Category: Reflective Focus

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

Download The Roll Call of the Faithful

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

Download the World’s View of Christianity

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

Download An Exercise in Biblical Study

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

Download A Heavenly Exchange

 

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

Download Beloved Benediction

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

Download The Ministry of Presence

 

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)

Download April and All Fools

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

Download God’s Heavenly Kingdom

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

 Download Sisters by Choice

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

Download Your Secret Hiding Place