2013 – LeFleur’s Bluff State Park, Jackson, MS
Cross armed blessings
Genesis 48: He thought he had made a mistake.
With his aged father, Jacob, now close by Joseph brings his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to meet their grandfather. It’s a big moment for all involved and Jacob prepares to bestow a blessing on his grandsons. Joseph carefully places his first born at the right hand of his father, making Manasseh the primary blessing receiver but Jacob simply crosses his arms, placing his right hand on Ephraim. When Joseph corrects his father Jacob responds that he knows what he’s doing and proceeds with the blessing, declaring that both boys will be blessed, but Ephraim will be greater and that his descendants will be a blessing to the whole world. As often happens with God we have here a surprise event that gets our attention. The fact is that the Lord loves blessing unlikely people. He takes those who shouldn’t have much of a chance at life and uses them in wonderful and unexpected ways. This passage hints at the “unexpected” nature of the blessing when Jacob says others will be blessed through Ephraim. In fact, the real difference between the blessings given to these brothers is that one will be used to bless others.
Take away: In God, we’re both blessed and used to bring blessings to others.
2013 – Along Natchez Trace – Fall Hollow
The coming crisis
Genesis 41: Egypt was the only country that had bread.
Joseph rises to power in Egypt based on some of the king’s dreams. When the king is troubled by the dreams and wants someone to explain their meaning to him, Joseph, under the inspiration of the Lord, comes through. His new job is to take advantage of the coming seven years of bounty in preparation for the following seven years of famine. Joseph does such a good job of this that, once the famine hits, Egypt has enough grain for its own citizens and plenty to sell to surrounding nations too. I know there’s a huge difference of scale, but we’re expected to do the same thing in our lives. We may not have a vision or a dream or some other specific advance knowledge of what’s coming but we do know this: every person goes through both good days and bad. That’s not only true of our financial picture, it’s also true spiritually. I need to take full advantage of times of spiritual refreshment. Right now I may have extra time to spend in the presence of the Lord, to bask in the light of his love. Later on, a crisis will come (note: I didn’t say “might come”) when there will be no time for quiet reflection on spiritual truths. I need to fill the storehouse of my life with the good things the Lord is providing for me right now so that when I need them, they’ll be there to help me through troubled times.
Take away: What am I “storing up” now that will help me when it’s time to make a withdrawal?
2013 – Along Natchez Trace – Fall Hollow
From Jailhouse to Penthouse
Genesis 41: Joseph was in charge of the entire country of Egypt.
Within a matter of hours Joseph is elevated from being a prison trustee to being second only to the king. After years of misery God’s plan unfolds and in a matter of hours an event greater than Joseph’s highest hopes is realized. This is so sweeping a change that even Joseph must have problems grasping it all. Beyond that, there’s a feeling of “rightness” about it. Joseph takes off his prison garments and puts on those of royalty and, well, they fit him perfectly. He immediately begins to discharge his duties with authority. You see, he was born for this moment. It was a terrible thing when he was betrayed by, first his brothers, and then Mrs. Potiphar. However, at the same time, the Lord used those events to prepare Joseph for what was coming. Those years in jail were long and unwelcome, but the Lord used them to Joseph’s benefit. I haven’t been as low and I’ve never risen to the heights described in this story. However, I’ve found that the Lord is incredibly patient in accomplishing his purposes. I’ve also found that when it all comes together it all fits perfectly. In fact, it works so well that, if I’m not careful, I miss God’s hand in it and chalk it up to being merely a natural flow of events.
Take away: God is incredibly patient in accomplishing his purposes, but the end result is just right.
2013 – Great Smoky Mountains National Park
God’s been good to me
Genesis 34: God has been good to me and I have more than enough.
Jacob, now also named Israel, faces his original victim. He was born right after his twin brother Esau and he came out of the womb holding the heel of his brother; apparently trying to get a bit of a free ride! Esau grew up to be a down to earth, hardworking guy and Jacob grew up to be a person who takes advantage of down to earth, hardworking guys. Now it’s time to face the music. Blessed beyond his wildest dreams he, who left home with nothing, returns home with wives, children, servants, and a wealth of livestock. The first thing he has to do is to make things right with Esau. Jacob showers his brother with gifts. Actually, Esau has also done alright. Still, Jacob insists and his reason is the right one. “God has been good to me and I have more than enough.” It’s time to make things right with his brother. Jacob gives God the credit, acknowledging his blessings, and freely shares out of his abundance. Having said all that, I can add my own testimony. God’s been good to me too, and I also have more than enough. How can I use God’s abundant provision in my life to be a blessing to someone today? How about you? How has the Lord treated you?
