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.

Sweaters, Sandals and Seasons

Traveling from France to Cape Town, South Africa, I encountered a surprise in weather. I checked the weather report before I left France. Both locations had similar predictions. Even though France was going from spring to summer and South Africa’s fall was changing into winter, I erroneously thought that 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit was going to feel the same in both places. I was wrong.

What I didn’t take into account were winds from an icy Atlantic and the start of the rainy season in South Africa. The lodging where I stayed had no heat. None. There was a fireplace, but even in use, it was basically ornamental. All the heat went up the chimney.

My heavy suitcase was full of summer clothes. At least they were still clean when I returned to France. You would think that with all the travel I do, I would know better. Just before I left France, I observed many people wandering about in sweaters and jackets, but eager for the warmer weather, I suppose, they had changed their winter boots for summer sandals.

I found myself in that same situation. With one exception, I only brought sandals to South Africa, but I found myself layering all those summer clothes and wearing the two jackets I brought every day – whether or not they matched my clothing!

Life is full of seasons. Sometimes we are prepared for the next one. In moving from youth to adulthood, or high school to college, we spent years anticipating and preparing for that season in our lives. From being single to married, from living with parents to being on our own, we plan for that season. Other times we are caught by surprise. Parenthood sometimes comes without a definite plan; becoming grandparents especially so. Each season has its’ own challenges and joys.

Job, a man who trusted God and was blessed by Him, was taken by surprise when he experienced the hardest season of his life. During the trials and heartache of that season, he longed for the days of his prime. Through it all, God was watching and allowing Job to be tested. In the end, Job passed the test. Even in his most despondent days, he did not sin against God in what he said about Him. Even when he wondered if God had deserted him, he was determined to trust the God he had known in the past seasons of life. God richly rewarded him, not only restoring family and riches, but gave Job a new level of understanding of who He is. Whereas Job had heard of God before, he said, now my eye sees You.

For those of us who long to know God better, when an unexpected season presents itself, we can learn lessons from Job’s experience. God has not vacated the premises. He still cares. He is still in control. He wants to bring us into a new level of relationship with Him. Through times of confusion, be encouraged that He has a purpose for anything He allows in our lives.

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Spending Time with God: Digging for Treasure in His Word

Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his son (Hebrews 1:1 The Message).

God loves to communicate with His family. That is why He sent His Son, the Word, to live among us. That is why He gave us the Bible, His written word. That is why He puts such an emphasis on prayer.  He is so intent on making Himself understood that His Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of His believers. Unlike false gods, He is totally engaged with His people.

If someone wants to know what God has to say, he studies the Bible.  Unfortunately, Bible “study” is often viewed as an obligation rather than an exciting privilege. However, the psalmist did not feel that way. I have put my hope in your word. . .  How sweet are your promises to my taste. . . I gain understanding from your precepts. . . Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119: 81,103, 104, 105 NIV).

Reluctance to spend time in God’s word is usually more prevalent in a society where Bibles are readily available.  In countries where access is limited, if a Christian owns a Bible, it is his most precious possession. He can say with Job, I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread (Job 23:12b NIV).

There are many ways to study the Bible: a careful word-by-word exegesis of a particular passage (such as John 3:16), an in depth study of a book (such as Genesis), a character study (such as Daniel), and many more.  The important thing is to set aside time each day to hear from God – through His word and through prayer. I get excited about discovering threads of truth that run from the beginning to the end of God’s word or “connecting the dots” about a Biblical theme.

Although the Bible was written by many people over several hundred years, it has one underlying theme.  It is, after all, God’s word. It is all about God and what He is doing. The theme of every story, book, and character is how God used that person or circumstance for His redemption of fallen man. Redemption is through Jesus, the Word of God. He appears in the Old Testament in pre-incarnate forms and comes as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies in the New Testament.

Jesus revealed Himself as God: I Am (John 8:58), the Bread of Life (John 6:35), the Light of the World (John 8:12), the Door (John 10:7), the Good Shepherd (John 10:14), the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), and the True Vine (John 15:1).  Although these statements are unique to Jesus, He shared the characteristics of one of them with His believers. This is the theme of the Bible study on this site: Living in the Light: Looking Up and Lighting the Way for Others to Follow.

