Category: Reflective Focus

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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God’s Heavenly Kingdom: A Person, A Place and A Promise

 

The kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of God are often used interchangeably in the gospels. In reading these synoptic gospels, the question can reasonably be asked: Does Jesus mean Heaven when He mentions the Kingdom of God? I believe the answer is yes.

Matthew wrote primarily for Jewish readers and Mark and Luke wrote predominately for Gentiles. For instance, Matthew’s gospel states that Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 6:17) and Mark states that Jesus began preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:19).

Attempting to abide by the Ten Commandments, Jews tried to minimize the possibility that they might unwittingly take the name of the Lord in vain (Exodus 20:7) by using other words for God. Heaven was a favorite substitute. Matthew, writing for Jewish readers, speaks of the kingdom of heaven in the same way that Mark and Luke speaks of the kingdom of God.

It helps me to think of all these references as God’s heavenly kingdom. He owns everything. “Heaven is My throne and earth is My footstool” (Isaiah 66:1).

Jesus said that His is a Heavenly Kingdom. “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).

A Person

My husband Richard once preached a sermon on Luke 23:39:43, Today you shall be with Me in Paradise. He mentioned that the word paradisos is used here and two other times in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 12:4 and Rev. 2:7), each time clearly referring to Heaven.

He said,

“With all its splendors, the object of the believer’s desire is not so much a place, but a Person: the Prince of Heaven, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. We desire Heaven not merely for its splendor, not so much for freedom from sorrow and pain, nor even for the joy of being reunited with loved ones. That which is our hope and joy is Jesus. He is the glory of Heaven: He is all our desire; “Whom have I in heaven but Thee” (Ps. 73:25)? Heaven would not be complete without Jesus.”

In his book Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, E. W. Bullinger says that when Psalm 73:9 states They set their mouth against the heavens, the meaning is “against God, Who dwells there.The rest of the verse confirms this —‘Their tongue (Met. for words) walketh through the earth.’ Here “earth” is put for the people who dwell upon it; and so “heaven” is put for Him who dwells there. “Heaven” is frequently put for “God,” who dwells there. We say” Heaven forbid,” “Heaven protect us,” etc. So the lost son says, “I have sinned against heaven.” He means, against God!”

A Place

Although the Greek word translated “kingdom” refers primarily to sovereignty and dominion and not necessarily a geographical location, God declares that the kingdom of Heaven is His dwelling place in Deuteronomy 26:15, 1 Kings 8:30, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Isaiah 66:1, Matthew 6:9.
For those who trust in Christ, the kingdom of Heaven is a reality, both as a dominion and a place.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3, 10). But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).

A Promise

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15 NIV)

Jesus did say that His kingdom was not of this world, but for our sakes and through His sacrifice, He won the battle for the earthly kingdom which He always rightly owned but allowed Satan to rule for a while. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:24).  When Satan is ousted permanently from this world, the promise is that he will be gone forever. Christ will reign forever.

The Church, the Bride of Christ, will also reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). With an eternal perspective, the challenges of life take on new meaning. We are in the world, but not of it. We don’t belong to the world. We belong to Jesus (John 15:19).

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2014

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Sisters by Choice

Sisters by Choice

The oldest of four boys, my husband married first followed by his brother Jerry. Jerry’s wife and I bonded from the very start. For over forty years, we were sisters by choice – true soul sisters.

Not everyone knows when she is going to die. Diane did. Over two weeks in hospice gave Diane the chance to say and do things that brought honor to God and joy to her loved ones.

In her life and in her death God was bringing glory to Himself by conforming her to the image of His Son. These are a few of the ways I saw Jesus in her.

A Place to Call Home

Like Jesus, Diane was always busy preparing a place of peace and joy for loved ones.

Diane on occasion worked outside of the home, but at heart she was a homemaker. The goal of her life was to make a home for those she loved. She succeeded.

From the wonderful scents of burning candles and enticing foods to a decorating style that said, “you are welcome here”, her home was always a warm, inviting, comforting place to be.

Diane was without question the best cook I have ever known. She shared with me everything from unique kitchen items to sourdough starters to great recipes. My family knows that all my best recipes came from Diane. She produced her own cookbook but I admit on occasion I have been unsuccessful in duplicating those delightful dishes. She just had a gift.

Besides her culinary skills, Diane tried her hand at anything that would make her home a more attractive place to be – inside and outside. She was always preparing something to make her home a sanctuary for her loved ones.

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).

Thoughtful Gift Giver

Like Jesus, Diane delighted in giving gifts.

