Category: Reflective Focus

A Story of Grace and Peace

A Story of Grace and Peace*

Prayer is the exercise of drawing on the grace of God. ~ Oswald Chambers

This is a story about twin girls born into a royal family. Grace was born first, but right on her heels, Peace came into the world. They were always together: thinking the same thoughts, singing the same songs, and radiating love from themselves to others. Grace was definitely the outgoing one: running here and there, laughing, and bringing such joy to everyone she met. Although Peace had more of a quiet nature, her calm assurance seemed to balance the exuberance of her sister. Inseparable, they completed each other.

Grace and Peace had as their hero Agape, their older brother, who was their Father’s firstborn child and only Son. Agape really was the image of His Father. Agape lived His life to show the people of the world what the love of their Father was really all about. Agape watched over His sisters and guided them gently through each day. Every day, as they wandered through the land of the living, they shared with others the love they had for each other, as well as the love they had received from their Father.

The sisters had been given a very special assignment by their Father. They were to tell others that, if they accepted the Father’s love that Agape showed them, they would be adopted into their Father’s royal family.

As Agape wandered through the land with His sisters, He often talked to His Father about those who were glad to hear their special message of love and adoption. Some people received their message with great joy and gratitude. Others were jealous and blinded by an evil presence from seeing the truth of Agape’s message of the Father’s love. Nothing that happened to Grace and Peace could distract them from continuing to spread their message of joy, but the blindness seemed to spread faster than they could communicate the good news of adoption.

However, their family did continue to grow one by one. Each one who believed in their message began to understand the meaning of the special names given to the twin girls. The Father gave to each adopted one the attributes of Grace so that, when the ones who were blinded tried to taunt and ridicule them, they were able to handle the jeers of the crowd. Agape showed them by His own example how that was possible.

The ridiculers often were confused by the ability of Agape, Grace, and Peace to continue to love them no matter how badly they were treated. The blind ones really could not understand Peace. Even though they tried their best to rid her of her sense of security and joy, she was never moved to do anything but continue to give them the Father’s message of love and tell them how that love was evidenced in the life of her brother Agape. The adopted ones were blessed with the same sense of belonging and security that Peace had. The stability of the love of their Father kept them all secure and filled with an indescribable joy.

As time went on, the blinded ones became so jealous of the growth of the royal family that they were determined to stop it. They thought that, if they murdered Agape, the Father’s one and only Son, the growth of the Father’s family would be halted. The blinded ones eventually were successful in bringing about the death of the Son. Before His cruel murder, Agape talked to the Father about the adopted ones who would be left behind. He asked Him to protect them, to unify them, and to grant them the character of His dear sisters Grace and Peace.

The death of Agape did indeed greatly discourage the adopted ones. His death could have destroyed them if Grace and Peace had not stayed by their sides with the truth that Agape had just gone home to be with their Father and prepare a place for each of them. The Spirit of Agape continued to live in their hearts and enabled them to walk daily with Grace and Peace

One of the leaders of the blinded ones attacked the Father’s adopted family even more fervently after Agape went home to His Father’s house. However, the Father’s plan was that this Persecutor would be used more than any other adopted child to spread His message of love.

Agape delivered His invitation personally to the Persecutor. As the evil one had blinded his heart, the Father blinded his eyes in order to make him listen to Agape. When his eyes were blinded, his heart began to see for the first time.

When the Persecutor understood and accepted the truth of Agape’s message, he was himself adopted into the family. The Father then gave him the ability to communicate that message, so the royal family grew even more as time went by.

