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 Christian Common Denominator

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. . . There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26, 28 NKJV).

A well known definition for common denominator deals with mathematics:

  • A quantity into which all the denominators of a set of fractions may be divided without a remainder (American Heritage Dictionary)
  • An integer exactly divisible by each denominator of a group of fractions: 1/3, 1/4, and 1/6 have a common denominator of 12 (Collins English Dictionary)
  • An integer that is a common multiple of the denominators of two or more fractions (WordNet)

A lesser known definition refers to people:

  • A commonly shared theme or trait (American Heritage Dictionary)
  • A belief, attribute, etc., held in common by members of a class or group (Collins English Dictionary)
  • An attribute that is common to all members of a category (WordNet)

My husband and I are privileged to be involved in an international ministry where we encounter Christians all over the world.  For Christians, there is a symbolic correlation between the primary and secondary definition of common denominator. The common denominator in mathematics is always the bottom number in the fraction: the base.  The foundation of all believers is Jesus Christ. As we mature in our faith, we become more and more like Him, sharing His characteristics. The traits (the common denominator) that make us alike are those attributes that we have obtained by virtue of the fact that we are all in His family and are being conformed to His image (Romans 8:29).

Each person must come to faith in Jesus alone. Once a believer, however, he is then part of a whole. The Bible refers to this “whole” in many ways: a family i.e. children of God and brothers (John 1:12, 1 John 3:1-2, Romans 12:1, Galatians 4:28), a flock (John 10:16), God’s elect (Romans 8:33), the church (Matthew 16:18, Acts 5:11, Acts 8:1, Ephesians 3:10), the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:17, Ephesians 4:12), building or temple (Ephesians 2:19-22) and the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7, 22:17). Our commonality is based “in Him” (Ephesians 1:4, 7, 10, 11, 13).

These are some common traits among true believers everywhere:

  • Love for others – compassion (Galatians 6:10). I have observed incredible sacrificial love on the part of Christians throughout the world.  They believe that God has given them a purpose for being and that involves loving and serving others. They are involved in taking care of the needs of the Body of Christ and ministering to those who do not yet know Him through humanitarian service.
  • Joy in the Lord (John 16:24, John 17:13, 1 John 1:4). Our travels have taken us to prosperous countries and poverty stricken nations as well as those who are in a time of transition. The cultural norm in some countries is to be very serious with only a rare smile while other nationalities are naturally gregarious and outgoing. Regardless of the circumstances in which these dear brothers and sisters in the Lord live, there is a distinct difference between believers and non-believers. The joy of the Lord is always evident among His family members.
  • Sense of family.  No matter where I worship, I feel at home.  I know that I am with family.  The sense of belonging is immediate and does not leave when I travel to another destination.  If God does not allow me to return to serve in a particular location again, I am aware that I will see them again. We will live forever with the Lord.
  • Sacrificial spirit (2 Timothy 2:3). Many of my brothers and sisters truly endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ. The hardships take many forms: persecution, deprivation, misunderstanding, physical ailments, family trials and many more. The common thread of sacrificial love among believers is that the hardship is understood in the context of God’s plan to use them for His glory. Even in the midst of hardship, believers are “others oriented.”
  • Teachable. There is a constant delight in encountering believers who are eager to learn more about Christ and apply what they have learned.  I feel a tremendous blessing in teaching many who are hungry for solid food (1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12).
  • Exercise their spiritual gifts.  The common denominator of us all is Christ, but He has equipped each of us with unique qualities and gifts to be able to serve Him.  Together, we make a whole (Ephesians 4:4-7) and His Spirit uses us to cause growth in the body (Ephesians 4:15-16). It is a delight to observe members of His family use their gifts.
  • Desire to please and glorify God (2 Timothy 2:19).  With Christ as our solid foundation, believers work at removing sin in their lives so that their lives will glorify Him. Bringing glory to God is a uniform goal among true believers.

Without Christ, we can do nothing. With Him, anything is possible (Matthew 17:20, 19:26). Collectively, as one in Christ, we are the answer to His prayer (John 17). When we obey His command to love Him and others, the world can see Him in us.

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common . . . and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:44,47b NKJV).

