Category: Reflective Focus

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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The Faith, Hope and Love of Christmas

Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be for all people, for today in the city of David there has been born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10).

And now abide faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

The birth of Jesus Christ brought the good news the world had been waiting for. We needed a Savior. God had promised He would come. With His coming, the world would never be the same. Now reconciliation with God was possible. Through faith in Him, our sins could be forgiven. His coming brought hope of everlasting life with God. And most importantly, His birth, His sinless life, His sacrificial death and His resurrection from the dead spoke volumes about the love of God.

The good news (the gospel) announced to the shepherds on the first Christmas has been celebrated throughout the centuries. Mary was chosen by God to bring the Son of God to the world. An angel told Joseph that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised His disciples that although He was leaving, He would still be with them because His Father would send them the Holy Spirit to help them, teach them and help them remember the things He had said. The Holy Spirit brought gifts with Him to enable Christ’s disciples to carry on His work. There would be specific, individual gifts but the abiding gifts of faith, hope and love would be given to all believers.

Faith

Faith is the revelation of the good news.

Through faith we see God for who He really is. His nature is revealed to us through faith. Faith is not blind. It allows us to see the miracles that God has wrought through His Son. As C.S. Lewis says, “The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares the way for this, or results from this.”

When you believe in the miracle of the Incarnation and invite the Christ who chose to be born in a manger to take residence in the manger of your heart, you experience the greatest miracle of all – forgiveness of your sins, reconciliation with God and a place in His forever family.

In faith, the servants of God in the Old Testament looked forward to this miracle and the revelation of God’s presence. Disciples in the New Testament and followers of Christ ever since that time have all come to God through abiding faith.

All we need to know about God we see in Jesus. Through faith in Him, we see the nature of God revealed.

For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ (Colossians 2:9).

Hope

Hope is the fulfillment of the good news. We hope because of God and God does not disappoint.

God’s word in the Old Testament prophesied of God’s salvation through the coming Messiah. His word in the New Testament recorded that salvation obtained through the miraculous birth, sinless life, sacrificial death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the men of old believed God would deliver what He promised, men today look back upon that accomplished fact in history. The Son of God gives all believers the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Like Abraham, our faith is in a God who fulfills His promises. Our hope is not a “hope so,” but “I know He will.” Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become lazy but will be imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance…. We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure (Hebrews 6:11-12, 19). Peter calls our hope a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).

Paul said of Abraham: He did not waver in unbelief at God’s promise but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, because he was fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. Therefore, it was credited to him for righteousness. Now it was credited to him was not written for Abraham alone, but also for us. It will be credited to us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:20-25).

Love

The greatest of these is love. Love is the good news.

God does not need faith. Neither does He need hope. We do. He provides what we need so that we might see the love He has for us. We love Him only because He first loved us.

There is no other religion that speaks of a God who loves His people so much that He chose to send His only Son to die on their behalf in order to have a relationship with them.

God is love. It was love that brought Jesus to earth. It was love that enabled Him to endure temptations and shame so that He could be our perfect substitute. It was love that led Him to the cross. It was love that resurrected Him from the dead.

He loved us and wants us to love others the same way – sacrificially. As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love that this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you (John 15:9-14).

The King of kings chose to be born in a stable because of His love for us. There is no greater love. Love is the gospel story.

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2014

Scripture references are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

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Life Changing Questions

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:1-9).

The man we know as the apostle Paul (formerly known as Saul) was a persecutor of Christians before he met Christ on the Damascus road. Certainly, as a devout Jew and a Pharisee, he had prayed many times to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The first time he spoke to Jesus Christ, it is revealing that as he heard His voice, he knew that he must address Him as Lord.

