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.

Profiles in Faith

“Therefore I urge you, imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16).

“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Would you, like the apostle Paul, be able to make this incredible statement?

Christ is our ultimate example, but He knows we are watching each other. Who do you know that is an example of faith? Who can you credit with helping you stay true to the Lord?

Of course, the Bible is full of profiles of faith. Their lives, because God decided to include them in His holy word, give great examples of how to live for God regardless of your circumstances.

Some of my favorites are:

Job who refused to sin against God with his words

Joseph, son of Jacob, who trusted God to make everything right

Nehemiah, who prayed before he attempted any task for God, was bold enough to ask God to remember his good deeds

Ruth who dared to leave her homeland to serve the one true God

Joseph, husband of Mary, who was humbly obedient to God’s every command

Andrew, brother of Peter, who was content to stay in the background and lead others to Jesus

I have been privileged to travel all over the world with my husband in an international ministry. Below are just a few of the many examples of people who are living today and staying true to God. Some of them live in places where Christians are persecuted in one form or another. Others live where their Christian witness is ignored or considered irrelevant.

I am aware of only part of their story. Here they are unnamed for privacy and security reasons, but God knows their names and their commitment to Him. The sacrifices these friends have endured and are enduring for the cause of Christ is a testimony of His grace and provision. I believe He has reserved rich rewards for each of them.

An American couple from Charleston, South Carolina

Not a part of any mission organization, this couple served an international church in Sofia, Bulgaria. He was a businessman who agreed to hold a spot for a permanent pastor in that church. She was a southern lady with the gift of hospitality. The short interim turned into many years. Although their family tried to make them shorten their stay, they remained committed to serving the people in that church amidst the great challenges of that culture. It was not a time of vacation and pleasure. It was a time of commitment to the Lord and His church.

An Australian couple called to minister in Europe

God first sent this couple to Germany to share the gospel. Living in a bus and using it to show the “Jesus” film, God then asked them to cross the border into Poland. Learning Polish as they lived among the people, they stayed for many years serving the locals (most of them incredibly poverty stricken and many of them driven to alcoholism) while refurbishing an abandoned palace God had provided for their ministry. In a country where their denomination was often considered a cult, this family (they raised five children in Poland) became so respected that the local authorities asked for their assistance. Even after they returned home to Australia, this ministry in Poland continues to flourish.

An adorable couple living in France

This couple (one French one British) continues to witness through written word and spoken word regardless of opposition or ridicule. Each of them had incredible stories from their experiences in WWII. A Gideon in his 90s, he continues to hand out Bibles when and where he can. The French bureaucracy and laws concerning any Bible distribution are extremely challenging, but it does not deter his commitment to getting the word of God in the hands of students and anyone else he can.

A dear friend, born in Indonesia, who moved to the Netherlands as a child

While visiting her sister in the U.S. as an adult, she was converted to Christianity. Shortly thereafter she felt the call of God to leave a lucrative job in the Netherlands to witness to people on the streets. Called to singleness, she gets her daily instructions from the Lord and shares His love with practically everyone she comes in contact with. She will often tell someone, “See how much God loves you. He sent me to tell you about Him.” She prayed her parents into the Kingdom of God – both of them accepting Jesus shortly before He took them home.

A young Middle Eastern man and his wife who have a special ministry in the Ukraine

Although they have endured many hardships as Christians in the Ukraine, if this couple were to return to their home country, they would be killed because they are Christians. They have led many Muslims to Christ through personal witness and the internet.

Scores of Filipino men and women

Many leave their country to obtain work in order to send money back to their families in the Philippines. These sacrifice much as they often leave spouse and children behind. In the international churches, they are always the hardest workers – doing the manual labor with joy.

Servants of God, He knows every heart and circumstances. Their testimonies could be multiplied many times over. Each biblical and living example was able to bring glory to God because they did not and are not allowing circumstances, opposition, illness or Satan’s tactics of diversion to take their focus off God. His will, His promises, His provisions and His guidance were more than enough to get them through their daily trials.

As I go to minister overseas, I always leave inspired – by these and many more like them. Their examples are worth imitating.

