Category: Reflective Focus

Lessons for Today from a Great Lady of Yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Stanford said,

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

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

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

October 2015

© Stephanie B. Blake

 

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

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

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

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The Only Way Out

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

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

~~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~

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

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

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

~~~~~

Jesus said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2015

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Pray and Work

So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven (Nehemiah 1:4).

…”let Your servant prosper this day, I pray and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer (1:11).

Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven (2:4).

And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me (2:8).

“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as if everything depended on you.” A quote credited to Saint Augustine, Ignatius and Francis Cardinal Spellman, it is worth repeating.

Everything does depend on God. He wants us to pray. He expects us to work.

Printed above the Ramsey coat of arms is Ora et Labora. Dave Ramsey says, “For hundreds of years, the Ramseys have been known for those two things: prayer and work… Pray and work. I think that’s what God expects of us. That’s the kind of attitude and activity He can bless. God promises to feed the birds, but He doesn’t throw worms into their nests.” (from The Legacy Journey).

Those of us who really like to work sometimes need a reminder that not all work will produce something that is God honoring. It is God working through us that will do that. Instead of not finishing a task or finishing it and realizing that it was not done well, we should go to God first. Regret is having to say, “I wish I had prayed about that.”

Pray and work. That is exactly how Nehemiah accomplished the task of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. He first prayed; then set about doing the work God assigned Him to do. At every point along the way – even with hateful opposition – he practiced this principle.

When Nehemiah discovered that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, the gates had been burned with fire and the survivors of the captivity were in great distress, he prayed. He not only prayed. He fasted and prayed. Nehemiah prayed for forgiveness for the children of Israel, he prayed for forgiveness for himself and asked God for mercy as he contemplated his next step.

Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer, an important position in the service of King Artaxerxes. He prayed for mercy before he stood before the king. As the king observed Nehemiah’s sadness, he asked the reason why. Before Nehemiah answered the king, he prayed. When the king granted his request to go to Judah to rebuild the wall, Nehemiah knew it was because the good hand of God was upon him.

Nehemiah and his fellows Jews who were rebuilding the wall encountered great and vicious opposition. Nehemiah turned the matter over to God. “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and given them as plunder to a land of captivity” (4:4). The opposition grew and conspired to attack and create confusion. Nehemiah continued to pray and work. Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night (4:9). As his brothers’ strength began to fail and they became afraid, Nehemiah reminded them who was in charge. And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work (4:14-15). Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared (4:19-21).

As Nehemiah continued to stand in the gap for his countrymen as the rulers dishonored God with their practice of lending, buying and selling, he asked for God’s blessing. Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people (5:19). He rebuked the continued opposition from outside the family and continued to work – first asking God for strength. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands (6:9b). He left judgment in God’s hand. My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prohetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid (6:14).

God answered Nehemiah’s prayers, He strengthened his hands and under his leadership, the task was completed. So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days (6:15).

Pray and work. The order was important. In fifty-two days, Nehemiah and his team rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem. And God received the glory.

And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God (6:16).

Nehemiah had an assignment from God. He took it seriously. He knew it was not his work. It was God’s work. He needed God’s guidance and protection as he did His work. Since he prayed first, Nehemiah was then not reluctant to ask for God’s continued blessing on his work and his life.

“Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for its services!” … “Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me accounting to the greatness of Your mercy!”… “Remember me, O my God, for good!” (13:14, 22, 31).

Pray and work. Everything does depend on God. He wants us to pray. He expects us to work. He remembers us when we do.

© Stephanie B. Blake

August 2015

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Time Economics

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16).

“A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” was a saying characteristic of people living during the Depression. With no money for replacement items, repair and maintenance were done out of necessity. The origin of “a stitch in time saves nine” literally dealt with sewing. A small tear repaired at once prevents a larger tear from forming in the future – thus saving nine more stitches. The idea, of course, has come to mean that you will do yourself a favor by taking care of small problems when they appear. If you wait, repairs will be more time consuming and expensive.

