Category: Reflective Focus

Reflections on Christian Trials and Persecutions, Part 2*

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ – 1 Peter 1:6-7

Perhaps the lack of suffering for the cause of Christ in the modern Western church is due to the lack of nerve on the part of the church to challenge our contemporary world with the message of the cross and to live uncompromisingly according to the teachings of Jesus. Those who live faithful lives in an unbelieving world will find opposition to both their ideas and their practices, even if it doesn’t result in actual persecution or physical danger.

Peter also says there are “various trials, or “all kinds of trials.” The word is sometimes translated “manifold” (KJV). James uses the same word, “trials of many kinds” (Jas 1:2). It is lit. “variegated,” or “many-colored.” You’ll get through one trial, only to find that another of an entirely different hue is waiting around the next bend of life. 

From whatever the source, whatever their “color,” trials may sometimes come that are particularly hard, or crushing. When they do, there’s no point in trying to pretend there’s no pain, or to put on a brave front just to appear more “spiritual.” And neither should one ever try to minimize or explain away the suffering of another who is going through some fiery trial.

” . . . though now for a little while . . . you may have had to suffer.” (I Peter 1:6).

Trials don’t last forever. They are “for a season” (KJV).  One writer says, “When God permits His children to go through the furnace, He keeps His eye on the clock and His hand on the thermostat” (Wiersbe).

If we resist the trial, if we only seek a way out of it, then we work against God’s purpose in it. He may have to “reset the clock.” The important issue is not “that” we get out of a trial, but “what” we get out of it. If we submit to God, He won’t allow us to remain one moment too long in it. The important thing is that we learn the lesson He wants to teach us, and that we bring glory to Him in our trial.

These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed  (1 Peter 1:7)

Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” That is certainly true of Christian character, and particularly true of the faith that undergirds it. God wants to strengthen your faith and make something beautiful of your life. He sees the impurities there, and He leaves you in the crucible long enough to burn away everything that mars you, or that keeps you from being perfected in your faith. This is because He sees your faith as being the most important thing in your life. 

… The person who abandons his faith when the going gets tough proves that he really had no genuine faith at all. God doesn’t allow trials to come to you to destroy your faith, but to validate it, to prove its genuineness to you.  He sees your faith as precious, and He wants you to see it that way also.  

…Whatever trials you may endure in this life can’t begin to compare to the glory that God has in store for you. And these very trials are an essential part of the process.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9)

…We rejoice because we’re not just waiting for glory, we’re already receiving it. Such rejoicing is absolutely impossible apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Believers, while perhaps not rejoicing over their trials, can nevertheless rejoice in their trials.  When you truly love and trust Christ, you can experience joy even in the worst of times. And each new trial can be an opportunity to learn more about Him, to learn how sweet and sure and sufficient He is. And in that experience He produces a joy that Peter says is “inexpressible and glorious.” Think of it! In your trial comes a joy so great you can’t describe it. Charles Spurgeon used to say, “Little faith will take your soul to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to your soul.” No matter the trial, if you have the faith to love and trust Christ in the midst of it you can actually experience some of the glory of heaven.

The prophets foresaw the entire panorama of the ministry of Christ. They didn’t know how much time would separate the Lord’s sufferings from the full manifestation of His glory, but they clearly saw the future in those terms. Christ is the center of history! He is the One by whom history is defined. And Peter makes the history of Christ the pattern for the history of every Christian when he says, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13). This is the meaning of history, the flow of history, this is the direction everything is headed, the final unveiling of the glory of Jesus Christ! Everything else is meaningful only in relation to the facts concerning the work of Christ. That ancient prophets can look forward to the coming of Christ with such accuracy should cause us to look back to His First Coming with confidence and forward to His promised Second Coming with assurance and hope. This is a matter of Divine revelation. 

