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.

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

Download Heart Attacks

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

Download AMERICA

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

Download Hallelujah Anyhow

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

Download We Live, We Die, Then What

Biblical Mindset about Money: Ownership and Stewardship

I have another blog on “how to stretch your money”. For the last few weeks, my husband has been the guest blogger on that site. I have shared posts from a conference he led on how to manage money. I shared the last post here in full about the biblical principles on how to manage money.

I would also like to provide a link to the next three posts I have placed on http://www.stretchmoney.wordpress.com as they a800px-Foster_Bible_Pictures_0065-1_The_Israelites_Gather_Manna_in_the_Wildernessre also applicable for this One Focus blog.

 

How to Manage Money: Why a Biblical Mindset Matters: https://stretchmoney.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/how-to-manage-money-why-a-biblical-mindset-matters/

 

 

 

 

Silver-Coins-Public-Domain-300x225

 

How to Manage Money: What the Bible Says About Ownership: https://stretchmoney.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/how-to-manage-moneywhat-the-bible-says-about-ownership/

 

 

And

 

How to Manage Money: What the Bible Says About Stewardship: https://stretchmoney.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/how-to-manage-money-what-the-bible-says-about-stewardship/

finance_tree_growth_45EA7BC7B6870

 

Our Father’s Love Demonstrated

Jesus answered and said to him, “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).

Unique, awesome, incredible and overwhelming are just a few words that are overused and misused. And yet there is one area where each one of these words does appropriately apply: the love of God our Heavenly Father.

An earthly father cannot perfectly duplicate the love of God our Father, but he can, through His grace, come close. Although the same principles below apply to mothers as well, God has given fathers a special place in a child’s life. A child often visualizes God the Father by what he knows of his own earthly father – a great responsibility, to be sure, and one not to be taken lightly. A person’s life has often been affected positively or negatively by his father’s influence. What a blessing a person has when her own father strives to be the kind of father God is to His children.

Children know when they are loved. A father’s love is demonstrated when he is:

PRESENT AND INVOLVED

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb… Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (Psalm 139:15-16). 

You are near, O Lord, and all Your commandments are truth (Psalm 119:151).

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1a).

A child needs his father’s involvement more than anything money can buy. A father can become involved in his child’s life long before his birth. Along with his mother, the father plans for the arrival of the child. He is so proud to call the newborn baby “his” child and makes every attempt to be near him as much as possible – involved in every aspect of his life. This is every bit as true in the case of an adopted child – planned for and loved even before the first meeting. No expense or effort is too much. A father’s love for his child properly exercised is sacrificial and all consuming.

DISCIPLINING

For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights (Proverbs 3:12).

A godly father takes the time to correct those things that need to be righted. An indulgent father sometimes thinks that allowing his child to make choices before she is ready and giving her everything she asks for is showing love. In reality it is neglect. It takes more care, time and love to mold a child’s character than it does to grant her every wish.

MERCIFUL

For the Lord your God is a merciful God…(Deuteronomy 4:31). Be merciful to me according to Your word (Psalm 119:58b).

A godly father is merciful – strong in guidance and discipline but swift to show mercy. Knowing that he has been shown mercy and grace by his heavenly Father, a godly father passes on what he has learned about the everlasting and faithful grace of God to his child.

A HELPER

And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—… 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 14:16, 26).

A godly father spends time helping a child accomplish what he is capable of doing at his age. He does not do it for him, but stands ready to give advice or assist when needed. It is much easier to take over the task and do it, but the child will learn best by doing – with possible assistance – than watching his father do it. “How may I help you?” is much better than “Let me do that for you.”

A REFUGE

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms… (Deuteronomy 33:27).

…Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9)

The world is full of painful experiences. A godly father can offer refuge from those times – a band aid and comfort, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear or just the knowledge that he is there if needed.

A DEFENDER

…God is for me (Psalm 56:9) …God is my defense (Psalm 59:9) The Lord God is a sun and shield…(Psalm 84:11) Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him (Proverbs 30:5)

for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you (Deuteronomy 20:4) …for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, as He has promised you (Joshua 23:10)

A child not only needs a refuge – a place to go when times get tough, but someone who will fight for him when the bullies of life appear. A loving dependable father makes all the difference.

