Category: Reflective Focus

Think on These Things

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7 NKJV).

The Mind

Without the ability to think, none of us could function. Our bodies work because our brains tell them what to do although those who do not have control over their bodies can be productive if the thought processing part of the brain is still there. ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, for instance, is a neurodegenerative disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. When motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to control muscle movement is lost. Patients in latter stages may become completely paralyzed. Eventually the disease leads to death.

Shortly after his 21st birthday, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS and given two years to live. Although he cannot speak and is bound to a wheelchair, he has been living with ALS for fifty years. Touted as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history, he says his life is very satisfying. Stephen Hawking’s brain is diseased, but he still has the ability to think.

Much has been debated about the condition of being brain dead (not to be confused with living in a vegetative state), but in many places, brain death is a legal indicator of death. A person who is brain dead has no hope of recovery or survival. All brain activity may have ceased, but for a time (as long as a patient has oxygen such as is the case with a breathing machine), the heart and other organs are still viable. This is when most organ transplants take place.

People can function without the use of their body, but not without their brain – or their thought processes. We live our lives through our thoughts. The brain and the mind are not the same thing, however. The brain houses our mind just as the body houses our soul and spirit.

Whatever your circumstance, you control your reaction to it by what you think. What you think is who you are. What you feed into your brain’s data bank will often come out in your actions. 

As I was writing this, the lead article in the New York Times was: The Evil Brain: What Lurks Inside a Killer’s Mind: “As tragedies like Boston and Newtown mount, scientists and criminologists are trying harder than ever to understand the minds behind the crimes.”

The Heart

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man (Mark 7:21-23).

… they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their mind on earthly things (Philippians 3:19).

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23). 

Mind and Heart in Sync With God

It is rare to find someone who does not know about Christ – with his mind. It is only those who invite Him into their hearts that become children of God.

Man’s heart has been described as the seat of his emotions. We become children of God by trusting in Jesus with all of our heart. Jesus instructs us to love God with all of our hearts and minds (and souls and strength). Doing that, He will guide our steps. 

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true…noble…just…pure… lovely…of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things (Philippians 4:8).

Paul addressed this to his brothers – believers in Christ. Instead of “setting our minds on earthly things,” we should “think on these things” (in most versions). Other translations render this as “dwell on these things”(NASB), “focus your thoughts on these things” (Common English Bible), “fill your minds with” (Expanded Bible), “think on, weigh, take account of these things” (fix your minds on them) (Amplified), “let this be the argument of your thoughts” (Knox).

Similarly, other versions translate “whatever things are…” as:

True – all translations

Noble – honorable, respectable, lofty, worthy of reverence

Just – right, virtuous, moral

Pure – genuine, undefiled

Lovely – and lovable, whatever can be loved, pleasing

Good report – is well thought of, commendable, admirable, good repute

Virtue – excellence of character, excellent

Praiseworthy – worth giving thanks for, worthy of praise

Oswald Chambers said, “All Christians have the spirit of Christ, but not all Christians have the mind of Christ,” Chambers calls Matthew 6:19-21 “the depository of thought,” asking, “Where do we make our depository of thinking? What do we brood on most, the blessings of God, or God Himself?” See Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 2:5-8.

If we do not practice intentional thinking, our minds will wander and be open to Satan’s urging to ponder thoughts that are not pleasing to God. When we “think on these things,” we can keep godly thoughts close and shut Satan’s thoughts out. You draw near to God through your thoughts. He promises to draw near to you when you do.

You live by the choices you make. You choose with your thoughts.

The following, attributed to many people including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Lao Tzu, says it well, “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

© Stephanie B. Blake

June 2013

Download Think on these Things

Our Father Knows Best

Our Father Knows Best

 

“your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).