An example of this would be car maintenance. Stay on top of engine tune-ups in order to guarantee that your engine will last as long as possible. Check your tires periodically for wear and make sure they have the proper amount of air and they will last longer.

Routine maintenance can prevent damage and save you time and money. If you clean out the gutters on your house each year, potential expensive repairs to your home can be avoided; removing lint from the dryer every time not only keeps your dryer running more efficiently, thus saving electricity, but potentially prevent a dangerous fire caused by excessive lint build up; vacuuming the coils of your refrigerator can prolong the life of that appliance; pulling weeds as soon as they appear can prevent you from having to do a widespread spraying or spending days removing overgrown patches; backing up files on your computer can save you enormous headache in redoing projects and losing some important information forever. When traveling, calling ahead for information or printing your boarding pass at home can save unpleasant surprises or a long wait in line. Repairing small leaks when you first notice them can save you a lot of time and money later. Carrying a small tool kit when traveling by car can make the difference between being able to fix a minor problem or having to call a repairman. Packing a mending kit when traveling can prevent you from having to buy a new item of clothing if something happens while you are on the road. Packing essential prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines can keep you from having to go to the emergency room.

Often maintenance is a matter of cleanliness. Metal items, such as automobiles, barbeque grills, iron fences and farm equipment last longer if cleaned regularly and checked for rust. Once rust sets in, the repair job is lengthy. When it is first noticed (like on the fender of a car) and taken care of, that “stitch in time” saves not only nine more stitches, but expensive repairs. It is more than a dollar saved.

If you don’t know how to repair certain items, there are more resources available than ever before. An online search will usually turn up a “how to” article that will walk you through it. Even when you can’t repair an item yourself, you can often extend its life by having it repaired by a professional.

After the Crisis of 2008 hit, there were many news reports on how people were coping. Sales in stores were down because people were making what they had last longer, repairing those items rather than buying new ones. This actually resulted in an increase of revenue for some businesses such as shoe repair shops, auto repair shops and home improvement stores. Some items need to be fixed by professionals, but even that cost is cheaper than replacing it – most of the time. There are some notable exceptions, such as computers and other electronic items.

In addition to saving money, your “stitch in time” can save your time. The less complicated the repair, the quicker it is done, the more time is left for other things.

Time really does have value. Somewhere, someone else is employed for services as an accountant, an auto mechanic, a bookkeeper, a cook, a driver (chauffeur), electrician, gardener, housekeeper, nurse, etc. As you balance your checkbook, change the oil in your car, prepare meals for your family, drive your children to and from activities, repair the wiring in your garage, maintain and adorn your yard and garden, clean your house, take care of your family members when they are sick, you are performing tasks routinely that someone else might be paid for.

Procrastination in maintenance and repairs leads to the “nine other stitches.” Procrastination also makes your “to do” list longer than it needs to be.

In many ways, time is of much more worth than money is.

In every area of life, it is better to take action on issues as they come up. For instance, a misunderstanding between family members, friends and neighbors can fester if not dealt with immediately.

Even if you don’t have money or a job, it is good to remember that you have the same amount of time as everyone else. What you do with that time will help you move forward or allow you to stagnate.

During the Great Recession, many people were forced to seek employment in areas they had never imagined they would work in. Sometimes this involved schooling. Sometimes it meant doing manual labor instead of office work.

In a few cases, the forced adjustment led to a happier lifestyle. Their time was now allocated more towards family or church or their community.

These changes involved spending time learning a new skill, competing in a job market that was new to them, and not giving in to the temptation to give up.

It is understandable to be disappointed with unforeseen negative circumstances, but what you do with those circumstances is up to you. Procrastination is not a good thing, but having such a full schedule that you cannot enjoy family or life is not either. There must be a balance.

Only you can determine the proper balance of time in your life. Many who have had money, though, and made it their priority, have regretted it in the end. Prioritize according to what really matters and your time will be of more value to you than money.

“Waste your money and you’re only out of money, but waste your time and you’ve lost part of your life.” – Michael LeBoueuf

God expects us to be good stewards of every gift He gives. How we spend our resources and how we spend our time are indicators of how we view His gifts. Jesus made that point very clear in His parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The lazy servant wasted his time and his master’s money.

© Stephanie B. Blake

July 2015

(This devotional was adapted from a chapter of “Money, How to be Rich Without It and How to Stretch It Using Ten Hints from the Past and the Technology of Today”)

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The Source

