Category: Reflective Focus

Then What?

We Live. We Die. Then What?

We all have something in common. We live and we die.

Some live a full, long life and die of old age. Others’ lives are “cut short” by accident, disease or at the hand of evil men. The result is the same. We all die.

Then…we face God.

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).

There are two sets of answers for We Live. We Die. Then What? 

For Christians, death is not something to dread. The process may be horribly painful, but the result will be glorious.

For those who reject Christ’s offer of love and salvation, the opposite is true. Not only is death to be dreaded, but because Christ’s blood has not washed away their sins, they will still be accountable for each one of them. They will experience a great white throne judgment, a second death and eternal separation from God.

For Christians, the Word of God gives the following set of answers for We Live. We Die. Then What? 

We Live. We Die. Then What?

Physical death is the only death we will experience. Christ, who conquered death, gives eternal life to all those who trust Him.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

THEN…we pass from death to life.

We Live. We Die. Then What?

As believers, the penalty for sin has already been paid for by the sacrificial death of our Lord on the cross. Filled with His Holy Spirit, we are accountable, however, for how we used the resources and the gifts He gave us. Forgiven and redeemed, conformed to the image of Christ, how wonderful it would be to say with the apostle John, love has been perfected among us in this; that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world (1John 4:17).

For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:7-10).

THEN…we will appear before Christ, giving an account of our stewardship.

We Live. We Die. Then What?

When we have gone to meet Christ, then what for those we leave behind? What we will be remembered for? Will we be remembered at all? Our names will most likely be removed from all but our tombstones. We will be out of sight and forgotten by most.

What about those who matter the most to us now? What will they remember? Will it be some sinful deed, hateful word or inconsiderable act – forgiven by God but not forgotten by man? Or will we remembered by those we have blessed – whom we have loved, whom we have taught, whom we have nourished, whom we have prayed for? Will we have passed on blessings to our children and our grandchildren? Will someone we introduced to Christ be eager to see us again?

“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12: 36-37).

THEN…although our bodies will be gone, our words and actions will live on.

Our words, actions and decisions today determine our legacy for tomorrow.

What will yours be?

The righteous man walks in his integrity;

his children are blessed after him (Proverbs 20:7).

© Stephanie B. Blake

May 2016

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Our Father’s Love Demonstrated

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him (John 14:23).

Unique, awesome, incredible and overwhelming are just a few words that are overused and misused. And yet there is one area where each one of these words does appropriately apply: the love of God our Heavenly Father.

An earthly father cannot perfectly duplicate the love of God our Father, but he can, through His grace, come close. Although the same principles below apply to mothers as well, God has given fathers a special place in a child’s life. A child often visualizes God the Father by what he knows of his own earthly father – a great responsibility, to be sure, and one not to be taken lightly. A person’s life has often been affected positively or negatively by his father’s influence. What a blessing a person has when her own father strives to be the kind of father God is to His children.

Children know when they are loved. A father’s love is demonstrated when he is:

PRESENT AND INVOLVED

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb… Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (Psalm 139:15-16). 

You are near, O Lord, and all Your commandments are truth (Psalm 119:151).

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1a).

A child needs his father’s involvement more than anything money can buy. A father can become involved in his child’s life long before his birth. Along with his mother, the father plans for the arrival of the child. He is so proud to call the newborn baby “his” child and makes every attempt to be near him as much as possible – involved in every aspect of his life. This is every bit as true in the case of an adopted child – planned for and loved even before the first meeting. No expense or effort is too much. A father’s love for his child properly exercised is sacrificial and all consuming.

DISCIPLINING

For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights (Proverbs 3:12).

A godly father takes the time to correct those things that need to be righted. An indulgent father sometimes thinks that allowing his child to make choices before she is ready and giving her everything she asks for is showing love. In reality it is neglect. It takes more care, time and love to mold a child’s character than it does to grant her every wish.

MERCIFUL

For the Lord your God is a merciful God…(Deuteronomy 4:31). Be merciful to me according to Your word (Psalm 119:58b).

A godly father is merciful – strong in guidance and discipline but swift to show mercy. Knowing that he has been shown mercy and grace by his heavenly Father, a godly father passes on what he has learned about the everlasting and faithful grace of God to his child.

A HELPER

And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—… But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you (John 14:16, 26).