She and I shared a love for olives. It was a joke at family get-togethers as to who would get to the olive dish first. One year for my birthday she gave me a five-gallon jar of olives. The miracle was she didn’t expect me to share!

Among many other hand made gifts from Diane, my husband and I treasure a framed cross- stitch of Psalm 8. No effort or time expended was too much for Diane to express her love.

During her time in hospice, one of her concerns was that gifts she had set aside for friends and for my husband’s upcoming birthday would get delivered. She was always thinking of others.

Certainly the ultimate gift giver is Jesus Himself. He gave of Himself, He multiplied loaves of bread and small fish to give to crowds, He produced fish for the fishermen after they had already given up and His Holy Spirit gave special gifts to each of His followers. His greatest gift was our salvation. He delighted in giving.

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says, ‘When He ascended on high He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men’ “(Ephesians 4:7-8). “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

The Best of Friends

Like Jesus, Diane was a loyal friend – someone you knew you could count on – someone you could trust.

Ask practically any friend of Diane’s and she would probably tell you Diane was her best friend. Her capacity for friendship was enormous – once her true friend, always her friend.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15: 13, 15).

Discerning Spirit

Like Jesus, Diane had a supernatural ability to judge character.

She knew intuitively whether someone was genuine or not. She could easily recognize pretense and had no toleration for it.

Diane could tell a lot about me by just looking at my eyes. I imagine it was the same for everyone else she loved.

“But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).

Lover of Children

Like Jesus, Diane loved the little children.

When God wanted to touch Diane’s heart, He gave her another child to love.

She transferred her love of animals to children in her family. There was always a dog or two in her home. She even had a llama. She raised ducks for the children to enjoy.

During the days just preceding her death and knowing her end was near, Diane was eager to get unhooked from a life saving machine so that she could go somewhere where she could see the children. God blessed in providing an apartment where everyone could visit.

Surrounded by her beloved children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, one day some of her husky guys carried her downstairs so that she could see the ducks in the pond.

Many photographs were taken during that time. Some of the most precious are those where several children were climbing all over her. There was an expression of pure joy on her face.

“But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God’ ” (Matthew 19:14).

Focus on Others

Like Jesus, Diane’s thoughts were of others. Her actions followed suit.

After Diane learned she was going to die, I was able to spend a day at the hospital with her. I was witness to her sharing her heart and her love with loved ones that day. Her thoughts were not of her own circumstance or comfort. Her thoughts were of others.

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You…. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me that they may be one as We are (John 17:1, 9-11).

Forgiveness 

Like Jesus, Diane knew how to forgive.

During her lifetime, Diane was always fiercely protective of her loved ones. During those last days in the hospital, she was told someone who had caused considerable pain to her family wanted to visit but was reluctant because he didn’t want to upset the family. Her response was, “Tell him he is welcome. During a time like this, all is forgiven.”

“And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’ ” (Luke 23:33-34).

Eternal Joy

Like Jesus, when Diane died, she went into the presence of our Father.

Diane died with a smile on her face. I wasn’t there, but her husband and daughters tell me that she had not opened her eyes for over a day. Her daughters sang to her “You are my sunshine” (the song she used to sing to children in her family). Diane opened her eyes, looked at them, smiled, and drew her last breath.

That moment was a gift from God to those of us who love Diane and a gift from Diane whose desire was to bring joy to those she loved.

Jesus said to His followers: “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you” (John 16:22). Jesus said to His Father: “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).

Sisters by Choice and Sisters Forever

Like Jesus, our brother, Diane’s presence was always a comfort to me

Engraved in my memory is Diane’s smile when I came through the her hospital door and her comment, “There is my sister.” I will forever be grateful for the long hug we shared.

I thank my husband for having a brother who married Diane. I thank his brother for making such a great choice. Most of all, I thank God.

In the hospital, nurses came in and Diane would introduce me as her sister. Other family members laughed when one nurse said, “I thought I saw a family resemblance.”

Diane and I did not have the same earthly parents, but we do have the same Heavenly Father who adopted us both into His eternal family.

We are truly sisters by choice – God’s choice.

“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:15-17).

Stephanie B. Blake

February 2014

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Your Secret Hiding Place

Am I a God near at hand,” says the Lord, “and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?” says the Lord; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord (Jeremiah 23:23–24 NKJV). 