In the midst of an ever changing world, the source of my peace is Jesus.

For He Himself is our peace.

In the midst of frightening circumstances, the source of my refuge and trust is Jesus.

What time I am afraid, I will trust in You. 

In the midst of losing loved ones to death, the source of my hope is Jesus.

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

In the midst of experiencing aging and its limitations, the source of my strength is Jesus.

The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.

In the midst of Satan’s temptations, the source of my escape and salvation is Jesus.

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

In the midst of confusion and doubt, the source of my faith is Jesus.

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. 

In the midst of sadness, the source of my comfort is the Spirit of God.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

The source of my joy is God’s everlasting love revealed through His Spirit and declared through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ.

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

Ephesians 2:14, Psalm 56:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, Habakkuk 3:19, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Hebrews 11:6, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, John 15:11

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  © Stephanie B. Blake June 2015

The Cure for Loneliness

The Cure for Loneliness

Furthermore, if two lie down together to keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart (Ecclesiastes 4:11-12).

We are made for companionship and we feel it keenly when it is absent.

The refrain of the Beatle’s hit song, Eleanor Rigby is:

All the lonely people.

Where do they all come from?

All the lonely people.

Where do they all belong?

Some of the most popular pop songs have had this lonely theme: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry by Hank Williams; Only the Lonely by Roy Orbison; Lonely Man by Elvis Presley and many others. Why are those songs so popular? Many people can relate to the lyrics.

Being alone and being lonely are two different things. You can be by yourself but not be lonely. You can be in a crowd, but the loneliness can be devastating.

A February 2014 article in The Guardian says that loneliness has found to be more deadly than obesity and is now being defined as a disease.

In a report called Rewarding Social Connections Promote Successful Ageing that Professor John Cacioppo presented in Chicago… the effect of satisfying relationships on the elderly was measured.

Cacioppo’s team found that friendships helped older people develop their resilience and ability to bounce back after adversity, as well as an ability to gain strength from stress rather than be diminished by it.

Not surprisingly, there is no corresponding good news for those less well connected to other people. Loneliness has dramatic consequences on health. Feeling isolated from others can disrupt sleep, raise blood pressure, lower immunity, increase depression, lower overall subjective wellbeing and increase the stress hormone cortisol (at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually wears your body down).

Elderly people can often be so lonely that they will keep telemarketers on the phone just to have someone talk to them, but it is not just the elderly who are prone to loneliness.

Social media is not always beneficially social. Occasionally the harsh comments made through twitter, Facebook and other sources can cause great damage to the targeted person – often a young person.

God knows we need fellowship. He made us that way. Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

Loneliness is a malady that can strike even God’s choicest servants. Elijah had performed great miracles in the name of the Lord, but then had a spell of depression when he thought he was alone. Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men” (1 Kings 18:22). With that declaration, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a demonstration. Each one would place a bull on an altar but put no fire under it. Elijah said, “Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God” (1 Kings 18:24). After much pleading, the prophets of Baal were unable to get their gods to consume their offering. Elijah then poured water over the sacrifice and the wood and called upon the Lord who then consumed the sacrifice. The people saw, fell on their faces before God, and seized the prophets of Baal.

Even with the miracles that God had performed through Elijah’s hand, Elijah continued to believe that he was alone. When Jezebel sought him out to kill him, he ran away, crying for God to take his life. When God confronted him, Elijah twice said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10,14).

God did two things to help Elijah understand he was not alone. He informed him of seven thousand in Israel who had not worshiped Baal. He sent Elijah to meet his own successor. Elisha became his servant and served the Lord with him. Cured of his disease of loneliness, when the Lord told Elijah He was going to take him to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah tried to leave Elisha behind. He wanted to go on alone. Elisha begged him to allow him to go with him, saying three times, “I will not leave you!” 

What made the difference for Elijah? God became enough. He had believed in God and performed His miracles. Elijah wanted companionship. God gave him Elisha. In the time between his bout of depressing loneliness and his ride on the flaming chariot, Elijah realized that with God, he was never alone.

Jesus knew rejection, but He never gave in to the disease of loneliness because He knew that His Father was always with Him. “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me (John 16:32).

Alone, but not lonely, could describe many people I know. Like Anna, who was a widow eighty-four years and was so dedicated to God that He gave her the special gift of seeing the Christ Child, I know widows who spend most of their time in prayer. I have friends who are so sick they cannot do the things they would like to do, but give glory to God because they totally trust Him.

