Author: StephanieBBlake

I love to help others focus on the one thing that's most important in life through my ministry, teaching and writing. As Vice President of Xtend Ministries International - www.xtendinternational.com, I travel extensively with my husband. I maintain two websites: www.onefocusministries.com and stretchmoney.wordpress.com. On the One Focus site, you can find free Bible studies, devotionals and information about my first book, "The Prayer Driven Life". My book, "Money: How to Be Rich Without It and How to Stretch It Using Ten Hints from the Past and the Technology of Today" was the inspiration for stretchmoney.wordpress.com. Money saving hints are contained throughout the book and this site was created to continue to give helpful hints on stretching money or having the proper view toward money.

Christmas 2020

Christmas time usually marks the ending of a year. The beginning of another year is right around the corner. Traditionally, most children are off from school for a two-week period. When they leave school for the holidays, their papers are dated with the current year’s date. When they return, they should remember that the calendar has turned over and they must use a new date. Letter writers and journal keepers must change the year’s date as well. If you still write checks to pay your bills, you must also pay attention to the fact that the previous year is behind you. During the Christmas season, families get together and catch up. Conversations often turn to the accomplishments or the disappointments of the past year. Within a week, they are off and running into the New Year.

What about Christmas of 2020? What is there to celebrate? This year, depending on where you live, it is even possible that it will be against the law to have your usual large family gatherings for a Christmas celebration. The children may not have their two-week holiday – they may have instead been homeschooled through the year and by this time are very tired of being at home. With a worldwide pandemic, lost businesses, skyrocketing unemployment and dramatically reduced hours and wages, untold financial crises, unpredictable (even more so than usual) stock markets, dramatic cultural shifts, a surge in lawlessness and the growing uncertainty that it will all end anytime soon, what good news can we reflect on at the end of 2020?

I have never experienced a year like this one and I suspect you haven’t either. Now more than ever, we need the reminder that there IS good news. With politicians fighting tooth and nail for every inch of control – even taking advantage of a global pandemic – we need to remember that God IS in control.

Our reason for celebrating Christmas has not changed. Jesus really is the reason we can rejoice. Then the angel said unto them,“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people“(Luke 2:10). He IS the good news. He offers salvation to those who trust in Him. He has not been surprised by anything that has happened this year. God has not changed. God has not moved. God has not forgotten His people. God has been actively involved and He has been watching. He knows and He cares.

This Christmas – the reminder that God in the flesh arrived on site to stand next to those He created and loves – should perhaps be our most meaningful Christmas ever. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14). How anyone has made it through this year without Christ is beyond my imagination. I have witnessed those who have gone through many struggles this year and true believers are actually very calm and peaceful. They know and so do I – that peace on earth does not mean the absence of conflict and trials, but the presence of God through difficulties. When He promised to be with us, He meant it and that is all we need. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b).

©Stephanie B. Blake

November/December 2020

What Do You Do Now?

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” 

Ephesians 5:15-17

I wrote a devotional in March called “Time, a Precious Resource.” This blog post is a repeat of that idea, but I am writing this in September of 2020. For most of this year, much of the world has been on lockdown at some stage or another because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What was going to be a two week shutdown in the United States has grown into something that no one could have possibly predicted – closing of schools, churches and businesses for months. There still is no end in sight – for Americans and for many others worldwide.

Everyone was caught by surprise by this pandemic, but all of us have still had the same amount of time that we would have had even if the pandemic had not occurred. Along with some of my friends who commented that they wish they had used this time to…write, work on a project or learn a new skill, I know I could have used this time more wisely. Understandably, because the virus may have affected someone you know or you lost a job or a business, you may simply feel that time has frozen for you. All of us continue to look for an end to these unusual and dire circumstances.

God never encouraged us to put life on hold. Have no fear of sudden disaster…for the Lord will be your confidence… (Proverbs 3:25a, 26a).He who began a good work in you will complete it …(Philippians 1:6). As Christians, we know that 2020 has not been a surprise to God. He knew what was coming. He is with us in it and He will get us through it. He has not promised tomorrow but He has promised His presence, His guidance and His comfort for today.…casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

Each of us may be sure that if God sends us on stony paths He will provide us with strong shoes, and He will not send us out on any journey for which He does not equip us well.

Alexander Maclaren

Nothing enters your life accidentally – remember that. Behind our every experience is our loving, sovereign God.