*continuation of Richard’s study of 1 Peter  

©Richard L. Blake  

February 2022

Reflections on Christian Trials and Persecution

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:6-9)

1 Peter was written to Christians who reside as aliens (NAS) who are elect exiles ((ESV) God’s elect, strangers in the world (NIV), pilgrims of the Dispersion (NKJV), God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners (NLT).

My husband, Richard, loaned me his notes on 1 Peter. With his permission, this month’s devotional contains his reflections – excerpts from that teaching – on trials and persecution for Christians. All of the following quotes are from this teaching.

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It’s time for Christians to wake up to the fact that we’re not in a playground but a battleground. There is a form of Christianity that is acceptable to the world, a watered-down religion of niceness. But if you take a stand upon the truth of the Word of God, if you live according to its principles, you will pay a price. It could affect your career, your social standing, your relationship with friends and even with family members. But that’s inherent in your calling in Christ who said, “Whoever would be my disciple must be willing to die.”

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As believers, we have an address in this world but our citizenship is somewhere else. We’re citizens of the land where King Jesus is in charge and who loves us with an everlasting love. Whenever we face rejection and persecution, we’re strengthened by the knowledge that we are His chosen ones.

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God loves you and has a perfect plan for your life. He’s not sitting on a throne of perplexity, wondering how it’ll all turn out. All that happens to you, good or bad, is known to God. But our assurance is that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

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When you’re rejected or suffer ridicule for your values, you can know that God is at work in it to make you stronger, purer, more holy. It’s said that refiners of precious metals, gold and silver, heat the crucible until all the impurities have been burned away. They know the process is complete when they can see their reflection in the liquid. God is sanctifying your life, using the fire of rejection or affliction for His purposes though the world thinks it is in charge. And when He can see His reflection in your life, He’ll take you out of the fire.

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The result of the Spirit’s sanctifying process in your life is obedience to Jesus. The hardest time to obey is when things aren’t going well. We want to take charge, to do something to get ourselves out of the trial. But you aren’t free to do as you please. In every trial, you must ask, “What does Christ want me to do?”  This may go against your natural instincts.

We’re being set apart for obedience to Christ. “You are not your own; you are bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). You are to obey, no matter what the world says or thinks. “Why do you call me Lord, and do not do what I tell you to do?” God’s superior purpose in your life is that you obey Jesus.

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No matter how many times you’re rejected or attacked, remember, those who reject you are not the final authority. You have been sprinkled with the blood of the Lamb of God. 

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Whatever our trials, whatever our predicament, we have a new start in life. We face each day with a living hope because in Jesus “all things have become new.” You don’t have to be bound by your past. Jesus gives you a new start every day.  That’s shouting ground. Praise God that you’re born again.

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…Only Christianity has a God of hope. In Rom. 15:13, Paul said, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope.” Our new birth into a living hope is “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Christianity is responsible for bringing to the world the possibility for real hope.

The reason our hope is living is because it’s based on a living Savior, because it’s founded on the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Hope makes no sense if Christ has not been raised from the tomb. The apostle Paul witnessed to that reality: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living . . . Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also . . . ” (1 Cor. 15:3-8). 


Our hope isn’t built on the absence of difficulty, or a positive mental attitude. It’s built on the unassailable fact of the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. We know living hope because Jesus lives. And for that, we can praise God even in the worst of times.

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© Richard L. Blake

February 2022

Stephanie B. Blake

Reflective Focus

The Biggest Issue We Face Is Control

At the base of every sin is control. No matter what the sin is, it can ruin a moment of your time or it can take over your life simply because you have released control to Satan. If you are a Christian, Satan wants a barrier between you and God and he will do anything to put it there. He somehow knows when you have taken your eyes off Jesus – when you are unfocused. In those moments, he grabs your attention with something – an injustice someone has committed against you, uncomfortable circumstances, or even leaving solutions to all problems to someone else – like your government. 

We have some wonderful biblical examples of people who were determined not to give Satan that advantage. 