A godly father spends time helping a child accomplish what he is capable of doing at his age. He does not do it for him, but stands ready to give advice or assist when needed. It is much easier to take over the task and do it, but the child will learn best by doing – with possible assistance – than watching his father do it. “How may I help you?” is much better than “Let me do that for you.”

A REFUGE

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms… (Deuteronomy 33:27).

…Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9)

The world is full of painful experiences. A godly father can offer refuge from those times – a band aid and comfort, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear or just the knowledge that he is there if needed.

A DEFENDER

…God is for me (Psalm 56:9) …God is my defense (Psalm 59:9) The Lord God is a sun and shield…(Psalm 84:11) Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him (Proverbs 30:5)

for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you (Deuteronomy 20:4) …for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, as He has promised you (Joshua 23:10)

A child not only needs a refuge – a place to go when times get tough, but someone who will fight for him when the bullies of life appear. A loving dependable father makes all the difference.

God the Father is our refuge and strength. Through His Son Jesus Christ, He fought sin’s battle for us and won. Through His Holy Spirit, He provides an Advocate for reconciliation. And there is nothing that can separate those who trust Him from His love. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). What a unique, awesome, incredible and overwhelming demonstration of Fatherly love – one worth striving to duplicate.

© Stephanie B. Blake

April 2016

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Examples of Biblical Love

I Corinthians 13:1-3 shows the futility of trying to live the Christian life or do Christian service without love. Without love, we are “empty gongs”, “nothing” and our work “profits nothing”. There is no reward given for any work done without love. All labor done without love is done in vain.

Three times in the Sermon on the Mount (when you do a good deed and sound a trumpet, when you pray so that you can be seen, when you advertise the fact that you are fasting), Jesus said that those who do something for show have their reward. Any recognition on earth is all they get.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells of love that never fails – the love that does count with God.

Love suffers long – is patient – endures long – ABRAHAM

And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise (Hebrews 6:15).

Abraham left his homeland and followed God. It was 25 years after God promised a son from Sarah that Isaac was born. Patience is understanding God is in charge and His timing is perfect.

Love is kind: DAVID

Now David said, “Is there anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”(2 Samuel 9:1)

What David did for Mephibosheth was done purely for the love of Jonathan. David was king. He did not need to bless Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth’s grandfather tried to kill David. David’s friendship with Jonathan was so strong that he could not rest until he had discovered if there was anyone in Saul’s household that he might bless – simply because he loved Jonathan.

Love does not envy: CAIN, JOSEPH’S BROTHERS, ANDREW AND PETER

CAIN: And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry and his countenance fell… and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him (Genesis 4:4-8).

JOSEPH’s brothers were an example of jealousy and envy. They sold him into slavery, broke their father’s heart, lived with their sin for years until Joseph called them to Egypt and forgave them. That’s what we have done to God. We break His heart with sin, but His love forgives.

These examples of envy and jealousy were of brothers. How easy it must be for a brother to be jealous of another – even in the family of God. Thankfully, we have the example of Andrew and Peter.

ANDREW AND SIMON PETER. Once Andrew met Jesus, he immediately went to get Peter to introduce him to the Lord. We hear little of Andrew after that. Peter is the brother we hear the most about. There was no hint of jealousy in Andrew’s heart. He loved the Lord and he loved his brother.

Love does not parade itself – does not boast – is not puffed up – is not proud: THE TAX COLLECTOR

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14). 

… He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). 

Love does not behave rudely – does not dishonor others: JOSEPH, HUSBAND OF MARY

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly (Matthew 1:19). An humble and obedient man, Joseph believed God.

Love does not seek its own – is not self-seeking – does not insist on its own rights: JONATHAN

Jonathan was an example of someone who truly loved David. It was evident because he was not jealous of David nor did he envy his talents, his prestige, or his relationship with his father. His love for David was truly unselfish. Jonathan was the king’s son but did not insist on his own rights.

Love is not provoked – easily angered – is not touchy, fretful or resentful: NEHEMIAH

When Nehemiah was told that the survivors … left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The walls of Jerusalem [were] also broken down, and its gates… burned with fire (1:3), he wept, mourned, fasted and prayed. Nehemiah had a place of privilege with King Artaxerxes. For his own convenience, he could have stayed right where he was, but for the love of his God and his countrymen, he was compelled to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Not only would this be a tangible assignment; it would also give encouragement to those who had survived the captivity.

During the rebuilding of the wall, many tried to ridicule him, stop him, and told lies about him so that he would not accomplish this task. Nehemiah never gave in to those attempts. He remained focused, knowing that God would deal with those who were attempting to stop him.