When he discovered the God he was defending was the same God he was persecuting, Paul had only one option: to give everything he had to serve the Lord Jesus Christ . . . . Faced with the fact of the sacrifice of Jesus on his behalf was all it took for Paul to live the rest of his life in obedience to His will. His prayers were always reverent but bold, knowing that his faith was in a God who loves, forgives, and desires to communicate with His children. . . . (from The Prayer Driven Life, Stephanie B. Blake)

In his encounter with Jesus, he asked two questions that changed his life. Those two questions can and should change ours as well.

“Who are you, Lord?”

How you answer, “Who are You, Lord?” determines how you live your life. Who is Jesus Christ to you? Is He just the babe in the manger that is the reason for Christmas celebrations? Is He like a passing stranger who has rescued you from peril (eternal death), one who merits gratitude but who has no lasting claim on your life? Have you fully realized the implications of His Lordship in your life?

If you ask the question, as Paul did, “Who are You, Lord?” you must deal with His answer. You have to decide what to do with the claims He makes about Himself. Paul later wrote if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. . . . for “whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9, 13 NAS).

He deserves to be your Lord because of who He is and what He did on your behalf. A lord is someone you follow, someone who rules. If you understand the love for you that drove Jesus to the cross, then you must love Him in return, we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), and give Him the place He deserves in your life.

In an instant, Paul understood that he had been wrong about Jesus. He was indeed the promised Messiah. With that realization, he gave his heart to Him in faith trusting Him as His Savior and committing to serve Him as Lord. Jesus invites each of us to do the same. If you are not sure that you have trusted Jesus as Savior and Lord, settle that issue right now. The Bible says “you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13b).

God’s relationship with mankind is all about His loving grace. Even before Adam and Eve chose to sin in the Garden of Eden, God knew that He would provide a way back to Him through the sinless life, sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection of His only Son, Jesus Christ. Anyone who recognizes the reality of sin in his life; repents of that sin; and invites Jesus Christ to be his Savior and Lord becomes a child of God and will live with Him forever. Eternity is a reality for us all. Those who choose Jesus are adopted into God’s family and will go to Heaven when they die. Those who reject Him will spend eternity separated from God in a literal Hell.

Becoming a Christian is not just about going to heaven when you die, but how you live the rest of your life. Jesus wants to be and deserves to be the Lord of your life. So, just like Paul, our next logical question is:

“Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Read this question with the following emphases.

  • “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
  • “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
  • “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15 NASB).

Scripture tells us that after his conversion, Paul was immediately obedient. He followed the Lord’s instruction without question.

If Saul had asked the question, but then walked away without hearing the answer, he would not have become the apostle Paul. When you pray, do you wait to hear what God has to say to you? Record a prayer asking God to enable you to hear Him through His word, His Spirit, His body, and any other means by which He desires to speak to you.

Paul told Agrippa, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). Will you be able to tell Jesus when you meet Him in Heaven, “I was not disobedient to your call on my life?” Ask Him to help you know His will and do it.

Do you have a “big picture” of God’s will for you? That does not mean that you know in advance each step He wants you to take, for He gives you direction as you need it. It means that you realize that whatever plan He has for you, it is to bring glory to His name.

Paul was also able to say at the end of his life, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). Even with his background, Paul knew the Lord had forgiven him. His life from his conversion on was to do God’s will. Will you be able to say the same thing about your own life? Have you started the good fight? Are you keeping the faith?

 

Stephanie B. Blake

© November 2014

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The Roll Call of the Faithful

Hebrews 11 has been called “the roll call of the faithful.” What can we learn from their examples?

Abel 

God said through [his sacrifice Abel] obtained witness that he was righteous. Although his life was cut short by his brother Cain, God [testified] of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

Jesus eliminated the need for the kind of sacrifice Abel gave because of His substitutionary death on the cross. God still wants our sacrifice. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16).

What will others remember about what you said and did after you die? Is God well pleased with your sacrifices to Him?

Enoch

Enoch is mentioned a total of ten times in the Bible. He is only one of two people who did not die. He did not see death, “and was not found because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. God never mentioned what Enoch did. What He wanted us to know about Enoch is that his faith pleased Him for 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.