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2010

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Avoiding Spiritual Heat Stroke

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God (Psalm 42:1-2a NKJV).

It has been a very hot summer. In fact, many are saying this is the hottest summer on record. Since yard maintenance needs to be done no matter what the weather, it has been necessary to protect against heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  Hints for prevention include drinking plenty of fluids, taking rest breaks and avoiding the midday sun.  In other words, use common sense in extreme heat.

Even the ancients knew the wisdom of these precautions.  In Biblical days, women usually went as a group early in the morning to gather water from the town’s wells.  There was an instance, however, when John tells us that Jesus met a woman who was drawing water alone in the heat of the day (John 4). From His conversation with her, we might conclude she preferred exposure to the midday heat to the scorn of others. However, on that particular day, she found a more important source of water than Jacob’s well. She had come to quench her physical thirst for perhaps a day, but after meeting Jesus, she realized her greatest need was for Living Water.

If she was truly an outcast in her city, her discovery immediately changed her. She forgot herself and thought of others. Leaving her water jar at the well, she rushed into the city to announce that she had found the Christ. She felt an urgency to introduce them to the Man who knew all about her and loved her anyway, offering her the gift of Living Water that lasts for eternity. She wanted to share her Good News in the hopes that others would also recognize Him. And that is what happened.  As a result of her testimony and her introducing them to Jesus, many in her town believed in Him. The Living Water is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world (John 4:42).

Dehydration and heat stroke are similar to the spiritual dryness of life without Christ. Confusion and fatigue are symptoms of both dehydration and heat stroke. A dehydrated person cannot sweat enough to cool down and if his internal temperature rises to a dangerous level, he may have a heat stroke. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and if not properly treated, can be fatal.

The prevention for spiritual heat stroke is accepting the gift of Living Water. Living Water cleanses from sin and enables you to see things more clearly, dispersing confusion.  Attempting to work your way into God’s kingdom is very exhausting, but trusting in the Living Water, who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), refreshes your spirit, ridding you of spiritual fatigue.   Living Water gives eternal life.  If you never partake of the Living Water, it is eternally fatal.  Those who do not accept Him experience what the Bible calls “the second death” (Revelation 2:11, 20:14, 21:8).

Death from heat stroke is preventable.  So is “the second death.”  Jesus said, “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).  Although sin separates us from God, He has made a way for us to come to Him through Jesus Christ, the Living Water. 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).

The body can exist much longer without food than without water.  There is no substitute for water. Our bodies must have it in order to survive.  There is also no spiritual substitute for Christ, the Living Water. For My people . . . have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns- broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13). Satan will offer us substitutes, but they are like broken cisterns that cannot hold water. The only way to God and eternal life is through Jesus.

Spiritual dehydration and heat stroke do not exist in the eternity of a believer.  The reality is:

. . . And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Revelation 7:15-17).

The opposite is true in hell, however.  Jesus told the story of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. They both died. In Hades, the rich man was able to see Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom.  He cried out for Father Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, for he was tormented in the flame (Luke 16:24). Abraham responded that the rich man was asking the impossible.  The great gulf between the two could not be crossed.

Jesus describes hell as a place where the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44, 46, 48). John tells us that Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15). Once there, there is no chance for a sip of the Living Water.

If this summer heat has made you uncomfortable, reflect on the status of those who reject Christ and what they will experience for eternity.  If you are a believer, thank Him for His cool, cleansing, refreshing Water. Like the woman at the well, lose your inhibitions and share the Living Water with those who need to drink.  If you are not yet a believer in Jesus, repent of your sin, trust Him, and take the gift of Living Water He offers.  You will never thirst again.

© Stephanie B. Blake

August 2010

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The Price of Freedom is Sacrificial Love

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. . . What is important is faith expressing itself in love. . . For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:1, 6, 13-14 NLT).

The 4th of July commemorates the birth of America.  The labor pains of that birth are well known in history.  Liberty came at a deep cost of the lives of those who fought for it. Freedom is not free. Someone has to be willing to pay the price to obtain it. William Wallace is known for his battle cry “Freedom!” in leading Scots to fight for their families and lands. Patrick Henry is remembered for his speech to America’s Continental Congress, “Give me liberty or give me death!” The heroes of the Alamo knew that they were sacrificing their lives for the hope of freedom. Many others through the ages have recognized that freedom might call for the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.

