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.

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).

A Vision of Purpose

But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand (Isaiah 64:8).

Artists and sculptors have a special ability to visualize their completed work.

The story is told of the great American artist James Whisler that he once went to the boat docks expecting a shipment of canvas for his paintings, but they weren’t there. That upset him, and someone asked him, “Were the canvases of any great value?” He replied, “Not yet!”

800px-Mt_RushmoreGutzon Borglum was able to visualize the presidential figureheads on Mt. Rushmore even before the project was begun. Even though Borglum was a great sculptor, his workers encountered problems while carving the Jefferson head. They originally started carving Jefferson’s head to the right of Washington’s but discovered that stone was not strong enough to support the sculpture. A new site for Jefferson’s head was found after removing a lot of stone to Washington’s left. The old Jefferson head was blasted away.

Every stroke of the brush and every strike of the chisel has a purpose – a purpose only the artist or sculptor can visualize.

God sees you like that. He sees your potential. If you give your life completely to God, you’ll be astonished at what He will do with it.

God cannot only visualize the possibilities contained within our lives, but unlike human artists and sculptors, He even created the very material He is working with. From the dust of the ground and from the ribcage of a man, He made man and woman. Perfect in our creation, but then marred by our own sin, in order to complete the work He had begun it was necessary for our old sinful self to die (somewhat like the blasting away of the original Jefferson head), so that His perfect work could be completed in us.

1024px-Dolceacqua43_-_Artista_locale_mentre_dipinge_un_acquarelloThere is value in a canvas to the artist because of what he is planning on doing with it. There is value in our lives because of what God can and will do with us. Unlike a blank canvas or hunk of clay, however, God wants our participation in His work. We are not simply a canvas to be used, but a life designed to bring Him glory.

He is the potter and has the vision for whatever His purpose is for us. Although we cannot visualize all He has planned, He can. Our part is to let Him work.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).

Inspirational Word Gifts from Mrs. Stanford

The breathtakingly beautiful Stanford Memorial Church in CA contains twenty-eight inspirational sayings from the founder of the university, Mrs. Jane Stanford. Collected over the years from many sources, Mrs. Stanford had these enclosed in intricately carved stone frames and placed on the walls and various other locations throughout the church.

These words of wisdom represent her religious faith and convictions. She desired to share them with all who would enter this beautiful church. They are definitely worth pondering. The original authors of these inscriptions are unknown although some have speculated that some originated with Mrs. Stanford herself.

Here are a few of these inspirational inscriptions. A reflection on the inscription is contained below.

On the North Wall

There is no narrowing so deadly as the narrowing of man’s horizon of spiritual things. No worse evil could befall him in his course on earth than to lose sight of Heaven. And it is not civilization that can prevent this; it is not civilization that can compensate for it. No widening of science, no possession of abstract truth, can indemnify for an enfeebled hold on the highest and central truths of humanity. ‘What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’ [Mark 8:37, Matthew 16:26).

“A noble ambition is among the most helpful influences of student life, and the higher this ambition is, the better. No man can work well unless he can speak as the Great Master did of the joy set before Him.”

Reflection:

The author obviously had Hebrews 12:2 in mind, Jesus…for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus had a goal. He endured the cross knowing that joy – the saving of our souls – would be the result. On His way to the cross, He told His disciples that His pain and suffering would be so that “My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, those who were faithful stewards were told to enter into the joy of your master.

There was no higher ambition than our Lord’s. He invites us to share in His work and His joy.

On the Wall of the East Clerestory

“The world is new to every soul when Christ has entered into it.”

Reflection: How true it is that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). This may be the truest test of a Christian. We shed our sin and keep shedding it daily as God reveals it to us. We get a new start. We strive to be conformed to the image of Christ. We see the world with new eyes.

“The highest service may be prepared for and done in the humblest surroundings. In silence, in waiting, in obscure, unnoticed offices, in years of uneventful unrecorded duties, the Son of God grew and waxed strong.”

Reflection: God sees. God knows. God cares. There is nothing done for Him that He does not notice.

On the Walls of the East Transept

 “God knows what His Children want before they ask, but it proves their faith in Him to pray for what they want.”