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:11-12 NKJV).

© Stephanie B. Blake

February 2017

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2017: What We Know, What We Don’t Know

 

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:10).

WHAT WE KNOW

Although we live in a world fraught with danger and uncertainty, there are some things we can know. These are things that can calm the anxious spirit, soothe the troubled soul and bring hope to the discouraged. They are declarations made by a God who never changes, who loves us with an everlasting love, and who forgives our sins through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3).

What a tranquil scene it is to view sheep in their own pasture – content, cared for and unafraid. There are hundreds of references to God’s people as sheep and His role as a shepherd in the Bible. This is the visualization He wants for us. In His care, we don’t need to look for greener pastures, for even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is there. He never forsakes us. He never turns His back. God has promised that we can dwell in His house forever.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

No matter our physical disabilities, our financial woes, or any other adverse circumstance, for those in the family of God, all these things are temporary.

And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:11-13).

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

Donald Rumsfeld’s public service spanned many years. He is best remembered as having served twice as the U. S. Secretary of Defense from 1975 to 1977 under President Gerald Ford and from 2001 to 2006 under President George W. Bush. After his public service was over, he entitled his memoir, Known and Unknown. In answering a question in a Department of Defense news briefing in February 2002, Mr. Rumsfeld said,

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones (“Defense.gov News Transcript: DoD News Briefing – Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers, United States Department of Defense (defense.gov)”.) 

Unbelievers may think that Jesus is not coming again, like He said, but to Christians, that future event is a “known known.” Believers know He is because He is Truth. Many prophesies pertaining to Jesus have already happened and we can be sure that the remaining prophesies will be fulfilled.

There are things, however, that we don’t know – and that’s OK. Mostly, they have to do with timing. God’s timing is perfect. He will do what will bring Him glory at the proper time. All He asks of us is to be ready.

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only….

Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming (Matthew 24:36,42).

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth (Proverbs 27:1).

For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night…

The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away….

So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Proverbs 90:4, 10, 12).

The end of one year and the beginning of another often makes us pause to reflect. Reflecting on the past year may bring joy or regret or a combination of both, depending on how we lived it. Dreaming of tomorrow may bring hope and anticipation of good things to come or changes that may need to be made. If we evaluate ourselves truthfully, these exercises can be very beneficial. What we need to concentrate on, though, is that although yesterday is indeed written in our personal history, what will happen tomorrow or next year – or even this hour – is known only by God.

Just think of the unexpected things that happened in the previous year. In last year alone – 2016 – the surprises have far outnumbered any human predictions.

None of the people who were killed or injured in any of the terror attacks across the globe knew what was coming or they would not have been in that place at that time. “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and now allowed his house to be broken into (Matthew 24:43).

Come now, you who say, ‘today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’, whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’ (James 4:13-15). Since only He knows the hour of our death, or the end of the world as we know it, the writer of Proverbs and the Lord Himself tell us to “number our days” and “watch”. Live every moment as if it were your last one on earth.

That is the best known advice for all our unknowns.

© Stephanie B. Blake

January 2017

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In The Shepherd’s Arm

 

f720a6Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand,

and His arm shall rule for Him;

Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.

He will feed His flock like a shepherd;

He will gather the lambs with His arm,

and carry them in His bosom

and gently lead those who are with young

(Isaiah 40:10-11).

In the Shepherd’s arm, He carries me in His bosom – close to His heart.

For He is our God,

And we are the people of His pasture,

And the sheep of His hand.

Today, if you will hear His voice:

(Psalm 95:7).

Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice 

(John 18:37).

In the Shepherd’s arm, His is the first voice I hear. Even closer than my ear, He speaks to my heart.th-2

I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own .

As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father;

and I lay down My life for the sheep.

And other sheep I have which are not of this fold;

them also I must bring,

and they will hear My voice;

and there will be one flock and one shepherd

(John 10:14-16).

In the Shepherd’s arm, I am part of His flock, the family of God. The Good Shepherd is big enough and strong enough to carry all of us – He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom (Isaiah 40:10). We are all close to His heart.