The Television Series 

In the last six years of the 1950’s, a hit television series portrayed a middle class American family – father, mother and three children. “Father Knows Best” became so popular that even when Robert Young left the series in 1960 and production stopped, reruns continued for another three years. The Anderson family was described as “truly an idealized family, the sort that viewers could relate to and emulate.”*

It is hard to imagine “Father Knows Best” would be as popular now. There is no longer an idealized family. The word family itself has been redefined. In a comedy series, which “Father Knows Best” was, viewers often laugh with the characters because they do relate to them. It is more likely that a series of this type would now be laughed at, not with. To keep in step with the changes, television is producing far different family comedy series.

 

Although some fathers are selfish, disinterested and even cruel toward their families, there are still many fathers who believe that responsibility for taking care of their families is of utmost importance. There are still families that can relate and fathers who emulate Jim Anderson.

 

Jim was a dad his family could trust. His wife and kids could talk to him. He was there when they needed him. He did what he could to provide for them.

The official “Father Knows Best” website cites occasions when he took over the paper route for his son when his son was sick and chose to see his daughter in a school play rather than attend an important meeting. Those were just a couple of examples of times that Jim Anderson put his family first. Jim Anderson did not claim to be perfect, just involved in a family he loved.

*Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (1999). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows: 1946-Present (Twentieth Anniversary ed.). New York: Ballantine Books, p. 338.

The Highest Example of a Father

Those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord become part of God’s family. God is then not only our Creator, but our Father as well. Jesus, His Son, revealed His Father to the world. In what has been called the model prayer, He also gives us understanding of why He is the Father we can trust above all other fathers. God truly loves His family. He is intimately involved with each child. He is perfect – the highest example of a father who knows best.

Our Father is all Powerful

 “Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).

Jesus made a distinction between God, the Father and every other father when He said, “pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven.” God’s name is holy. Heaven is His home, earth is His footstool, and He is totally in charge.

Children naturally trust their fathers. Until and unless the dad proves himself untrustworthy, a child thinks his dad is the best, the bravest and the biggest. If a child has climbed to the top of a tree, gets stuck and scared, he calls for his dad. If his dad says, “jump”, the child must trust his dad to catch him.

We may find ourselves out on a limb. Sometimes we know exactly why we are there. We climbed up on our own. Occasionally we wonder how we got there. No matter how we came to be in a situation in which we need to be rescued, we can be sure He is there and powerful enough to catch us. He can, and has, performed miracles to get some of His children out of these kinds of situations although His will may be accomplished by demonstrating His power in another way. He may climb up with us and lead us down by His hand.

However He does it, His power is limitless and we can trust Him.

Our Father Provides

“Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:11-12)

Unlike our dads, our Father in heaven doesn’t have to go to work every day to provide for our needs. He doesn’t have to open a savings account for our college fund. He doesn’t have to nervously watch the stock market to make sure his money is safe. He doesn’t have to worry about losing our homes to foreclosure.

Our Father in heaven made everything and everything is at His disposal. He wants us to recognize that fact, ask Him for what we need, and thank Him for the provision.

Our Father Protects

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13)

One of the most important things we need from our Father is protection. Children are helpless. This is different than the out on the limb scenario. We need Him to go before us and prevent us from giving in to Satan’s temptations to be out of God’s will and out of HIs fellowship. That’s why He sent His Son – to deliver us.

God, our Father, never changes. He has and always will have our best interests in mind. Whatever circumstance a child of God finds himself in, he can be sure that his Father knows best.

© Stephanie B. Blake

May 2013

Download Our Father Knows Best

 

Prepare to Be Surprised

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.” Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.” Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied,” There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left” (2 Kings 4: 1-7 NIV).

Notice that when Elisha told the widow to ask her neighbors for empty jars, he said, “don’t ask for just a few.” What happened next was a surprise. It was something only God could do. If this widow had known how God was going to bless her, would she have asked for even more jugs?

Elisha’s mentor Elijah had a similar experience with the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17: 7-16). As she was preparing what she believed to be her last meal for her and her son, Elijah approached her. All she had left was a handful of flour and a little olive oil in a jug. Elijah asked her to prepare something for him first and then for herself and her son. Although the drought in the land lasted for years, Elijah promised that the food would not run out until the day the Lord sent rain on the land.