Instead of being provoked, Nehemiah prayed, set guards around the work that was being done, and continued doing the work. Four times Nehemiah asked God to remember what he was doing and why. 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! (Nehemiah 13:14).

Love thinks no evil – keeps no record of wrongs – takes no account of the evil done to it: JOB

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1) Job’s “friends” angered God by the advice they gave to Job. Job did not hold that against them. And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before (Job 42:11).

As believers, Satan has lost the battle for our souls, but not for our influence. Satan wants believers to quit doing God’s work God’s way. Over time, as Satan tempts us to be discouraged, live a worldly life, or just take credit for what the Spirit is doing through us, he has succeeded in our good deeds being done in vain and even having a negative influence on others. Jesus’ condemnation of the church in Ephesus was “You have left your first love”. As we call on others to repent and trust Jesus, we must also repent if Christ is not our first love and our only reason for what we do.

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2016

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In the Classroom with Peter

Identifying basic skills of learning as reading, writing and arithmetic – the three Rs – has been around as early as the 17th century in America. Without some competency in these areas, most students are unable to graduate from school. Even educators who debate about how to test these skills basically agree that these are essential tools for advancement in life.

Jesus, the Master Teacher, taught multitudes but His ongoing classroom had twelve men in it – His disciples. Simon Peter (someone many Christians can relate to) was sometimes at the head of the class and other times failed miserably. In the process, Peter’s specific assignment was to process his own three Rs – Redemption, Recommitment and Restoration. He did graduate and as a result, became an example of hope for the rest of us.

Although his brother Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus, in every list of the apostles, Peter’s name comes first. In God’s plan for Peter’s life, He knew that Peter’s personality – outgoing, impulsive, outspoken and excitable – could be developed into a strong leader for the first century church. He just needed to learn a few lessons first.

Redemption

When Peter, a fisherman, left his nets behind and followed the Lord, he listened, observed, absorbed and learned. Only a man with an awareness of his own need for salvation would say, “depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Only a man of faith could declare, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) and “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Yet, with all his faith and confession, Peter had a bad habit of arguing with the Lord. Someone once said, “I have spent half my life wishing I had shut up ten minutes ago.” Peter must have felt that way many times. Scripture mentions only a few of Peter’s impulsive statements to the Lord.

  • Far be it from You, Lord. This shall not happen to You” (Matthew 16:22).
  • Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Matthew 26:33).
  • “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You” (Matthew 26:35)
  • You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8).
  • Not so, Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean” (Acts 10:14).

Peter loved the Lord and the Lord loved Peter. He was included in a special trio that was with Jesus on the mountaintop when He met with Moses and Elijah. It was Peter who wanted to erect temples for each one of them. He was brought along to the Garden of Gethsemane to stand by the Lord and pray before the crucifixion. When Jesus found the disciples sleeping, it was Peter that the Lord asked, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”(Matthew 26:40-41).

As Jesus observed His last Passover with His disciples, there ensued an argument among them about who should be considered the greatest. Jesus interrupted their dispute, saying …he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves”. Then He turned to Simon and said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:26, 31-32).

Not long after that, as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied three times that he even knew the Lord. He followed Him at a distance (Matthew 26:58). We “keep our distance” when we don’t want to be involved, don’t want to be recognized and don’t want to be associated with someone. The bold fisherman who had left all to follow Jesus was now afraid and weak.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter went back to fishing with some of the other disciples. They fished all night and caught nothing. Waiting for them on the shore, the risen Jesus instructed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. They then caught 159 fish. After breakfast, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Three times Peter said, “You know I love You.”

Jesus then told Peter what type of death he would experience and told him to “Follow Me.”

Peter, still dealing with a bit of jealousy, referring to the apostle John, asked Jesus, “What about this man?” Jesus said to him, …what is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21:21-22).

Recommitment and Restoration

This third command to “Follow Me” was pivotal in Peter’s life.

At the beginning, Jesus told Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-19). Now His call to Peter was more personal. “You follow Me.” This time, Peter followed Jesus, not by His side, and not from a distance, but with a heart empowered by His Holy Spirit. The presence and influence of Jesus would no longer be determined by time or space.