Jesus knew His disciples would be confused and lonely after His death. He told them it would be to their advantage that He went away because He would be sending His Holy Spirit to be with them always.

All the lonely people – where do they all come from?

They come from all ages and all nationalities. They come from every sex and every vocation. They come from every walk of life.

All the lonely people – where do they all belong?

In the loving presence of Jesus, who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b).

© Stephanie B. Blake

May 2015

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The Lead Character

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made (Genesis 1:1, John 1: 1-3).

In the film industry, they are called lead actors. In literature, they are known as main characters. It should never be hard to pick out the main character in a story. He is the one the story revolves around. For instance, in the movie Gravity, there would be no story without Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock. Les Miserables is about the life of Jean Valjean. Gone with the Wind tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara. Casablanca focuses on the character of Rick Blaine.

The creators of these stories put great effort into developing the main character. As the story progresses, the reader or viewer discovers more about the main character and why the story is about him. Through proper character development, the reader or viewer becomes aware of the significant role of the main character.

Alfred de Vigny, poet, playwright, and novelist (1797-1863) said, “History is a novel whose author is the people.” Respectfully, I believe de Vigny was wrong. History is not a fictional novel. Authored by God Himself, it is a factual record of His creation and His redeeming love for His people through His Son Jesus Christ. He is creator, author and the One the story revolves around.

History is His story.

The telling of God’s story in the Bible literally comes alive through Jesus. He is the Word of God. He is also the main character in every event in the written word of God. God’s story begins with Genesis 1:1. Jesus was there. John’s gospel makes that clear. The Bible ends with The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen (Revelation 22:21).

In an article on crupressgreen.com (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), Seeing Christ in All of Scripture, it is expressed this way: “The good news doesn’t just reside in part two of the Bible, the New Testament. The entire story of the Bible is about one person, one plan, one goal. That person is Jesus, that plan is redemption, the goal is the glory of God. It’s really a pretty simple story line.”

It is possible to miss that simple story line. If we view God’s Word as a collection of stories about people, we miss the point. Many stories in the Bible are well known, even to those who do not follow Christ but the reader’s perspective can sometimes be different than the Author’s intention. Some might erroneously give a supporting character the role of the main character.

God and Noah

Noah was not the main character in the story of the ark and the flood.

God made man. God was sorry He had made man. God was grieved. God sent the flood, but God miraculously saved the one man who walked with Him. God’s grace saved Noah and his family and enough of the animals to give mankind a new start. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord…. Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:8-9).

God and Moses

Moses was not the main character when the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry land.

God chose Moses to lead His people out of bondage from Egypt. He revealed Himself to Moses and promised He would be with him. So He said, “I will certainly be with you…And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”… So the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians…Thus Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt; so the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and His servant Moses (Exodus 3:12, 14; 14:30, 31).

God and David

David knew he could not kill Goliath with just a slingshot, but God could use him to do it.

God prepared David, the shepherd boy, to do what the army could not do. His armor was not the armor of metal and war. It was the armor of faith. “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand…Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17: 46-47).

 God and Jonah

Jonah was a reluctant participant in God’s plan to offer salvation to the people of Nineveh. He was definitely not the main character.

In the New Inductive Study Bible, the preface to Jonah states, “The focus of Jonah is not a man trapped in the belly of a great fish; the focus is people engraved on the heart of God.” As a result of forcing Jonah to go to Nineveh, many repented and turned to God. “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons… (Jonah 4:11).

God and Daniel

Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den and remained untouched, but Daniel could not save himself.

The officials of Darius became jealous of the favor Daniel, a foreigner, found with the king. Through their conniving, Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. It was Daniel’s refusal to worship any God but the true God. It was his God who rescued Him. The king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him”…So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God” (Daniel 6:20-23).

In Jesus, God’s story comes alive. …Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and … He was buried, and … He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Through faith in Him, our names are written in another book – the Book of Life. What a privilege it is to be part of His story.

© Stephanie B. Blake

April 2015

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The Perfect Student

Every teacher must be a student first. Jesus, well known as the Master Teacher, was also a student.

