Category: Reflective Focus

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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A Heavenly Exchange

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified (Isaiah 61:1-3).

Upon entering the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus was handed the book of Isaiah. As He read from Isaiah 61:1-2, He said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21).

Jesus’ assignment from the Father was clear. He did proclaim the good news that there is redemption for those who trust Him. We will escape God’s day of judgment on sin because of His substitutionary death on the cross.

While His followers are still here on earth, however, He said that the Father sent Him to:

  • heal our broken hearts
  • proclaim freedom to us when we are captive
  • open our prison doors and
  • comfort and console us when we mourn

His love and sacrifice enabled a heavenly exchange:

  • beauty for ashes
  • oil of joy for mourning
  • garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness

When we allow that heavenly exchange to take place, it results in fruitful living to the glory of God: that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.

Just before His crucifixion, Jesus passed on this assignment to His disciples. “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… By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15: 5, 8).

Hearts are broken all over the world by sin. Believers are persecuted and even imprisoned for the cause of Christ. Those who mourn are everywhere. Some feel that they have been abandoned to the ash heap of life. There is a heavy spirit among even the most devout Christians.

We can help our Christian brothers and sisters most when we remind them of God’s heavenly exchange: our sin for His salvation, our sadness for His joy and comfort, our fear for His freedom, our timidity for His boldness, our confusion for His clarity, our heavy hearts for His praise.

We all need that heavenly exchange. I know I do.

© Stephanie B. Blake

July 2014

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Beloved Benediction

The apostle Paul included many prayers in the letters that he wrote to churches and fellow disciples. Among those prayers were at least sixteen prayers that we might categorize as benedictory prayers.

Perhaps the most loved of all the benedictions is the one Paul prayed for the Ephesian church:

  • Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 20-21).

This benediction is in the middle of Paul’s letter to that church, but it concludes his incredible prayer for them (Ephesians 3:14-19). The prayer and the benediction include some of the most majestic descriptions of the riches of God’s glory imparted to His children.

  • Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly above all that we ask or think …

No matter how big our prayers, God’s supply is bigger still.  – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). – His thoughts are much, much higher. He is not only able to, but does do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.

God, our Heavenly Father who loves to dote on His children, gives us more than we can ever request. It is true on earth, and it will be true in Heaven.  – Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9). – Just as an earthly father watches with glee as his child opens a gift to discover that it was bigger and better than anything he had hoped for, God surprises us time and again with incredible blessings beyond our imaginations.

Psalm 105:1-2 tells us to … Make known His deeds among the peoples … Talk of all His wondrous works! Our conversations with others can be filled with examples of how good God is to us and how He has answered our prayers. Especially those in the church understand when we share our stories, as they can also cite instances of God’s abundant grace in their own lives.

  • according to the power that works in us

Many times our examples have to do with God getting us through what appears to be an impossible situation. In Christ, we have all the resources of the Godhead to accomplish anything He asks us to do. An old hymn reminds us to “trust and obey.” That is our part. God’s part is to do all the work! Isaiah 26:12 says, Lord, You have also done all our works in us.

  • … to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.

Many things in this world do not last. Flowers fade; grass withers; wood decays, etc. Anything done by God’s power in God’s church (His body) for His glory will last forever.

  • Amen.

So be it!

© Stephanie B. Blake

June 2014

This devotional is adapted from my book, The Prayer Driven Life

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The Ministry of Presence

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

The Ministry of God’s Presence

Many people envision God (if they think about Him at all) as distant and unapproachable. They may even acknowledge His existence and His creative power but believe He is not involved in the everyday affairs of their lives.

David, a man after God’s own heart, knew this was not true. God’s desire is for an intimate relationship with those who love Him. David loved God. He knew God was near. “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Psalm 145:18 NKJV).

Like David, those of us who also know and love God should be aware of God’s faithful and dependable presence. God’s presence is evident in His creation, His word and the fulfillment of His promises in history. All these reminders lead us to one important truth – what we really need is God.

Without God’s presence, there would be no salvation, no everlasting love, no security, no guidance, no hope, no joy and no peace.

God demonstrated how approachable He is by coming to live among us. Jesus chose to experience the same limitations, temptations and trials we face. At the same time, He showed us by example that we can call on God at any time and He will hear because He is near.

Jesus’ life was truly a ministry of presence – tangible evidence that God is near.

Presence is so important because absence is so painful.

What will make Hell eternally painful is that God will not be there. There will be a day of separation of believers and non-believers. On that day, when He says to those who do not know Him as Savior, “Depart from me,” they will never see or hear from Him again. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV).