© Stephanie B. Blake

May 2011

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One Focus is a Choice

A blog, short for a web log, gives personal reflections intended to be shared with internet users. Wow, how things have changed in the last few years. There is no longer the need for hand written letters in order to communicate with friends and family (although I still love writing and receiving hand written notes in the old fashioned snail mail). Technology is moving faster “than a speeding bullet,” and sometimes I think only Supermen (or women) could possibly keep up with the changes; however, if you want to communicate with anyone, you must attempt to keep up with changes on the internet.

It is so easy for life to get in the way of Life. So many things can occupy our time and thinking that we are tempted to have no focus at all. We just flit from circumstance to circumstance, or thought to thought or day to day, never really being grounded in the reality of the Truth.

One Focus – the only way I can handle all the changes going on in this world is to keep my feet firmly planted on the one foundation that I know is unshakeable and never changes. The love of God is expressed through the person of Jesus Christ, His Son. That Truth is my reality and I hope and pray that it is yours.

The book, devotionals, and Bible studies on my website, http://www.onefocusministries.com, attempt to provide resources to help me and others keep our eyes focused on the One who can help us navigate the joys, trials, questions and changes of life. This blog is designed for a more current reflection of how I see God working.

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3 NKJV).

Trusting God: A Predetermined Choice

. . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

The predetermined choice to trust God is a common characteristic of Christian heroes. Their examples are recorded in the Bible, in history and continue to flesh out before us the one thing that pleases God the most: faith. Solid, unshakeable faith founded on an intimate relationship with God is seen in those who make the decision to take Him at His word regardless of circumstances.

Abraham’s trust in God led him to be obedient to God’s unexplainable request to sacrifice his son Isaac. When God provided the ram for the sacrifice, Abraham’s relief must have been indescribable; however, he was sure that if God expected him to carry out the sacrifice of his son, God would raise him from the dead. Abraham was certain that the promise God made to him about his legacy through Isaac was true. Only a man who had made the decision in the past to trust and follow God, no matter what, could have passed this test.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego refused to worship the image Nebuchadnezzar set up even when the king’s wrath sent them into a fiery furnace. They knew God was capable of delivering them. Their testimony to the king was even if God chose not to rescue them from the fire, they would trust Him. It is questionable that these men foresaw that God would walk with them in the fire, but that is what happened and what continues to happen symbolically for many believers today.

Joshua was sent as part of a team to scout out the land God promised to Israel. The presence of giants in the land frightened all but two of the team. Joshua and Caleb were certain God would secure the land for them.  The influence of the rest of the team, however, infected the people of Israel with doubt and fear. Instead of entering the land of milk and honey, they spent forty years in the wilderness. Only Joshua and Caleb were still alive when God brought his people into the promised land, having maintained their youthful energy and determination to follow God.

Joshua did not argue with God when He revealed His unusual battle plan for conquering Jericho.  Instead, Joshua did as directed and the walls of Jericho fell down as God had promised.  Joshua was aware some of his kinsmen might abandon God even after His miraculous intervention in their lives, but Joshua went on record with a declaration in the future tense: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Job never saw what was coming when his trials began, but his predetermined choice to trust God was the reason he was able to declare, Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job 13:15)Even when his darkest days made him question God, his decision to trust God prevented him from sinning against God with his words. 

Testimonies of those who have made the predetermined choice to trust God did not cease with Biblical accounts. Although history tells of many who did the same, those I have known who have lived that decision before me have made the most lasting impression.