The Bible is fairly silent about the years between Jesus’ birth and public ministry – with one exception. In his orderly account of the life of Jesus, Luke includes a unique story in his gospel. He must have had a reason.

His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41).

Jesus’ family had a custom of traveling to Jerusalem yearly to observe the feast of the Passover. There is no other occasion where Jesus’ exact age is given, but here Luke makes a point to tell Theophilus that on this journey to Jerusalem Jesus was twelve years old.

And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast (Luke 2:42).

The twelfth year was very important to Jewish boys. At the end of that year, Jesus would go through a ceremony where He would become a bar mitzvah or “son of the commandment”. At age thirteen, he would have the same rights and responsibilities as an adult.

His heavenly Father had been preparing Jesus for this day. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). Jesus was already aware of His role in the Godhead to provide salvation for sinners. He had voluntarily emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8 NASB).

Jesus went through the human process of learning just as we all do. He had to learn to walk, talk, feed Himself and how to apply what He was taught in His home and in the synagogue to His life.

And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him (Luke 2:40).

On this trip, Jesus sought out the teachers in the temple, listening to them, asking questions and responding to theirs. They were so engaged in conversation that they sat together for several days. As His family had traveled to Jerusalem in a large caravan, it was not unusual that He had not stayed by their side. When the caravan left the city, His parents supposed He was with their group. When they realized He was not, they searched for Him, finding Him sitting in the midst of the teachers – absorbing all they had to say.

When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers (Luke 2:43-47).

The type of conversation Jesus engaged in with the teachers was common then and is a great teaching style even today. If you have ever taught a lesson of any kind, you know that when your student listens intently and asks questions that he is interested and is “getting it.” The interchange between teacher and student helps cement the lesson material in the student’s mind. It is also very gratifying to teachers when they observe this depth of understanding.

Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them…. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:51-52).

Just as others grow and learn, so did Jesus. He grew and He increased in wisdom.

Later in His adulthood, the Jews marveled because of His teaching, wondering aloud, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” (John 7:15).

Jesus’ reply to this query was similar to the psalmist: I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me (Psalm 119:102). God the Father taught Him.

Jesus answers them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him (John 7:16-18).

Jesus, as the Son of Man, was always a student of the Father. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal (Philippians 2:7-8 J. B. Phillips New Testament).

…though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:8-9).

There should never be a time when we stop learning. Even teachers need refresher courses; professors need to study to keep abreast of current affairs; doctors and scientists must be aware of the latest research; preachers and Bible teachers can always discover something new as they study. Throughout life, we are students.

Jesus was the perfect student and gave us an example of how to be one as well. He was humble, obedient, and totally focused on knowing and doing the will of the Father.

Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] (Philippians 2:5 Amplified).

If Jesus, who was God and perfectly fulfilled the law, learned obedience from the things He suffered and stayed focused on the will of God the Father, how much more should we be determined to be humbly obedient to God and do His will?

Stephanie B. Blake

March 2015

Unless otherwise indicated, scripture references are from the New King James version.

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When All You Can Do Is Pray

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you…(1 Samuel 12:23).

Have you ever told a friend in need, “All I can do is pray”, as if it would really be better if you could perform some action rather than JUST pray? Sometimes if you are near the loved one, it is possible to help in tangible ways – shopping, cooking a meal, picking up children from school, babysitting, cleaning their house, etc. Often prayer becomes an addendum to what we can DO. It is when we are not near the one we are concerned about, we might say, “All I can do is pray.”

Lest you think that praying is secondary or not enough, hear the testimonies of these men of God.

George Mueller

George Mueller, a 19th century English evangelist and founder of orphanages, was known to have kept a detailed journal of his prayers. One page was devoted to his prayer and another to the answer. Over his lifetime, he calculated that fifty thousand of his requests had been answered.

R.T. Kendall

I have been conscious of many people praying for me over those twenty-five years. One gets a sense of being borne “on eagle’s wings.” All over Britain, I had total strangers say to me, “I pray for you every day,” or “I pray for you every Saturday evening – or Sunday morning.” This was almost overwhelming. I sensed a sovereign overruling of grace and prayer more times than I can count, which enabled me to prepare and preach sermons. I attribute this to the prayers of God’s people.

Notice that R.T. Kendall (who served as pastor of the great Westminster Chapel for twenty-five years) did what he could to prepare his sermons and followed through with his commitment to preach them. It was the prayers of others that gave him the sense of being borne “on eagle’s wings.”

Bill Gaither