Keeping America free has also been very costly. What still compels young men and women to continue to do whatever is necessary to maintain America’s freedom? Love does.  America’s military is peopled by volunteers. Without love of country, family and for many, love of God, there would be no defense forces to protect my home country.  I am indebted to my father, my husband’s father, my sons, neighbors and many friends who have served and are serving in any branch of the military that keeps watch over my privilege to live in “the land of the free.”  I have never volunteered to serve myself, so with a grateful heart, I thank each one for the blessing they have bought for me.

Our spiritual freedom was purchased for us by Jesus. After sin entered the world, a war began. Since then, man has been in a continual battle against Satan and his desire to keep us in bondage to sin. Jesus voluntarily paid the price for man to be reconciled to God through His own death on the cross. God’s great love for us and His desire for us to be free cost Him dearly.

The battle has been won.  Our freedom has been purchased for eternity, but many times we do not live like it. Although certain that we are saved by grace, we often try to live by works.  The result of that is a return to the Satan’s bondage. Paul told the churches in Galatia that the remedy for that was to serve one another, remembering that the law is summed up in love your neighbor as yourself.

Christians owe an eternal debt to Christ for our spiritual freedom.  Americans owe a debt to our service personnel for our freedom.  We cannot pay off that debt.  It is not possible to go to Heaven through our own works, nor is it possible to bring back those who have sacrificed themselves for our country’s freedom. The proper response to both is love.  “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 12:30-31 NKJV).

© Stephanie B. Blake

July 2010

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Becoming Like Children

My three grandsons are very blessed. Their godly raising is a joyful priority for their dads and moms (my sons and their wives). It is truly a delight to watch them grow and develop under the security and safety of their loving environments.

DSC01573Do you remember the carefree feeling of being a child? Unfortunately, some of you may not have had that kind of childhood so that memory is not available to you, but others may have been part of a caring family where memories of growing up actually make one wonder “when did I get to be so serious?” and “when did life get to be so hard?”

God’s word is full of references to the fact that as a believer, He is our Father.  He is the creator of everything and everyone, but He is Father to those who trust in his Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus refers to Himself as our brother and prays to “our Father.”  Our Father is trustworthy, loving and provides a safety net for the inevitable trials of this life. Jesus said we should have faith like a little child.  Many of us have forgotten what that is like, but it might be helpful if we remind ourselves that we are children in God’s eyes.

How does a young child, who knows he is loved by his father, spend his day?

  • He has a natural sense of belonging.  He stays close to his mother and father in strange situations, making sure they are close at hand.  As long as he can see his parent, he knows he is safe.
  • He trusts his parents.  If his dad says, “Jump. I will catch you,” the child believes his father will catch him, he jumps and often the first jump is followed by “More, daddy, I want to jump some more.”
  • He doesn’t worry about tomorrow. He is intent upon enjoying today.
  • If he wants to know something, he asks his father or mother.  He trusts that they will have the answer.
  • When he has a need, he goes to his parent.  “Mom, I’m hungry.”  “Dad, fix my bike.”
  • When he is tired, he takes a nap.
  • When he has a hurt or needs comfort, he seeks out his mom or dad.
  • At the end of the day, most children want their parents to stay by their side until they fall asleep.

Robert Fulghum’s bestseller All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten may have been so popular because sometimes we adults need to 405222_4705692559391_1206575027_102736429_732991019_nrealize that we are the ones that made our lives so complicated.  Is it possible to return to the simplicity of childhood and trust God for everything just as a child trusts his parents?  The Bible seems to indicate that this is the very thing we must do.

Take a look at the statements about the child above and compare his relationship to his parents and your relationship with God your Father.