These women were destitute because they had lost their husbands and thus their support. One went to a man of God hoping for help. The other was not even aware help was available. Neither of them could have imagined how their circumstances could have turned out well. They were surprised by God’s miraculous provision for them.

In each case, God called upon His servants to use what little the widows had to bring about the blessing. A little oil filled all the jugs the widow had collected. Only then did it stop. A little flour and a little oil were not depleted until the rain came.

Jesus surprised more than one tremendous crowd by feeding them from a tiny supply of bread and fish. In these circumstances, not only was there enough for the people, but an abundant supply remained. Jesus had these gathered up so there would be no waste.

Similar stories of provision can be found all over the world today. No story is identical to another, but one thing is clear. God loves to surprise His children. He knows our special wants and needs and delights in arranging surprises for us.

Sometimes we miss out on the best of God’s surprises because we are not prepared to receive them. How can we prepare ourselves for the surprises God has for us? Simply by living expectantly in faith that what God allows in our lives is best for us. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the certainty of things not seen…Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:1,6).

Some people would like to believe that God promises blessings because we deserve it. These are those who would preach and teach that Christians should never be ill or poor. That is not the teaching of the Bible. Story after story proves that God blesses and provides for His people in adverse circumstances.

If what we hope for is to honor God – loving, obeying and trusting Him – His rewards will be both temporal and eternal.

Daniel remained untouched by the lions when he was thrown into their den. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not even singed when they were thrown into the fire, but the men who tossed them in burned to death. Stephen – in the midst of being stoned for proclaiming Jesus – saw Him standing at the right hand of God. Paul and Silas – jailed for preaching Jesus – sang and prayed and then the angels opened the doors of the prison.

In “Making Each Moment Count: 21 Reflections on a Fulfilled Life”, Anne Bryan Smolin says in a chapter entitled “Expect Surprises”:

What surprises are waiting for me today? What graces will come my way? Who will carry the message? What will it be and how will it be packaged? Will I recognize it as gift?

Instead of deciding what my day will be like and what needs to happen, let me live this next 24 hours with abandon, open to the possibilities that dangle before me.

Anne has a good point. We often expect nothing or too little from God. We ask for small blessings when he desires to pour out His richest blessings upon us. Our God is not just a big God. He has no limitations. He delights in blessing His children who can give the glory to Him and who can in turn bless others.

George Mueller, a great man of prayer whom God supplied with the means – daily – for running the orphanages He had led him to establish, said, “Why should we limit either the goodness or power of God by our own knowledge of what we call the law of nature?” George Mueller lived expectantly and was accustomed to seeing God’s miracles on a daily basis.

Squire Parsons, a very gifted gospel artist, in his song “He will” expresses this idea perfectly.

“I don’t how He’s gonna make this trial a blessing…. I don’t know how He’s gonna do it, but I know He will.”

Wake each morning with eager anticipation. Have faith in God and be prepared for His abundant surprises. Give Him what you have and He will multiply it or give you something even better.

Stephanie B. Blake

April 2013

 Download Prepare to Be Surprised

A Personal Prayer Pilgrimage

My own personal prayer pilgrimage began fifty years ago when I told the Lord, “Yes, I do believe.” Having been clearly presented with the love of Christ and His sacrifice on my behalf, that first prayer sprang forth straight from my heart. I am not sure I knew it was a prayer. I just knew I was speaking to God. I needed Him and I told Him so.

Since then, especially in the last few years, I have been on a quest to know more about prayer. I have prayed about prayer, asking God exactly what prayer is and how He wants me to pray. I have studied the subject of prayer in the Bible, even writing a book about the prayers of the apostle Paul. I have read everything I can find written on the subject of prayer. I collect quotes on prayer. I read autobiographies of great prayer warriors. I continue to search the Bible for every clue about the wonderful, mysterious gift of prayer.

Here are some things about prayer I know to be true.

