Psalm 128 – Blessed

The Lord will bless you 
    if you respect him 
    and obey his laws. 
Your fields will produce, 
    and you will be happy 
    and all will go well. 
Your wife will be as fruitful 
    as a grapevine, 
and just as an olive tree 
    is rich with olives, 
    your home will be rich 
    with healthy children. 
That is how the Lord will bless 
    everyone who respects him. 

I pray that the Lord 
    will bless you from Zion 
    and let Jerusalem prosper 
    as long as you live. 
May you live long enough 
    to see your grandchildren. 
    Let’s pray for peace in Israel! (CEV) 

There is a consistent connection between obedience and blessing. That is, in observing God’s ways, one will typically enjoy divine favor and approval.  

Keep in mind, however, this is not a math equation. Like 2+2=4 there are folks who expect a neat linear connection between their obedience and their blessing. In math theology, when a woman is unable to have children, or a child goes astray from their heritage, the parent concludes that they themselves must have been unfaithful to God’s law or are being punished. Conversely, with children who grow to be good citizens and respectful persons, the parents might conclude it was because of their superior observance to the spiritual life. 

In both cases, parents take too much credit, either for a child’s wandering or success. As for kids going astray, even God had prodigal children, so cut ourselves some slack. As for children who maintain faithfulness, a lot of factors went into who they are. I suppose it is only natural to quickly assume we have far more control of than we really do. 

This all cuts to the heart of biblical interpretation. If all Scripture is read literally, then we will likely see the Bible as a math equation where doing and saying the right things gets a predictable result of blessing. Yet, this mistakenly views promise and proverb as the same thing, and divine work with one person or group will be precisely the same for another. The wisdom literature of Scripture, which includes the psalms, were never designed as prescriptive decree but rather as the sage approach for work, worship, and family. 

Today’s psalm communicates the path of happiness coming through love and respect for God. It neither promises lots of kids, ensures money, nor guarantees smooth sailing. Rather, when one lives each day being cognizant and observant to center everything around the divine, then blessing and happiness will tend to follow. 

Blessings and benedictions are given to sustain us in hope and confidence. The best things in life usually come through faith and family. So, when we choose to walk with God and travel down the ethical road, then life becomes full of peace and prosperity – perhaps not always in the manner we expect, yet blessing, nonetheless. 

Humanity is hard-wired for blessing, for a steady diet of encouragement, acceptance, and approval from God and others. When this is withheld from us, unhappiness, even despair begins to settle. Giving and receiving blessing is at the heart of being fully human and alive. Our work and family life will likely be miserable if blessing is absent. Yet, with blessing, we have a sustainable form of happiness and enjoyment. 

Eternal God, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed, guide, strengthen, and bless us through your Spirit so that we may give ourselves to your service and live today in love to one another and to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

1 Peter 3:8-12 – To Suffer and To Bless

Light and Dark

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For

“Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (NRSV)

Its one thing to give blessing to folks when they seem worthy of it – quite another thing when you have stinkers in your life. Bless the very ones who are abusive toward me? Some might think the Apostle Peter was off his rocker to instruct believers to bless insufferable persons. Peter, however, was only passing on what he had learned from the Lord Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said: You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Matthew 5:43-48, CEB)

The instruction to bless the hateful ingrates in our lives only seems strange when the avoidance of suffering and experiencing a pain-free existence is the summum bonum of life. Yet, I get it. We don’t like to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. It hurts! I’m not really into pain. I’m not a high tolerance pain kind of guy. I have no problem taking a pain pill at the first sign of discomfort. Even so, I know there will be times I am going to have pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and there is no way around it.  To live in this broken world is to experience suffering. To suffer as a Christian, however, is different because we are following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just as Christ suffered, we can expect to suffer as his followers, as well.  We are not above our Master. The real issue is whether we will suffer because of our own foolishness and selfishness, or because of our devotion to Christ in being kind, humble, and gracious.  When insults come our way, we need not respond with insults.  Verbal cruelty is not the way of Christ.  Anger, slander, gossip, lies, manipulative words, and belligerent bullying have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God for any reason.