My sheep hear My voice,

and I know them,

and they follow Me (John 10:27).

“And where I go you know and the way you know…

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

No one comes to the Father except through Me”

(John 14:4, 6).

In the Shepherd’s arm, I know wherever He takes me is the right way to go.

th-1Know that the Lord, He is God;

It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture

(Psalm 100:3).

You are My flock,

the flock of My pasture;

you are men, and I am your God,” says the Lord God

(Ezekiel 34:31).

In the Shepherd’s arm, I know I belong to Him.

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake

(Psalm 23:1-3).

In the Shepherd’s arm, I can rest in His presence, trust in His protection.

And the glory which You gave Me I have given them,

that they may be one just as We are one;

I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one,

and that the world may know that You have sent Me,

and have loved them as You have loved Me

(John 17:22-23).

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead,

that great Shepherd of the sheep,

ththrough the blood of the everlasting covenant,

make you complete in every good work to do His will,

working in you what is well pleasing in His sight,

through Jesus Christ,

to whom be glory forever and ever.

Amen

(Hebrews 13:20-21).

In the Shepherd’s arm, we can glorify Him.

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2016

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Thanksgiving

Thanks, true thanks is due to God, the giver of every good gift.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations (Psalm 100:4-5).

He only is the Lord of creation, the only true God, the Savior of our souls.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Always live in an attitude of thanksgiving.

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17).

No other way exists to come to God, the Father, except through His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus said to him, ” I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Know the Lord, give thanks to Him and tell others of His wonderful works in your life.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! (1 Chronicles 16:8, Psalm 105:1).

Serve the Lord with the gifts He has given you and give Him thanks for His presence in your life.

And Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests and the Levites according to their divisions, each man according to his service, the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and peace offerings, to serve, to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the camp of the Lord (2 Chronicles 31:2).

All we are, all we have and all we ever will have is given to us by the Lord. Be thankful!

© Stephanie B. Blake

November 2016

 

 

 

For Believers Only

John 13:31-John 17

On an entry door located in the back or the side of a business, there is often a sign marked, “For Employees Only.” Immediately inside this door there are workrooms, storage rooms and offices not meant for the general public. The employees know where to go and what to do in order to get the store open or the business day started.

An avid golfer knows that if he wants access to all the privileges of the golf club, he needs to be a member of that club. He can then go through all the doors and gates marked, “For Members Only.”

Christianity is not a business, nor is it a club. Christians are part of a family. Christianity is open to all who will believe. It is after you trust Christ as Savior and Lord, though, that His word makes the most sense. Ask any believer who read the Bible before and after His conversion experience. He will tell you how his eyes were opened to the truths of God’s word once he became a true believer.

The gospels record many times when Jesus taught His disciples. The settings for these teachings were varied but many were in public places – such as the temple and the mountaintop – where He was not only teaching His disciples, but those who were not believers were in attendance as well. As a result of what they heard, many then became believers. There is one special passage in the gospel of John where there was no one else within earshot except for true believers. John 13:31 through John 17 was for believers only.

The setting for this passage began in the upper room where Jesus had the last supper with His disciples. Jesus entered this room with a troubled spirit. Jesus was truly human. He needed strength to endure what would follow – His betrayal, arrest, trial, scourging and crucifixion. His betrayer entered the room with Him and several times, He made mention of this fact. In spite of that, Jesus washed the feet of all twelve men – including Judas Iscariot. However, after Judas left, the tension He was feeling also left the room. He turned His attention to the eleven men who truly loved Him. His beloved disciple John recorded these precious hours.

When you read this passage as a whole, imagine yourself in this very private setting. If you are a believer, you can do that because Jesus prayed not only for those within His hearing, but also for all those who would believe in Him because of their testimony (John 17:20). That includes everyone who is part of the family of God. These special words “for believers only” are meant for us.

Jesus shared sweet words of comfort, important words of instruction and numerous promises. These men loved Him, but were still confused. Even so, Jesus knew that when the Holy Spirit came upon them after His resurrection and ascension into Heaven, what He had said would then make sense.