Is your faith pleasing to God?

Noah

 Each time we see a rainbow, we are reminded of Noah, the ark, the flood and God’s promise not to destroy the world again by flood. By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household…

When God gives you an assignment, do you proceed with godly fear? Do your actions match your words?

Abraham

A good part of Genesis is dedicated to God’s dealing with Abraham. Twice the apostle Paul uses Abraham as an example of the doctrine “justification by faith alone.” James calls Abraham “a friend of God.” All believers are called “children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). By faith Abraham obeyed…by faith he dwelt in the land… he waited…by faith…when he was tested he offered up Isaac … concluding that God was able to raise him up.

James says the life of Abraham is an illustration that faith without works is dead. Who was right – Paul who uses him as an example of “justification by faith alone” or James who uses him as an illustration that “faith without works is dead?” They are both right. Abraham was justified by his faith; his faith was proven by his works. God expects us to trust Him and do what He asks us to do.

Do you consider yourself a friend of God? Do your works testify to your faith?

Sarah, Isaac and Jacob

Abraham’s wife Sarah, his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob are also mentioned in Hebrews 11. Although Sarah laughed when she heard she would bear the promised child in her old age, it was said of her that she judged Him faithful who had promised. God said Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come “by faith”. Jacob, as well, was commended for blessing each of the sons of Joseph upon his deathbed.

How do we, by faith, bless others? It is really only God who can bless. As Christians, we are His ambassadors and can bring His blessing to others. We are carriers of His blessing. Can God use you as a channel of blessing for others?

Joseph

Jacob’s favorite son was not a favorite of his brothers. In fact, they sold him into slavery. Patient and faithful to God, Joseph was wronged, forgotten and finally put in a place of leadership where he could either seek revenge on his brothers or bless them. He chose to bless: But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive (Genesis 50:20).

In the midst of trials and tribulations, can you trust God to make it right?

Moses

Moses’ parents had faith that God would take care of him. Moses had faith that God would lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and He did. But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10).

I counted at least 159 times the Bible said, The Lord spoke to Moses. With one exception that we know of, when the Lord spoke, Moses obeyed. Do you know God face to face? When He speaks to you, do you obey?

Rahab

By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe…

Rahab, an inhabitant of Jericho, had heard about the miracles God had performed for the Israelites. When the spies came to check out the city, she hid them and asked them to swear by the Lord, the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath (Joshua 2:11) that they would spare her and her family. She is mentioned three times in the New Testament; in Matthew 1:5 (she was the great-grandmother of King David); in Hebrews 11:31 and in James 2:25 – Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them another way?

Rahab was not of the promised line of Abraham and she was a harlot but God included her in this list because she believed in Him and she acted upon that belief.

We who are in Christ are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise no matter what our race, gender or status in the world. How does that reality help you share Christ with a lost world?

Now faith is the substance of things hope for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony (1-2). These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (13-14).

When your life is over, will those who knew you be able to say that you died in faith? Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us. Are you looking forward to it?

© Stephanie B. Blake

October 2014

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The World’s View of Christianity

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you…. but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15:18-19).

A 2008 poll* of unchurched in America revealed that

  • 72% thought the Christian church was full of hypocrites
  • 79% thought Christianity is more about organized religion than loving God and loving people
  • 86% believed they could have a good relationship with God outside of the church
  • 44% said Christians “get on their nerves”

The only encouraging finding was that 78% said they were willing to listen to some one about their Christian beliefs.

I can’t imagine this has gotten better in the intervening years. In the spring of 2014, there was an American Bible Society study conducted by the Barna group conducted on peoples’ (churched and unchurched) views about the Bible as God’s word**. The ABS had conducted a similar study in 2011.