When my husband was in seminary, the pastor of our church received the horrible news that one of our church members, a recent seminary graduate, lost his life in a fire along with his infant child.  When the fire began at his home, this man brought his family out of the burning building only to discover that the baby was still in the house.  As he rushed back in to save his baby, his wife and older children waited outside for him.  He never returned.  As our pastor prepared to visit the widow, he confessed to us he had no idea what he could say to help her through such a horrendous event.  As the widow opened the door, she looked her pastor in the eyes and said, “Pastor, the joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Several years ago, I lost one of my best friends to brain cancer.  When the diagnosis was given to her, she said to her husband, “God has just told me I will not survive this.”  During the remaining nine months of her life, her favorite saying, “God is faithful,” continued to be on her lips wherever she went.  She suffered much and was even criticized for not having enough faith to believe God would heal her, but she never wavered in her steadfast trust of a faithful Father who loved her and her family.

A few years after that, my husband also got cancer.  With his diagnosis, he made the determination that he would glorify God no matter what happened.  In his case, God healed him, but he did have to go through surgery, months of chemotherapy and additional hospitalizations because of complications with the chemotherapy. Through that year, he continued to travel with our ministry and made an impact upon those who were in the congregations and conferences.  He is healthy today and continues to preach and teach the love of a God he trusts.

During trial and tragedy is not the time to wrestle with the issue of whether God can be trusted.  That choice must be made ahead of time.  If a trusting faith is not already in place when hard times come, there is no well to draw from.  The well of resource must have already been filled with Living Water to sustain one through a time of drought.

It is impossible to please God without faith.  His word is full of promises of His presence for those who trust Him.  He promises to be a refuge, a hiding place, a rock, a fortress, a shield, a present help in time of trouble, a deliverer, a defender, a stronghold.  Those who trust Him live under the shadow of His wings, are blessed, feed on His faithfulness, are given a new song to sing, are not afraid, are not put to shame, are known by God and are kept in perfect peace.

© Stephanie B. Blake

April 2011

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Prayer Powers the Life of a Christian

Is there a correlation between lack of prayer and the lack of productivity in a believer’s life? What about the lack of positive witness for the Christian church?

Have you ever run out of gas on a trip? It doesn’t matter how big your engine is, how well decked out the interior of the car is, or what a beautiful paint job it has. If there is no fuel, there is no power. A car cannot go anywhere without fuel.

In January 2010, an inaugural Interior Design Show symposium held in Toronto, Canada featured “Conversations in Design, A World without Oil.” Designers from around the world were encouraged to introduce design ideas that would work in a world no longer dependent upon oil. This has been a concern for years.  In the 1950s, Dr. M. King Hubbert developed a theory that oil, as a finite resource, would someday reach its peak.  Building on that theory, Dr. C. J. Campbell conducted a study using data from Petroconsultants of Geneva. The Petroconsultants database is the largest database on oil outside the continental U.S. and is used by all international oil companies. As a result of his study, a graph was developed indicating that oil production did peak in 1999 and as of 2011, we are on the downhill side of oil production.

Snowstorms, thunderstorms and heavy rain can create massage power outages resulting in life-threatening problems. Utility companies often race to restore power to homes totally dependent upon their services. The upheaval in the Middle East has sparked debate about oil prices and availability. Countries with limited power sources already have mandatory blackouts which is becoming more common even in the U.S.

What does all this have to do with prayer? The power behind a believer’s life comes from God. Prayer fuels the Christian’s life. A person can be a true Christian, but be spiritually ineffective. Unless he fuels up, he has no power. He “just runs out of gas.”

The source of a believer’s power is God. His power will never run out. It is a resource we can count on for eternity. To live a productive life, however, believers need to stay close to the source of His power.

In order to have fuel in your vehicle, you must first go to a supply source, typically a gas station. You must use the nozzle and fill the car with fuel. It is a similar process to use the power in your home. The electricity may be installed throughout the house, but if the switch is not turned on, the power source is not tapped. I don’t have to know all there is to know about fuel production to be able to put gas in my car. Neither do I have to be an electrician to turn on the lights in my house or run my washing machine. In a sense, I just have to do what is required to ask for it.

It is like that with prayer. Jesus said, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24). What honors Him is to ask Him for power to do His will. Stephen was said to be full of faith and power (Acts 6:8). Stephen had power because of his faith. His faith was in the God of power. Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Power is a gift from God. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). It is all of God. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us (2 Corinthians 4:7).Quotations are from the New King James Version.