God the Father is our refuge and strength. Through His Son Jesus Christ, He fought sin’s battle for us and won. Through His Holy Spirit, He provides an Advocate for reconciliation. And there is nothing that can separate those who trust Him from His love. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). What a unique, awesome, incredible and overwhelming demonstration of Fatherly love – one worth striving to duplicate.

© Stephanie B. Blake

April 2016

Download Our Father’s Love Demonstrated

How to Manage Money: Biblical Principles

This post was written by a guest blogger, my husband, Richard L. Blake. It is also on my other website – stretchmoney.wordpress.com as the second part of a seven part series.

The_Black_Death

I ask you to come with me 669 years back in time to Lubeck, Germany. In 1347, as the Black Plague swept across Europe killing over 30 percent of the population, the people of Lubeck were terrified. The wealthy citizens sought to enter the huge fortified monastery for shelter. But the monks, afraid of contamination by the disease from the outside world, locked their gates and strictly refused admission.

The nobles and the wealthy pleaded in vain. They then took their money, jewelry and valuables and threw them over the wall, pleading for admission that they might find safety. Within a short time, the money and valuables piled up a meter high. Yet the contaminated treasure was left untouched and the gates remained closed.

Now, why did all these monies and valuables lie at the base of the monastery walls? Because the rich thought that money thrown away would save their lives, and the monks thought that contaminated money accepted would kill them.

There were two entirely different views of wealth. What is your view? This is a very important issue for us to consider.

Develop a Biblical Mindset About Money

When it comes to money and material possessions we find three different views in the church.

Poverty Theology

The premise of Poverty Theology is that money is inherently evil and thus to be poor is to be spiritual. The orientation then is towards shunning wealth. This makes no sense because some of God’s most godly saints are wealthy. Job was the richest man in the ancient east (Job 1:3; 42:12). Abraham was exceedingly wealthy (Genesis 13:2). It’s not a sin to be rich, nor to enjoy the things wealth may bring. In 1 Timothy we are told that God is the one who “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (6:17). Solomon, famed for both his riches and his wisdom, wrote, “As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).

Some may ask, “Doesn’t the Bible say that money is the root of all evil?” No, it does not. Rather, it says, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Money itself is not evil but evil resides in people who love it. People may be moral or immoral, but money is morally neutral and can be used for good things or for bad. Therefore, we must reject the idea that money or material things are inherently unspiritual.

Prosperity Theology

The premise of Prosperity Theology is that money is a signature gift of God and thus to be rich is indicates God’s special favor. The orientation then is toward splurging wealth. Prosperity theology looks exactly like materialism but it professes to be based on God’s word and is therefore not only permissible but also desirable. Following God through giving and other forms of obedience become a formula for abundant provision and the celebration of prosperous living. There are some Christian leaders that exhort their listeners to give liberally while they live in palatial mansions, own private jets, and pay for luxurious hotel suites while they travel to spread their message of prosperity.

Of course, there are scriptures that seem to link material prosperity with God’s blessing. For instance, God gave material wealth to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Solomon, and Job because he approved of them. Some passages offer material rewards for faithful financial giving:

“You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings” (Deuteronomy 15:10).

      “Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine; The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 3:9-10; 11:25)

      “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows’” (Malachi 3:10).

God does do those things these scriptures promise, but that’s not the whole picture. The scriptures also warn against the dangers of wealth—especially that in their prosperity people often forget the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:7-18). But even when people love and obey God they still may suffer. In fact, they’re promised suffering (Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). Jeremiah, a righteous man who lived in adversity, complained to God, “Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy? (Jeremiah 12:1). His question echoed the psalmist who wrote, “This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth” (Psalm 73:12).

If, as prosperity theology maintains, material wealth is a reliable indicator of God’s reward and approval, then crime bosses, drug lords, and embezzlers must be his most favored people, while Jesus and the apostle Paul must be on his blacklist. So, prosperity theology does not square with the teaching of scripture.

Provision Theology

The premise of Provision Theology is that money belongs to God but He has entrusted wealth to us to be used wisely. The orientation then is towards stewarding wealth. This is the biblically correct view of wealth. Our good God has promised to provide for all our needs according to his riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). His provision is therefore good and not to be shunned or apologized for. Neither is it to be coveted or boasted about. The right approach is to see money and all materials resources as God’s property placed under our management. We are stewards of his provisions.

