Blessed Like a Tree

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.

Ever feel like you’re on the cusp of something big? Like you are “this close” to a receiving a blessing of some sort? A really big blessing?

The Bible is full of “blessing” stories. The first is a promise from God to Abram.

Genesis 12:

The Lord said to Abram:

Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you. I will bless you and make your descendants into a great nation. You will become famous and be a blessing to others. I will bless anyone who blesses you, but I will put a curse on anyone who puts a curse on you. Everyone on earth will be blessed because of you.  Genesis 12:1-3 (CEV)

This is the promise to Abram, which means “Father” … who later became Abraham… “the Father of Many.”

Abram had no children. Yet because of his faithfulness to God, he became the father of Isaac, who became the father of Jacob, who’s name was later changed to Israel.  He had twelve sons, the heads of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people, who crossed the Jordan River at Jericho and inherited the Promised Land.

This idea of Abram’s blessing is the picture of a conduit.  We are blessed with the express purpose of being a blessing to others. There is a continual motion with our hands of receiving and giving… receiving and giving… receiving and giving. Can you see yourself as both a receptacle and dispenser of God’s grace and joy and blessing?

Let’s jump a couple of thousand years to David, Psalm 1:

God blesses those people who refuse evil advice and won’t follow sinners or join in sneering at God.

Instead, the Law of the Lord makes them happy, and they think about it day and night.

They are like trees growing beside a stream, trees that produce fruit in season and always have leaves.

Those people succeed in everything they do.

Psalm 1:1-3 (CEV)

The Psalms are  mostly David’s journal, his intimate thoughts with God. These prayers detail his struggles, his joys, his defeats and his victories. He gets the concept of blessing through the Word of God. The idea of “thinking about the law” — or other translations suggest the phrase is “meditating on the Scripture” — is the picture of a dog, chewing on a bone. Or more precisely a lion growling over his prey, followed by licking and chewing it up. Taking his time. Enjoying the blessings of his spoils. Usually in solitude.

So, it is THAT person, who is like a tree growing beside a stream. Its roots are long and deep. Have you ever seen a tree growing on the bank of a river and its roots run long down the bank until they are touching the water? That’s the kind of tree we are to be, someone with long and deep roots. And that tree? It produces fruit!

These are trees that do not worry. They are blessed.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NIV)

And  just like trees “those people succeed in everything they do.” They are blessed.

Proverbs says “the roots of the righteous give life, and more life.” Proverbs 12:12 (MSG)

Blessing happens when we enjoy our times with God. Please hear that the only way we produce fruit, or more accurately when God produces fruit in us and through us, is when we enjoy, when we relish, when we love quiet times of digging into and digesting His word, lingering over it, often; when our heart is connected to His heart.

One more Bible story about blessing:

When Jesus taught His first sermon, what’s the key word He used? At the Sermon on the Mount, He affirms eight additional Blessings.

God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!

God blesses those people who grieve. They will find comfort!

God blesses those people who are humble. The earth will belong to them!

God blesses those people who want to obey him more than to eat or drink. They will be given what they want!

God blesses those people who are merciful. They will be treated with mercy!

God blesses those people whose hearts are pure. They will see him!

God blesses those people who make peace. They will be called his children!

God blesses those people who are treated badly for doing right. They belong to the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-10 (CEV)

One thing each of these Blessings have in common? These Blessings are given to those who are active, not passive.

You’ve heard “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not in the Bible. That’s a quote most often ascribed to Benjamin Franklin. That’s not what I’m saying. Indeed, God’s grace is offered to all, because we really cannot help ourselves, right?

Here’s the true statement. Again from Proverbs: The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed. Those who help others are helped. Proverbs 11:25 (MSG)

Jesus is describing actions taken. Who receives blessings? Those who are depending and grieving. Those who are humble, obedient, mercy givers. Those who have a pure heart and who make peace and who do right.

Proverbs has two additional blessing promises:

God blesses everyone who trusts him. Proverbs 16:20 (CEV)

And then there’s this one:

When God blesses his people, their city prospers, but deceitful liars can destroy a city. Proverbs 11:11 (CEV)

I believe God wants to bless your city, your state, our county. But I don’t believe we are called to sit around and wait for it. I believe He will continue to bless this Land through each person who trusts in Him.

Jesus had an encounter with a dad who was hoping that the Messiah might heal his son. The boy’s father says: “Please have pity and help us if you can!” Jesus replied, “Why do you say “if you can”? Anything is possible for someone who has faith!” Right away the boy’s father shouted, “I do have faith! Please help me to have even more.” Mark 9:23-25 (CEV)

Maybe that’s our prayer too? “God, please give me more faith.”