This brings us to the relationship between power and prayer. James 5:16 is a familiar verse and many can quote from the KJV, The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. However, in over half of twenty translations of the Bible, the word “power” or “powerful” is used. For example:

The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful (HCSB).

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (NIV).

The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with (The Message).

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (NLT).

Although it does not use the word “power,” I also love how the New Century Version puts this verse:

When a believing person prays, great things happen.

Great things do happen in the life of the praying person and the lives of others when prayer taps into God’s power.

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2011

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The Waiting Room

As I write this reflection, I am in a waiting room.  Life is like that.  We are often waiting for something – waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the traffic light to change, waiting for the mail to come, waiting for the end of the work day, waiting for the week-end, waiting for a call from a loved one, waiting for an airplane (to take us off to a destination or to receive a loved one), waiting for the chance to go to bed and get some much needed sleep, waiting for graduation, waiting for the right job, waiting for a spouse,  waiting for the birth of a child or a grandchild, waiting for the adoption papers to come through, waiting for retirement, waiting for a visit from family, waiting to heal from an injury or a surgery, waiting for another opportunity – waiting, waiting, waiting.  Actually, it seems that life is more about waiting than doing.

God tells us about His people who had to wait years for the fulfillment of the promise He had given them:

Noah, years spent building the ark, waiting for the rain, waiting for the rain to recede

Abraham, waiting years for his promised son (when God promised to give Abraham a son, his wife was already past childbearing age)

Jacob waiting to marry Rachel, working seven years for her (then being tricked into marrying Leah as well and having to work another seven years)

Joseph waiting to be freed from jail, to see his brothers and father again, waiting for the years of plenty and the years of famine

Moses waiting in the wilderness for years with a disobedient people, waiting to enter the promised land and only getting to see it from afar

You get the picture.  Even though the promised Messiah has actually come and fulfilled His promise to redeem His own, His believers are now waiting for His second coming.

Years ago, I remember one of my teachers saying, “Life is a waiting room.  If you see an open door, go through it.  It won’t stay open forever!”  That is a true statement, but most of life is spent in the waiting room.  What is to be learned there?

In brief waiting periods, practical planning can help “redeem the time.”  For instance, today, I knew I would be in a waiting room for an indefinite period of time.  I brought my Bible and my computer – thus, this reflection.  Sometimes when I know I am going to be waiting, I bring along cards that need to be written or my prayer journal – things that are difficult to do in a day filled with other activities, but can be done in a waiting room.

Waiting in line at the grocery store often gives me an opportunity to chat with someone around me – possibly giving a word of encouragement or the Holy Spirit may prompt me to share about Jesus. Waiting in an airport gives me an opportunity to catch up on my reading or some writing. Waiting for the end of the work day should be productive.  How much can I accomplish in this day before I call it quits?  Time is a valuable commodity. Waiting, waiting, waiting – if that time is spent in prayer, or some other productive endeavor, the time is not wasted and passes so much faster.

Waiting is hard for all of us, but some of our best relationship development with God occurs during our waiting times.  When we are going full speed ahead and accomplishing the things we want to do, we tend to believe the work has been done in our own effort.  It is in the waiting times we remember we need God’s direction.

“What do I do now, Lord?  I’m stuck and cannot seem to go forward.” That must have been the way that Joseph felt in jail in Egypt, knowing God had a plan, but unable to see it from his perspective.  Because he refused to take matters into his own hands and did wait upon the Lord, God enabled him to be part of the reason his family survived through the famine and grew to be a great nation.  As he and his brothers reflected on why he was in Egypt (his jealous brothers had sold him!), Joseph said, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:19-20).

God does not waste His time  – or ours. Every moment is precious.  What we consider as an unfruitful time in our lives, God may see as a time of growth and preparation. Waiting is part of the process of being productive.  A butterfly would not exist without having spent time in a cocoon as a caterpillar.  A plant will not bear flowers or fruit without the seed having spent time in the ground.  In John 15, Jesus reminded us that before we can ever bear fruit, there must be a bonding, cleansing and pruning process.