Examples of Biblical Love

I Corinthians 13:1-3 shows the futility of trying to live the Christian life or do Christian service without love. Without love, we are “empty gongs”, “nothing” and our work “profits nothing”. There is no reward given for any work done without love. All labor done without love is done in vain.

Three times in the Sermon on the Mount (when you do a good deed and sound a trumpet, when you pray so that you can be seen, when you advertise the fact that you are fasting), Jesus said that those who do something for show have their reward. Any recognition on earth is all they get.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells of love that never fails – the love that does count with God.

Love suffers long – is patient – endures long – ABRAHAM

And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise (Hebrews 6:15).

Abraham left his homeland and followed God. It was 25 years after God promised a son from Sarah that Isaac was born. Patience is understanding God is in charge and His timing is perfect.

Love is kind: DAVID

Now David said, “Is there anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”(2 Samuel 9:1)

What David did for Mephibosheth was done purely for the love of Jonathan. David was king. He did not need to bless Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth’s grandfather tried to kill David. David’s friendship with Jonathan was so strong that he could not rest until he had discovered if there was anyone in Saul’s household that he might bless – simply because he loved Jonathan.

Love does not envy: CAIN, JOSEPH’S BROTHERS, ANDREW AND PETER

CAIN: And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry and his countenance fell… and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him (Genesis 4:4-8).

JOSEPH’s brothers were an example of jealousy and envy. They sold him into slavery, broke their father’s heart, lived with their sin for years until Joseph called them to Egypt and forgave them. That’s what we have done to God. We break His heart with sin, but His love forgives.

These examples of envy and jealousy were of brothers. How easy it must be for a brother to be jealous of another – even in the family of God. Thankfully, we have the example of Andrew and Peter.

ANDREW AND SIMON PETER. Once Andrew met Jesus, he immediately went to get Peter to introduce him to the Lord. We hear little of Andrew after that. Peter is the brother we hear the most about. There was no hint of jealousy in Andrew’s heart. He loved the Lord and he loved his brother.

Love does not parade itself – does not boast – is not puffed up – is not proud: THE TAX COLLECTOR

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14). 

… He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). 

Love does not behave rudely – does not dishonor others: JOSEPH, HUSBAND OF MARY

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly (Matthew 1:19). An humble and obedient man, Joseph believed God.

Love does not seek its own – is not self-seeking – does not insist on its own rights: JONATHAN

Jonathan was an example of someone who truly loved David. It was evident because he was not jealous of David nor did he envy his talents, his prestige, or his relationship with his father. His love for David was truly unselfish. Jonathan was the king’s son but did not insist on his own rights.

Love is not provoked – easily angered – is not touchy, fretful or resentful: NEHEMIAH

When Nehemiah was told that the survivors … left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The walls of Jerusalem [were] also broken down, and its gates… burned with fire (1:3), he wept, mourned, fasted and prayed. Nehemiah had a place of privilege with King Artaxerxes. For his own convenience, he could have stayed right where he was, but for the love of his God and his countrymen, he was compelled to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Not only would this be a tangible assignment; it would also give encouragement to those who had survived the captivity.

During the rebuilding of the wall, many tried to ridicule him, stop him, and told lies about him so that he would not accomplish this task. Nehemiah never gave in to those attempts. He remained focused, knowing that God would deal with those who were attempting to stop him.

Instead of being provoked, Nehemiah prayed, set guards around the work that was being done, and continued doing the work. Four times Nehemiah asked God to remember what he was doing and why. Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for its services! (Nehemiah 13:14).

Love thinks no evil – keeps no record of wrongs – takes no account of the evil done to it: JOB

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1) Job’s “friends” angered God by the advice they gave to Job. Job did not hold that against them. And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before (Job 42:11).

As believers, Satan has lost the battle for our souls, but not for our influence. Satan wants believers to quit doing God’s work God’s way. Over time, as Satan tempts us to be discouraged, live a worldly life, or just take credit for what the Spirit is doing through us, he has succeeded in our good deeds being done in vain and even having a negative influence on others. Jesus’ condemnation of the church in Ephesus was “You have left your first love”. As we call on others to repent and trust Jesus, we must also repent if Christ is not our first love and our only reason for what we do.

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2016

Download Examples of Biblical Love

In the Classroom with Peter

Identifying basic skills of learning as reading, writing and arithmetic – the three Rs – has been around as early as the 17th century in America. Without some competency in these areas, most students are unable to graduate from school. Even educators who debate about how to test these skills basically agree that these are essential tools for advancement in life.

