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.

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

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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

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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

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The Importance of Clean Water

635887959829433922-GTY-505416754The water crisis nightmare in Flint, Michigan began in April 2014 when the state decided to switch the source of the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River until a new supply line to Lake Huron was ready. Apparently ignoring the fact that the Flint River had a history of being noxiously unclean and neglecting to treat its water with an anti-corrosive agent to protect the pipes resulted in a huge dilemma in trying to restore drinkable water to the city. The toxins in the water were so bad that the water turned brown from the corrosion in the lead water mains. On top of that lead from those water mains began seeping into the tap water coming into approximately half the homes in the city. The toxins and the lead resulted in a water disaster of historic proportions in America. Residents cannot safely bathe in the water, much less drink it.

The original problem was caused, in part, in an effort to save money. The resulting catastrophe will continue to result in dire health problems among the citizens of the city – especially the children – and will in turn cost the city and the state untold millions in repair and reparations.

Had those in the decision making process of this change from Lake Huron to the Flint River anticipated the horrible outcome, they would not have hesitated to have spent the money for the anti-corrosive materials and would have possibly come up with another solution other than using the Flint River in the first place.

We cannot live without water. Worldwide contaminated water has always been a concern. Many get sick and die long before they should when they drink contaminated water. Many mission organisations exist just for that one purpose – to provide clean water for people to drink.

Contaminated water is symbolic of what Satan wants to do in our lives. You can’t always see the contamination, but when he adds his nasty and noxious toxic influence to what God has created, it brings about something harmful and impure. Contamination can be deadly. Purity is the only healthy spiritual choice. 800px-Flint_River_in_Flint_MIchigan

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3-4).

For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn for themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:38).

 

I See Home

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2)

DSC_2040I am blessed with six amazing grandchildren. The most recent addition is another precious girl from China. She was three and one half when she came into the family and was a little over four when I met her for the first time. During my second visit with her and her family, I took her and her sister to the park where her dad, Opa, and her brothers were playing basketball. On the way back, I carried her on my back. As soon as we were in sight of their house, Ava said, “I see home!”

When my son’s family picked her up in China, Ava spoke no English. As any young child can, she has learned fairly quickly although I believe some concepts are still a little confusing to her. In time, everything will make sense. What is so gratifying is that now, after just a few months, she knows exactly what “home” is. It is not only the house she lives in; it is the safe place she shares with the family that is giving her constant and unconditional love.

I am also adopted into God’s family. The older I get, the more I think of Heaven on a daily basis. I have many loved ones who are waiting for me. Jesus promised He is preparing a place for me there. With joyful anticipation, I know that not only will I have a place to forever call home, but it will be a safe place where I can continue to experience God’s constant and unconditional love. As I approach, it is my Brother and Savior who is the one carrying me on His back – every step of the way.

heavenrainbowLike Ava, I see home.

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).

Anxious Thoughts

National_Park_Service_9-11_Statue_of_Liberty_and_WTCPractically everyone I know is struggling with anxious thoughts – uncertainty of finances, safety issues, health problems, dangerous weather patterns and simply losing the ability to have any certainty about where things are headed in this world. When the year that has just ended has been a particularly hard and uncomfortable one, what can alleviate anxieties about things over which we have no control?

David, the Shepherd/King, gives us the answer in Psalm 139.

Union_City_Oklahoma_Tornado_(mature)As a youth, he had already experienced that every battle he fought was not his battle, but the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47). Even from childhood, David’s sustainer was God. As he fought the bear and the lion, his only companion was God. As he faced Goliath, he knew that God was the only one he could count on – not heavy armor, not an army, not even his own brothers – only God. From an early age, David recognized his only provider, protector and guide was God. Where most of us would have been afraid to face a lion, a bear or a giant of a man, David was able to do so because he was sure of God’s presence. God would not allow him to go through anything that He would not bring him through.

He begins the psalm with the acknowledgment that God knows his every thought and his every move. You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways (v.1-3).

He ends with asking God to continue to search him and know his heart. Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (v.23-24).How many of us want God to recognize our anxieties, to convict us of our wicked ways? David was a rare example of a man who knew he was blessed by God, who knew he was known by God and who knew, because of his own frailties, that he needed to be examined by God daily.