Jesus knows we will have times of confusion – not fully understanding what He is doing in our lives or what is in our immediate future. His Holy Spirit enables us to face the uncertainties of life because He is certain. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is with us. He has a plan and it is good. He wants our lives to glorify Him.

After Judas left, Jesus told His disciples “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in Him” (John 13:31). Until John 14:31, they remained in the upper room. Then they left, possibly going for a walk through the vineyards (John 15 and 16). He concluded with His beautiful prayer in John 17.

The promises Jesus made in this passage are for believers. We are part of His family. A heavenly inheritance is ours.

  • “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).
  • “Where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).
  • You know the way (“the way you know”) (John 14:4).
  • “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
  • …”he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12).
  • “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).
  • “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16).
  • “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).
  • …”Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19).
  • …”And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).
  • “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23).
  • “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
  • “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
  • “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
  • “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7).
  • “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
  • “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16).
  • “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble” (John 16:1).
  • “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
  • “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
  • “And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be One as We are” (John 17:10-11).
  • “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).

Even in times of confusion, Jesus said we know the way – follow Him. We shall never be out of His presence, or away from the leadership or resources of His Spirit. Believers are promised an eternal home with Him, bought and paid for by His blood. As the Father sent Him into the world, He sends us (John 17:18) so that others may also know the truth of His words and become part of His family. Even now, in our troubled world, He assures us of His peace, His love, protection from the evil one, His revelation of spiritual things, His joy, and a certainty that when we follow Him, we shall be one with Him and bring glory to the Father. These things we know because Jesus said so.

“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one” (John 17:22).

What a treasure this special passage is for believers.

© Stephanie B. Blake

October 2016

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Followings

And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Would you like to share your grandmother’s recipes with anyone who would like to have them? Start a blog and have people follow you. Are you interested in knowing more about someone? Follow him on his website, Facebook page, Twitter account or any other social media channel he has set up. Are you particularly interested in what a news reporter has to say? Follow her. It is easy to do, costs nothing and if you lose interest, you can easily unfollow. With one click of the mouse, you are no longer keeping up with someone you previously had interest in.

A popular children’s game is “follow the leader”. While the game is being played, one person has control. Everyone else needs to duplicate his actions. Players who fail to do what the leader does are out of the game. Once the game is over, the leader reverts to being like everyone else. In many cases, the leader becomes the follower as another child takes over the position of leader.

A public figure – political, sports star, movie star, etc. – often has a following – a body of admirers who are interested in what that person has to say, where they are and what they are doing. Anyone can watch news reports, read newspaper or magazine articles or employ the social media available in order to keep up with the person he is interested in.

A social media following, a game where you follow a leader and being part of a following of a public figure lasts as long as your curiosity does. At any time, you can quit following someone on social media, you can stop playing the game and you can decide you are no longer interested in what your favorite public figure does. These are temporary followings.

People are fickle. The following you once had on your blog may diminish as they become interested in someone else’s ideas. Although time consuming, none of these followings are life changing. It is your choice to follow or not to follow. For the most part, these followings are trivial; having no lasting consequences.

When you decide to follow Jesus, it is eternally life changing. Everything He does is worth observing. Everything He says is worth remembering. When you choose to follow Jesus, life takes on new meaning. The example He gave is worth following.

The invitation Jesus gives to follow him does have consequences. That choice should be permanent, not temporary. No one can replace Him as leader. Following Jesus comes with great reward as well as great potential for persecution. Following Jesus requires a denial of self. Following Jesus requires an undivided heart. You cannot follow Jesus and anything or anyone else.

This truth was expressed beautifully in an old public domain hymn, lyrics attributed to S. Sundar Singh.

I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me still I will follow
Though none go with me still I will follow
Though none go with me still I will follow
No turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me
The world behind me, the cross before me
The world behind me, the cross before me
No turning back, no turning back

Then He said to them, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2016

 

 

Heart Attacks

 

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

Some people die from a physical heart attack. Others recover but know they have to be very careful not to have another. Two disciples of Jesus had their spiritual hearts attacked by Satan. One died from it – physically and spiritually. He will experience what the Bible calls “the second death.” The other recovered because he was repentant and was forgiven. He will live forever.