Take away: How should a blessed person act?
2013 – Pilot Mountain, North Carolina
One messed up family
Genesis 27: Fix me a hearty meal so that I can…bless you.
If there ever was a dysfunctional family, this is it. Isaac, frail and blind, is basically interested in being taken care of. Rebekah is a conniving, manipulative wife. Esau, well, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer and Jacob is, as his name suggests, “a heel.” Here my friend is a family in dire need of counseling! Isaac, who will live for years longer, is convinced he’s dying and needs to pass the promise given to his father, Abraham, on to his son. However, he can’t imagine blessing anyone without his having a full belly. Rebekah hears her husband’s intention and goes to work to secure the blessing for her favorite, Jacob. Again, this is a messed up family! For the people of ancient Israel, hearing this story must have been a letdown. After all, these are their ancestors: their heroes of their faith. Abraham had his share of blunders, but, ultimately, he comes out looking good. Isaac, his son, ends up with a family that would be at home in a modern sitcom. However, there’s one redeeming feature to all this. You see, the story isn’t really about the tragic comedy of Isaac and family. Instead, it’s about God. Their pitiful story is redeemed by the Redeemer. The Lord has made promises to this family and he intends to keep those promises. The Lord’s always gracious and while their situation may not be very pretty it does serve to highlight the brightness of God’s grace.
Take away: I’m thankful that the Lord works through the comedy of my life in redeeming ways.
2013 – Smoky Mountains and vicinity – White Water Falls area
Genesis 26: Any why? Because Abraham obeyed my summons and kept my charge.
Abraham is one of the great heroes of the Bible so it doesn’t surprise us that his son, Isaac, seems pale in comparison to his colorful father. Isaac, in fact, is better known for things that happen to him than for things he does. As a child, Ishmael picks on him. On the mountain, he’s the object of his father’s greatest test of faith. Later on, a trusted servant gets a wife for him. He keeps getting pushed around by the people of the area, and then, as a poor blind man, he’s deceived by his wife and son. In some ways, he’s a historical place holder between Abraham and Jacob. I don’t want to be too hard on Isaac. None of the things I mentioned about him would tend to produce a vibrant, powerful leader. Can’t you imagine him on a modern psychiatrist’s couch? Talk about a person with issues! Still, we see that God is with Isaac blessing him and multiplying his wealth. The scripture says the Lord does this because of Abraham. All the blessings the Lord promised his father spill over onto Isaac and are then passed on to the next generation. This is an example of God working according to his purposes and in view of the big picture. I’m reminded today that sometimes I’m the recipient of what might be called “accidental blessings.” I’m not saying that God doesn’t intentionally allow them into my life, but just that the blessing has a lot more to do with the obedience of others than it does me, or that I’m blessed because of God’s larger plan and not really because of anything specific about me. Such realizations ought to cause me to be humbly thankful for good things that come into my life.
Take away: When I’m blessed I need to be humbly thankful and realize that, at times, they aren’t about me at all.
What an invitation!
Revelation 4: Ascend and enter.
Having received messages for seven churches John looks upward to see an opening door providing an entrance into Heaven. He hears a voice, issuing to him a command and a word of permission. He’s been invited into Heaven and is immediately filled with a sense of deep worship as he finds himself gazing on the very Throne of God. Everything’s overwhelming and, as he tells us about it, human language fails him. There’s worship going on and we’re left with the feeling that this is business as usual at the Throne. Heavenly beings sing “Holy, holy, holy” and those with crowns of righteousness cast those crowns at the feet of the One seated on the Throne. What’s business as usual in Heaven is all too rare on this side of that door. I’ve had some wonderful moments of blessing, some too precious for me to write about. They haven’t come nearly often enough but when they have come I’ve tasted just enough to long for more. Still, I’ve received an invitation to that place. I don’t know when it is that I’ll hear “Ascend and enter” but I do know that that command and word of permission will come someday. I’m sure I won’t like the process of getting there, but once I do, it’ll be worth it all.