  • Authentic prayer is not complicated. It is a two-way conversation between God and His people. He speaks and I listen. I talk to Him and He hears me.
  • Unless prayer is rooted in a relationship with God through His Son Christ Jesus, it is not true prayer. It is pretense.
  • As my Creator, God already knows everything there is to know about me. He designed prayer as a means for me to get to know Him.
  • Since God is not limited by time or space, He is always accessible. I can talk to Him any time, anywhere in any circumstance.
  • I don’t have to say anything. I can pray silently in my mind, out loud or even in writing. That’s why we have the prayers of the great men of faith in the Bible. God, by whatever means He communicated with them, told them to write their prayers down.
  • Prayer is easier when my focus is on God. Whenever I catch myself thinking, “I wish I had prayed about that,” I realize I have taken my focus off of Him.
  • I have a hard time hearing Him speak when I am disobedient or stubbornly resisting His will. Recognizing His sovereignty is a prerequisite to being able to hear Him when He speaks. Jesus called this having ears to hear.
  • Prayer should be the first thing I do, not the last.
  • When I try to do something by myself, in my own strength, He lets me do it, but I often regret it. The best way to live my life is to talk to Him about everything.
  •  If there is ever a temporary loss of communication, it is not on His part. It is on mine.
  • Jesus taught us to pray to our Father. It helps me to know that He is my Father and there is nothing too small or too big to talk to Him about. I am His child. If it concerns me, it concerns Him.
  • Taking part in corporate prayer – prayer with others – is a privilege and honors God. He calls the place where His people gather a house of prayer.
  • Most of my prayer life is extremely personal. There is no need for pretense with God and no excuse for ignoring Him. I can disappoint Him, but I can never surprise Him. He knows me too well.
  • He delights in hearing from me, just as He does each one of His children.

God can do anything and does what is necessary to bring glory to Himself, but inexplicably (this is part of the mystery), He often choses to act on the prayers of His people. More than once, He said He searched for someone to pray for others – to stand in the gap – and found no one. He wants us to pray not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

He proved that He would listen to His people who did stand in the gap – who pled with Him on the behalf of others: Abraham for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses for the sins of the Israelites, Stephen for those who were stoning him, Paul who prayed specific prayers for the churches and people he knew and loved. God justly punishes those who do not trust Him, but He allows His children to stand in the gap for those who have yet to do so and to stand in the gap for brothers and sisters who are disobedient.

As I pray, I continue to discover new truths about God. I often wish I could hear Him speak clearly and instantly about a certain matter, but know that if there is a delay in an answer, He has a good reason. He sees things from an eternal perspective. Often the delay is a timing issue concerning other people or circumstances.

Some prayers do have immediate answers. I pray about a range of small things during the day and see Him directing as I face the day, look for a bargain while shopping, protection while I run errands, write a blog post, prepare a meal, make or receive a telephone call, write a letter or answer an email.

While I am waiting for specific direction about a very important decision – sometimes life changing ones – these are the things I can count on.

  • I can trust Him. He knows best and if I am truly seeking His will, He will not let me stumble.
  • This life is not all there is. What I am asking for may not be the best thing ultimately for me or for my family. I can’t see what God can see. I don’t know what He knows.
  • His plan is best. It may differ from my idea, but He will change my desires if what I want is not best.
  • God and I have a relationship – a history. When I am faced with a major decision, I reflect on what He has done in the past and thank Him for His gentle direction.

In my own personal prayer pilgrimage, I have discovered that the closer I get to God – the better I know Him – the less formal my prayers are. With utmost respect, I talk to Him like I would my daddy. I find myself saying “thank you” all day long for things I did not even know to pray about. He was looking out for me all along.

God knows me so well that the life verse He gave me helps still my nerves and stop my panic while I am waiting for His answer and watching Him work. I need Him. I tell Him so.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2013

Download A Personal Prayer Pilgrimage

Your Money and Your Life

Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle (Proverbs 23:4-5 NLT).

Like most everyone else, I have been paying close attention to the headlines about the worldwide economic situation. What is happening today will not only affect me now and in coming years, but will potentially affect every member of my family – including my grandchildren.

Debt that is being incurred now will be born by those tomorrow. Reading articles like “The Next Generation’s Debt Burden” on gop.gov and staring a few moments at usdebtclock.org can be very depressing. Ignoring the reality, however, will not make this money problem go away.