Initially, Peter followed Jesus but allowed his impulsiveness and outspokenness to get in his way. After an egregious heart breaking denial of his Lord, he recommitted his life to follow Him – this time with much different results. Jesus restored him, molding him into someone He could rely on. Peter had learned his lesson. No longer wanting recognition, no longer jealous, his ministry was now focused on the love of God. The Peter of denial became the Peter of Pentecost, his “foot in mouth” disease giving way to life-giving sermons, his fear replaced by miracle performing power.

Jesus knew Peter would deny Him, but also knew Peter would return to Him and with an ever-present memory of those denials, accomplish his calling – to feed and tend the Lord’s sheep and strengthen his brothers to do the same.

Satan recognizes those who have great potential to be used by God. He asked permission to ruin Job’s testimony, certainly he tried to divert Jesus’ attention from His mission and he asked permission to sift Peter like wheat. When Satan’s attacks come hurling toward you, recognize that he no only had to ask permission first, but he is doing so because of the potential he has seen in your life. Also remember that Jesus is interceding for you, just as He did for Peter.

Redeemed, recommitted and restored is the testimony of Peter. Is it yours?

© Stephanie B. Blake

February 2016

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What Counts With God

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Every true believer knows he cannot earn his salvation. It is the ultimate love gift from God brought about by the miraculous birth, sinless life, sacrificial death and bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Offered to all, those who receive that gift by trusting Jesus are saved from sin judgment and will spend eternity in His presence.

Most of us do not go immediately to Heaven after we are saved (although the believing thief on the cross did). While we are waiting for that day, we can show our gratitude to our heavenly Father by loving Him and loving others. Love is the measurement by which God judges our hearts and our activities. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Jesus, asked which was the first commandment of all, answered, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31).

What We Do Must Be on the Foundation Laid by Jesus

Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:8-15).

Although God does His work through us, He carefully judges our attitude while we are working. The starting place of any work that will last for eternity is with Jesus. Any thing worth working for is founded on Him – trusting Him, conforming to His image and willingly doing whatever He asks. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus likens those who hear Him and do what He asks to a wise man who built his house on the rock. He also said that those who are persecuted on His behalf should rejoice for their reward is great.

Jim Elliott (one of five missionaries killed in 1956 while attempting to evangelize a tribe in Ecuador) wrote,  “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose…. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you Lord Jesus.” Jim was 29 when he was killed. Since that time, because of the forgiveness and the witness of his wife and others, many in that tribe became believers.

What is Done in Love Identifies a True Believer

Jesus was the supreme example of how to act in love. He was the sinless Son of God and yet, because of His love for us, He chose to become our brother and show us how to lovingly obey our Heavenly Father.

There are those who claim to be believers, do “good” works, and yet are not acting in the love of Christ Jesus. They will be surprised when their deeds are described as lawlessness by Jesus.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

The Shepherd/King will one day separate His sheep from the goats. To the sheep, He will say, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” The righteous will answer, “When did we do those things?” Jesus’ answer is that whenever you do these things to the least of His brethren, you do it to Him. The righteous are surprised because what they did came naturally – through the Spirit of Jesus living within them, they acted in love toward their fellow man. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him (1 John 4:16).

On the other hand, the goats – on His left – will be told, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” He then proceeded to remind them that they did NOT do anything for Him. Equally surprised, the goats asked the Lord when was it that they saw Him hungry, thirsty, as a stranger, naked, sick or in prison. His answer was, “inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (Matthew 25:31-46).

 What is Done in Love will Count

 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

As God’s fellow workers, our work will be tested. It’s not so much what we do that counts – it’s why we do it. Those who love Jesus, such as the sheep at judgment day, didn’t realize what they had done was going to be commended by the Lord. They just loved Him and showed that love to others.

Every action Jesus took was because He loved the Father and His followers. His actions resulted in bringing glory to the Father and salvation to His brothers.

As believers, we will be judged by the principle of love. Let all that you do be done with love (1 Corinthians 16:14).

What counts with God? Love, founded in the person of Jesus, and acted out through faith in Him.

I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).

© Stephanie B. Blake

January 2016

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The Focus of the Christmas Season

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).

In America, this time of year is called the “holiday season”. Beginning with Thanksgiving and ending with New Year’s Day, it is a time of hurried activity, family gatherings, lots of food, and decorations galore. Wedged in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is Christmas.

Thanksgiving is defined in its name. At the very least, during the huge Thanksgiving meal of turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole or black-eyed peas and an array of desserts, each family usually pauses to give thanks for the blessings of the past year.