Reflection: God is sovereign, can do and does do His will. What a blessing that He wants to use us to participate in it.

“A man may have great intelligence and yet have nothing of the Christ life within him.”

Reflection: We will not be judged by our worldly knowledge, but our relationship with Christ.

Before he became a Christian, the apostle Paul was highly regarded by others and himself. He had much confidence in His standing: circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

He didn’t lose his intelligence when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He just redirected it to the cause of Christ. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…(Philippians 3:5-10).

Before His conversion, He was a man of great intelligence and had nothing of Christ in him. After His conversion, His greatest desire was to know Him. One of his favorite expressions was “in Christ.”

“Therefore, I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God” (Romans 15:17).

Below the Pulpit and the Lectern

“It is by suffering that God has most nearly approached to man; it is by suffering that man draws most nearly to God.”

Reflection: Any suffering born subject to the will of God and trusting in His mercy, goodness and love helps us identify with His precious Son. Like Jesus, for the joy that is set before us, it is worth it.

© Stephanie B. Blake

November 2015

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Lessons for Today from a Great Lady of Yesterday

For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6 NKJV)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10 NKJV)

On the beautiful Stanford University Campus in Stanford, California, the Stanford Memorial Church has been called “the stunning centerpiece of Stanford’s main quad.” And that it is.

It is not only the centerpiece of the campus. It was the central love of the founder of the university. In 1917, in a conversation with Dr. John C. Brannar, then President Emeritus of the university, Mrs. Jane Stanford said, “But, Mr. Brannar, while my whole heart is in this university, my soul is in that church.”

In a time when religious education and belief in God were thought to be commonplace, it was surprising to discover that Mrs. Stanford’s greatest concern about her university was that

“institutions and educators were spending relatively too little time on moral and spiritual instruction….

Students are required to take certain studies; those who are to be engineers must take mathematics; those who are to be chemists must take chemistry, and the geologists must take mineralogy, and so on; but not a single department requires a student to be clean in his life or to study subjects that will help strengthen his moral character, or help him to have or to cultivate a proper attitude toward himself and toward mankind. You try to fit men to do their professional work, but you lose sight of the very important fact that neither you nor anyone else wants to employ a man who lacks sound moral principles, no matter how much he may know about some particular subject. …

For no amount of learning can take the place of decency, and no amount of science can take the place of backbone. And as the moral and spiritual life is more important than the life of our bodies, so moral and spiritual instruction is more important to young people than instruction of any other kind. That is why I think the church should be the heart and center of this university.”

She had expressed to Dr. Brannar great disappointment in the moral failures of some students and a few professors – even though the attempt had been made prior to their coming to the university to make sure they were all of high moral character.

Dr. Brannar concluded his comments on their visit by saying,

“To Mrs. Stanford the church stood for highmindedness, uprightness, unselfishness and for what are generally known as the Christian virtues, and it was as the teacher of these virtues that she wanted to pass it and its influences on to the members of this community, living and yet to come.”

Today, the sentiments and concerns expressed by Mrs. Stanford are truer than ever before. If the founder of this great university gave such great relevance to the moral character of those who made up the student body and faculty and was aware of the lack of practice of Christian principles in such, how disappointed would she be today in the degradation of the moral character of the nation in which that university resides?

For now, nearly one hundred years after her comments, not only is moral character in America declining, but the very presence of church and Christians are often shunned, banned or ridiculed.

Mrs. Stanford said,

“The church is the only institution today that makes or has made or pretends to make a stand against immorality in all its forms. Education does not… In fact, I do not believe in a university education for all men for that very reason. A man with an education and without morals is liable to become – indeed, he is almost sure to become – simply an abler, shrewder criminal whose ability to prey upon society has been increased by education. Like any other force education needs intelligent guidance if it is to serve any good purpose. And where shall we look for such guidance if we look not to the sound and unselfish principles taught by Christianity?”

Mrs. Stanford was a prophetic voice in the early 20th century. America, the home of her beloved university, in the early 21st century is experiencing what can happen when Christianity and the church are removed from society. God help us.

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20 NIV).