While Abraham was waiting for his son, he was learning more about God and his involvement in his life. While Joseph was serving undeserved jail time, he was strengthening his faith and his resolve to do what God wanted, no matter what.  While Moses dealt with the finicky Israelites, he discovered that he, too, had that element of selfishness in his own spirit.  The waiting room can indeed be a great school master.

God is in control of the world and circumstances surrounding the lives of His children. The waiting room is part of His plan.  God gives strength to those in His waiting room. Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say on the Lord! (Psalm 27:14).  But those that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).  When the time of action arrives, strength is needed.  Spiritual strength is a result of time spent with God in the waiting room.

God does have a plan for each of His children.  Only He can work that plan out so that it  dovetails with the plans He has for the rest of His family.  In our impatience, we are prone to go ahead of His plan, thus sometimes missing the opportunity He had reserved for us at a given point in time. A committed child of God wants the best God has for him in His time. Are you so focused on what God wants to do in your life that you are comfortable in His waiting room? Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

© Stephanie B. Blake

Scriptures taken from the New King James Version

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Choices of a Blessed Man

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).

Life is full of choices, everything from what time you will get out of bed in the morning and what you will have for breakfast to the person you will marry and what career you will choose. Many daily choices become habits and are no longer viewed in terms of a choice, but an established routine.

Major decisions can be life changing. Have you considered what determines those choices for you? Do you flip a coin? Do you seek counsel? Do you fret and worry? Do you procrastinate – sometimes waiting so late to make a decision that the right choice disappears? How do you approach the choices of your life?

The first Psalm describes a man who is blessed.  Surprisingly, his description does not begin with the positive but with the negative.  This is often the case in God’s word.  The number of “shall not’s” outnumber the “do’s” in the Ten Commandments. Proverbs is full of contrasts between wise and bad choices. Jesus warned His disciples to beware of the hypocritical choices of prominent religious leaders. Since sin is always the easiest choice, God finds it necessary to issue warnings of the pitfalls of wrong choices.

When a road becomes treacherous because a storm has washed it out or put obstacles in the way, street officials will put a sign at the beginning of the road warning of dangers ahead.  Properly advised, a wise person will not travel down that road. God’s warnings are like that road sign. Don’t go there.

The blessed man chooses not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful.  The man who does listen to evil counsel will find himself standing in the path of sinners. Once he has sat down among the scornful, he has made his decision. He has chosen the path of the ungodly.

Visualize the blessed man. As he walks, he encounters bad advice on every side but is not swayed. He chooses not to listen, refusing to stop and stand with those he knows are making bad choices.  He is too wise to sit with those who scorn God and His ways.

This man knows God and His commandments. He knows the trap, possibly from experience, that bad choices will put him in.  He does not want to move away from God because he knows God has given him those instructions to protect and guide him. The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way (Psalm 37:23).

What are the choices the blessed man makes?  He chooses to delight in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  There is a reciprocal delight: God delights in a man who trusts Him, the man who trusts in God delights in the relationship He has with God. His choices are predetermined and founded in that relationship.

The most important choice anyone makes in life is what to do with the invitation of Jesus to accept Him as Lord and Savior.  . . . the wages of sin is death. . . Everyone has sinned, but those who trust in Jesus are saved from the punishment of their sin . . . . but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

The blessed man chooses God. Every choice he makes is based on his trust of God’s righteousness. But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him (Psalm 37:39-40).

After describing what the blessed man has wisely avoided, the psalmist then describes what his life is like because his delight is in the law of the Lord. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:3).

Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14).  Rivers of water are living, flowing waters, never stagnant. Nothing lives without water and nothing grows without water. The blessed man has chosen to abide in Jesus, the Living Water.  Since that is so, his life will bear fruit.  He who believes in Me . . . out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:38). He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit . . . (John 15:5).

Most fruit trees are deciduous, but evergreen fruit trees do exist. They hold their foliage – whose leaf also shall not wither. They bear fruit in summer but may also bear fruit in winter – that brings its fruit in its season.  God, the Master Gardener, takes care of His garden so that it bears much fruit (John 15:1-5).

