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Posts Tagged ‘Blessings’

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When we pray for God’s blessings, most likely we envision people, things, and conditions that we believe will make us happy—loving relationships, close family and friends, good health, material things, financial assets, good jobs, successful careers, long life, and much more.

While Scripture includes some of those as blessings or rewards (e.g., Gen.15:1-3; Job 42:12-17; 1 Sam.2:20-21; Ps. 112), it more frequently refers to God’s blessings in spiritual terms or as a state of being in relationship to God or Jesus Christ.

In the priestly blessing that God gave Aaron to proclaim over the people of Israel (Num. 6:24-26), and later used as a benediction in Christian worship services, the blessing covers God’s people with his divine protection, pleasure, graciousness, favor, and peace.

When Jesus taught his disciples and followers about blessings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-11), he didn’t promise earthly prosperity, pleasure, or laughter. He promised a joyful, hopeful experience with God—independent of outward circumstances and things that we deem necessary for happiness. In fact, he taught that God blesses the poor in spirit, the mournful, the spiritually destitute, the persecuted, the oppressed, the unaggressive, the powerless, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the pure in heart.

And throughout the New Testament, God’s blessings are seen in terms of a happy state of being because of a believer’s relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—as in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

“How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we belong to Christ.” –(Eph. 1:3, NLT)

Paul goes on to name these spiritual blessings that become ours as followers of Jesus Christ:

• God loved us and chose us for salvation before the world began (1:4)
• God adopted us as his children (1:5)
• God regards us as holy and blameless (1:5)
• God lavished his kindness on us because we belong to Christ (1:6-8)
• God purchased our freedom from sin’s destructive dominance and forgave our sins (1:7)
• God bestowed on us spiritual insight, wisdom, and understanding to guide us through our new life with Christ (1:8; 1:17)
• God granted us an eternal inheritance in his Kingdom (1:11)
• God gave us the Holy Spirit as his guarantee that we belong to him and will receive our full redemption and future glory (1:14; Rom 8:23)

All of these blessings are ours to enjoy during this lifetime and are a foretaste of the eternal glory that we will enjoy in our heavenly realms (1:3; 2:6; 3:10) at our death or upon Christ’s return to establish his new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1).

So as we give praise and thanks to God for our present blessings of shelter, clothing, food, loved ones, health, jobs, and the many other things that help to make life enjoyable, let us not cling to them and take them for granted. They are not permanent. We could lose them.

And may we remember to daily give praise and thanks to God for all the spiritual blessings that are ours because we belong to Christ. Those blessings are permanent and eternal, and we can count on them!

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I was visiting the Getty Museum in Los Angeles recently when I saw the Jean-Francois Millet oil painting, “Man with a Hoe,” painted during 1860-62. As I gazed at the painting, I began to sense what Millet intended to convey—the utter exhaustion of a peasant as he pauses from the backbreaking toil of plowing a rocky plot of land filled with thistles, weeds, and dry grass.

The expression on the man’s face, along with his wearied posture, suggest not only a hard day’s labor but one of a lifetime of endless toil with little progress to show. And yet, the green, productive fields of his neighbors in the background suggest that there might be hope for this man and this bleak plot of land.

But I saw more.

In that moment I saw in him the countless numbers of individuals whose lives today are mired in seemingly hopeless situations—beaten down, exhausted, depressed, caught between life’s proverbial rock and a hard place, with little or no relief or hope in sight. And in my heart I saw their despair and I heard their anguished cry to God for help.

I know what these people are going through—for I’ve been there myself.

I’ve been there through life’s deserts—long periods of unemployment, eking out a living in dead-end jobs, facing failure after failure, set back after set back, struggling with depression, and screaming at a seemingly silent God.

But always, in the midst of those harsh, lonely, desert places, I would experience God’s mercy, peace, comfort, and joy. And with those blessings, I would find renewed hope and strength to keep on the journey through life.

It is in such deserts that I experienced the reality of Jesus’ Beatitudes recorded in Matthew 5:3-6:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

In Mathew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt, 5,6,7), Jesus teaches about the characteristics of being a disciple in the Kingdom of God, and in verses 3-6 of chapter 5, he blesses the worn-down, broken, and powerless people who recognize their need for him and seek him.

He blesses them in their present state—here and now!

Those who are poor in spirit—who are utterly helpless to meet life’s challenges but seek God in their poverty of spirit—are blessed to be part of God’s kingdom here and now!

Those who mourn—who are in spiritual crisis, sadness, pain, sorrow, grief, and loss, and who earnestly seek God—are comforted with his peace, joy, and strength, here and now, for the journey still ahead.