October 2015

© Stephanie B. Blake

 

The quotes from Dr. Brannar and Mrs. Stanford came from a book written by Willis Lincoln Hall, published in 1921, Stanford Memorial Church, the mosaics, the windows, the inscriptions.

The book is in public domain and available free in PDF online through Hathitrust.org. The 1921 version (there is a 1917 version) contains Dr. Brannar’s conversation with Mrs. Stanford.

Over the years, Mrs. Stanford collected inspirational sayings. Some of them (28) now decorate the church as beautifully framed inscriptions. Next month’s devotional will highlight a few of these.

Download Lessons for Today from a Great Lady of Yesterday

The Only Way Out

Have you ever felt trapped, or been in a situation that seemed to have no way out, no solution? Can you remember a time when you felt all of your efforts were not successful in getting you where you wanted to go in life?

Have you done something in the past that because it could not be undone, has haunted you to the point where everything else is viewed in terms of “what if things had been different?” Has someone so incredibly wronged you that the memory of that event or circumstances dominates your thoughts? Have you in the past or are you at the present fighting the demon of despair that threatens to imprison you and everything that concerns you?

~~~~~

Imagine yourself in solitary confinement in a dark, damp and cold prison. You are there because you have done something to deserve this terrible judgment. There are no windows in your cell, only darkness. There is definitely no way out. To make matters worse, your sentence is a justifiably a lifetime one. There is absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself from this perpetual reminder that you are a sinner and deserve this lonely, loveless existence with no hope of having a productive life. The boredom is practically unbearable, but you are forced to endure it, day by unending day.

The only way you stay alive is the daily provision slipped through the slot in the metal door that confines you: a little bowl of water and some bread. Then one day, a bright light stuns you. You blink from the brightness of the unfamiliar and wonder if you just imagined the light. But no, someone has actually opened the door. In fact, as your eyes adjust to the light, you see that the person who opened the door fills it with his presence. He is a simple shepherd, a kind man with an expression of compassion you cannot recall ever seeing in anyone else before.

Suddenly, you are embarrassed by your lack of hygiene. You are incredibly smelly, your hair is matted and your prison uniform is dirty and torn. The difference between you and this man cannot be measured. Even though he is humbly dressed, he is the essence of purity itself. His countenance makes you think of refreshing water running from a brook. You are suddenly thirsty for that water, a thirst you are unable to put into words. You want more than relief from a parched mouth. Without understanding how or why you feel this way, you know what you really need is a drink from a brook that will never run dry. You discover that you believe this man can give you that gift, cleansing in every sense of the word.

He, however, seems to be unaware of your filthy state. He enters your cell and gently takes your hand, seemingly unconscious of the grime and germs located there. Leading you out of your cell into light of day, he resurrects you from the pit of that dungeon and despair.

The good shepherd says, “Follow me, for I am the way to God. I tell you the truth. I am the source of all life and I want to give it abundantly to you. I have paid the price for your crime that put you in this place. I have redeemed you. Just trust me and get the source of your strength from me, for my desire is that you have a useful and fruitful life. My father and I want to make our home with you and have you be part of our family. We tend a lovely vineyard. My father is the caretaker and I am the true vine. If you will get all your strength from me, I promise that you can live a full, abundant and productive life.”

Still reeling from the wonder of it all, you take the shepherd’s hand and continue walking into the light, never to return to your cell or utter despair.

~~~~~

Sin against God literally puts us in the dark cell of despair. There is no hope of restitution without divine intervention. Jesus came to rescue us from that sinful state. He asks only that we trust in Him. Faith in Jesus is based on His trustworthiness. All that we need He has done. Giving feet to our faith, we must eat the bread, look to the light, walk through the door, and follow our Shepherd-Redeemer out of our prison of sin.

Once rescued from that dark place, we must continue to follow Him. Everything concerning us from then on has new meaning. Productivity is now possible by His example and through His Spirit.

Robert Frost, an American poet (1874-1963), said, “The best way out is always through.” The only way out of our sinful lost state is through Jesus Christ. Trust Him. He will never fail you.

~~~~~

Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25)

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

“I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser….I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 5).

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2015

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