David’s penning of Psalm 139 does remind us he had anxious thoughts just like the rest of us. The difference between David and many of the rest of us is that he knew those anxious thoughts were part of his life and he surrendered them in advance to God – which is what the rest of us should be doing.

What Counts With God

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Every true believer knows he cannot earn his salvation. It is the ultimate love gift from God brought about by the miraculous birth, sinless life, sacrificial death and bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Offered to all, those who receive that gift by trusting Jesus are saved from sin judgment and will spend eternity in His presence.

Most of us do not go immediately to Heaven after we are saved (although the believing thief on the cross did). While we are waiting for that day, we can show our gratitude to our heavenly Father by loving Him and loving others. Love is the measurement by which God judges our hearts and our activities. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Jesus, asked which was the first commandment of all, answered, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31).

What We Do Must Be on the Foundation Laid by Jesus

Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:8-15).

Although God does His work through us, He carefully judges our attitude while we are working. The starting place of any work that will last for eternity is with Jesus. Any thing worth working for is founded on Him – trusting Him, conforming to His image and willingly doing whatever He asks. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus likens those who hear Him and do what He asks to a wise man who built his house on the rock. He also said that those who are persecuted on His behalf should rejoice for their reward is great.

Jim Elliott (one of five missionaries killed in 1956 while attempting to evangelize a tribe in Ecuador) wrote,  “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose…. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you Lord Jesus.” Jim was 29 when he was killed. Since that time, because of the forgiveness and the witness of his wife and others, many in that tribe became believers.

What is Done in Love Identifies a True Believer

Jesus was the supreme example of how to act in love. He was the sinless Son of God and yet, because of His love for us, He chose to become our brother and show us how to lovingly obey our Heavenly Father.

There are those who claim to be believers, do “good” works, and yet are not acting in the love of Christ Jesus. They will be surprised when their deeds are described as lawlessness by Jesus.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

The Shepherd/King will one day separate His sheep from the goats. To the sheep, He will say, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” The righteous will answer, “When did we do those things?” Jesus’ answer is that whenever you do these things to the least of His brethren, you do it to Him. The righteous are surprised because what they did came naturally – through the Spirit of Jesus living within them, they acted in love toward their fellow man. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him (1 John 4:16).

On the other hand, the goats – on His left – will be told, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” He then proceeded to remind them that they did NOT do anything for Him. Equally surprised, the goats asked the Lord when was it that they saw Him hungry, thirsty, as a stranger, naked, sick or in prison. His answer was, “inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (Matthew 25:31-46).

 What is Done in Love will Count

 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

As God’s fellow workers, our work will be tested. It’s not so much what we do that counts – it’s why we do it. Those who love Jesus, such as the sheep at judgment day, didn’t realize what they had done was going to be commended by the Lord. They just loved Him and showed that love to others.

Every action Jesus took was because He loved the Father and His followers. His actions resulted in bringing glory to the Father and salvation to His brothers.

As believers, we will be judged by the principle of love. Let all that you do be done with love (1 Corinthians 16:14).

What counts with God? Love, founded in the person of Jesus, and acted out through faith in Him.

I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).

© Stephanie B. Blake

January 2016

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The Focus of the Christmas Season

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).

In America, this time of year is called the “holiday season”. Beginning with Thanksgiving and ending with New Year’s Day, it is a time of hurried activity, family gatherings, lots of food, and decorations galore. Wedged in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is Christmas.

Thanksgiving is defined in its name. At the very least, during the huge Thanksgiving meal of turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole or black-eyed peas and an array of desserts, each family usually pauses to give thanks for the blessings of the past year.

New Year’s Eve is a grand celebration of the ending of one year and the beginning of another. There is something about turning over a page in our own personal history and putting up a new calendar on the wall that causes us to reflect on the past year and make plans for improvement in the next.

The significance of Christmas somehow gets lost in the busyness of the season itself. Late November to early January used to be known as the Christmas season. It has been redefined as the “holiday season” and Christmas itself, in many cases, has been swallowed up by the activities preceding and following Christmas day. That day of all days – when God sent His Son to wear our flesh and bear our sins – is lost in a world of secularism. So much so, in fact, that one institution tried to outlaw Christmas trees in its building because it puts too much emphasis on Christianity during Christmas time. ??? After protests, their solution was to allow the Christmas tree if there were also symbols for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Satan tried to make Christ disappear when He was a small child and he is trying to make the celebration of His birth disappear. Although he will not win this war, he is winning small skirmishes. The changing of the Christmas season to the holiday season is symbolic of what is happening to American society. At the inception of this country, there was a strong focus on God and Christian principles. Today, that focus has become a political issue – some even denying that America was founded on Christian beliefs. As history books are being rewritten, the very character of this great nation is withering into a place where Christian principles are being challenged daily.