Jesus, the Master Teacher, taught multitudes but His ongoing classroom had twelve men in it – His disciples. Simon Peter (someone many Christians can relate to) was sometimes at the head of the class and other times failed miserably. In the process, Peter’s specific assignment was to process his own three Rs – Redemption, Recommitment and Restoration. He did graduate and as a result, became an example of hope for the rest of us.

Although his brother Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus, in every list of the apostles, Peter’s name comes first. In God’s plan for Peter’s life, He knew that Peter’s personality – outgoing, impulsive, outspoken and excitable – could be developed into a strong leader for the first century church. He just needed to learn a few lessons first.

Redemption

When Peter, a fisherman, left his nets behind and followed the Lord, he listened, observed, absorbed and learned. Only a man with an awareness of his own need for salvation would say, “depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Only a man of faith could declare, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) and “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Yet, with all his faith and confession, Peter had a bad habit of arguing with the Lord. Someone once said, “I have spent half my life wishing I had shut up ten minutes ago.” Peter must have felt that way many times. Scripture mentions only a few of Peter’s impulsive statements to the Lord.

  • Far be it from You, Lord. This shall not happen to You” (Matthew 16:22).
  • Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Matthew 26:33).
  • “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You” (Matthew 26:35)
  • You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8).
  • Not so, Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean” (Acts 10:14).

Peter loved the Lord and the Lord loved Peter. He was included in a special trio that was with Jesus on the mountaintop when He met with Moses and Elijah. It was Peter who wanted to erect temples for each one of them. He was brought along to the Garden of Gethsemane to stand by the Lord and pray before the crucifixion. When Jesus found the disciples sleeping, it was Peter that the Lord asked, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”(Matthew 26:40-41).

As Jesus observed His last Passover with His disciples, there ensued an argument among them about who should be considered the greatest. Jesus interrupted their dispute, saying …he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves”. Then He turned to Simon and 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” (Luke 22:26, 31-32).

Not long after that, as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied three times that he even knew the Lord. He followed Him at a distance (Matthew 26:58). We “keep our distance” when we don’t want to be involved, don’t want to be recognized and don’t want to be associated with someone. The bold fisherman who had left all to follow Jesus was now afraid and weak.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter went back to fishing with some of the other disciples. They fished all night and caught nothing. Waiting for them on the shore, the risen Jesus instructed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. They then caught 159 fish. After breakfast, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Three times Peter said, “You know I love You.”

Jesus then told Peter what type of death he would experience and told him to “Follow Me.”

Peter, still dealing with a bit of jealousy, referring to the apostle John, asked Jesus, “What about this man?” Jesus said to him, …what is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21:21-22).

Recommitment and Restoration

This third command to “Follow Me” was pivotal in Peter’s life.

At the beginning, Jesus told Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-19). Now His call to Peter was more personal. “You follow Me.” This time, Peter followed Jesus, not by His side, and not from a distance, but with a heart empowered by His Holy Spirit. The presence and influence of Jesus would no longer be determined by time or space.

Initially, Peter followed Jesus but allowed his impulsiveness and outspokenness to get in his way. After an egregious heart breaking denial of his Lord, he recommitted his life to follow Him – this time with much different results. Jesus restored him, molding him into someone He could rely on. Peter had learned his lesson. No longer wanting recognition, no longer jealous, his ministry was now focused on the love of God. The Peter of denial became the Peter of Pentecost, his “foot in mouth” disease giving way to life-giving sermons, his fear replaced by miracle performing power.

Jesus knew Peter would deny Him, but also knew Peter would return to Him and with an ever-present memory of those denials, accomplish his calling – to feed and tend the Lord’s sheep and strengthen his brothers to do the same.

Satan recognizes those who have great potential to be used by God. He asked permission to ruin Job’s testimony, certainly he tried to divert Jesus’ attention from His mission and he asked permission to sift Peter like wheat. When Satan’s attacks come hurling toward you, recognize that he no only had to ask permission first, but he is doing so because of the potential he has seen in your life. Also remember that Jesus is interceding for you, just as He did for Peter.

Redeemed, recommitted and restored is the testimony of Peter. Is it yours?

© Stephanie B. Blake

February 2016

Download In the Classroom with Peter