God is holy and cannot look upon sin. As our substitute, sinless Jesus bore the pain of separation from God the Father upon Himself – for our sakes. His agonizing cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” gives us a glimpse of the suffering and cost of His sacrifice for us. Bearing the hideousness of our sins on His own body on the cross, Jesus experienced the absence of the Father’s presence so that we would not have to.

We need to know He is near. He is. His Spirit is as near as our thoughts, hearts and our breath.

His presence is a gift and a promise – now and forever. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8 NKJV).

Passing on the Ministry of Presence

Sometimes we can serve as Christ’s representative – another tangible evidence of His presence.

My husband and I have an international ministry. We are involved in evangelism, church planting and Christian discipleship training. I have noticed another thing that is as valuable or maybe even more so than our teaching. It is the ministry of presence. Our ministry partners comment on the fact that God has connected us, that we care about them, their families and their ministries and that we have traveled long distances to minister with them. Often there have been periods of discouragement in their lives and our presence – even more than the teaching – has been the thing God has used to keep them going. Our presence is evidence that God cares.

My father went to be with the Lord at age 90. I spent the last few days of his life with him in the hospital. I knew he wanted me to be near him. I didn’t have to say much. In fact, he couldn’t talk to me. He was on a breathing machine. The doctors told me that before I got there, he had been struggling. He had pulled out all the tubes and tried to get out of bed. He tried to fight the doctors. When he saw me, everything changed. He stopped struggling. He relaxed. His daughter that he loved was near him. My presence was what he wanted.

It is not always possible to be physically present to show a loved one you care. As we can serve as God’s representative, He serves as ours. Like many families, there is a geographical distance between my husband and me and our sons and their families. We only get to see them occasionally – once or twice a year. Since we are His children, we count on His presence to convey how much we would love to be with them.

Presence makes a statement of caring. Desertion – deliberate absence – also makes a statement. One of the most chilling words spoken about anyone from the apostle Paul was Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world (2 Timothy 4:10 NKJV).

——————–

Since I know that God is near, I know that I can talk to Him anytime about anything, no matter where I am. As I learn more about prayer, I am increasingly grateful that He wants to be near and wants to hear from me.

One of Paul’s favorite expressions was “Christ in you.” Jesus’ Spirit is closer to His believers than anyone else can be.

I know the value of feeling my Father’s presence. I talk a lot to God, but I don’t always have something to say. I just feel His presence. I know if He needs to say something to me or I need to say something to him we can talk.

All I really need to know is that He is near.

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God (Isaiah 41:10a NKJV). “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b NKJV).

© Stephanie B. Blake

May 2014

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April Fools and All Fools

As a child, I remember trying to be aware of the possibility that someone would play a trick on me when April 1 rolled around. I still have to be careful around some people!

April Fools’ day is practiced in many countries. The origin is not certain, but it may have had its beginnings in Iran, where their joking day started as far back as 536 BC.

Scotland has their “Hunt-the-Gowk” Day (“gowk” is Scottish for a cuckoo or foolish person).

800px-Cartes_postales_poissons_d'avril

“poisons d’avril” postcards.This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

In Italy, France, Belgium, and French-speaking areas of Switzerland and Canada, the tradition on April 1 is to attempt to attach a paper fish to the back of someone else without being noticed. In the late 19th century to the early 20th century April Fish (poisson d’avril) postcards were popular.

Poland avoids serious activities on April 1 – so much so that an anti-Turkish Alliance with Leopold 1, signed on 1 April, 1683 was then back-dated to March 31.

In 1957, the BBC published a fake video of Swiss farmers harvesting fresh-grown spaghetti. They had so many requests for the place to purchase spaghetti plants that they had to admit their prank on April 2.

And the jokes go on and on.

What is no joking matter is being a real fool. Proverbs gives many contrasts between a wise man and a fool, but the most serious charge of all is mentioned twice in the Psalms. I am always aware that we should sit up and pay attention when God says something twice in His word.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good (Psalm 14:1-3).

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt and have done abominable iniquity; there is none who does good (Psalm 53:1-3).

The commentators mention that there is nothing in the original language to account for “there is” in those two verses. They were added for clarity. If we leave them out, we have “No God.” As H.A. Ironside said,

Let us leave them out: “The fool hath said in his heart, No God” – no God for me, no God in my life, no God in my thinking – I am going to have my own way; I am going to do as I please; I am going to have my fling; I am going to live as I want to live!  “Fools make a mock at sin” (Proverbs 14:9).

April Fools’ Day is also known as All Fools’ Day. All who push God aside in their thinking, whether they don’t believe in Him or know He exists but chose not to obey Him are fools indeed.

Some may think me a fool because I believe in God. I don’t mind.

 

The foolishness of God is wiser than men…We are fools for Christ’s sake (1 Corinthians 1:25, 4:10)

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