Rather than being swallowed up between Thanksgiving and the New Year, Christmas should be central in this season. Surprisingly many Americans do not feel this way. Although 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, a LifeWay Research survey in 2010 revealed that, “Though a majority encourage belief in Christ at Christmastime, 67 percent of Americans say that, ‘Many of the things I enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.’

As Dr. David Jeremiah states, “The music, meals, and merriment are fine as long as we stay clearly focused on the object and purpose of Christmas: Jesus Christ…. It’s all a matter of focus – and focus is a deliberate act. Don’t let the world dictate your focus this Christmas.”

We do not need to wait until Christmas to focus on Christ. Every day should be focused on Him and is the reason for the ONEFOCUSMINISTRIES website. These questions are on the home page:

ONE FOCUS – what does that mean to you? What do you think about most of the time? What is your purpose in life? What catches your attention? Do your thoughts and goals revolve around one central theme?

Under YOUR ONE FOCUS tab,

Why is making God your one focus in life so important?

What or who you focus on determines your attitude here on earth and where you will spend eternity. When you focus on anything or anyone other than God, you can miss His great love and His will for your life.

Knowing God – really knowing Him, not just knowing about Him – and focusing on Him gives your life meaning and purpose.

You are God’s creation and He loves you – so much that even before Adam and Eve chose to sin in the Garden of Eden, He provided a way back to Him through His only Son, Jesus Christ. If you recognize the reality of sin in your life, repent of that sin, and invite Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord, you become a child of God and will live with Him forever.

Resources on this website are:

  • Word Focus – Bible studies with downloadable PDF files.
  • Reflective Focus – monthly devotionals with downloadable PDF files.
  • One Focus Blog – current posts on keeping one focus on God.

Focus is important. If you focus on God, you will see His loving hand every day.

For those who give thanks to God at the Thanksgiving table and pledge to serve Him better in the New Year, how we celebrate Christmas should be the ultimate expression of our thanks to God for His incredible gift. For Christmas marks the birth of our Savior who lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death on the cross for our sins and was resurrected. Victorious over death, He gave us life.

At Christmas, we get gifts we do not pay for. We only have to receive them. We often do so with great gratitude. Christ’s salvation is offered to us as a gift. That gift is like no other. We cannot earn it. We can only accept it. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 NASB). That gift deserves our eternal gratitude. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights…(James 1:17). Are you thankful for Christ, God’s only begotten Son and the focus of Christmas?

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2 NKJV)

Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33 NKJV)

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2015

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“The Four Freedoms”

On January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a State of the Union address that thereafter became known as the Four Freedoms speech.

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

These essential human rights were then illustrated by my favorite American artist Norman Rockwell (1874-1978) in 1943. Originally oil paintings, these illustrations were reproduced in The Saturday Evening Post over four consecutive weeks in 1943. As a result of a subsequent touring exhibition, the accompanying sales of war bonds raised over $132 million. Freedom from Want has also become known as the “Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving.”

These freedoms mentioned by President Roosevelt and illustrated by Norman Rockwell are being challenged even within American shores. They have not been attained “in our own time and generation.” More than ever, we need to defend these freedoms.

Even so, these freedoms can be practiced in societies that try to tear them down because God is in charge. What He wants His children to do does not depend on what any government says.

Freedom of Speech

472px-%22Freedom_of_Speech%22_-_NARA_-_513536Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not (Jeremiah 20:9).

Freedom of Worship

471px-%22Freedom_of_Worship%22_-_NARA_-_513537Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! (Daniel 3:28).

Freedom from Want

lossy-page1-402px-%22Freedom_From_Want%22_-_NARA_-_513710.tifIf then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you (Luke 12:29-31).

Freedom from Fear

474px-%22Freedom_from_Fear%22_-_NARA_-_513538“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:28-32).

Mankind will forever be fighting for these freedoms on earth. Trust God. He determines how these freedoms will be exercised in the lives of His own for if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36).