News from other countries is now instantaneous. Bloggers and tweeters share opinions immediately. A crisis in one part of the world – no matter what it is, economic, war, weather, political unrest, etc. – is felt around the world. The domino effect of this financial crisis has shown us that we are all part of a global community.  It is truly worldwide.

Recent research done by Britain’s University of Cambridge has revealed that the suicide rate in the United States more than quadrupled between 2008 and 2010. Aaron Reeves, who led the research, submitted his results to the Lancet Medical Journal. Obtaining his data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, his analysis showed that around 1500 more people in the U. S. committed suicide compared to what would have been expected or forecast if trends from 1997 to 2007 had continued.

Rising unemployment was blamed for at least one quarter of the rise in suicides in the U.S. since the beginning of the Great Recession.  Greece, Spain, Britain and other countries with similar rises in unemployment have also produced a similar increase in their suicide rates.

Before this report was released, The American Journal of Health reported that the largest increase of suicides occurred during the Great Depression. Obviously money woes  – or more accurately, how you deal with money issues – can have a disastrous effect on your health and your life.

This problem seems to be predominately in affluent cultures. Luxuries are considered necessities. Where abundance is available, it comes to be expected and missed more sorely if it becomes scarce or disappears.

Helen Steiner Rice, a well-known poet, married Franklin Rice in 1929. Franklin, a wealthy man, was so confident that the nation’s problems were short-term and would recover from the economic downturn that he invested even more heavily in the stock market. Shortly after losing his fortune due to that unfortunate decision, Helen discovered that he had killed himself, leaving her this note:

“Darling, the only thing I’m sorry about is that I never could give you all the things I meant to. I hope you believe that I really wanted to give them to you, and I could have given them to you before everything went….Keep the picture of me in my uniform and think of me once in a while…You’ll get along fine, I know. You’ll always go on. I only knew one world. I just can’t go down and become a bum–I have to go out with the band playing.”

Of course, what Franklin did caused Helen much more pain than the loss of any material things. She not only no longer had her husband by her side, but after the estate was auctioned off to pay creditors, she had to go back to work. A strong Christian woman, Helen never remarried, but recovered from her loss by seeking God’s direction in her life.

As a missionary, I am privileged to have friends around the world who are extremely happy without any possessions to speak of. Some of them have never known the kind of luxuries that many in the developed western world have become accustomed to. Often they don’t have enough to eat, but that doesn’t stop them from loving God and others. It is not that they are unaware of their lack. It’s just that their perspective is on the eternal, not the temporal. Just like Jesus, doing the will of God is their food. Even though there may be instances of suicides in these places, I am unaware of any. My friends are too busy being productive in God’s work to worry about what they don’t have.

Helen Steiner Rice says,

“Our greatest comfort is to know that ‘the same God who helped us before is ready and willing to help us once more.” All God asks of us is that we believe, and we must believe enough and have enough faith in Him that we will refuse to let anything shut Him out of our lives.

Life is a mixture of sunshine and rain,

Laughter and teardrops, pleasure and pain –

Low tides and high tides, mountains and plains,

Triumphs, defeats and losses and gains –

But there never was a cloud that the SUN didn’t SHINE THROUGH

And there’s nothing that’s IMPOSSIBLE for Jesus Christ to do!”

© Stephanie B. Blake

February 2013

* Quote and poem taken from In the Vineyard of the Lord: Lights and Shadows from the Life of Helen Steiner Rice, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1979, p. 112, 113

Download Your Money and Your Life

 

Importance of a Forever Focus

So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  – For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever (2 Corinthians 4:18 HCSB and GNB).

From the time you wake in the morning until you go to sleep at night, a multitude of things and people compete for your attention.

  • If you have a job, pleasing management and keeping that job can be a constant concern.
  • If you have a family, spouse and children want and deserve a good chunk of your time.
  • If you are socially minded and volunteer either at church or in your community, what you have committed to demands your follow through.