God has a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech.

The consistent witness of the New Testament is to bless and do not curse, to love and not to hate, to use our tongues for spreading words of encouragement and not of condemnation. Peter’s instruction and Christ’s teaching also totally jives with the Apostle Paul:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Live in harmony with one another…. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21, NIV)

Church Light in Dark

Christians are to us their tongues exclusively for blessing, not cursing; for love, not hate; for truth, not lies; for building-up, not tearing-down; for proclaiming good news, not bad news laced with insults.  If we suffer because of love, we shall receive blessing from God. If we suffer for giving-in to retaliation and our base desires for revenge, then we will suffer the consequences of our own stupidity.

God has called us to bless the world, not condemn it.  Christians are to be on the front lines of spreading respect, civility, kindness, and the gospel. It is no problem showing love and respect to people we like. It is a whole other ballgame to do the same for those who treat us with disrespect and hate. Yet, God watches over all who obey him, and he listens to their prayers.  God will handle the hate-filled person, not you or me.  Our task is to have a deep concern for humanity, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t.

One of the spiritual practices I occasionally do is to read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting. 1 Peter is not a long letter. Depending on the pace of your reading, it can be done between 15-30 minutes. I encourage you to take some time today or this week to slowly read it. Pay attention to how adversity affords Christians the opportunity for hope and the encouragement to live well.

May it be so. Soli Deo Gloria.

Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered and died on my behalf.  It is a small thing for me to follow you and walk in the way of suffering.  I know and have the confident expectation that blessing awaits.  Keep me true to following you through all the adversity I face in this fallen broken world.  Even so, come Lord Jesus, you who lives and reigns with the Father and the Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Genesis 12:1-3 – The Blessing

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The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“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.” (NIV)

Words are powerful.  They have the power of life and of death, of blessing and cursing. Furthermore, withholding words of blessing and keeping silent is to withhold goodness and love from another.

Speaking words of blessing and backing up those words with an active commitment, is vital to humanity’s spiritual and emotional health.

The question for Abraham, and for us, is not only how we will respond to God’s commands but how we will react to his promise of blessing, and to be a blessing. Abraham left the city of Ur because he believed in the promise God was holding out to him of blessing.  It is the promises of God, not just the commands, which change our lives.  It is the promise, not only the command, which requires a decision and a change.  The world needs promise.  And promise is powered by blessing.

The term “blessing” in Scripture is a powerful communication of God’s presence and approval.  Notice some of the elements of God’s blessing to Abraham. God said that he would show Abraham the Promised Land, that is, he would be with Abraham. Abraham was neither alone nor on his own.  God provided Abraham with a peek into a special future – he would make Abraham into a great nation. What’s more, God would bless everyone else through Abraham. God’s approval was with Abraham – “I will bless you.”  Notice, also, God’s active commitment to Abraham: He would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him.

This blessing was passed from generation to generation, from Abraham to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to his twelve sons; a blessing of God’s presence, approval; a blessing of a special future, and an active commitment.  The promise of the blessing found its ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus, who extended the original promise to the nations. I, as a Gentile believer, have come to faith because of this blessing.

Fathers and mothers everywhere across the world stand in a unique and special position as those who have the power of bestowing a blessing on their children – a blessing of being with them, approving of them, affirming their gifts and abilities, envisioning for them a special future of how God can use them. Those words of blessing have the power to help children navigate the world with assurance and confidence. Armed with blessing, they can filter-out the choices in front of them and walk in the way of God.

Notice in the New Testament Gospels how the God the Father blessed the Son:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17).

God communicated his constant presence and an active commitment through the Spirit; God spoke words of approval and affirmation; God the Father had a special future for Jesus the Son, which helped Jesus to repel the words of Satan. Since Jesus needed and received a blessing from his Father, how much more do we?