  • Through Christ, you belong to God’s forever family.  God is your Father and there is never a time when He is not by your side.
  • You can trust your Father.  He will never let you down.
  • He tells you not to worry about tomorrow.  Leave tomorrow to Him.  He will take care of you tomorrow just as He has today.
  • He also makes it clear in His Word that if you want to know something, ask Him.  He has the answer. He promises wisdom and guidance to those who trust Him.
  • He will provide your every need.  He takes care of the sparrows, and He will take care of you.
  • God instructs us to rest in Him.  Basically, faith in God is relaxing and believing that He will do all He says He will do.  A biography of Oswald Chambers, Abandoned to God: The Life Story of the Author of ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ gives an instance where Chambers is quoted as saying, “Trust God and do the next thing.”  He then proceeded to take a nap.
  • Our Father is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).  No situation is a surprise to Him.  He has the ability to comfort you in any trial you may face. Often the comfort that He gives to you then enables you to have the resources to comfort someone else in a similar situation at a later time.
  • God is always with you. Remember that He is with you in the morning when you awake, at night when you got to bed and because He never slumbers, He is watching over you as you sleep.

“unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 NKJV).

©Stephanie B. Blake

June 2010

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Men of Faith

The righteous man walks in his integrity; his children are blessed after him                      (Proverbs 20:7).

Dad

A little over two years ago, my father passed away at the age of 90.  If anyone was ever ready to go to Heaven, it was Dad.  For years he was fairly consumed with looking for the Lord to come get him “in the air.”

Although a layman, he was a great student of the Bible.  While in his 80’s, he wrote and published a book entitled “The Unveiling: How the Symbols of Prophecy Reveal What Happens in the Last Days.”

Dad loved God and is the primary reason I am a believer today. He had a steadfast dedication to the word of God and serving Him.  Recently this inscription was discovered in one of his books: “Frank, there are no words to express our gratitude for your care and concern. You are the finest example of a true servant of the Lord that I have ever personally known.”

As part of “the greatest generation,” I am also very proud of his service during World War II. I miss him.  He was a great man of God.

Uncle and Cousins

Dad’s brother’s spiritual strength was also notable.  My grandmother single handedly raised godly sons along with their two Christian sisters. My uncle’s sons still participate in the ministry of their church: one as a Bible study teacher and the other as part of a gospel quartet.

Brothers and Father-in-Law

Through marriage, my sister gave me one of the kindest men I have ever known as a brother. He is a believer and an active church member. My husband provided me with three more brothers who have given themselves to serving God. All four of these men have been what brothers should be: supportive, encouraging, and light hearted teasers.   And I couldn’t ask for a better father-in-law. His sons followed in his footsteps in their allegiance to the Lord. He is still faithfully serving God.  Like Dad, he is also part of the “greatest generation,” having served our country in WW II and beyond.

Sons

My two sons are all I had ever hoped they would be, incredible men of faith who are loving, strong husbands of Christian women.  Along with their wives, they are raising three boys in a Christ-like environment.  I count myself blessed to be their mother. They are already seeing the fruit of their commitment to Christ, as one grandson recently invited Christ into his heart and the other two, I am sure, are close behind as they are faithfully taught to love God, His word and His church.

Husband

And then there is my husband.  The things I have learned from him are too numerous to mention.  Dad led me to faith in Christ, but my husband continues to help me grow as a Christian.  Through the years, I have watched his loyalty to Christ grow stronger and stronger.  He is the best preacher I know and loves God unreservedly.  I believe his priorities are His Lord, his family and bearing fruit for Christ. It is an honor to be his partner.

These men are not perfect. None of us are.  However, as I travel and hear others tell their family stories, I believe I have a rare blessing in being able to truly say I am surrounded by men of faith in my family.  I thank God for such a special gift and their influence on my life.

Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father (Proverbs 17:6).  This reflection started with my Dad.  However, his relationship with his own father was fairly non-existent, tainted with the fact that his dad was an alcoholic.  In a day when divorce had a great stigma, his mother went through that painful process in order to provide a godly environment for her two sons and two daughters.  My grandmother raised her children by herself, just as many women do today. God richly blessed her for her devotedness to that task.

I share this “reflective focus” about my family because bad patterns can be broken and new godly patterns can be established.  The Bible gives many examples of the value of positive influence of fathers.  Today’s society does not make it easy, but the perseverance of a man of faith does bring forth fruit.

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.  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 (Psalms 1:1-3).

© Stephanie B. Blake

Scriptures are taken from the NKJV (Dad’s favorite!)