Think of Nehemiah, who stayed on course while rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem despite all attempts of Sanballat and Tobiah to distract him. Nehemiah prayed and worked. Nehemiah recognized what Satan was trying to do. He trusted God and he finished his mission.

Or think of Esther who, as a young Jewish woman, could have been afraid to approach the king with a request for help for her people. She had no idea whether she would lose her life or he would grant her request, but she did not let that uncertainty keep her from trying. 

What about Joshua and Caleb who had to wait to cross into the land God had promised His people? Forty years is a long time. They not only had to wait, they had to endure the complaining of the Israelite people who had caused the delay. In all the waiting, Joshua and Caleb knew God was still in control. 

Satan actually approached God and obtained permission to do what he could to get Job to deny Him. Job never knew why tragedy struck him like it did, but he endured sorrow, pain and ridicule without blaming God. In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong…He said (to his wife who tried to get him to curse God), “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity? In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 1:22, 2:10).

Sometimes Satan did get the upper hand and accounts of people like King Saul, Judas and Demas had tragic endings. Those who trusted God and recognized His provident hand even in difficulties and delays gave us a positive example, knowing that God’s desire is always for our good. Jesus, especially, withstood all of Satan’s attempts, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). For in that He Himself suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18).

There is a stark contrast today between those who either have refused to give control to God in the first place, or surrendered control to Satan at a later point and those who have continued to trust Him no matter the circumstances. Our legacies will tell the story.

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2021

Claim God’s Promises in 2021

To those who trust God, He has promised His presence, protection, provision and personal guidance. Many believers search for God’s promises in His word. They are what we count on to get us through the tough times. There are hundreds of promises in God’s word for those who trust Him. 

The psalms contain many of those promises and throughout the year of 2021, I will be sharing the promises that I see in the psalms with you. 

David, a man after God’s own heart, wrote many of the psalms. The declarations that David made about God in his psalms were very personal to him. Although he wrote them down and God included them in His word, in real time, David shared with God the inner longings of his heart. Those recorded words were personal to David, but they are also personal to me and can be very personal to you. 

For example, in Psalm 30: 5-6, David says, For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. How many of God’s children have counted on this promise to get them past the guilt of confessed sin to ponder upon the fact that it was covered for all time by the blood of Jesus? For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life. How many of God’s children have had sorrows of all sorts, including lost loved ones and lost dreams? Our good God knew that we would weep during the night, but joy comes in the morning and as David said in that same psalm, God would turn our mourning into dancing; …put off {our} sackcloth, and {clothe us} with gladness (Psalm 30:11). When that happens to any of us, we can join with David and give thanks to {the Lord our God} forever  (Psalm 30:12).

In 2021, now more than ever, we need the reminder that God is with us. We celebrate that fact during the Christmas season because God gave prophets the promise that He would be sending Immanuel to us. He did indeed come. However, Immanuel has not left us. He is still here. In the heart of every believer, God lives. He is truly with us.

Join me through the year 2021 in looking at the promises in the Psalms. I pray that when you do, 

  • God’s presence will become more real to you
  • you will count on His protection
  • know practically His provision and
  • as David did, sense and experience His personal guidance.

With Jesus, the future is bright.

Christmas 2020

Christmas time usually marks the ending of a year. The beginning of another year is right around the corner. Traditionally, most children are off from school for a two-week period. When they leave school for the holidays, their papers are dated with the current year’s date. When they return, they should remember that the calendar has turned over and they must use a new date. Letter writers and journal keepers must change the year’s date as well. If you still write checks to pay your bills, you must also pay attention to the fact that the previous year is behind you. During the Christmas season, families get together and catch up. Conversations often turn to the accomplishments or the disappointments of the past year. Within a week, they are off and running into the New Year.