Metaphorically, “evergreen” refers to something that is continuously renewed. The blessed man trusts in God, looks to Him for his choices in life, and is constantly nourished and refreshed by that relationship. He knows that whatever he does shall prosper. As his desire is to please the God he chose, his definition of “prosper” has eternal, spiritual implications. And God blesses his choices.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous (Psalm 1:6). The ungodly chose the wide, easy road. The blessed man is among the few who find the narrow gate and travel the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14).What about you?

© Stephanie B. Blake

Scriptures taken from the NKJV

January 2011

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The Gift from the Heart of God

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, give Me a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

Christmas is celebrated practically worldwide. Many cities decorate their streets, homes are brightly lit and draped with garland for Christmas and merchants have specials.  In Europe, people look forward to delightful Christmas markets where food and local wares give a festive atmosphere to the end of winter.

For many years in the United States, the day after Thanksgiving has been the biggest shopping day of the year. This year, there was even a “Black Friday 2010” website for online specials. Some major retailers were also open on Thanksgiving Day.  News commentators believe this will be a new trend. In fact, practically all “news” right now deals with Christmas: where to get the best bargains; how retailers are faring; jobs that have been created because of Christmas; challenges of traveling during the busy holidays; recipes for holiday entertaining and how to cope with the stress of it all

Christmas is so commercialized that few could tell the real significance of it.  Christmas has become a “season,” a holiday time to have family gatherings at the end of the year. Each year, much thought and expense goes into the purchase of gifts for family and loved ones.  Often people will plan all year long for Christmas, putting money aside to buy gifts or making purchases throughout the year and saving gifts for the big day.

Today’s Christmas is nothing like the first Christmas. On that day, because God so loved the world . . . He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). The only other gifts on that occasion were given to the Christ Child: worship by those who had eagerly anticipated His arrival and gold, frankincense and myrrh given to Him by the wise men.

God planned the birth of the Christ Child before time began. Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Timothy 1:9). God, the Father, sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9).  The angel Gabriel told Mary: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Jesus, the Son, chose to be born in order to save us from our sins. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).

This plan of Almighty God was not put in place without pain on His part.  Since the creation of man, God had revealed Himself, but the world did not know Him. Many chose to ignore His presence and His claim on their lives.  What father deliberately plans for his son to suffer?  Almighty God agreed within Himself because He so loved the world that Jesus would take on man’s skin, submit Himself to the hardships and temptations of man, demonstrate a victorious sinless life and would die a sacrificial death on man’s behalf. Jesus, God in the flesh, is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation . . . for it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:15, 19-20). The everlasting love of God was demonstrated through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Jesus is the Divine Gift from the heart of God. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).  When we accept the gift of salvation Jesus extends to us, we are then called children of God. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are (1 John 3:1).

Christmas should be celebrated. Family gatherings, gifts exchanged between loved ones, enjoying good food together are all ways to appropriately commemorate that unique event. God is all about family.  He invited us to be part of His.  He wants us to express love for one another. However, if Christ is left out of Christmas, it is nothing more than a pagan holiday.

Christmas gives true Christians a wonderful witnessing opportunity. More people attend church during Christmas and Easter than at any other time of year. Although many go simply as a part of the season’s festivities, receptivity to the gospel may be greatest during these times.

Christians can and should use this time as an opportunity to remind people that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights (James 1:17). Jesus revealed the nature of God and His love to the world – No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18) – and that is indeed cause for celebration.

In Jesus, God stepped down from Heaven to show us His heart of love. At His birth, the shepherds looked up and saw the angels who told of His arrival.  The wise men looked up and followed the star to where the Christ Child was.  After Jesus’ resurrection, He was lifted up while they were looking on (Acts 1:9). As Stephen was being stoned, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56). When we look up, we can see Jesus, worship Him, and give Him our heart of love and gratitude. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and ‘your neighbor as yourself’ (Luke 10:27).

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2010

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Loving God Completely

 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 (Mark 12:30).