These responsibilities can, at times, be overwhelming. Not only are you accountable for your commitments; in order to accomplish them you need to take care of yourself – eat well, sleep well, exercise and give yourself some down time.

Perhaps you have done everything you can to maintain good health, but you are not well. Perhaps you have lost your job, your marriage fell apart or your children do not want your companionship. Perhaps, as a Christian, you believe in the promises of God and know that He will work things out in due time for HIs glory. In the meantime, you want to know how to keep a proper perspective while you are waiting for “forever”.

Follow the Perfect Example

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2 NASB).

Jesus, every bit as human as we are, set the example for us on how to stay focused on God with a ‘forever focus”. Every circumstance, meeting, and trial had an eternal perspective.

  • Even as a young boy, He was focused on doing His Father’s will. His comment to His mother when she found Him in the temple at twelve was, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”
  • He was tempted just as we are, but HIs focus on God, His word and His will enabled Him to resist the temptations of the devil.
  • Even though He got hungry just like we do, there were times when He was so focused on the Father’s will that He skipped eating. My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work (John 4:34 NASB).
  • He needed sleep like the rest of us (so much so that He took a nap in the middle of a storm), but there were times when instead of sleeping, He spent all night in prayer.
  • He was surrounded by many who wanted His attention. In compassion, He stopped and met their needs, demonstrating His power and the love of God as He did so, but He never forgot His mission.
  • It seems contradictory to our senses that the author of Hebrews described His endurance of the cross as a matter of joy set before Him, but that was the way Jesus looked at it. Certainly, there was no joy in the cross itself. It was horrible and unjust. Christ’s focus, however, was always on what He knew would be accomplished once He endured the shame of the cross – the salvation of souls and the growth of His eternal family.

The circumstances of Jesus’ life on His journey to the cross – tempted by the devil in the wilderness, nowhere to lay HIs head, rejection by those He had created, misunderstood even by His followers – did not slow Him down because He never took His eyes off the Father and doing His will.

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21 NLT).

It should be the same with us. Just like Jesus, you choose each day what you will focus on. Know that whatever comes your way, if you are a child of God, He will make things right. Trust Him.

This life is not all there is.

Whenever this life on earth is over, those who rejected Jesus will experience an eternity without Him. Those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus will spend forever with Him. If you focus on Him now, your life will be so much richer than it would be otherwise. As a child of His, He is involved in your life now and He will be involved forever. He has promised to never – not ever – leave you or forsake you.

When your focus is on God and His forever purposes for your life, you start seeing life a little from HIs perspective. He knows the beginning from the end. He doesn’t reveal all there is to know about your future, but He doesn’t need to. Your experience with His faithfulness in your past is enough to trust Him for whatever will come in the future. He is not bound by time like we are so we know that what He says He will do will happen.

One of the reasons we have difficulty with a forever focus is because it is hard for us to see past the moment. We must, of course, live in the now, but having learned from the past, we can look to the future knowing that God is in control of it all.

I believe that this one focus is so important that my website is named One Focus Ministries and my blog One Focus. Naturally, this is a common theme throughout the devotionals and Bible studies on this site. Bible studies (under the Word Focus tab) One Day at a Time, Focus on the Shepherd’s Voice and Focus on Fullness of Joy and devotionals (under the Reflective Focus tab) Focus is a Choice, Trusting God: A Predetermined Choice and Trusting God Completely are a few examples of this theme. Every One Focus blog deals with seeing God’s hand in everyday life. We don’t need to wait until we have passed from the temporary to the eternal to experience a forever focus. Jesus showed us how that forever focus helps make sense out of today.

© Stephanie B. Blake

January 2013

Download The Importance of a Forever Focus

The Christmas Story Told by John

Families gathering around the Christmas tree usually turn to Matthew or Luke to read the Christmas story. Angelic visitations, the birth of Jesus in a manger and the search for the Christ child by shepherds and wise men are pictures that come readily to mind. Descriptions given by Matthew and Luke have resulted in magnificent artwork of the nativity scene.