What about Christmas of 2020? What is there to celebrate? This year, depending on where you live, it is even possible that it will be against the law to have your usual large family gatherings for a Christmas celebration. The children may not have their two-week holiday – they may have instead been homeschooled through the year and by this time are very tired of being at home. With a worldwide pandemic, lost businesses, skyrocketing unemployment and dramatically reduced hours and wages, untold financial crises, unpredictable (even more so than usual) stock markets, dramatic cultural shifts, a surge in lawlessness and the growing uncertainty that it will all end anytime soon, what good news can we reflect on at the end of 2020?

I have never experienced a year like this one and I suspect you haven’t either. Now more than ever, we need the reminder that there IS good news. With politicians fighting tooth and nail for every inch of control – even taking advantage of a global pandemic – we need to remember that God IS in control.

Our reason for celebrating Christmas has not changed. Jesus really is the reason we can rejoice. Then the angel said unto them,“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people“(Luke 2:10). He IS the good news. He offers salvation to those who trust in Him. He has not been surprised by anything that has happened this year. God has not changed. God has not moved. God has not forgotten His people. God has been actively involved and He has been watching. He knows and He cares.

This Christmas – the reminder that God in the flesh arrived on site to stand next to those He created and loves – should perhaps be our most meaningful Christmas ever. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14). How anyone has made it through this year without Christ is beyond my imagination. I have witnessed those who have gone through many struggles this year and true believers are actually very calm and peaceful. They know and so do I – that peace on earth does not mean the absence of conflict and trials, but the presence of God through difficulties. When He promised to be with us, He meant it and that is all we need. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b).

©Stephanie B. Blake

November/December 2020

Time, a Precious Resource

making the very most of your time [on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence], because the days are [filled with] evil (Ephesians 5:16 AMP).

A few things that make each person distinct are: nationality, skin color, language, age, height, weight, personality, social status, financial status, jobs, size of families, place of residence, background, religion.

Many of these things we were born with and cannot change. Only those things we have control over can be changed such as where we live, whom we marry, where we go to school, what career we choose and the God we trust.

There is one thing that is common to all and that in one sense is something that we do not have control over and yet in another sense we do. Time. None of us knows exactly how much time we have on earth. Only God knows that. And yet each of us chooses how we spend every minute, every hour and every day.

Time can be wasted and once lost, it is gone forever. It cannot be retrieved. Time can also be used productively – even in circumstances where we seem to just be “marking time”, God may be using that time for teaching us something or preparing us for a task in the future.

Preparation time is never wasted time.

God’s story – the Bible – contains many records of how preparation time resulted in accomplishing His will. There was a purpose for time alone and time in the waiting room. These can be times of learning patience, listening to God speak and developing a closer relationship with Him.

Think of these biblical examples.

Joseph’s being sold into slavery and spending time in prison – unjust though it was – prepared him to save God’s chosen people from famine. But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive (Genesis 50:20).

Job’s determination to not say anything against God – even though his suffering was intense and unexplainable – brought him to a greater understanding of the God he loved. …”we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10). “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…”(Job 42:5).

David’s years as a shepherd boy prepared him not only for the encounter with Goliath but also his compassionate years as king of Israel. Certainly, David was not perfect, but his psalms were filled with his determination to follow God. The Lord is my shepherd…I will fear no evil…I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23). Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You (Psalm 56:3).

Nehemiah’s faith in God and his assurance of God’s faithfulness to him prepared him for the incredible task of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. He prayed and worked, prayed and worked, prayed and worked until the task was completed. “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night…“(Nehemiah 1:5-6).

God prepared a beautiful and humble Israelite orphan girl to replace an arrogant pagan queen to save His people from annihilation. Her uncle told Esther, “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Of course, the best example we have that preparation time is not wasted is Jesus. In the silent years before His public ministry, He was subject to Mary and Joseph and increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:51-52). While He was preparing for the most painful and sacrificial assignment anyone has ever been given, he was learning and teaching others what He was learning from the Father….”But I have called you My friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father – I have revealed to you everything I have learned from Him” (John 15:15 Amplified). So even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NLT).

