kind of blessings we could have. Take Wilkinson’s challenge and pray Jabez’s prayer at least once every day and see what amazing things show up in your life.

Job:
Job is a book of the Bible dedicated to telling the story of a God-fearing man who lost almost everything when he was tested by satan, but the story ends with God blessing Job with more than he started with. I’m probably simplifying things calling the experience told in the book of Job a “challenge”, but what resulted was an amazing display of who God is and who we are. Job 38-41 is a massive outpouring of words directly from God. God speaks to many people throughout the Bible, but nowhere else does God really let loose like he does here. Job’s reply to God in Job 42:3 shows the incredible humility of a man totally blessed by God, and totally amazed by the blessing of God’s words in his life: “You [God] asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I [Job]-and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.” Job learned a valuable lesson: in the midst of God’s blessings, there can be challenges, but God will never leave you hanging.

When was the last time that you took time to inhale and immerse yourself in God’s wonder in nature? Maybe you did this past weekend with some Earth Day activities. We’re such driven, busy people that taking the time to be one with God in nature seems almost frivolous. But maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly what we need to feel like the people God created us to be again.

We’re truly blessed to be living in the time of transformation and learning that we’re living in. Although there are many broken pieces and challenges ahead, I believe that one of the biggest keys to successful transformation is each of us stepping up and being the leaders God has created us to be. I hope that this week you’ll take time to seek God’s blessing in your life, however He decides to bless you.