Charles Swindoll

Work while it is called today, for you know not how much you may be hindered tomorrow. One today is worth two tomorrows; never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.

Benjamin Franklin

Truly A Blessing

The memory of the righteous will be a blessing... Proverbs 10:7a

Last weekend, a dear friend of mine was able to do what she had been looking forward to for a long, long time. She was able to come face-to-face with her beloved Lord and Savior.

For the years that I have known her, she has truly been a blessing – in every sense of the word. When my husband and I (or just my husband) would get ready to leave on a mission trip, she prayed. Every time I visited her, she prayed. In the days before her convalescence, she walked the aisles of our church and she prayed. When I went to see her in the care facility and told her of a need or an upcoming trip, she would say, “Let’s pray right now.” She would take my hand and pray.

When. I asked her to consider reviewing my devotional book and suggesting corrections, she prayed about it and then she did it – giving many helpful suggestions that I implemented.

As I read Proverbs 10:7a – The memory of the righteous will be a blessing –  I know that until we see each other again in Heaven, it will be her memory that blesses me. And it will.

What a blessing it was to know her. What a blessing it is to have memories of her.

Her name is Mary Ann Boubel.

 

Never Alone

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Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— (John 1:12).

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-30).

He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Recently a friend told of an experience that tested his character, his intellect and his faith. It lasted for months and was somewhat of a David and Goliath story. The trial was so long and so hard that my friend often forgot to eat and was unable to sleep. It appeared that his coming out well on the other side was next to impossible. But he prayed. And we prayed. And other family and friends prayed. In the end, he did come out victorious with one conclusion: during the entire experience, he knew he was never alone. God was always with him – going ahead of him, providing for him and making up for his lack of experience and sleep that could have caused him to have a completely different outcome.

My friend is a Christian – a child of God – and he is so right. We are never alone.

Never

No one wants to be abandoned. Jesus promises He will always be there for you.

Everyone needs love and acceptance. Jesus loves you with an everlasting love.

Very small children need to know they will be cared for.  Jesus cares for us all.

Everyone needs companionship. Even in isolation, Jesus is our companion.

Reach out to someone to remind him he is not alone!

Alone

A kind word in a note, a text or a phone call is a reminder that your friend is not alone.

Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment. Love God, love others.

Owe no one anything except to love one another… (Romans 13:8).

Neighbors are anyone God puts on your heart.

Edify – build up – one another. Jesus is there for us. Let’s be there for each other.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Jesus experienced the pain of abandonment so that you wouldn’t have to.

Time, a Precious Resource

making the very most of your time [on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence], because the days are [filled with] evil (Ephesians 5:16 AMP).

A few things that make each person distinct are: nationality, skin color, language, age, height, weight, personality, social status, financial status, jobs, size of families, place of residence, background, religion.

Many of these things we were born with and cannot change. Only those things we have control over can be changed such as where we live, whom we marry, where we go to school, what career we choose and the God we trust.

There is one thing that is common to all and that in one sense is something that we do not have control over and yet in another sense we do. Time. None of us knows exactly how much time we have on earth. Only God knows that. And yet each of us chooses how we spend every minute, every hour and every day.

Time can be wasted and once lost, it is gone forever. It cannot be retrieved. Time can also be used productively – even in circumstances where we seem to just be “marking time”, God may be using that time for teaching us something or preparing us for a task in the future.

Preparation time is never wasted time.

God’s story – the Bible – contains many records of how preparation time resulted in accomplishing His will. There was a purpose for time alone and time in the waiting room. These can be times of learning patience, listening to God speak and developing a closer relationship with Him.

Think of these biblical examples.

Joseph’s being sold into slavery and spending time in prison – unjust though it was – prepared him to save God’s chosen people from famine. But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive (Genesis 50:20).

Job’s determination to not say anything against God – even though his suffering was intense and unexplainable – brought him to a greater understanding of the God he loved. …”we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10). “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…”(Job 42:5).

David’s years as a shepherd boy prepared him not only for the encounter with Goliath but also his compassionate years as king of Israel. Certainly, David was not perfect, but his psalms were filled with his determination to follow God. The Lord is my shepherd…I will fear no evil…I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23). Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You (Psalm 56:3).

Nehemiah’s faith in God and his assurance of God’s faithfulness to him prepared him for the incredible task of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. He prayed and worked, prayed and worked, prayed and worked until the task was completed. “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night…“(Nehemiah 1:5-6).