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Luxurious Poverty

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a story about George Bailey, a very kind man with big dreams who became stuck in his hometown through a series of unfortunate circumstances.  His financial situation became so bad he actually contemplated suicide, hoping his family would be able to cash in on a small insurance policy. In order to save him, Clarence, an angel-in-training, gave George a look at what Bedford Falls would have been like if he had never been born.  The view of “Pottersville” (named after the rich and evil Mister Potter) was such a contrast to the town that George knew and loved that George prayed to be restored to life and family, and he was. The townspeople, whom had all been recipients of George’s kindness, came through to help George in his financial crisis.  The story ends with a toast made by his brother, “To my brother George, the richest man in town.” In truth, Mr. Potter was still the wealthiest man in town, but George’s riches lay in the loving relationships he had with his family and his friends. Although the theology of the movie is not right (people do not become angels after they die and “earn their wings”), the message made the movie a classic, definitely a favorite of mine.

No man ever lived with access to more wealth than Jesus. Yet love caused him to choose to set privilege aside. Jesus became poor for our sakes, with nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). Although all the riches of Heaven and earth were at His disposal, He did not use His resources for His own comfort. His was a life of hardship, deprivation and persecution coupled with the confidence of His Father’s love and joy that brought Him.  In the midst of a sin filled world, He wanted to show us how that was possible. The apostle Paul called the gospel the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

My husband and I minister among a group of believers who live in utter poverty. Nothing is taken for granted as everything is a luxury.  And yet, spiritually, they are the richest and most joyful people I know.  Each time I am with this family of believers their joy spills over into my life. I am unaware of a “nominal” Christian among them.  They serve God unreservedly with a whole heart, storing up “treasures in heaven.” I truly believe I observe “the full measure of [Jesus’] joy within them” (John 17:13 NIV).

These brothers and sisters in Christ constantly give testimony of the miracles of God in their lives.  These are just a few observed during my last trip: Bible, bookmarks, bags, blankets, broken reading glasses and balls.

Bible

During a worship service, a young man sat next to me in order to translate the songs and message. As we shared my Bible, I observed him looking longingly at it. This was my most “marked up” Bible, but God impressed me to offer it to him. As I did, tears welled up in his eyes and he said, “This is the best gift I have ever received.”  He then told me he had hopes of becoming an interpreter for preachers who came to his country. Nothing like this Bible is available where he lives, and if it had been, he could not have afforded it. Only God could have placed us together that evening.

Bookmarks

A dear friend made special bookmarks for me to take to the ladies. As they received this gift, the light in their eyes was a joy to behold.  My translator kept stroking hers saying she had never had anything so beautiful. However, she was typical of many others and gave that precious gift to her mother that evening.  Upon discovering that the next day, I gave her another with her promise that she would keep it for herself.

Bags

Other friends wanted to contribute something to the ladies and they made attractive drawstring bags in which I carried toiletries that had been donated by our local hotel chains.  By the time the bags were filled, my suitcases were at the weight limit, but God blessed and allowed me to get them all through customs and distributed to the ladies who appreciated them so much. That in itself was a miracle.

Blankets

One hotel, unable to donate toiletries, offered blankets instead!  Upon arriving at my destination, I discovered that blankets were no longer available for purchase and they were desperately needed.  Again, God knew how to provide for these precious friends.

Broken reading glasses

Shortly after arrival, the only pair of reading glasses I had with me broke. They were not repairable.  During one of my lessons, I noticed a little frustration on the part of one of the ladies because she had broken reading glasses.  Even though I couldn’t talk to her (I need to learn the language!), I pulled out my glasses to show her. They were exactly the same. Her glasses were still broken, but she and I had a good laugh about it!

Balls

A ministry partner carried a few soccer balls with him to give as door prizes to the men.  One man whose name was chosen told my friend that although he worked with children, he had just given his soccer ball away to someone who needed it more. He then asked God to give him another one!

The Spirit of Jesus, His love, His joy and His generosity are so evident in these precious friends of mine. You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us – in one stroke he became poor and we became rich (2 Corinthians 8:9 The Message).

