Thursday, June 22, 2017

Block 72: Zebulun

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“...pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God.”  2 Chronicles 30:19
From the moment he was born, Zebulun’s mother, Leah, knew he was a gift, destined for greatness.  As Jacob’s tenth son (sixth born of Leah), Zebulun was one of six tribes chosen to stand on Mt. Ebal and pronounce curses, promising God NOT to participate in certain behaviors, such as casting idols or withholding justice and others.  In fact, Zebulun was zealous in his pronouncements, listing twelve behaviors he would refrain from and would encourage his tribe to avoid the same. Yet when Zebulun entered the Promised Land, he didn’t live up to God’s expectations for him.  God had commanded Zebulun to drive out the inhabitants of the land, and Zebulun fell short.  Instead of driving out the Canaanites, he forced them into slave labor.  God had given Zebulun a clear command, and Zebulun disobeyed this command.  Maybe in Zebulun’s mind, he thought he was doing enough.  Many times, we are just like Zebulun when we do not obey God’s commands explicitly, but rather act in a manner that is “good enough.”  Sometimes it is just not convenient for us to follow God’s wishes all the time.  Lucky for us, and lucky for Zebulun, God has an unlimited capacity to love and forgive. In Zebulun’s case, God’s love for him never ceased and He pulled Zebulun back into communion with Him. On Jacob’s deathbed, Zebulun was given the land of Galilee, where he returned to God and followed his commands. His tribe fought many battles and played an important role  in critical victories in Israel’s history.  Later, Isaiah promised that the land of Zebulun would be honored.  And indeed, it was.  We know that Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth, in the land of Galilee, and that Jesus began his teaching along the shores of Galilee. Zebulun’s tribe became seafaring merchants and provided financial stability to the land.
So our lesson from Zebulun is a gloriously liberating one.  God is always present when we return to Him.  Regardless of all of the times that we turned away from God, regardless of all of our sins and transgressions, if we return to God with our whole heart, He will forgive us and use us to do His work.  Our only role in life is to fulfill God’s purpose for us.

I chose Ocean Waves to represent Zebulun, whose tribe was mainly comprised of seafaring merchants. 


Block 71: Issachar

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 “...knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10
On his deathbed, Jacob described his ninth son (fifth by Leah) as a donkey.  Most men would be embarrassed by this description, but Issachar was proud of the comparison.  In the Bible, the donkey was considered a special animal, often distinguished for their ability to work hard under extreme conditions.  Note that donkeys were present in many of the greatest events of the Bible:  Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaiah,  Joseph’s brothers’ pilgrimage to request food, Moses’s trip back to Egypt to set the Israelites free, Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem, and most importantly, Jesus’s final ride into Jerusalem.  Like the donkeys, Issachar and his tribe were known for their quiet, consistent willingness to work hard and carry a heavy burden.  Just as the donkey carried the son of God on his back, Issachar and his sons chose to carry the word of God.  They studied the word, protected it and understood it.  They kept track of the sun and moon cycles and announced God’s appointed times.
Issachar’s tribe were described in 1 Chronicles as men who “understood the times and knew what to do”  (1 Chronicles 12:32). They understood that God wanted worshippers who would be true, faithful and passionate.  They understood that God wanted a king who would follow His command, and not take matters into his own hands.  Issachar’s tribe demonstrated amazing political insight.  They switched their allegiance from King Saul to David, helped him rise to the throne, then served in his Army.  Like a donkey, the tribe of Issachar persevered on the rough road and quietly carried the burden of following God’s will.
Today, God is asking us to be like the sons of Issachar.  He asks us everyday to be true worshippers and follow God’s will rather than do our own thing.  Like the sons of Issachar, we should rely on the word of God, study the Bible, in an effort to understand the times and make decisions about how we and our family should live and worship in these times.  Let us start with this simple prayer: Lord, help us to understand the times and know what to do.

I created a tent block to represent Issachar, whose tribes lived in tents and studied the scriptures in their tents.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Block 70: Benjamin

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“...but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
The name Benjamin means “son of my right hand.”  Benjamin was originally named Ben-oni (means son of my sorrow) by his mother, Rachel.  He was re-named by his father, Jacob, when his mother died in childbirth (bearing Benjamin).  Benjamin was Jacob’s twelfth son and thirteenth child.  Recall that Jacob’s son, Joseph, had been sold into slavery by his brothers, but Jacob thought that Joseph had been killed by an animal.  Actually, Joseph had ended up as second in command to the Egyptian Pharaoh. 
During a period of extreme drought and famine, Jacob sent the ten older brothers to Egypt to buy grain.  He did not send Benjamin because he feared something might bad might happen to him.  When the brothers arrived in Egypt, they did not recognize Joseph, but Joseph recognized them.  Joseph tested the brothers to see if they would abandon Benjamin.  The brothers passed the test, and Joseph was pleased that they were willing to risk their lives for their brother.  The family was reunited.
On his father’s deathbed, Benjamin received the last of Jacob’s blessings.  Jacob described Benjamin as a ravenous wolf, devouring and dividing its prey.  In truth, Benjamin’s tribe was the smallest tribe, and was known for their mighty warriors and excellent swordsmen.  Four great Bible characters descended from Benjamin’s tribe:  King Saul, Judge Ehud, apostle Paul, and prophet Jeremiah.  Like Joseph, Benjamin was obedient to his father and was later described by the apostle Paul as the greatest missionary ever.
On outward appearances, Benjamin was the baby of the family and had the smallest tribe, yet later, he was described as the greatest missionary ever.  Benjamin teaches us that we should never judge a book by its cover.  God does see what is on the outside, he knows what is on the inside. 