Joseph’s visitation by an angel of the Lord in his dream was to let him know that Mary’s child was of the Holy Spirit. Matthew said this event fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which is translated, “GOD WITH US” (Matthew 1:23).

Where Matthew and Luke record the birth of the baby Jesus as fulfilled prophecy, John takes a different approach to the event. IMMANUEL didn’t appear on the day Jesus was born. IMMANUEL has always been. With a bodily form, we could now set our eyes upon Him. Jesus Himself created the prophets and it was His Spirit that gave the prophecies to them.

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 (John 1:1-3).

In John’s gospel, it was Jesus Himself who gave us details about why He came the way He did. His birth was His plan. When the right time came, He fulfilled His plan.

The Bread of Life

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

The birth of the Christ child put flesh on the Son of God so that He could accomplish His redemptive plan.

The Light of the World 

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…”I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 1:4-5;6:12).

In the Old Testament, a man could not see the light of the eyes of God and live. Righteous men of the past looked forward to that day; we who have been born since His return to Heaven have His word and the word of His witnesses that the Light became flesh; those who walked and talked with Him in person could actually peer into the eyes of the light of the world. His birth made that possible.

The Door

“I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9).

Without the birth of the baby Jesus who grew into the man who became our Savior on the cross, mankind would have been unable to have fellowship with God. There is no other door.

The Good Shepherd 

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

The good shepherd existed long before the Christ child was born because God is the good shepherd. David described Him. It was the body of the good shepherd that hung on the cross for us – the body that was conceived by His Spirit and birthed by Mary on Christmas day.

The Resurrection and the Life 

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

Jesus came to die for our sins. He did that as a man – a substitute for the sinner. If it had ended there, He would only have proven that He was our loving replacement. It was in resurrection that death – our penalty for sin – was conquered.

The Way, The Truth and The Life

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

Man has tried and continues to try to find a way to God other than through Jesus. It is not possible. As Immanuel, God in the flesh, He explained why.

The True Vine

Jesus lived on earth as a man. He walked and talked with His followers. He became our Savior and example. By His life and His words He showed us how we could share in His kingdom and His joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

In Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17, He gives the real reason He came in the flesh: to glorify the Father, to finish His work, and to share His glory with those who believe. This is the purpose of the Christmas story. The child in the cradle became the Savior on the cross, the Redeemer who rose and the Immanuel who shares His glory with those who love Him.

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2012

Scripture quotations taken from the New King James version of the Bible.

Download The Christmas Story Told by John

Ten Talent Men

Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents…. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them (Matthew 25:16, 19 NAS).

The familiar parable of the talents is a tale of three men. The last man buried the one talent he was given. What the Lord gave him was never used at all – a sad story of a wasted life. God was not glorified. The man’s inaction led to condemnation from Him.

The first two men were both commended when they increased their talents. The master’s reply was exactly the same to both men. No matter how many gifts the Father gives His children, if they use them well, He will be pleased. The emphasis is not on the number of gifts, but on the heart of the receiver. A grateful and willing servant will be productive and give something back to God – glorifying Him with his actions and receiving a blessing as he does.

Fortunately, many Christians are very careful not only to use the gifts God has given them, but increase them as well. This devotional is about two of those men. They were given at least five talents each. In gaining five more, they became ten talent men.

My husband’s father has already entered the presence of the Lord. I believe that when he did, he was greeted with, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).

Pop could and would fix anything, not only in his own house, but also for anyone else who needed something done. He worked hard all his life to provide for his family. After retirement, he worked as a volunteer helping build and maintain churches, campgrounds and renovating widow’s homes.

Without complaint, he cared for Mom as she suffered with Alzheimer’s. Even after she began ill, he continued his volunteer work – always taking her with him, checking on her in the process. His pastor recounted that when there was work to be done at the church, the foreman would assign something to Pop, turn around in a few minutes to see him behind him, and would ask him if he needed help with the assignment. His answer was always, “No, I’m finished. What else do you have for me to do?”