© Stephanie B. Blake

April 2010

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Reflections of a Christian on the 2010 Winter Olympics

The Christian life has often been compared to a race.  The apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 2:2, Philippians 2:16, 2 Timothy 4:7) and the author of Hebrews knew their readers would understand the comparison.  Although the Olympic games were pagan in origin, people living in Biblical days could see a relationship between the dedication required to compete in games, perhaps even the ancient Olympic games, and the Christian life.

Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV).

A CLOUD OF WITNESSES

  • When Joannie Rochette of Canada skated her short program just two days after her mother died of a heart attack, it was before a crowd of over 11,000 observers. They were awed that night as she scored a personal best and again two days later when she won the bronze medal.  The commentators, some former Olympic champions themselves, were stunned by her grace and ability to carry on through her grief.
  • The writer of Hebrews mentions a great cloud of witnesses after naming some of the strongest spiritual giants of the ages.  Those in that roll call were faithful despite many hardships. They were commended by God because they did not give up.  No matter how hard the race is for the believer, spectators in the family of God are cheering him on.

LAY ASIDE EVERY WEIGHT

  • Apolo Ohno, who now has eight Olympic medals, said, “Being an Olympic athlete for me is 100% pure sacrifice.” Lindsey Vonn, after winning her gold medal in the 2010 winter Olympics, said, “I’ve given up everything for this.  It means everything to me.”  Shaun White, winner of the gold in the men’s halfpipe, said, “I didn’t come out here to hold back anything.”
  • Training is a necessary prelude to the race.  Complete dedication is part of that training.  Just like the Olympic athletes, the Christian life is not for the lazy.  There is sacrifice involved.  It is hard work, but more than worth every effort to bring glory to God.

THE SIN WHICH SO EASILY ENSNARES US

  • Sven Kramer of the Netherlands experienced on the most disappointing moments in Olympic history. After having broken a speed record and supposedly securing the gold medal for his speedskating event, he was disqualified.  The record was struck and the gold medal was lost because his coach, Gerard Kemkers, convinced him to change lanes during the race.  Sven’s initial anger was understandable.  However, the next day, he realized that it would not benefit him, his team, his coach or his country if he hung on to resentment. He let it go.
  • Satan is well aware of what can ensnare the life of any Christian.  He will use that to his advantage.  He is in the business of robbing the fruit, or the prize, from a believer’s life.  The Bible tells us that we should be aware of his schemes and to resist him.  The way to do that is to draw closer to Christ, who knew no sin.

JOY SET BEFORE HIM

  • The huge grins on the faces of the medal winners are still plastered across the internet and newspapers.  For them, all the preparation and pain was worth the prize.
  • Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured His race, which was the journey to the cross.  People who believe in Him are His joy.  As His followers, we will also experience true and lasting joy as we run our race for His glory.

SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD

  • In the modern Olympics, prizes are gold, silver and bronze medals.  Those were not the prizes, however, in the ancient Olympic games.  In “The Persian Wars,” Tritantaechmes, upon learning that the prize for the ancient Olympic games was not money but an olive wreath, is said to have exclaimed, “Good heavens, Mardonius, what manner of men are these against whom you have brought us to fight – men who contend with one another, not for money, but for honor.”
  • Jesus wore a crown of thorns so those who trust in Him could inherit a crown of glory.  Paul said that his crown was his faithful brothers in Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19.  Jesus says that faithfulness is rewarded with the crown of life (Revelations 2:10).  As Christians, our hope of glory is Jesus Himself (Colossians 1:27).

LOOKING UNTO JESUS, THE AUTHOR AND FINISHER OF OUR FAITH

  • Approximately 12,000 people were involved in the torch relay before the 2010 winter Olympics.  During the closing ceremony on the last day of the games, the flame was extinguished.
  • The light that a Christian carries is never extinguished as Christians reflect the light of the one who is Light Himself.  As we walk in His light here (1 John 1:7), we can look forward to being in the city where the glory of God gives light forever (Revelation 21:23).

The Christian life is not a sprint. It is a race of endurance.  The rewards are heavenly and eternal.