Judas is a well-known name even outside of Christian circles. His name is synonymous with traitor and betrayer and is even found in Merriam Webster’s dictionary with that very definition: 2:  traitor; especially: one who betrays under the guise of friendship

Of all the people who have rejected the offer of salvation from the Lord Jesus Christ, Judas Iscariot stands out as the one who should have known Him best. He was numbered among the twelve apostles. He was witness to His miracles. He heard His sermons and parables first hand.

Judas tasted the heavenly gift; tasted the good word of God and the powers to come (Hebrews 6:5-6); but he spit out what he tasted. What his eyes saw and his ears heard never penetrated his heart. His heart, corrupted by the desire for power and for riches, was so hardened that Satan had permission to enter his heart so that Satan’s purposes could be carried out. He betrayed the Savior of the world with a kiss. He did not do it simply by enticement from Satan. He chose to do it and knew beforehand that Jesus recognized him as His betrayer. Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?” He said to him, “You have said it” (Matthew 26:25).

When many of Jesus’ disciples turned back from following Him and Jesus asked the twelve, “Will you also go away?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life.” Jesus’ response to that was telling as He knew although Judas did not walk away, he was not really one of the true disciples. “Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” – John 6.

Judas had a god and it wasn’t Jesus. It was mammon. His heart was never with the Lord.

What was the difference between Peter and Judas? Peter denied he knew the Lord. Just as Jesus told Judas he would be the one to betray Him, He told Peter he would deny Him three times. Remorseful after Jesus was condemned, Judas brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders and hanged himself. Discouraged and saddened after Jesus’ death, Peter went back to fishing. On the surface, both men deserved condemnation and judgment. God never looks on the surface; however. He looks on the 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).

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things (Matthew 12:35).

Did Peter sin when he denied Jesus? Certainly, he did. Jesus knew that Peter’s heart did belong to Him even though he would sin greatly. And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me” (Luke 22: 31-35). You cannot return somewhere you have never been. Peter belonged to Jesus.

Peter sinned. Peter returned to Jesus. Peter strengthened the brethren. Peter, imperfect though he was, loved Jesus. After His resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Peter said, “Lord, You know all things. You know that I love you” (John 21:17). Yes, Jesus did know and told Peter to feed His sheep.

What Jesus saw in Peter’s heart was not the same thing He saw in Judas’ heart. Satan was able to enter Judas’ heart because Judas’ heart never belonged to Jesus. In every reference of Judas, he was referred to as the one who would betray Jesus. Remorse is not repentance. Judas realized he was guilty, but he was not repentant. He was not able to return to Jesus because his heart never belonged to Jesus in the first place. His heart belonged to mammon – the greedy pursuit of gain.

Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it (John 12:3-6).

What Judas did was premeditated. He was warned by Jesus. “Is it I?” He sought the chief priests in order to betray Jesus for money. He stood with Jesus’ captors and betrayed the Lord with a kiss. He never loved Jesus. Even when he brought back the money to the chief priests and elders, his heart did not belong to Jesus. He could not exchange the love of money for the love of Jesus. In the recognition of his guilt, he was an empty soul. He had done Satan’s bidding and he killed himself.

In the church, in Christian homes, in organizations claiming to be Christ-centered, there is always the possibility that there are false disciples – a Judas among us. They can be disguised as a deacon, an elder, a pastor’s wife or even the pastor himself. Unless Jesus lives in the heart of a person, it does not matter if he goes to church or claims to be a Christian. Satan loves to infiltrate the body of Christ knowing that the reputation of the church is at risk.

It is possible to partake of the bread of fellowship, to sit at the feet of those who teach the true gospel, to be numbered among the faithful, to be counted among the religious and yet have a heart far away from a true disciple. Jesus will do the sorting on judgment day. It is not ours to do.