God prepared a beautiful and humble Israelite orphan girl to replace an arrogant pagan queen to save His people from annihilation. Her uncle told Esther, “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Of course, the best example we have that preparation time is not wasted is Jesus. In the silent years before His public ministry, He was subject to Mary and Joseph and increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:51-52). While He was preparing for the most painful and sacrificial assignment anyone has ever been given, he was learning and teaching others what He was learning from the Father….”But I have called you My friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father – I have revealed to you everything I have learned from Him” (John 15:15 Amplified). So even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NLT).

In the early part of 2020, the entire world experienced something no one could ever have anticipated – a greater amount of unstructured time as many people were quarantined or requested to shelter in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. Every person had a choice about what to do with that unstructured time. Some allowed their tempers to flare. Others used the opportunity to mend family relationships. Some children earned a new respect for parents who were forced to homeschool them for a period of time. Some complained. Others prayed. Everyone, however, had the same opportunity to learn from God, listen to Him, and watch for opportunities to use what they learned.

© Stephanie B. Blake, March 2020

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations came from NKJV

Veteran’s Day 2019

There are no adequate words to thank our veterans for the price they have paid for our freedom, but nonetheless, we must try. In their sacrifice, they reflect the heart of our Savior, who said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Those who have died in our wars and those who have been willing to die have demonstrated the love of a true friend. For all those friends in our nation who have put themselves in that position, we say with a heart of gratitude, “Thank you for your love and your sacrifice. May God richly bless you.”

Our freedoms always have been and always will be costly. It takes watchful diligence to keep those freedoms which have been fought for in the past and are needful for today and for tomorrow’s children.

Many of our leaders recognized this. In America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, we find these quotes:

History failed to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline.

General Douglas MacArthur

But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.

President Abraham Lincoln

Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.

United States Supreme Court 1892, Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States

All must admit that the reception of the teachings of Christ results in the purest patriotism, in the most scrupulous fidelity to public trust, and in the best type of citizenship.

President Grover Cleveland

Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

Alexis de Tocqueville

Stephanie B. Blake

November 2019

The Main Character

And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).

“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).

…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).

When I read a book, one of the first things I notice is whether the voice is written in first or third person. I often think those written in first person are done so to provide a closer identity with the main character. The character in the story is telling his or her own story. There’s no wondering who the story is about when it begins with: “I woke up one day to find that I was in the hospital.” “It was a dark and rainy night and I couldn’t find my way home.” “No matter what I do, nothing seems to work.”

Sometimes it is a little more difficult to discover the main character when the story is written in the third person. Occasionally you have to read several pages or maybe even a chapter or two to discover the main character. Stories that begin like this, for instance,

“As the ship set sail, the passengers were all settling in for their much-anticipated voyage. No one seemed to be worried at all. They should have been.”

leave you wondering, is the main character one person on the ship, a storm, or is it set during time of war when the ship could come under fire and the story is about the ship itself and the entire crew?

Most people know at least one story from the Bible. They can tell you the story of Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, Jonah and the big fish, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea or Mary and the nativity. They tell the story as if Adam, Noah, Jonah, Moses and Mary were the main characters. In reality, they are not. When we read the Bible, God is always the main character. Whether the human writer used the first or the third person (both are used and sometimes mixed – such as in Daniel where the first of the book is written in the third person and the last part of the book is written in the first person), the voice is always God’s because it is His story about His relationship to man.

From beginning – In the beginning God… – in the middle – It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man – to the end – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen, the Bible is about God.

That’s why it is called God’s Word.

© Stephanie B. Blake

July 2019

Stewardship: Our Greatest Calling – The Owner of It All

…Everything under heaven is Mine (Job 41:11). 

The earth is the Lord’s and all of its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein (Psalm 24:1).  

For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness (Psalm 50:10-12).

The most important fact about stewardship or being a steward is that we are NOT the owners. We are not in charge. We do not have the whole picture of what is needed to keep things running. 

God is the owner. Everything originates with Him. He is the source of life and everything associated with it. He is in charge. He sees all – what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how it needs to be done and who He has assigned to do each task. It is for His glory that we live as stewards. That is where discipleship comes in. That is where prayer comes in. Unless we follow the Lord and unless we get His guidance, we accomplish nothing of eternal value.

Each of us is unique. Every one of us has specific talents, spiritual gifts, personality traits, temperaments, backgrounds, heritage, strengths and motivations that make us who we are. My assignment in God’s world is not exactly like your assignment and your assignment is different from anyone else’s. Even in marriage, our differences complement each other and complete the unity that God wants to demonstrate through the home. Your calling from God is yours alone and mine is also unique. 