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2010

Download Reflections of a Christian on the 2010 Winter Olympics

 

Living with Floaters and Flashes

 A few weeks ago, while my husband was driving, I was disturbed by moving lines on our windshield.  The windshield was obviously dirty, but lines don’t usually move around.  Ordinarily they stay put.  Returning home, everywhere I looked I saw spider webs – although on closer inspection, there were no spider webs. Later, as I tried to swat away the mosquitoes I was seeing, I realized I was having trouble with my left eye.  I was seeing things that weren’t really there. At my husband’s urging, I called for an appointment to see an eye doctor and got one for that day – immediately!  The doctor told me I had developed floaters, which, unfortunately, sometimes happens to people of “my age.” Ouch!  He said not to worry unless things changed.  If they did, I should call him promptly.

The next morning, as I walked through a dark house, I saw lightning streaks at the edge of the same eye.  Again, I called the doctor’s office and again was told to come right on in. After another examination, he still said things were OK.  However, he said my jogging days were over and I shouldn’t operate a jack hammer or a garden tiller!  He said (lucky me), “you may just have to live with your new friends.”

The floaters and flashes have subsided somewhat since that day; however, they are still there.  Now that I know what they are, I can work to look past them and go on with whatever I am doing.  I admit it is a bit disconcerting, but I am adjusting.

It occurs to me that spiritual life is a little like my floaters and flashes.  We tend to let things get in the way of our seeing the big picture.  Sometimes we have to look through floaters to see the beauty of God’s creation and His purposes for us.  Floaters can take many forms.  Like the floaters in my eye, certain circumstances, people and things can annoy us and obscure our vision.  This brings new meaning to the old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” The “floaters” and the “trees” give us a shallow perspective, and they must be dealt with in order to have a proper view of life.

Do you have things that annoy you, that frustrate you so that you are unable to be as productive as you would like? Can you look past your “floaters” and try to see things from God’s perspective? Can you be confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6)?  Do you have any floaters or flashes that thwart your view of God’s plan?

Psalm 19:8 states: The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes (NIV).  The NLT renders the last half of this verse this way: The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight to life. Paul prayed that his friends in Ephesus would have the eyes of your heart . . .  enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:18 NIV). Emphases are mine.

We do have to live with the floaters and flashes of life – things that Satan tries to put in our path to block what God really wants us to see.  But we have a choice to look past those things that annoy, frustrate and tempt us. We can develop spiritual “eyes” that focus on Jesus.  It takes work.  In covering the subject of floaters in an online medical dictionary*, it is noted that “over time you will become less aware of these floaters as the brain learns to ignore these retinal images.  Therefore, while some floaters may remain in your vision, many of them will fade over time and become less bothersome.” It is possible to train yourself to deal constructively with the annoying, frustrating circumstances of life.  Looking at things from God’s perspective is possible through the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).

  • Whatever things are true,
  •  whatever things are noble,
  • whatever things are just,
  • whatever things are pure,
  • whatever things are lovely,
  • whatever things are of good report,
  • if there is any virtue
  • and if there is anything praiseworthy
  • meditate on these things (Philippians 4:8)

Concentrating on Jesus and His example can prevent us from being chastised by Him as He did His disciples, Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear (Mark 8:17NIV)?

What is your one focus?

© Stephanie B. Blake

February 2010

*http://www.agingeye.net/visionbasics/flashesandfloaters.php

 Download Living with Floaters and Flashes

Rejoicing in Hope

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5 NKJV emphasis mine).

There’s something about the beginning of a new year that causes one to reflect on past accomplishments and failures and future plans and hopes.  Thankfully, believers have good reason to hope. It is promised by God.  Throughout the holiday season, God has been speaking to me about hope.

Hope in a believer’s life is not a “hope so,” “maybe my wish will come true.”  The hope of scripture is promise fulfilled.  For instance, take prayer for salvation of a loved one.

Even before my sons were born, I began praying for their early salvation.  I wanted them to have the resources of God’s Holy Spirit well before their adolescent years.  True to His promise, God drew them to Himself when they were just six and seven years old.  Since I knew of friends who had “walked an aisle” when they were very young only to discover in later years that they had not really given their heart and life to the Lord, I also prayed for confirmation that the decisions my sons made were real.  God also answered that prayer in a remarkable way.  I have been able to give testimony to others about their salvation and the unique confirmation I had for each one from the Lord.