In the early part of 2020, the entire world experienced something no one could ever have anticipated – a greater amount of unstructured time as many people were quarantined or requested to shelter in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. Every person had a choice about what to do with that unstructured time. Some allowed their tempers to flare. Others used the opportunity to mend family relationships. Some children earned a new respect for parents who were forced to homeschool them for a period of time. Some complained. Others prayed. Everyone, however, had the same opportunity to learn from God, listen to Him, and watch for opportunities to use what they learned.

© Stephanie B. Blake, March 2020

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations came from NKJV

The Main Character

And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).

“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).

…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).

When I read a book, one of the first things I notice is whether the voice is written in first or third person. I often think those written in first person are done so to provide a closer identity with the main character. The character in the story is telling his or her own story. There’s no wondering who the story is about when it begins with: “I woke up one day to find that I was in the hospital.” “It was a dark and rainy night and I couldn’t find my way home.” “No matter what I do, nothing seems to work.”

Sometimes it is a little more difficult to discover the main character when the story is written in the third person. Occasionally you have to read several pages or maybe even a chapter or two to discover the main character. Stories that begin like this, for instance,

“As the ship set sail, the passengers were all settling in for their much-anticipated voyage. No one seemed to be worried at all. They should have been.”

leave you wondering, is the main character one person on the ship, a storm, or is it set during time of war when the ship could come under fire and the story is about the ship itself and the entire crew?

Most people know at least one story from the Bible. They can tell you the story of Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, Jonah and the big fish, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea or Mary and the nativity. They tell the story as if Adam, Noah, Jonah, Moses and Mary were the main characters. In reality, they are not. When we read the Bible, God is always the main character. Whether the human writer used the first or the third person (both are used and sometimes mixed – such as in Daniel where the first of the book is written in the third person and the last part of the book is written in the first person), the voice is always God’s because it is His story about His relationship to man.

From beginning – In the beginning God… – in the middle – It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man – to the end – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen, the Bible is about God.

That’s why it is called God’s Word.

© Stephanie B. Blake

July 2019

In the Company of Angels

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:11-13 NASB).

 

Angels capture our imagination because there is much we do not know about them. We do know that they rejoice over the salvation of every sinner that repents (Luke 15:10); that we may encounter angels on earth without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2); and that they are ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). In eternity, we who are sons and daughters of God will live in the company of angels and together we will all serve God and praise Him forever.

Now we share a common purpose as well – to obey the voice of God and proclaim the good news of what God has done.

Bless the Lord, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word! (Psalm 103:20 NASB).

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to give Zacharias the good news of the birth of his son John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:19). God also sent Gabriel with a message to Mary that she would bear Jesus, the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:26, 31-32).

When Jesus was born, God announced it to a special group of humble shepherds by sending His angel to announce His birth – then that angel was joined by a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14 NASB).

Like the angels, we have good news to share. We can proclaim the good news of salvation and what God has done for us individually, but we can also join with a great host of others whom God has blessed as well.

In the Bible, we find some specific occasions when the daughters of God have added their voices of praise to the unnumbered multitude. The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host (Psalm 68:11 NASB). The Lord  announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng (Psalm 68:11 NIV). Generations before the birth of Christ, the Lord gave the word for women to proclaim the good tidings. This group of His chosen daughters proclaimed the goodness of God as He had rescued His chosen people from bondage in Egypt.  Miriam led the women to sing praises to the Lord after He brought the children of Israel through the mist of the sea on dry land – miraculously saving them from the pursuit of the Egyptians (Exodus 15:20-21). David was reminded of this when he wrote Psalm 68:11.