We all played hide and seek as children, but we sometimes unwittingly carried the principle into our adult spiritual lives. God seeks His own we occasionally forget it is impossible to hide from Him. When someone becomes a child of God, he discovers that there really is a wonderful hiding place – not hiding from God but hiding in God. He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust” (Psalm 91:1-2).

In The Bible Knowledge Commentary on Colossians 3:3 (For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God), J. F. Walvoord says that “‘hidden’ implies both concealment and safety; both invisibility and security. He [A Christian] is not yet glorified, but he is secure and safe in Christ. In fact, Christ is his very life.”

The Hiding Place is Corrie ten Boom’s account of life in a concentration camp. The title refers to the physical hiding place where her family hid Jews from the Nazis, as well as Psalm 119:114, You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.

A Made-just-for-you Hiding Place

God has an enormous family, but He treasures time with every child. He made each of us in His secret place: My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth (Psalm 139:15 NIV84). Not even identical twins have identical fingerprints. We are all unique.

We are unique in our creation and in our sins. Although we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), if we trust Christ, our sins were buried with Him. To meet the Father in His secret place, we must come through Christ.

Each believer’s relationship to God is unique. If you are a Christian, as I am, the relationship you have with our Father is different than the one I have with our Father just as I have a special relationship with each one of my sons. Since He made us, He knows our special characteristics and how to draw us to Him into our special place of peace and safety with Him.

Our Father Hears and Sees What is Said and Done in the Secret Place

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus told His followers to do good without regard to man for your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. He tells them to pray to your Father who is in the secret place and when fasting, do not fast so that men will know you are fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place (Matthew 6:3-4, 6, 17-18). God knows where you are and what you are doing. He is pleased to be there with you as you humbly serve Him.

The Protection of the Secret Place

Pliny, Roman Governor in Asia Minor in the early Second Century, was so puzzled about the Christians brought before him for trial that he wrote his famous letter to the Emperor Trajan asking for his advice. This was the kind of thing he found himself up against:

A certain unknown Christian was brought before him, and Pliny, finding little fault in him, proceeded to threaten him. “I will banish thee,” he said.

“Thou canst not,” was the reply, “for all the world is my Father’s house.”

“Then I will slay thee,” said the Governor.

“Thou canst not,” answered the Christian, “for my life is hid with Christ in God.”

“I will take away they possessions,” continued Pliny.

“Thou canst not, for my treasure is in heaven.”

“I will drive thee away from man and thou shalt have no friend left,” was the final threat.

And the calm reply once more was, “Thou canst not, for I have an unseen Friend from Whom thou art not able to separate me.”

What was a poor, harassed Roman Governor, with all the powers of life and death, torture and the stake at his disposal, to do with people like that?

(from Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.)

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?. . . One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. For in time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock (Psalm 27:1-5 NKJV).

The Provision of the Secret Place

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32).“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”  (Matthew 7:11).y

Our Father will use those in His secret place for His glory

 “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what a master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:15-16).

I treasure my secret place in the Lord. Do you?

© Stephanie B. Blake

January 2014

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In His Humanity

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….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth….

 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star” (John 1:1-3, 14, Revelation 22:16).

 At Christmas time, we turn our attention to Jesus as the baby in the manger. With His birth, the world would never be the same, for that event meant the Son of God became the Son of Man – taking on Himself all the limitations of man without losing His divinity – something only God could do. In The Child Who Chose to be Born, a Bible study on this website, we looked at how God the Son readied Himself to become the Son of Man.

None of His limitations as a human were a surprise to Jesus. For our sakes, He willingly took those limitations upon Himself. The Son of God who was, is and will always be the Lord of Lords did something He did not have to do. Fully God and fully human, He expressed His love sacrificially.

Jesus referred to Himself most often as the Son of Man.

  • In His humanity, the Creator of man became like His creation in order to redeem mankind.
  • In His humanity, the Creator of time came just at the right moment for the prophecies about Him to be fulfilled.
  • In HIs humanity, the Shepherd who cares for His sheep needed a mother to care for Him through His early years.
  • In His humanity, the Source of all wisdom and knowledge grew and learned.
  • In His humanity, the Living Water got thirsty.
  • In His humanity, the Bread of Life became hungry but resisted the temptation to satisfy that hunger with anything that would dishonor His Father.
  • In His humanity, the Judge of all men felt sorrow for fallen man and was determined to take our just punishment upon Himself.
  • In His humanity, He needed rest and sleep.
  • In His humanity, He enjoyed companionship with His fellow man.
  • In His humanity, He prayed to the Father.
  • In His humanity, the One who gave the commandments demonstrated how to obey them.
  • In His humanity, the King of Kings came to serve, not to be served.
  • In His humanity, He accomplished something the rest of humanity could not do – He lived a perfect life.
  • In His humanity, the great Lion of Judah became the Lamb of God sacrificing Himself for those He came to save.