I chose Baby’s Bunting to represent Benjamin because he was the youngest brother of Jacob’s twelve sons, the baby of the family.

Block 69: Judah

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“The Lord works out everything to its proper end… “Proverbs 16:4
Judah was the fourth son of Jacob by his first wife Leah.  He grew up with his brothers living a simple life, tending sheep and cattle.  Like his brothers, Judah was insanely jealous of his half-brother, Joseph (their father’s favorite).  When the brothers conspired to kill Joseph, the oldest brother, Reuben stopped them.  They decided to throw Joseph into a pit instead, leaving his fate to God.  When Reuben was away, Judah came up with a great idea.  He convinced the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery, cover Joseph’s coat with animal blood, and convince Jacob that Joseph had been killed by an animal.
Judah had saved Joseph’s life.  But his great idea hardly made up for his previous misdeeds.  His troubles had only begun.  He married a Canaanite woman and had three sons.  He chose a wife (Tamar) for his first son.  But this son was so evil that God allowed him to be killed before they produced an heir.  So Judah gave Tamar to his second son and asked him to produce an heir for his dead brother.  The second son refused, so God allowed him to be killed also.  Judah intended to give Tamar to his youngest son when he came of age, but during the interim, Tamar tricked Judah into sleeping with her.  She became pregnant and delivered twins.  The firstborn, Perez, became the ancestor to King David and the kings of Judah.  Most importantly, Jesus Christ could also trace his lineage to Jacob through Perez.
Why would God reward Judah for his atrocious behavior?  Well, He didn’t really.   God was actually fulfilling the promise that he had made to Abraham.  From Judah we learn that God’s will WILL be done, despite man’s sinful nature (remember, the descendants were taken captive by the Babylonians and had 70 years to “cleanse”).  So if God’s will be done despite our sinful nature, why should we restrict ourselves to obeying God’s commands?  Because he said so!  In John 14:15,  God says “If you love me, keep my commands.”  In faith, we know that God’s commands are for our own good.  Life works better when we follow God’s commands.

I chose Blacks & Whites (typically a 2-color block)  to represent Judah because his story reminds us that we tend to see actions as Blacks & Whites (good and bad), while God sees beyond the Blacks & Whites to the rainbow of colors within. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Block 68: Naphtali

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“...whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12
Brothers Dan and Naphtali were two sides of a coin.  Both were sons of Jacob and Bilhah (Rachel’s handmaiden).  While Dan turned away from the faith of his father, Naphtali quietly and humbly followed his father’s faith.
Naphtali was chosen as one of six tribes to stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses, promising God they would refrain from the behaviors.  The curses are detailed in Deuteronomy 27: 15-26.  For example,  Naphtali cursed the man who killed his neighbor secretly (Deuteronomy 27: 24).  When Jacob gave his final blessings, he granted Naphtali land in the northern region of Israel, near the Sea of Galilee.  Of the twelve tribes,  Naphtali was given the most beautiful and most fertile parcel of land.
Little else is known of Naphtali.  Ultimately, his tribe was divided into four clans (led by Naphtali’s four sons). Naphtali was a righteous and godly leader of his tribe, and in return, he was granted God’s favor.  Together with his four sons, Naphtali’s tribe  saw victory over the Canaanites.  The followed Gideon into battle to chase the Midianites from the Jezreel Valley, and provided troops and guards when David became king.  Naptali’s humble leadership resulted in the greatest honor:  his land of Galilee was home to all of the disciples, except Judas.  And in the ultimate example of how God exalts the humble, Jesus was born in Nazareth and chose to begin his ministry along the Sea of Galilee.  
Naphtali understood that “man can receive nothing unless is it has been given to him from heaven” John 3:27.  This is such an important lesson for us:  all of our abilities, gifts and opportunities are given to us by God — to be used for His purpose and His glory!

I chose Glorified Nine Patch to represent Napthali.  A nine patch is a humble block, just as Naphtali was a humble tribe leader.  And just as this block is glorified, Naphtali was exalted for his steadfast faith.