New Year’s Eve is a grand celebration of the ending of one year and the beginning of another. There is something about turning over a page in our own personal history and putting up a new calendar on the wall that causes us to reflect on the past year and make plans for improvement in the next.

The significance of Christmas somehow gets lost in the busyness of the season itself. Late November to early January used to be known as the Christmas season. It has been redefined as the “holiday season” and Christmas itself, in many cases, has been swallowed up by the activities preceding and following Christmas day. That day of all days – when God sent His Son to wear our flesh and bear our sins – is lost in a world of secularism. So much so, in fact, that one institution tried to outlaw Christmas trees in its building because it puts too much emphasis on Christianity during Christmas time. ??? After protests, their solution was to allow the Christmas tree if there were also symbols for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Satan tried to make Christ disappear when He was a small child and he is trying to make the celebration of His birth disappear. Although he will not win this war, he is winning small skirmishes. The changing of the Christmas season to the holiday season is symbolic of what is happening to American society. At the inception of this country, there was a strong focus on God and Christian principles. Today, that focus has become a political issue – some even denying that America was founded on Christian beliefs. As history books are being rewritten, the very character of this great nation is withering into a place where Christian principles are being challenged daily.

Rather than being swallowed up between Thanksgiving and the New Year, Christmas should be central in this season. Surprisingly many Americans do not feel this way. Although 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, a LifeWay Research survey in 2010 revealed that, “Though a majority encourage belief in Christ at Christmastime, 67 percent of Americans say that, ‘Many of the things I enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.’

As Dr. David Jeremiah states, “The music, meals, and merriment are fine as long as we stay clearly focused on the object and purpose of Christmas: Jesus Christ…. It’s all a matter of focus – and focus is a deliberate act. Don’t let the world dictate your focus this Christmas.”

We do not need to wait until Christmas to focus on Christ. Every day should be focused on Him and is the reason for the ONEFOCUSMINISTRIES website. These questions are on the home page:

ONE FOCUS – what does that mean to you? What do you think about most of the time? What is your purpose in life? What catches your attention? Do your thoughts and goals revolve around one central theme?

Under YOUR ONE FOCUS tab,

Why is making God your one focus in life so important?

What or who you focus on determines your attitude here on earth and where you will spend eternity. When you focus on anything or anyone other than God, you can miss His great love and His will for your life.

Knowing God – really knowing Him, not just knowing about Him – and focusing on Him gives your life meaning and purpose.

You are God’s creation and He loves you – so much that even before Adam and Eve chose to sin in the Garden of Eden, He provided a way back to Him through His only Son, Jesus Christ. If you recognize the reality of sin in your life, repent of that sin, and invite Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord, you become a child of God and will live with Him forever.

Resources on this website are:

  • Word Focus – Bible studies with downloadable PDF files.
  • Reflective Focus – monthly devotionals with downloadable PDF files.
  • One Focus Blog – current posts on keeping one focus on God.

Focus is important. If you focus on God, you will see His loving hand every day.

For those who give thanks to God at the Thanksgiving table and pledge to serve Him better in the New Year, how we celebrate Christmas should be the ultimate expression of our thanks to God for His incredible gift. For Christmas marks the birth of our Savior who lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death on the cross for our sins and was resurrected. Victorious over death, He gave us life.

At Christmas, we get gifts we do not pay for. We only have to receive them. We often do so with great gratitude. Christ’s salvation is offered to us as a gift. That gift is like no other. We cannot earn it. We can only accept it. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 NASB). That gift deserves our eternal gratitude. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights…(James 1:17). Are you thankful for Christ, God’s only begotten Son and the focus of Christmas?

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2 NKJV)

Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33 NKJV)

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2015

Download The Focus of the Christmas Season

Inspirational Word Gifts from Mrs. Stanford

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

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

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

On the North Wall

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

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

Reflection:

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

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

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

On the Wall of the East Clerestory

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

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

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

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

On the Walls of the East Transept

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below the Pulpit and the Lectern

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

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

© Stephanie B. Blake

November 2015

Download Inspirational Word Gifts from Mrs. Stanford

Lessons for Today from a Great Lady of Yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Stanford said,

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

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

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

October 2015

© Stephanie B. Blake

 

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

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

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

Download Lessons for Today from a Great Lady of Yesterday

The Only Way Out

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

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

~~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~

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

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

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

~~~~~

Jesus said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2015

Download The Only Way Out

 

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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