Christianity is a hot topic these days. Much of the conversation revolves around keeping faith separate from everything else.  In some countries, Christians are physically persecuted for sharing their faith. In many European countries, people state, “Religion is one of the subjects we do not talk about.” In the U.S., politicians tell their constituents to keep “church and state separate.” Many consider discussion of faith outside religious meetings as an intrusion of another’s rights. “Watch what you say so as not to offend anyone with your belief system.  Keep everything separate.  If you want to worship your God on Sunday, fine, but keep Him out of Monday through Saturday discussions.”

For a truly committed believer in Christ, however, faith cannot be separated from any aspect of life. His Holy Spirit lives within His followers. He should be involved in every thought, every decision, every appointment, and every relationship of life.

A scribe asked Jesus, ‘Which is the greatest commandment of all’? Jesus answered him, ‘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’ (Mark 12:28-31 NKJV). Notice Jesus’ emphasis on “all.”  Matthew adds that Jesus concluded with ‘On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 22:40 NKJV).

Generally, when one thinks of law, it is in terms of obligation.  “I must pay my taxes.”  “There is a fee for this parking space.  If I don’t pay the fee, I have broken the law and might get a ticket.”  Although laws are generally created for good and for order in society, often people consider ways to “get around the law.”  “Maybe I won’t get caught running this red light.” “Possibly I can claim some deductions on my income tax that I did not really make. The possibilities are slim that I will get audited.”

A relationship with God through Jesus redefines how we view law.  Christians obey the Lord because they love Him. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). He lived a perfect life fulfilling the law in Himself.  He died a sacrificial death on our behalf. He rose and is interceding for His followers still.  This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you (John 15:12-15 NKJV).  – Love your neighbor as yourself.

The Lord, our God, the Lord is one. – There are not many gods in this world.  There is one God. His person is revealed through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Faith in Jesus, the Son of God, is the only way to have a relationship with God.

Love the Lord your God –  You love a Person.  If God is your Lord, these are the ways you show Him you love Him.  He has demonstrated His love for you.  God equates your allegiance to Him as your complete love expressed in every part of your being.

With all your heart – Your actions are controlled by what is in your heart. Jesus said that evil deeds come from your heart (Mark 7:20-23).  What you treasure in life  – what you really care about – is where your heart is (Matthew 6:21). Love Him with all you do.

With all your soul – Your soul is who you are.  And the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7 KJV).  Some other translations render “living soul” as “living being,” “living person,” or “living creature.”  Love Him with all you are.

With all your mind – Choices are made with your mind.  Adam and Eve made the wrong choice in the garden of Eden, and God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22 NKJV).  The only way to conquer evil is through Christ. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NKJV). Love Him with all you think.

 With all your strength – Your body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). Strength implies bodily powers, but there is also “strength of character.”  Being conformed to the image of Christ gives one the strength to carry on through all the trials of life. I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he has judged me faithful, appointing me to his service (1 Timothy 1:12 NIV). Trust Him to lead you. Love Him with all your might and perseverance, relying on His resources.

One of Paul’s prayers covered this total allegiance to God. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to His riches in glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man [with all your strength], that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith [with all your heart]; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge [with all your mind]; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God [with all your soul] (Ephesians 3:14-19 NKJV emphasis mine).

© Stephanie B. Blake

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The Eyes of Jesus

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be a follower of Jesus during His earthly life: to have witnessed His birth, watched Him grow as a boy, seen Him perform duties at home, listened to Him talking with the wise men of the day, been present when He called His disciples, seen His miracles firsthand, watched Him walk the Via Dolorosa, observed His body hanging upon the cross, witnessed the darkness in midday and the death of the Son of God, seen Him as He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, and been able to look upward as He ascended to heaven?