Now I am a grandmother. For years, my husband and I have been praying for the salvation of our three grandsons.  Although they are only six, three and three, we are aware that God is molding their thinking through the teaching and leadership of their godly parents.  Some months back, in a September Sunday service in Berlin, Germany, I was heavily impressed to pray for my oldest grandson and his clear understanding of God’s hand in his life and His invitation to join His family.  Upon returning to our Berlin apartment, my husband voiced another prayer for our grandson and his relationship with our Lord. Wanting that confirmation to come from his family, I waited for the phone call telling me that my grandson had made a decision to invite Christ into his life.  That call did not come, but I continued to feel impressed to pray that he would understand God’s voice clearly when He spoke to him.

This Christmas season, something happened that may not happen again.  All of the family was able to be at our house for Christmas.  What a joy! Our house was full of sons, daughters-in-law and grandsons.  Earlier in 2009, God had spoken to my spirit and given me the hope and anticipation that this would be a reality during this holiday season.  So, even when one of the families could not determine whether they would be able to come or not until just before Christmas (because of job circumstances), I was still believing and hoping that it would come to pass.  And it did.

During  preparation for Christmas dinner, I had the urging to tell my eldest son about my experience in Berlin and our prayers for his son that he would hear God clearly when He called.  After sharing that experience with his wife, she came downstairs and told me about a conversation she had with her son in September – possibly on the same week-end that I was so impressed to pray.  My grandson asked her questions about believing in Christ, she answered, and he prayed his own simple prayer asking Christ to come into his heart.  Since then, she said, she has noticed a difference in him – a stronger realization of wrong and right and his participation in things that might be hurtful to others.  Through our conversation and our tears, we both realized that God had answered my prayer and my hope for my grandson and given us both confirmation that his prayer, with the understanding that he has as a six year old, was real.  My grandson is now my brother in Christ.  My husband and I could not have had a more glorious Christmas present.

1 Corinthians 13:13 states that “now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  Indeed, we know that love is the greatest.  Only love could have led Christ to the cross.  Only love can lead us to serve others on His behalf.  Only love can cause us to pray for others.  But there is also an intertwining in these three as the biblical descriptions sometimes include something of the other.  Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God! . . . And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:1, 3).

God deserves our love.  He sent Jesus who gave His all for us when He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death and rose as He promised.  God tells us the best way to please Him is to have faith. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). The writer of Hebrews defines faith this way: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

My hope is in Christ Himself. I pray that yours is as well.

. . . Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27b NKJV)

© Stephanie B. Blake

January 2010

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A Gift for Jesus

It was the night before Christmas and all over the earth

Only a few people were aware of Christ’s birth.

He was not an ordinary baby, for Jesus is God’s Son.

He chose to leave Heaven to provide redemption for everyone.

The wise men came from afar their precious gifts to bring,

Angels in Heaven that day had a new song to sing.

Jesus grew, was crucified, rose, but now He’s gone away.

He’s again at the right hand of the Father, what can we give Him today?

What can we give to the King of Glory, owner of all creation?

Is there anything that we can give to the source of our salvation?

The gift that He wants is the very thing that costs us a great deal more

Than anything we might purchase in the finest department store.

He wants all of our love, our trust and our loyalty, too.

Loving Jesus with all of our hearts is the only gift that will do.

First Christ said, “Love me with all of your heart, soul and mind

Then I want you to spread My love among all mankind.”

We can’t give anything to Jesus that’s not already His, that’s true.

What He asks of us is to give ourselves to others and let His love shine through.

What Jesus asks of us is nothing more than He was willing to give.

Spending His time serving others, He gave the only life He had to live.

So in remembering the significance of this wonderful day

Let us celebrate the birth of our Savior in a Christlike way.

Let us make sure that His will in our lives is the goal that we seek

Looking for ways to help those less fortunate, wounded, weary and weak.

Christmas day takes on new meaning for us all through the year

When the voice of Jesus, not Satan, we have tuned in to hear.

As we live as Christ lived, without resentment, anger or strife,

We can then wish to one another,

“Merry Christmas and a Christ-filled life!”

 

© Stephanie B. Blake

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