The Lord provided the message. The women who proclaimed it were a great army (Psalm 68:11 EHV). God has always provided the message for good news. And women love to share good news. They celebrate anticipated births with baby showers and upcoming marriages with wedding showers. They are usually the planners of children’s birthday parties and family holidays. In the U.S., Americans greet each other with “How are you?” Christians often replace the common response of “I’m fine, thank you” with “I’m blessed.”  A man will smile and understand that the response indicates a fellow believer. Ask a man what the Lord has done for him, and he will gladly tell you. You don’t often have to ask a woman. She will sometimes respond with, “I’m blessed as well. Let me tell you what the Lord has done for me today.” She shares why she is blessed. Women love to take any occasion to celebrate the goodness of God with others.

The good news is that no one has to remain in the bondage of sin. As the children of Israel were miraculously led out of Egypt, the miraculous birth of our Savior, His sinless life, His sacrificial death and His resurrection led to our salvation. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12 NASB).

And that is something worth proclaiming – by angels, by men and women of all the ages.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12 NASB).

The Lord gave the word; Great was the company of those who proclaimed it (Psalm 68:11 NKJV).

God gave us the Word. Let’s all be part of the company – the mighty throng – the great host – that proclaim the good tidings. Jesus is the Holy Son of God. Jesus saves.

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2018

In The Company of Angels

An Audience of One

Popularity seems to be the theme of the day. And there also seems to be much competition in that arena. The more “likes” you have on your Facebook page, the better. In theater, movies, public speaking, even preaching, the bigger the crowd the better. It is even possible that people are forming their speaking content around what they know will be popular – even if they don’t believe in it themselves. Some will do or say anything to draw a crowd.800px-Bocelli-concert-crowd-in-abu-dhabi-du-arena-du-live.jpg

It is reasonable to want to reach the most people – especially if it affects your business. How can you sell something if no one knows about it? How can you communicate a truth if no one hears it? A large crowd has a positive effect on musicians, comedians and other performers – it is their livelihood. Bloggers seek to have a large number of readers to get their message across. Preachers utilize the internet, radio and television as well as their churches to share the message of the gospel with the most people.

There are even businesses built around the business of reaching the largest number of readers, customers, etc. Companies hire web masters to construct their websites to attract the most people. Politicians hire publicists to reach the largest audience.

A problem arises when there is a tendency to do or say something just to please the crowd. Crowd pleasers want to be in the majority no matter what the issue.

As with many things in our world, our perspective in this area can be upside down. If we are constantly trying to please other people, our own values can get buried in the effort. It is possible to attend some churches where you can enter the church, be in a huge crowd, be entertained by the music and the message and leave without having really having turned your thoughts toward worshipping God. It is also possible to spend a day with coworkers and family and be so intent on pleasing them that by the end of the day, you discover that you have sacrificed not only your valid opinion, but also your convictions in an effort to be a part of the crowd.

The Bible gives us some great examples of those who had a right side up concept of an audience – an audience of One – focusing on pleasing God no matter what the crowd might think, do or say. Christian martyrs through the centuries have joined these great men and women found in scripture.

One such example was Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stephen was first in the list of seven men chosen to relieve the disciples from service that would hinder their ministry of the word of God. Stephen was referred to as a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” and “full of faith and power”.

Stephen’s dedication to Christ angered some so much that they brought false accusations against him. When given a chance to defend himself, Stephen recapped all God had done for His chosen people, turning the table on his accusers by telling them that they had resisted the Holy Spirit of God, just as their fathers had done. Enraged, they gnashed at Him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:54-56). With that, they stoned him. His last words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…. Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:59-60).

Stephen, full of faith and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, focused on God and God alone.

On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” and “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:34, 46). With His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus’ mission was complete and He is now sitting at the right hand of God – Mark 16:19, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 10:12. This passage in Acts where Stephen saw Jesus in glory is the only reference to Jesus STANDING at the right hand of God.

Often at a concert or a professional performance, those in attendance who stand at the end are signifying a job well done – a presentation worthy of recognition.