The caution for a true believer is to guard against a spiritual heart attack. Preventative measures for a physical heart attack include diet, exercise, controlling blood pressure, etc. There are preventative measures for a spiritual heart attack. In John 14-16 – after Judas left the group – Jesus told His disciples how to abide in Him and bear fruit promising to send the Holy Spirit in order to help them. The best medicine we have is abiding in Christ moment by moment – loving Him with all our hearts.

© Stephanie B. Blake

August 2016

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AMERICA

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.[1]

“The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger. The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.”[2]

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.[3]

America, you were founded on Christian principles and God has blessed you.

Men throughout your history have given their lives for these principles, and many still do.

Each man and woman who wanted to worship God freely was allowed to do so.

Remember the price that was paid for your salvation and for your national freedom.

In time, many of your citizens forgot their national heritage and lost their national pride.

“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”[4]

Christ is still in charge and with His followers stands by their side.

Again, Christians, take heart. It is not too late. No matter what others say, this world is still His kingdom.

 

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand

Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!

Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land

Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.[5]

 

[1] Psalm 33:12 NKJV

[2] George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1932), Vol. 5, p. 245, July 9, 1776 Order.

[3] Romans 3:23, NKJV

[4] Deuteronomy 31:6 NKJV

[5] 4th verse of the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key

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Hallelujah Anyhow

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

No one in their right mind is thankful for some circumstances of life: tragic death in the family, famine and poverty, incredible pain and illness, abuse of children and women, hurricanes, tornadoes, airplane crashes – the list is long for those things that bring sorrow and pain. It is the “God of all comfort” who leads us through the hard times. Paul’s afflictions abounded, but he wrote, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

When Paul told the Thessalonian church to give thanks, it was not “for” everything, but “in” everything. Acts 27 tells of one of Paul’s experiences where, as a prisoner, he practiced what he preached. During a terrible storm where every life could have been lost, Paul encouraged everyone on board to eat and take nourishment for God had told Paul that although the ship would run aground, none of those on board would be lost. Before handing out the bread to the men on board, Paul gave thanks to God in the presence of them all. He literally gave thanks in the midst of the storm.

Life can give us circumstances that will make us happy, make us laugh, make us sad and make us cry. Our reactions to our circumstances tell a lot about our character. Are we only grateful to God when everything is going our way or are we grateful to Him no matter what?

In our international ministry, I have learned a great deal from people we work with. A friend in one country, who lived through the oppression and domination of Communist rule, developed a habit of saying, “Hallelujah anyhow” when things were not going well. For my friend, it was not a forced gratefulness and praise to God. It was his history with God that reminded him that God had always been with him and would always be with him, no matter the circumstances.

In telling his story to someone in another country, I noted the next time we visited him, and he recounted an adverse situation, he then said, “Hallelujah anyhow”.

Thanksgiving to God should always be sincere. He knows our hearts. He knows whether we truly trust Him or if we are following the example of some who try to manipulate Him by telling Him what we think He wants to hear. That is the problem with the “prosperity gospel” – preachers and authors who tell us to praise God and thank Him in the hopes our thanksgiving will bring unending health and material blessing, They suggest that God is obligated to give us anything we want if we only ask in the right way because God’s ultimate goal for us is to be happy. The problem with that is that it is not only manipulative; it is not biblical. The Bible talks about the joy of the Lord, but it does not tell us that God’s primary goal for us is to “be happy.”

Jesus’ life was full of trials He did not deserve. He trusted and praised His Father throughout His ministry – not because things were easy – but because He trusted His Father to make all things right. Some have suggested that if we pray prayers of praise and thanksgiving, God will supply all of our wants. Jesus said God would supply all of our needs if we trust Him. Just as a loving earthly father may deny a request of his child because it is not best for him, God knows what we need in order for us to live a productive life and give Him glory.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells us to ask the Father for our daily bread but it is in the context of submitting ourselves to the will of God, forgiving others and resisting evil, for His kingdom’s sake. In times of hardship, we should remember Jesus taught us not to worry but trust in God.

In the 23rd Psalm, David acknowledges, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want“. David knew God would provide what he needed, but he also knew God would restore [his] soul, lead [him] in paths of righteousness, be with him in the valley of the shadow of death, and prepare a table before [him] in the presence of [his] enemies.