The other ten talent man is a longtime friend. Having faithfully served as a foreign missionary, he continued to work in the church after he retired. With a goal of learning something new every year, he acquired new skills. He built an elevated garden with an inbuilt sprinkler system; learned how to fly remote control airplanes; flew and built complicated kites; taught himself how to sail and much more – all the while making himself available to anyone in need.

Neither of these men would have ever considered burying their talents. Faithful in the few things, their reward is in bringing joy to the giver of our greatest gift – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

November 2012

© Stephanie B. Blake

Download Ten Talent Men

Jesus and Money

When possessions become more important than God or people, your perspective in life is backwards. It is God who gives us all things to enjoy. Without Him, we would have nothing. He puts such a value on us as people that He sent His Son to die in our place.

That’s why, I think, that when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, He replied, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Obeying this commandment enables us to view life the way God intended. Giving Him first place in your life does not rid you of anything. Instead, it enriches you.

Those who are truly rich are those who can love – they can receive love and they can give love.

JESUS AND MONEY

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Jesus demonstrated how to prioritize.

His choice of earthly status was deliberate. The Son of God chose to be born in a humble stable with a manger for His crib. He did not choose a princess to give Him an earthly body, but a young peasant girl. The man who raised Him as a child was not a lawyer, a teacher or a rich man. He was an ordinary carpenter.

Jesus mingled with both rich and poor. He did not condemn the rich, nor accuse the poor. His teachings, especially the Sermon on the Mount, address attitudes toward money – always emphasizing that a person’s heart will be bound to what he treasures.

The group of twelve disciples that followed Him throughout His ministry came from all walks of life. Most were fishermen. One was a tax collector. Some of their occupations were unknown, but once committed to following Jesus, they left behind their old lives. They lived as their Teacher lived – without dependence on worldly goods.

At one point, Jesus appointed seventy other disciples to go to cities ahead of Him. His instructions were specific. They were to go out two by two carrying no supplies with them. The willingness of those they visited to supply their needs with an open home and shared possessions would be evidence of their reception to the message of the disciples.

Jesus often spoke about material things and money, knowing that was always an issue on the minds of men. Many of His parables were about money, property or wealth.

He wanted to drive home the point that what you do with the material resources you have been given is very important and has consequences.

© Stephanie B. Blake

October 2012

* an excerpt from “Money: How to Be Rich Without It and How to Stretch It Using Ten Hints from the Past and the Technology of Today”

Download Jesus and Money

Trusting God Completely

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Children trust loving fathers, not because they understand everything they say, but because they are sure of their father’s love. However, some children with loving dads accept their love, but reject their control. Raising such a child can literally be a tug of war. 

As children of God, we might say we trust our heavenly Father, but when we reject His control, we show that our trust is not complete. Many Christians have no problem trusting God in some areas of their lives while in others they doubt His love and sovereignty.

As a result of the loss of his son, Rabbi Kushner wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People. One chapter is entitled “God can’t do everything, but He can do some important things.” His conclusion is that God is good, but He is limited by what He can do. The fact that it was a bestseller is evidence that people are interested in this subject. Some who reviewed the book said it made them feel better about God. Some would rather believe that since life is not fair, God is not in control.

Limiting God in any way limits the areas in which you believe you can trust Him. There will always be circumstances in your life when you won’t understand what God is doing. You can’t and I can’t understand because God has a totally different and perfect perspective. He sees what we do not see and He knows what we do not know.

Trusting God Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges helps give the proper perspective. Just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we should trust Him no matter what happens.

Trusting God is Literally the Center of His Word

It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man (Psalm 118:8 – located in the center of the Bible).

If we really believe that God is our Heavenly Father whom we can trust, then we know that whatever He allows in our lives is ultimately for our good.

Trust is a Choice 

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You (Psalm 56:3).

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3).

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him (Nahum 1:7).

As a child of God, trust in your heavenly Father should be a predetermined choice.  He is trustworthy.

“I rather like the small boy’s version of the hymn Trust and Obey when he said that at Sunday school they had been singing “Trust and O. K.” Good! Everything must be O. K. if the life has been committed to His precious keeping. There is no other way.” – Expositor

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2012

Download Trusting God Completely