Take Away: We’ve received that wonderful invitation to “ascend and enter” so let’s live as invited people, preparing for that day.
Happy in Jesus
1Peter 1: You trust him, with laughter and singing.
Peter’s words are addressed to believers who are “scattered to the four winds.” These followers of Jesus don’t have it easy. They’re treated as outsiders and sometimes they suffer because of their faith. However, Peter’s writing to them isn’t heavy and grim. He doesn’t advise them to grit their teeth and hold on. Rather, he describes the victory that’s already theirs. He envisions their gatherings as joyful, celebrative events in which they sing and laugh, buoyed by the living presence of Jesus in their lives. The idea here isn’t that they pretend everything’s okay when it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s that they see a bigger picture and weighing their current situation against “total salvation” they find that they’re the big winners. Beyond that, it’s more than just “pie in the sky” for them. Something has happened and is happening in their lives right now. These are people who just can’t get over how blessed they are. While it’s true that my life is quite easy, especially in comparison to that of these scattered Christians, I do share in their blessings. As I get together with my Christian friends, whether it’s in formal worship or relaxed fellowship, I hear lots of good singing and good natured laughter. That, my friend, is exactly as it should be.
Take Away: It’s good to remember that it’s a joy living in Jesus and that it’s fun being with his people.
Looking back and being blessed all over again
1Thessalonians 2: We wanted to give you our hearts. And we did.
Before Paul turns his attention to the primary topic of the letter he has some reminiscing to do. He well remembers arriving in Thessalonica. At that time he was a rather beaten up apostle, having just gone through the Philippian jail experience we read about in Acts 16. Some of his enemies, in fact, followed him to Thessalonica as well, resulting in a riot. Still, many believed his message and, in spite of his obvious weaknesses, they became dear friends of Paul. This relationship, he tells them, is cherished and warms his heart even as he writes them this short letter. Looking back on those events, even though there was some pain and rejection in them, fills him with thanksgiving. He remembers how he gave them his heart and to this day he has no regrets about it whatsoever. There’s something powerful about relationships like this. For one thing, they hold. Paul has moved on in his ministry but something of him has stayed with his dear friends in Thessalonica. Now, when they have questions about the Second Coming of Christ they turn to him for answers. When he hears from them, he experiences some old blessings made new. I don’t think I should live in the past, dwelling on the “good old days.” Still, there’s a time for looking back and remembering people, events, friendships, and blessings from days gone by. I can’t live in the past but it doesn’t hurt to visit there once in a while.
Take Away: Precious memories sweeten our lives today.
Paul’s thorn in the flesh
2Corinthians 12: The weaker I get the stronger I become.
As Paul defends his ministry he describes a vision he experienced many years earlier. At least I think he’s describing a vision he had. His wording moves to third person, but the setting of the passage concerns visions and revelations given him by the Lord. Paul was lifted up into heaven and there heard things he was forbidden to share with others. The Apostle says that if he wanted to he could focus on such experiences and trump about anyone. Instead, though, he chooses to focus on his humiliations and, in fact has found his most troubling, humbling handicap (although he doesn’t tell us what it is) to be yet another great blessing. This handicap serves two good purposes in his life. On one hand it balances out the ecstasies he experienced in Christ, keeping him firmly grounded in the here and now. On the other hand, his weaknesses drive him to even greater dependency on the Lord. As he relies on the Lord rather than on his own experiences, as deeply spiritual as they might be, he finds strength. Blessings are, well, a blessing! However, they can also be a curse. If I think the Lord has made me a favorite because of some deep spiritual experience that experience can actually serve as a stumbling block in my life. Of course, the Lord knows this. I think he sometimes withholds some special intimacy from us for our own good. At other times, as it is in Paul’s case, the Lord works in our lives in wonderful ways but refuses to do something that would be precious to us to keep us from becoming so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good. We don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh is, but we can see it as he does: as part of God’s working in a life for the good of one he dearly loves.
Take Away: Sometimes the Lord does things for us because he loves us. Sometimes the Lord doesn’t do things for us because he loves us.