 When we’re on the road we usually have about fifteen people on stage with us. I’m sure they get tired of my calling them all around before the concert every night and hearing me say, “Focus, focus. Why are we doing this? Let’s remind ourselves again why we do this.”…. One night I simply said, “Let’s pray,” and didn’t close until the usually vocal ones had finished praying and there had been enough awkward silence to start bringing out some of the others.

When you wait, you are often rewarded. From here and there came heartfelt prayers from some who had always let someone else do the praying in the past. And the longer I waited, the more open and sincere and vulnerable the prayers became. Soon people were confessing bad attitudes, frustration, impatience, homesickness. Something was happening. We were getting our eyes on Jesus, and God was pointing out our failures. We were drawn close in a special way, and the concert that night was one of the best we’d had in a long time. How much better that is than a hastily called minute of prayer where somebody thanks God for the opportunity and asks Him to bless us. That’s okay, but it’s not enough. We have to be broken before Him and focused on our purpose.

Bill Gaither and his team had prepared for their performance. They had written the music, rehearsed it and done all they could do to honor the Lord with their talents. It was their time in real prayer that brought a freshness to that’s night’s performance and a new closeness to each other.

Wesley Duewel

Dr. Duewel, missionary to India for nearly twenty-five years and the author of numerous books on prayer and missions, states:

Your prayer for world harvest can be more effective today because God in His sovereignty is coordinating world trends to make rapid fruitfulness available to His children. If we will put priority on prayer and obedience, this can be earth’s greatest harvest time. Not every Christian is called to go. Not every Christian is able to make a substantial financial contribution to the work of Christ’s kingdom. But there is no limit to what any Christian may accomplish through prayer!

Oswald Chambers

Consider, with Oswald Chambers, the importance that Christ places on prayer.

It is Christ . . . who also maketh intercession for us . . . . The Spirit . . . maketh intercession for the saints. Romans 8:34, 27. Do we need any more argument than this to become intercessors— that Christ “ever liveth to make intercession”; that the Holy Spirit “maketh intercession for the saints”? Are we living in such vital relationship to our fellow men that we do the work of intercession as the Spirit-taught children of God?

John Bunyan

Both John Bunyan and A. J. Gordon have been credited with saying, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”

The Apostle Paul

 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”.Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

God is the only One who can accomplish what is really needed. The best thing you can do is pray.

© Stephanie B. Blake

February 2015

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Jesus, David and the Psalms

Many men of God knew and loved God long before He appeared in flesh. Perhaps one of the best known was David. It is possible that his psalms are the most familiar passages of the Bible – memorized for their beauty and comfort. It is easy for us to look back among the psalms of David and see Jesus in them. What special revelations of the Savior God gave to this man after His own heart.

Jesus, God’s Only Begotten Son

… The Lord has said to Me, You are My Son, Today I have begotten You (Psalm 2:7).

And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Jesus, the Judge

But the Lord shall endure forever. He has prepared His throne for judgment (Psalm 9:7).

For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son (John 5:22).

Jesus, the Crucified One

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”…They gape at Me with their mouths…I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint…They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones, they look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots (Psalm 22:1, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18).

Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”…. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:35, 46).

Jesus, the Resurrection

… Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay (Psalm 16:10 NASB).

…”The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”…And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:34, 38-39).

Jesus, the Light of the World

The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1).

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light that all through him might believe… Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 1:6-7, 12).

Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My Brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me” (Matthew 28:10).

Jesus, the only Savior

Many times David refers to God as his salvation. After he was confronted by Nathan with his sin, David pleads with the Lord, Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit (Psalm 51:12).

Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Jesus. the Ruler

Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him (Psalm 72:11).

The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool…. The Lord has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath. He shall judge among the nations…. (Psalm 110:1, 4-6).

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True…He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God…And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11,13,16).

Jesus, the Creator and Descendant of David.

“I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16).

God’s Voice in the Psalms

Many a backslidden believer has found restoration in the psalms. Many a confused believer has found guidance in the psalms. Many a frightened believer has found strength in the psalms. Many a troubled soul has found comfort in the psalms. Many have discovered the love of God in the psalms. Many a weakened Christian soldier has found victory in the psalms. Many a lost person has found salvation in Jesus in the psalms.

We have all benefited from God’s special relationship with David.

© Stephanie B. Blake

January 2015

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