If you had been there, what do you think you would have noticed most about His physical presence?  His words were life itself, but what was appealing about His presence? Scripture says He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2). Yet His Word also tells us that He saw into the hearts of people – when He saw their faith (Luke 5:20).Had we been able to walk and talk with Jesus, I think we would have been most captivated by His eyes:

  • eyes that sparkled as he looked at Mary and Joseph while lying in the manger
  • eyes that confirmed what Simeon’s eyes finally beheld – the Savior of the world had come
  • eyes of understanding that astonished the temple teachers when He was twelve
  • eyes that faced down Satan as he tempted Him in the wilderness
  • eyes that read from the prophet Isaiah when He declared, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor, He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. And with all eyes in the synagogue fixed on Him, He declared, Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
  • eyes of compassion for the man who had been inhabited by an unclean spirit as He demanded, Be quiet, and come out of him!
  • eyes that saw the two boats, empty at the end of a fruitless night of fishing, Who, after He taught the multitudes from one of the boats, told Simon to launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. His eyes, missing nothing, saw their need and met it.
  • eyes that returned the longing look from the man with leprosy as he pled, Lord, if You are willing You can make me clean. Touching Him with His hand and seeing His need for cleansing, He said, I am willing, be cleansed.
  • eyes that saw the faith of the friends who let down a paralyzed man through the roof so that He might heal him
  • eyes that beheld friends as He dined with tax collectors and sinners
  • eyes that could penetrate through the hypocrisy of the Pharisees as they accused Him of unlawfulness as He healed on the Sabbath
  • eyes that looked heavenward as He talked with His Father
  • eyes that lifted up toward His disciples before teaching the multitudes
  • eyes that radiated with amazement upon hearing of the faith of the centurion when He said, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!
  • eyes that ached at the grieving of the widow of Nain. He had compassion on her and raised her son from the dead.
  • eyes that beamed with appreciation as the woman washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them with fragrant oil
  • eyes that sought the crowds for understanding as He spoke His parables
  • eyes that searched the crowd for the woman who touched Him and was healed
  • eyes that looked into the hearts of His disciples as He gave them power and authority over demons and to cure diseases
  • eyes that shone in a transfigured face as He talked with Moses and Elijah
  • eyes that perceived the insincerity of the ones who pledged to follow Him, but first wanted to go and bury his father, or bid his family farewell
  • eyes of determination as He sent the seventy disciples out two by two and gave them instructions for their journey
  • eyes that blessed His disciples when He said, Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.
  • eyes that glowed with pleasure when His disciples understood a heavenly principle
  • eyes that viewed the woman who had an infirmity for eighteen years, could not stand up. Laying His hands on her, immediately she was made straight and glorified God.
  • eyes that saw the lepers as they pled for mercy. He healed all ten of them even though only one would give Him thanks.
  • eyes that beheld with love and tenderness the children brought to Him
  • eyes that took note of the sorrowful response of the rich man when He told Him what he must do to follow Him.
  • eyes that looked up in the tree and observed Zacchaeus straining to see Him.  He asked to stay at Zacchaeus’ house knowing that he was ready to hear the good news of salvation.
  • eyes that wept over the city of Jerusalem
  • eyes that perceived the craftiness of the chief priests and scribes as they tested Him with the question, Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
  • eyes that shed tears of grief for His friend Lazarus
  • eyes that turned to look at Peter after he denied Him three times
  • eyes of love for His mother as He asked John to take care of her
  • eyes of forgiveness for those whose duty it was to put Him on the cross.  Scripture records at least one centurion who observed and then understood that He was the Son of God.
  • eyes that filled with suffering and sorrow as He died alone on a cruel cross for sins He did not commit
  • eyes that sparkled when Mary Magdalene realized that she had been talking to her Lord, not the gardener
  • eyes that watched as the two men He encountered on the road to Emmaus recognized Him after He broke bread with them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’
  • eyes that looked upon His disciples for the last time and gave them His great commission
  • eyes that saw everything and everyone – the poor, the rich, the crippled, the arrogant, the contradiction of injustice and kindness in people, the struggles of humanity, the pondering expression on His mother’s face as she reflected on His words and His mission, the beauty of faith in those who trusted in Him.

Jesus lives on – in our hearts. The world searches our eyes for the sincerity of faith and commitment that we voice with our mouths. It is possible that a lost world can detect the depth or the shallowness of our love for Jesus and those He died for through our eyes. Can we, like Jesus, look at those around us with eyes of love?

© Stephanie B. Blake

October 2010

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