  • “Engaged” Bible readers (those who read it almost daily and see it as sacred) are now matched by skeptics who just see it as a book of stories and advice with both groups at 19%. In 2011, the engaged were 19% but the skeptics were 9% – an increase of 10% in 3 years.
  • “Bible friendly” people (those who read it occasionally and see it as God inspired) went from 45% in 2011 to 37% in 2014.
  • In 2011, 86% viewed the Bible as sacred compared to 79% in 2014.

The percentages get even worse when you look at the 18-29 age category indicating that percentages on the positive side were among older adults.

In 2012, other statistics and surveys were addressed in an article on the decline of Christianity in America***. The author quotes from a book written by David Kinnaman, the president of the Barna group. Kinnaman states that the 18-29 age group (frequently referred to as millenials) have fallen down a “‘black hole’ of church attendance” with a 43% drop in church attendance.

Michael Snyder, the author of the article, says,

But it is not just young adults that are rejecting the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Even large numbers of “evangelical Christians” are rejecting the fundamental principles of the Christian faith. For example, one survey found that 52 percent of all American Christians believe that at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life. Another survey found that 29 percent of all American Christians claim to have been in contact with the dead, 23 percent believe in astrology and 22 percent believe in reincarnation. Without a doubt, the religious landscape of America is changing.

These surveys were conducted among Americans. Since I travel internationally, I also know that the general perception among unbelievers of Christians is mostly a negative one.

I believe the findings of these surveys are valid. I have experienced this attitude – in America and abroad.

I have encountered people who think that Christians are comprised of a bunch of negative people – those that “don’t drink, don’t smoke and don’t go with girls who do”. They believe that church is going to be loaded with people who are going to judge their appearance, their speech and ask for their money. Who would ever want to be a part of a group like that?

That’s exactly what the Pharisees in Jesus’ day did. They were so full of rules and regulations that they couldn’t recognize Love and Freedom when He stared them in the face.

What is clear is that Christians (or those claiming to be Christian) can get in the way of people seeing Christ for who He is. It is easy to have the wrong perspective if your focus is on a faulty church and non-committed Christians.

The apostle Paul addressed this issue in the Corinthian church. The contentions in the church were damaging their Christian testimony. Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment… For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe… but we preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:10, 18, 21, 23).

We must introduce people to Christ Himself. God asked His children to represent Christ, but we are obviously not doing a good job. The old saying, “You are the only Bible some people are ever going to read” should make each Christian stop short before speaking or acting.

The trend toward antagonism toward Christians, the church and the Bible is depressing, but what people believe about Christ is a matter of life and death. Even with a general negative perception about Christianity, the fact that most people are willing to hear what someone else has to say about their Christian beliefs is promising. It gives room for a personal Christian testimony. It provides an opportunity for someone to talk about Christ and the difference between a personal relationship with Him and the perceived “Christian religion.”

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter (1 Peter 4:16).

* http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-do-unchurched-americans-view-christianity-30793/

** http://www.religionnews.com/2014/04/09/bible-study-people-say-good-book-isnt-god-book/

*** http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/how-will-the-shocking-decline-of-christianity-in-america-affect-the-future-of-this-nation

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2014

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An Exercise in Biblical Study

My rule for understanding scripture is always to read the passage first, over and over again, before ever opening a commentary. I know for a certainty God’s word is inspired but even the wisest and most respected theologians can insert their personal opinions into the interpretation of scripture.

As I prepare to teach my own Bible studies, there have been occasions when I have not even ventured outside of the Word of God in the preparation of the study. It is not that I don’t think commentators have something of value to say. It is simply that scripture itself usually gives the meaning of a passage – or that the theme I am studying has a thread running from Genesis to Revelation. I love to connect the dots and discover those threads.

Recently I felt the need to use my husband’s large theological library in order to help me understand two small books – 2 and 3 John. After multiple readings of these two letters I still had questions.