What we do have in common is the administration of our callings – the stewardship of our lives. The principles of stewardship apply to every believer. How do we live our lives in order to give Him the greatest praise? 

Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.  A good steward is careful to make the right choices about what God has entrusted him with. 

Good stewardship does not come naturally. Lazy people are not good stewards of God’s gifts. Right choices can only be made when we focus on God and ask for His wisdom to accomplish His plan for our lives. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8). A double-minded person is unstable. He will not receive anything from the Lord and thus will not be able to DO anything for the Lord.

What can God trust you with? When God created you, He knew everything that would happen to you, also knowing whether He could trust you to trust Him during each day. He knows your thoughts which is why He can hear your silent prayers. He knows your heart. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). He knows the number of your days….In Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them (Psalm 139:16). 

We do have a Master that we are accountable to for our stewardship of His resources, but He is not a typical master. He is our Father and He loves us. Stewardship is a consciousness of being loved by the One who gives us everything we need and much more. Gratitude will lead you to be careful to give back to Him what He wants.

There is no greater joy than accomplishing the purpose for which God created you – the stewardship of your life. God is the One who will accomplish His purpose in you. …He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Stewardship: Our Greatest Calling

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.

Romans 14:12

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word “stewardship” is the proper use of material resources, money or tithing. Although that certainly applies to this word, an examination of Webster’s definition reveals how far reaching stewardship is for the Christian.

Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

John Hall, pastor, Field Street Baptist Church, Cleburne, Texas (my pastor) revealed just how all encompassing stewardship is when he said,

We will answer to God for the stewardship of our lives.

John MacArthur, pastor-teacher, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California, declared that:

All Christians are but God’s stewards. Everything we have is on loan from the Lord, entrusted to us for a while to use in serving Him.

R. T. Kendall, pastor of Westminster Chapel for 25 years, further clarifies this point in his book Imitating Christ when he said,

Finally, the sign of the servant is that he is one who can be trusted. My friend Joseph Ton put it like this to me: “Nothing is given to us on the basis of ownership, only stewardship.” It is required among stewards that a man be found faithful. Each of us has been entrusted with a gift. You have something nobody else has. The very gift you have, when it is used at the right moment, could be the very crux of all that is happening. Your gift, used at the moment when God wants it used, can be the hinge on which everything turns. God has trusted you with it. It is yours to perfect, develop, and to use whenever you are called upon to do so.

Richard L. Blake, Founder and President of Xtend Ministries International (my husband), also clearly made this point in his lectures on “How to Manage Money”.

God is observing what we do with our time, our talent, and our treasure. What may seem such little things to us are major factors in God’s decision to commend and promote us—or reprimand and demote us—in his Kingdom. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, “What opportunities are we missing, or one day will miss, because we have failed to use our money and other resources wisely?”

For the next few blog posts, I am going to share portions of my introduction to a full day’s teaching on the subject of stewardship. In examining how far-reaching our stewardship really is, we will look at a biblical foundation for our calling as stewards.

The amazing thing about being a Christian is that God Himself has entrusted His resources to us. He doesn’t need us to manage anything for Him, but because He loves us, He wants us to. He has made us part of His family and as such, delights in watching us use and enjoy the gifts He has given.

Remembering


And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this  in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

Today is Memorial Day in America – a day when thoughts turn toward those who have given their lives for this country – the ultimate sacrifice. We are capable of observing such a day because we are still living. We are the ones who remember – who observe a special day – who place a cross on each grave and who create memorial statues and monuments so that future generations will not forget. The ones we remember may have, in their last moments, been aware of their sacrifice for loved ones or their lives may have been taken from them so quickly that there was no time for reflection. Either way, we honor them and realize that without them, life would be very, very different for us. It is for us they died.

Jesus, whose very purpose in coming as our Savior was to lose His life as a sacrifice for ours, pondered on this assignment throughout His entire life. He knew what was coming because He willingly chose to die in our stead. His life’s work was completed in His sacrificial death and His miraculous resurrection.

As we remember those whom He created who followed His example and died so that we could have a chance to live a full life here on earth, we must keep ever present in our hearts the truth that Jesus Christ chose to die so that we could live eternally.

We are the reason He died. We are capable of enjoying eternal life with Him because of His sacrificial love.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)