Stephen, his life focused on an audience of One, was rewarded not only with his Lord receiving his spirit, but seeing His Lord stand as Stephen passed from the presence of his accusers into His presence.

By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).

We are not told exactly how Enoch pleased God, but we know he did – so much so that God spared him from physical death.

We do know how Stephen pleased God. God did not spare Stephen from physical death, but the way he died, his testimony before he died, and his Christ-like prayers when he died were evidence that he was only concerned with pleasing one Person. And he did. While Stephen was dying, Jesus was standing!

What we choose to do, how we choose to live, what we choose to say has a great deal to say about whom we choose to please. For you, will it be as large an audience as possible – a fickle crowd – or will it be an audience of One – Jesus, the one who died for you?

© Stephanie B. Blake

May 2017

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The Living Lamb of God

And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! … If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:17,19-20).

On Easter Christians all over the world celebrate the most unique event in human history – the resurrection of Jesus, the eternal God/Man.

All prophecies that have already been fulfilled about Jesus and all prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled would be empty indeed if this one prophecy had not been true. All the hope that great men of faith had; all the faith in God and His word and promises that have been exercised over the centuries; all the sacrifices that have been made because of Christ, His life and His teachings would be all for nothing if He had not risen from the dead. If Jesus had only been a good Man as some believe; if His life had only been an example of love and triumph over evil; if His followers had just wanted a cause to believe in and yet He had not been raised from the dead, His life and witness would have been hollow.

Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the Lion of Judah, the Beginning and the End, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords but He often referred to Himself during His lifetime as the Son of Man. The Son of Man became the sacrificial Lamb of God.

In the Old Testament, references to sacrificial lambs point to Jesus. It is John the Baptist who first used the title Lamb of God “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John the apostle also records the Lord stating that He is the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth and the Life and the True Vine but it was not until John was led by the Holy Spirit to write the book of Revelation that Jesus is again called the Lamb of God. At least nine times in Revelation Jesus is referred to as the Lamb.

He is not referred to as the Lamb until after His incarnation and after His ministry had started. Jesus has always existed. He has always been the Son of God but there was a point in time where He became the Son of Man. Born in a stable, likely with lambs as His companions, He came to redeem mankind. It took His sacrifice – as the Lamb of God – to save us from our sins. As the eternal High Priest, with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).

For Christians, Jesus’ referral to Himself at the end of time as the Lamb of God is significant. It is a personal reference – one that only those who have accepted His gift of sacrifice truly understand. We worship Him now as God. We will worship Him forever as God but our relationship with God our Savior is a very special and personal one. Yes, He is the King of Kings but He always was King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He became the Lamb of God for our sakes. It is seeing Jesus in eternity as the living Lamb that will stir our hearts and remind us of how much He loves us. Worshipping Him as the Lamb will remind us just how personal our salvation is. He died for me. He paid for my sins – unique for me. He died for you. He paid for your sins – unique for you. His resurrection obtained for all of us who believe the inheritance that He promised – eternal life with Him.

John the Revelator foresaw the glory we will share with the Lamb of God.

And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain… (Revelation 5:6).
for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountain of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes... (Revelation 7:17).
Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'” (Revelation 19:9).
But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22).
The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illumined it. The Lamb is its light (Revelation 21:23).
And he showed me a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Revelations 22:1).

We live because the Lamb lives. He was resurrected and so shall we be. He humbled Himself, dwelt among men, and sacrificed His own body and blood so that we might live together with Him. He choses to reign as our Lamb.

What an amazing thought – to be saved through the sacrifice of the Lamb who was slain on our behalf; to be shepherded by that same sacrificial Lamb; to partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb; to be illumined forever by the light of the Lamb and to walk beside a pure river of the water of life, provided by the Lamb.

Living in the eternal presence of the Lamb of God and to share in His radiance and glory is part of our indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15). He lives and so shall we.

© Stephanie B. Blake
April 2017

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