These are the smallest books of the New Testament. One commentator even suggested that they had a hard time making it into being included in the final version of scripture. Curiously, one of the full commentary sets (covering Genesis to Revelation) on my husband’s shelf doesn’t even bother to mention them.

However, since these books are included in my copy of scripture, I believe that God had a reason for doing so. Since all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17), I believe that there is no part of His word that should be skipped over. Every word deserves contemplation.

I suggest you read both these books. They are very short. The comments made by theologians won’t make much sense unless you read through these letters first.

Practically every commentator admitted their interpretations were a guess. Comments such as “may be”, “conjecture is fruitless”, and “no one can be sure” were interspersed throughout their writings. I thought it interesting, however, that some of them were very adamant that their interpretation had to be correct even while admitting that others (even quoting the commentator) had a different and sometimes opposite opinion.

The greeting in both letters is from “the Elder.” There was agreement that the Elder was the aged apostle John, probably the last surviving apostle. The word elder was often interpreted as Presbyter, a word understood to mean a wise leader in the body of Christ.

Some theologians saw no connection between the two letters while others insisted that the two were incontrovertibly tied together.

Some believe that 2 John was a letter to a particular church (the elect lady and her children) instructing the leadership to watch very carefully for false doctrine. They believe that John sent this letter to the church where Gaius and Diotrephes were members. 2 John does not mention any one by name. The elect lady and her children in verse 1 of 2 John and the children of your elect sister in verse 13 of 2 John could refer to the church to which John was addressing 2 John and the church where he resided (many believe he was in Ephesus). The commentators say if that is true, then John’s statement, “I wrote to the church” (3 John 9) refers to 2 John. That seems reasonable to me. Even today, we refer to “sister churches.”

Others emphatically state that 2 John must have been addressed to a Christian woman of high character, a special friend of the apostle John, saying there is no connection between the two letters.

John does mention three names in 3 John: Gaius to whom the letter was addressed, Diotrephes whose desire for power and control was causing great discord in the church and Demetrius who had an impeccable reputation among all. Some commentators believe that Demetrius was the one who carried the letters at the same time to both the church (2 John) and to Gaius (3 John). Both these letters end with a similar statement. John had many things he wanted to communicate, but made his letters short because he fully intended to come and speak face to face with the church and with Gaius. Whether he actually made that trip is unknown.

In 2 John, John rejoices that some of your children are walking in truth. If this is indeed addressed to a church, the commentators suggest that some was used because some of the members were not walking in the truth – mainly Diotrephes and his followers.

Understanding that there is a possibility that these two letters are not related, it seems likely that they were. The truth that John was trying to convey was the same truth he made abundantly clear in the gospel of John, 1 John and Revelation. The truth is Jesus Christ. Without trusting in His Truth, there is no love, there is no salvation and there is no reward. His greeting in 2 John emphasizes God the Father and … the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love (verse 3).

The church should not let anything or anyone stand in the way of the truth of that doctrine. That truth can be known and known intimately. 1 John mentions “know, knows, known” 38 times – These things are written so that you may know you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

Jesus is the head of the church. There is no other preeminent one in His body. That was the great evil of Diotrephes – he wanted to be in control, the boss of the church, and he took down others with him. One commentator even mentioned an article that had been published about Diotrephes in a Christian magazine. The editor received 25 calls from church deacons cancelling their subscriptions because they were offended by the article!

The fact that commentators could not say for certainty who John was writing to or even if Gaius was still a member of the church or had been excommunicated as a result of Diotrephes’ efforts or whether Demetrius was a member of Gaius’ church or the bearer of the letters does not bother me. These things may be debated throughout the ages or even not counted worthy of consideration.

What cannot be ignored is that God takes very seriously what we believe. John admonishes against being tolerant of false doctrine and evil in the church. At least five times in 2 John and at least six times in 3 John, the word truth is mentioned. What is clear is that we are to love in truth (2 John 1, 3 John 1). “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

 

Stephanie B. Blake

© August 2014

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