It is not wrong to ask God for blessings. It is wrong to expect Him to give us what we want when it is not what we need. There are two verses in the Bible about a man named Jabez. The first verse describes him as more honorable than his brothers. The second records his prayer to God to bless him, enlarge his territory, be with him and keep him from evil. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).

Although God granted Jabez’ request, He did not tell us his prayer was a “formula” to follow in order to obtain His blessings. In fact, this concept did not seem to apply to another man that God called blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1). Satan said Job feared God because “Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land” (Job 1:10). God granted Satan permission to take all those blessings away. Job’s “hallelujah anyhow” was recorded after he lost his possessions and his children. Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong (Job 1:21-22). When God allowed even more trials, Job remained steadfast in his allegiance to God. He was confused, to be sure. He was in great pain and anguish. Job’s friends, who tried to speak for God and failed, received God’s wrath. “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has” (Job 42:7). The Lord did restore Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Job’s experience gave him new insight into the majesty of God. “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).

One of the most chilling chapters in scripture is found in Romans 1. God gave up (1:24,26,28) the men who knew God, [but] did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful…. (1:21). Thanklessness was not the only reason God gave them up, but it was among the first listed.

God is glorified in our thanksgiving in everything and He defines the blessings in our lives. They may be unexpected and, at first, seemingly undesirable. Our blessings don’t always come in material form. They can be relational, physical, developmental and our own spiritual growth. Above all, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

Our thanks to God should be based on our history with Him. We know Him and we know His faithfulness to bless in the valley as well as the mountaintop experiences. He is there in our fires, our lion’s dens and our struggles. The battle is His and He will accomplish His eternal purposes in us.

Hallelujah Anyhow!

© Stephanie B. Blake

June 2016

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Then What?

We Live. We Die. Then What?

We all have something in common. We live and we die.

Some live a full, long life and die of old age. Others’ lives are “cut short” by accident, disease or at the hand of evil men. The result is the same. We all die.

Then…we face God.

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).

There are two sets of answers for We Live. We Die. Then What? 

For Christians, death is not something to dread. The process may be horribly painful, but the result will be glorious.

For those who reject Christ’s offer of love and salvation, the opposite is true. Not only is death to be dreaded, but because Christ’s blood has not washed away their sins, they will still be accountable for each one of them. They will experience a great white throne judgment, a second death and eternal separation from God.

For Christians, the Word of God gives the following set of answers for We Live. We Die. Then What? 

We Live. We Die. Then What?

Physical death is the only death we will experience. Christ, who conquered death, gives eternal life to all those who trust Him.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

THEN…we pass from death to life.

We Live. We Die. Then What?

As believers, the penalty for sin has already been paid for by the sacrificial death of our Lord on the cross. Filled with His Holy Spirit, we are accountable, however, for how we used the resources and the gifts He gave us. Forgiven and redeemed, conformed to the image of Christ, how wonderful it would be to say with the apostle John, love has been perfected among us in this; that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world (1John 4:17).

For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:7-10).

THEN…we will appear before Christ, giving an account of our stewardship.

We Live. We Die. Then What?

When we have gone to meet Christ, then what for those we leave behind? What we will be remembered for? Will we be remembered at all? Our names will most likely be removed from all but our tombstones. We will be out of sight and forgotten by most.

What about those who matter the most to us now? What will they remember? Will it be some sinful deed, hateful word or inconsiderable act – forgiven by God but not forgotten by man? Or will we remembered by those we have blessed – whom we have loved, whom we have taught, whom we have nourished, whom we have prayed for? Will we have passed on blessings to our children and our grandchildren? Will someone we introduced to Christ be eager to see us again?

“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12: 36-37).

THEN…although our bodies will be gone, our words and actions will live on.

Our words, actions and decisions today determine our legacy for tomorrow.

What will yours be?

The righteous man walks in his integrity;

his children are blessed after him (Proverbs 20:7).

© Stephanie B. Blake

May 2016

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