That takes us full circle back around to Abraham. It was his faith that allowed him to see and believe that he’d have as many descendants as the stars in the heavens. It will be our faith, and our taking action steps — not passively sitting around waiting — to receive God’s blessings. And then its up to us to be obedient to pass them on… to our family, our neighbors, our city, and our country. And through our passing them along, we are blessed!

 

(c) Rich Ronald. 2019.

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Blessed, happy…

The hillside that looks down to the Sea of Galilee from the Mount called the Mount of Beatitudes, or Mt. Eremos in Israel.

 

We started the day at the top of Mt. Arbel. The Master had taken us up the night before. At daybreak, we watched a gorgeous sunrise over the Sea!  Mt. Arbel is His favorite “get away from it all” spot. You can get a view of the whole lake from there.

We had spent much of the past few weeks all around this northern part of the Galilee. He had chosen 12 of us to be His closest followers, His talmudim. Many of us grew up around here, working the sea for fish and the land for grain.

As we journeyed down towards the shore, He warned us about the expected crowds today. There was something in His heart that He needed to tell the people… If people were going to receive any kind of physical healing from Him, they were going to hear why He healed first.  He told us of the story when He taught in the synagogue in Nazareth… when the reading from the Prophets for that day was from Isaiah. He affirmed the reason He had come… to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind… to set the oppressed free.

And now today, today would be the day when the Teacher revealed His yoke, His perspective, His views on the Law. And today, he would set the whole tone for the next year and a half of ministry…

As He began to teach, He did so just like He was in a synagogue. He sat down on a rock. And He preached with such authority.

“Blessed, happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven,” He began.

“Blessed, happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed, happy are those who are meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 6:3-5).

With each blessing, more and more people made their way to the field below Him. He continued…

“Blessed, happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed, happy are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed, happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 6:6-8).

His voice echoed off the hillside and fisherman pulled their boats onto the shore to hear more.

“Blessed, happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed, happy are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 6:9-12).

The Master spoke for quite some time… I looked around as the crowd continued to increase. People elbowed each other to see His face. They wiped their brows as the warmth of the day increased. “Who was this?” I heard them murmur to each other.

He watched as fishermen on the shore began to pack their catch in salt to preserve it. “You are the salt of the earth,” He assured us. “But if the salt loses it saltiness, how can it be salty again?” (Matthew 6:13).

He looked east toward Hippos across the sea and proclaimed, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:14-16).

He then began to illustrate His views on Torah, His yoke, by noting what other teachers of the Law have to say… He would start by saying, “You have heard it said… “ and then He would add, “but I say to you…” It was His way of bringing grace and life to the Laws of Moses. For example, He said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:43-45).

Some in the growing crowd were mesmerized by these teachings. Others were puzzled as this man appeared to be a learned rabbi, but was questioning much of everything we all knew of the Law.

He taught on murder, adultery, divorce, prayer and fasting. He summed up the Law and the Prophets with this straightforward statement: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12).

The topic that spoke most to my heart? Anxiety. I will admit, I’m a worrier. And yet, as He looked at the flowers in bloom on this very hillside, and saw the birds flying through the treetops, the Master urged us:

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34).

 As He concluded this powerful, yet simple message, the crowd was amazed. I looked at the others with a smile, humbled that He had chosen us to be His disciples… and wondering what else we might learn in the days and weeks to come as we followed our rabbi.

Some of the thoughts, perhaps, of one of the 12, as he remembered that day where Yeshua first spoke those words.

_____

There are so many amazing teachings in this, the first of Jesus’ public teachings. As we see often, Jesus flips many of the norms and teachings of old on their heads. You are blessed when you are poor in spirit. It’s okay to mourn. Be hungry for righteousness not the Law. Be a peacemaker. Don’t worry when you are persecuted, or when you are hungry or naked. Seek first the Kingdom. Be salt. Be light. Treat others as you want to be treated. This is how you are to pray.

He was going “on the record” … establishing His yoke, His ways, His views on Torah. And ultimately, Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

So, say “Yes!” to the Law. But, more importantly, say “Yes!” to Grace. Say “Yes!” to the way of Yeshua. He spoke with the bold and loving authority of God.  This message is for everyone. Jew and Gentile alike. Believer and unbeliever. For those who heard it first-hand on a hillside along the banks of the Sea of Galilee as He spoke it – Matthew says in 7:28 that the crowds were amazed!”

AND the timeless message is for us today. Can we be amazed again? I hope so!

 

[1] Friedrich Hauck, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” as cited in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth E. Bailey, © 2008, p. 68.

 

(c) 2019 Rich Ronald.