Those who are meek—who in humility know their own ignorance, weaknesses, and needs, and who turn control and discipline of their lives to God—are blessed here and now with God’s assurance that when Christ returns on Judgment Day to destroy the earth, they will receive new eternal bodies and inherit a place in Christ’s kingdom that he will establish on the newly created earth (2 Pet. 3:7-13;  Rom. 8: 18-26; Rev. 21:1).

And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—who yearn desperately for a right relationship with God and with people, who care about justice for all, and who earnestly seek God out of their awareness of their own urgent need to be right with him and with people—are blessed here and now with God’s forgiveness and covered with Jesus’ own righteousness (Rom. 3:22; 2 Cor. 5:21).

These four beatitudes are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems. The world admires and envies only those who are strong, rich, famous, successful, and powerful. The world cares nothing about the nobodies, the materially or spiritually poor, those who mourn, the meek, or those who seek righteousness and justice.

But God cares about such people, and he wants us as disciples of Jesus Christ to not only care for them with his heart of love, grace, and compassion, but also to reflect in our hearts an awareness of our own poverty of spirit, brokenness, humility, and hunger for righteousness.

For only then can he bless us—here and now!

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Proponents of the prosperity gospel use selected Bible verses to support their claim that if you follow a series of faith principles, Jesus Christ will bless you with financial wealth, health, and amazing success in all areas of life.

The problem is that these preachers and teachers often use verses such as Psalm 1:1-3 or John 10:10 out of context and twist them to build self-aggrandizing ministries that emphasize financial wealth and success, but neglect a more comprehensive range of Biblical teaching. They become rich through the financial support of gullible followers who blindly fund their ministries in the hope that they, the followers, will experience material and financial success.

Paul calls these people “false teachers” for whom “religion is just a way to get rich” (I Tim. 6:3, 5, NLT), and he warns that:

. . . people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (I Tim. 6:9,10, NLT)

Psalm 1: 1-3 describes the joy of people who delight in God’s Scripture and do his will:

They are like trees planted along the river bank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.” (NLT)

These false teachers interpret “prosper” to mean primarily material and financial prosperity. However, the real meaning of the passage is not that people who delight in God will be blessed with material prosperity—but that they, being deep-rooted in God’s Scripture and in obeying him, will have everything they’ll need to sustain their lives and bear fruit in all circumstances.

And what is this fruit? According to the Apostle Paul:

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)

The prosperity preachers and teachers also use John 10:10 in which Jesus says,

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (NKJV).

While they interpret “abundantly” to primarily mean financial and material success, the context of this verse does not imply that. John 10:10 must be seen in the wider context of chapters 8, 9, and 10 in which the Pharisees are seeking to kill Jesus because he has been exposing them for what they are—blind leaders, thieves, and robbers who lead people astray with their false and burdensome teachings and requirements.

In contrast, Jesus describes himself as (a) the “Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:14) who protects and cares for his true flock (his followers), and (b) the “gate” through which his sheep must enter the sheepfold and find protection and nourishment:

Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. Wherever they go, they will find green pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” (John 10: 9-10, NLT)

Here Jesus asserts that he is the only way to eternal life and salvation and that he alone can infuse in us a fullness and superabundance of life and vitality for our here-and-now.

Other passages provide additional expressions of our fruitfulness, prosperity, and abundance from God as expressed through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit:

• Answered prayers, fruitfulness, love, and overflowing joy—John 15:7, 8, 11, 12

• Godly lives that are rich in faith, moral excellence, knowledge of God, self-control, patient endurance, love for everyone, and productive living—2 Peter 1:3-9

• Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—Galatians 5:22-23

• Overflowing hope, happiness, and peace—Romans 15:13

• Wonderful divine peace beyond human understanding—Philippians 4:7

• Contentment in whatever state we’re in—Philippians 4:11

So, does faith in Jesus Christ lead to health, wealth, and success?

The answer is “Yes” and “No”—no, in the sense that faith in Jesus Christ does not guarantee material wealth, health, or success; but yes, in the far more important sense that all who are rooted in God through faith and love in Jesus Christ are blessed with spiritual fruitfulness and “filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

With such fullness of life and divine fruitfulness, we are indeed wealthy with God’s richest blessings—whether we are sick or healthy, rich or poor, absent in body or present with the Lord.

And yes, it is good for us to make plans about succeeding in our health, education, career, business, and making a profit, but it should always be with the attitude—“If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-16)

And may our journey with Christ reflect the prayer expressed in Proverbs 30:8-9:

. . . give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.” (NLT)

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