He rose from death victorious – forever to be the Son of Man who would intercede for those He understood so well. There was never a time when Jesus was not God, but with His birth, now He would also always be the Son of Man.

Jesus’ followers should never doubt that God understands what they are going through. He has been there, done that in regards to human life, yet without sin. Although He performed many miracles, they were for others – not Himself.

I am part of His bride and am well aware that as my Bridegroom, Jesus paid the price that made it possible to be with Him forever.

How grateful I am for Christmas and every blessing His coming represents. My Lord and Savior is also my Brother and Friend.

“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying; “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us” (Matthew 1:21-23).

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2013

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The Heart of Psalm 119

In every reading of Psalm 119, I am captivated by it – discovering a new theme, another revelation of God and more depth of understanding of the heart of the man who wrote it. Although the psalmist may have been David, many say the author cannot be known for certain. One thing we do know for sure. This man was led by God to write down the desire of his heart – to love God by learning, heeding and keeping His commandments.

Knowing God’s way is the way of truth (Psalm 119:30), this psalmist states that God has revealed Himself through His words, statutes, commandments (law), precepts and testimonies. Determined to live according to God’s plan for his life, he pays attention to what He says.

The same should be true for us today. We cannot separate the love of holy God and His commandments. As sinful men, we come short of completely obeying God’s law. Jesus Christ, The Way, the Truth and the Life, fulfilled God’s law for us, paid the price for our sin on His cross, and offered us eternal life as His love gift. What He asks from us is our heart.

Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart (Psalm 119:2). The psalmist wants the blessing of God. In the first three verses, he speaks of “those” and “they”, stating a principle that those who seek God with their whole heart will walk in His ways, do no iniquity and keep His word. In verse four, he changed from speaking of God as “the Lord” and “Him” and begins his prayer with “You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently.” From then on until the end of the psalm, his prayer is very personal using pronouns “I”, “You”, and “my”, pledging to God the commitment of his heart.

I will praise You with uprightness of heart, when I learn your righteous judgments (Psalm 119:7). Holy God desires our praise – for His love, for His grace expressed through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ and for His righteousness.

With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments (Psalm 119:10). Even with a commitment to seek and to serve God, the psalmist knows there will always be a temptation to focus on something other than God and His will.

Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You (Psalm 119:11). Perhaps the most well known verse in this psalm, the secret to staying in God’s will is to stay close to Him (or as Jesus put it “abide in Him”), to listen to Him, to know His word intimately.

I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart (Psalm 119:32). The longer a believer serves and obeys God, the larger the capacity for loving Him becomes.

Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart (Psalm 119:34). This is not a plea for understanding as the world defines it, but as God does. As Solomon put it in Proverbs 9:10: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness (Psalm 119:36). Sinful human nature can lead one to covet the things of the world. The psalmist wants to love what is lasting – the things of God.

I entreated Your favor with my whole heart; be merciful to me according to Your word (Psalm 119:58). We do not deserve God’s favor, but He promises it to those who truly love Him.

The proud have forged a lie against me, but I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart (Psalm 119:69). C. H. Spurgeon said: “We must first get a thing before we can keep it. In order to keep it well we must get a firm grip of it: we cannot keep in the heart that which we have not heartily embraced by the affections.” When our affections are set on God, the darts of the wicked fall short of their goal.

Let my heart be blameless regarding Your statutes, that I may not be ashamed (Psalm 119:80). Sin originates in the heart. The psalmist did not want to look back on his life and regret falling short of God’s best for Him. Each of us should have the same goal. If, as a young person, we were determined to never shame the name of Christ, what a difference that would make. – How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word (v.9).

Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart (Psalm 119:111). God’s involvement in our lives is cause for rejoicing. In his song The Longer I Serve Him, Bill Gaither puts it this way, “The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows.”

I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, to the very end (Psalm 119:112). In verse 64 of this psalm, the author says, Lord, the earth is filled with your faithful love; teach me Your statutes (HCSB). God has no obligation to anyone except Himself, but even so, He shows His love to us by His faithfulness to His promises. We owe God everything and are obligated to show Him our love by trusting and obeying Him.

I cry out with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord! I will keep Your statutes (Psalm 119:145). The psalmist’s decision has been made. He will remain faithful to the God who was faithful to him.