Notice how Jesus passed on the blessing to his disciples with promise and commitment (giving them much more than only the command):

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus let his disciples know that his presence would be with them; he communicated an active commitment to give them authority to do the job of disciple-making; he pictured for them a special future of reaching the nations; he affirmed them and approved them. “The Great Commission” is really a re-statement of God’s original blessing to Abraham.

Once we begin to view Holy Scripture through the lens of promise and blessing, we begin to see it everywhere. Perhaps one more illustration of receiving and giving blessing will assist us:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man, he could not, because of the crowd. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.  When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today.” So, he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus was transformed.  His life changed from one of cursing others through extortion to blessing others through giving. Jesus not once commanded him to do it. Instead, Jesus simply blessed him, and Zacchaeus, in turn, became a blessing. Being invited into someone’s house in the ancient world was in and of itself an act that communicated acceptance, approval, and encouragement.  The presence of Jesus changes people.

God is with us.  He has given us his very great and precious promises in Christ.  He has demonstrated his active commitment to us by giving us the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has gifted each believer for service so that every individual may be a blessing to both the church and the world.

You and I already possess God’s blessing; there is no need to try and earn it.

We have the privilege and the ability to reverse the world’s curse and turn it into a blessing. Those blessed with money can be a blessing by giving it away. Those blessed by growing up in a loving family can provide love to others who are unloved and need a special blessing. Those blessed with wisdom can mentor and instruct those who need wisdom. Those blessed with the mercy of God can be merciful to others. Those blessed with a wonderful relationship with God can pray people into the kingdom of God.

Parents, it is never too late to bless your children, even if they are adults. Children, it is never too late to bless your parents and your siblings, even if they are prickly and hard. To not bless is to curse. Bless through words that build up, and do not tear down. Use those words to picture a special future of what God can do. Follow through with those words by demonstrating an active commitment to embodying blessing.

I leave you with a blessing, my dear readers:

May God answer you when you are in distress; and, may the name of Jesus protect you. 

May God send you help when you need it and give you support when you cry out to him. 

May the God of heaven remember all your good deeds done in faith and accept you just as you are. 

May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.

When the Almighty answers your prayers and goes out of the way to use you for his glory; then, I will be the first to shout with the loudest shout of joy that there ever was on the earth! 

I know that the Lord is God, and that he has a special future for you beyond what you can even ask or think.  And I will be there on the sidelines, encouraging you all the way. 

Some people trust in the political process, others trust in the strength of the economy; but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 

May God answer when you call.

May God bless you with an everlasting love. 

May you know Christ, and him crucified, risen, and coming again. 

May God’s presence and power be with you now and forever.  Amen.

Click Blessings by Laura Story to remember that even in difficulty we are blessed.

1 Peter 3:8-18a

            Sometimes people say things that are uncaring, insensitive, and even downright stupid – things that do not reflect the gospel of grace.  Indeed, there is enough sinfulness to go around no matter where you go.
 
            The Apostle Peter gave some practical commands to occupy us in the midst of troubling speech and actions that people say and do.  Rather than responding in kind by verbally decapitating another person, either to their face or behind their back, we are to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”  Peter sums it up by saying, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called.”
 
            If we ever wonder or struggle with what God is calling us to, it is clear as a bell in this Scripture.  Grace is our business, and we are not to respond ungraciously to others’ lack of mercy.  If we put our focus on blessing others with these practices, no matter who they are, we will set ourselves apart as people who follow the way of Jesus.  And make no mistake about it:  the way of Jesus is the way of suffering grace.  It does not mean keeping silent; it means actively blessing through a tender heart and a humble mind.
 
            Humility is the cornerstone of all other biblical virtues.  Every Christian must be ready to accept the things that are not within his/her control, and then respond humbly with love.  If this sounds wishy-washy to you, then I would say you have never even tried it because it takes a courageous strength of faith to put into practice a spirit of meekness.  To this we are called.
            Gracious God, who sent Jesus to humbly suffer for my sins, engraft your humility in me so that I might respond with love in thought, word, and deed to every person and circumstance in my life.  Amen.