Princes persecute me without a cause, but my heart stands in awe of Your word. I rejoice at Your word as one who finds great treasure (Psalm 119:161-162). The inevitable persecution that Christians encounter cannot be compared to the awesome treasure of knowing God.

To those disciples who were true believers – saved by trusting Christ alone for their salvation, Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love Him and manifest Myself to him….If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love (John 14:19-21, 15:10).

Looking forward by faith to the Messiah’s fulfillment of the law and the offer of grace through His sacrifice, the psalmist knew that his love for God would be evident as he kept His commandments.

© Stephanie B. Blake

November 2013

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Unless otherwise noted, Scripture references are from the New King James Version.

The Man Called Paul

The man we know as Paul was born Saul of Tarsus. Saul is the name that is used of him up to and including a short time after his conversion. In Acts 13:9, in recording the confrontation that Paul had with Elymas the sorcerer, Luke said, Then Saul, who also is called Paul …. From that time on, Luke refers to the apostle as Paul instead of Saul. From then on, all biblical references to him are as Paul except in those times when Paul gives his own testimony, and he refers back to the times when the Lord and Ananias said, “Saul.” He starts each epistle with “Paul.”

The reason Luke chose this point in writing the book of Acts to stop referring to the apostle as Saul is not recorded, but Paul was the Roman form of his name. It is possible this name was given to him at birth for use in the Gentile world since his father was a Roman citizen. As Paul was called to give the gospel primarily to Gentiles, from now on I will go to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6) … from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you (Acts 26:17), using the Roman form of his name was probably more acceptable to those he was trying to reach. In what became Paul’s last letter, he told Timothy I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles (2 Timothy 1:11).

At the point in history when Saul of Tarsus was born, he had the best of both worlds. As a Roman citizen, he was accepted by the Romans and had all the rights due a citizen of Rome. As a Pharisee, born of the tribe of Benjamin, he was among the most respected of the Jews.

It might be said that he was “born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” as he had all the advantages of an influential family and came from the richest heritage of his race. Being blessed with a great mind, he was also given the best education available. His personality was such that he had the determination and energy to focus on those things he believed were important to his God, his faith, his country, his family, and himself, and to carry through on those beliefs. In short, he had everything going for him.

The Persecutor 

As an Israelite, Saul was so determined to stamp out any movement that threatened his religion he personally persecuted followers of the man called Jesus. He obtained permission to wipe them out. In many ways, Saul’s persecution of the Christians could be compared with Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. In his thinking, all Christians must be destroyed. However, one day on the road to Damascus, where he planned to continue his rampage against believers of Christ, the Lord Jesus Himself confronted him.

The first recorded prayer of Paul that we find is the conversation he had with the risen Lord on that road to Damascus. Having obtained permission from the government officials to persecute the believers of Christ, he was a man with a mission. It is possible to visualize his determination as he devoted his life to wiping out this new “sect.”

However, when Saul first heard the voice of the Lord, he was afraid. In response to the voice from heaven saying, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? (Acts 9:4), he asked, Who are You, Lord? When Jesus identified Himself, Saul trembling and astonished [responded], “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

A New Man 

In between Saul’s first and second questions, a change had come over him. 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. From that moment on, Saul’s heart, mind and life belonged to Jesus.

At that point, he became the apostle Paul. No longer did the voice of the Lord generate fear in his heart, but loyalty. That day started many years of communicating with the God he loved and served. His first prayer was, Who are You, Lord? but among his last prayers was I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief (1 Timothy 1:12-13).

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.

In Saul’s conversion experience, he discovered an important truth for himself that he later communicated to his brothers in Christ. Only someone living outside of the will of God would perceive God’s voice as threatening.

© Stephanie B. Blake

October 2013

* This devotional is an excerpt from The Prayer Driven Life.

The Prayer Driven Life examines the prayers of the Apostle Paul. Although many people would admit that there is value in prayer, few can say that prayer is the driving force in their lives. Those who can make that statement have an intimate relationship with God. Often they leave a lasting legacy for others.

Paul is an excellent example of someone whose life was driven by prayer. Using his prayers as a backdrop,The Prayer Driven Life examines essential questions about prayer. What is it? Why should you pray? What difference does it make in your life?

The real value of Paul’s prayers is that they help you get to know God better. From the moment he met God’s Son on the road to Damascus, Paul’s life was driven by prayer. In prayer, he communicated with God and obtained guidance for his life.

So can we.

© Stephanie B. Blake

October 2013

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