Since the Persecutor had been so strongly blinded by the evil one, he understood the strategies of the attack upon the royal family. He realized the necessity of Grace and Peace in their lives. The Father gave him the assignment of strengthening the faith of the family. Just as Agape had talked to His Father about the adopted ones, the Persecutor continually discussed the needs of the royal family with their Father, interceding on their behalf.

~~~~~

         This allegory sets the stage for the prayer driven life of the apostle Paul, the Persecutor. After meeting Agape – Jesus – and being adopted into the royal family, he warned other adopted ones about the treachery of the “god of this age” who blinds the minds of those who do not believe (2 Corinthians 4:4). The ministries of “Grace” and “Peace” continue to be gifts from the Father to those in His family.

© Stephanie B. Blake

August 2012

* an excerpt from The Prayer Driven Life

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Lace, Ladies and the Lord

Speeches and formal announcements often begin with Ladies and Gentlemen. This greeting is more distinguished than Women and Men. When a man is called a true gentleman, that is meant as a compliment. When a woman is referred to as a lady, her gentle characterisitcs are recognized. Not every woman is a lady, however, nor is every man a gentleman.

Ladies and gentlemen are people of character. The truth is that every young female is a girl and every adult female is a woman, but it takes effort to be a lady. Every young male is a boy and every adult male is a man, but it takes work to be a gentleman.

God wants His sons and daughters to be people of good, gentle character. He can even take people with very rough, crude backgrounds and transform them into ladies and gentlemen.

Iris Blue’s testimony is a wonderful example of what God can do. She was a very rebellious young person, ran away from home, got involved in drugs and was sentenced to eight years in prison on armed robbery charges. Her attitude in prison was so bad that she had to serve an even longer sentence. After leaving prison, she continued on her path of rebellion until a young man told her about Jesus Christ and how He loved her. She responded to His love and her testimony is that she “knelt down a tramp and stood up a lady.”

God’s design for Iris was to transform her so that she could share His love with others, which she does. Her life and the lives of all God’s daughters who are gentle, caring and God fearing have some similarities to a beautiful work of art called lace.

Ladies are a lot like lace. They are created.

Someone has to create the lace. Handmade lace is always more valuable than lace made by machine. As time, effort and thought are put into the creation of the piece of lace, it becomes a work of art. The pattern of the lace reflects the design of the maker. If there is a mistake made in the handmade process, the thread is torn out to the point of the mistake and started over at that point. The important thing is the end result even if the process takes a long time.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well. 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 139:13-15 NIV).

Ladies are a lot like lace. They have a beautiful pattern.

Lace has a beautiful and intricate pattern. God has a plan for every woman’s life. He has a beautiful pattern in mind that is very individual. He weaves the delicate threads of a women’s life to make her the lady He wants her to be.

For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

God was not surprised with Iris Blue’s rebellious life. He knew that His transformation of her life would reach many people for Him.

Ladies are a lot like lace. They are delicate.

Lace is delicate and complimentary. It decorates. It covers but not completely. It lets light show through. It has been said that “the light that shines the farthest shines brightest at home.” Ladies, who are God fearing and gentle in their own families, can be examples to a lost world.

Real ladies bring light into the lives of others – the light of Jesus. The word lace could be used as an acrostic: Ladies Are Christian Examples. Jesus’ example was full of grace and truth. He gave us the fruit of His spirit and all these things are qualities that a lady should have: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Ladies are a lot like lace. They add an element of luxury to their surroundings. 

Lace is a gift item. It is a luxury. Lace is considered a luxury and not everyone has the ability to have it, but ladies are capable of making luxuries where they are not otherwise possible. A German saying makes this point: “Honor the women. They braid and weave heavenly roses in earthly living.”

Ladies are a lot like lace. They are appreciated in a social setting.

Lace is only appreciated when it is displayed. Lace stored in a drawer does not contribute to the beauty of the surroundings. It must be displayed. A woman’s beauty is also displayed in her actions.

Lace and ladies are created with a beautiful, delicate pattern, providing luxury to their surroundings, having their greatest impact in society.

The death of two famous women – Princess Diana of England and Mother Teresa of India – occurred in the span of a very short period. Both were ladies in their own right, each contributing to society by their gentle spirits and loving concern for others.

The way a woman lives her life determines whether she is just a girl, a woman or a real lady.

© Stephanie B. Blake

July 2012

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Good Business Practices and Biblical Principles

Fortune magazine, in existence for ninety years, every year produces a Fortune 500 issue, an annual ranking of America’s largest corporations. Besides listing top corporations, Fortune is full of articles on good business practices. Some of these practices led to the success of the companies. In addition, the interviewers for each article believe the information they are providing will help their readers reach some measure of success in their own business ventures.

Little did most of the reporters imagine that these interviews reveal what God has told us all along: biblical principles lead to good business practices.

The following are representative of this truth. These articles appeared in the May 2012 issue of Fortune 500.

1. Executive Dream Team: Team Players Trump All-Stars: Formula for a Winning Company? Execs Who Play Well With Others by Geoff Colvin

Geoff Colvin, looking forward to Fortune’s Executive Dream Team series, states they will be looking for “superstar performers who can work together, pushing a larger agenda than just their own advancement.”  Uncovering some foundational principles for teams that worked well together and lasted for a long time, he said, “Trust is the most important element in team success.” Among team members, differing experiences, ways of thinking and strengths are good. Conflicting values are not.

Biblical principle (Acts 2:43-47)

Perhaps the best-known biblical team was the disciples of Jesus. Only one of them (Judas) had conflicting values although the team itself was as varied as any group of that age. A compilation of fishermen, tax collector, political zealot and other tradesmen (whose specific trades were unknown), none of them were professional theologians. After Judas left the group and Jesus gave these men His great commission, what His disciples accomplished together – even with continual persecution – changed the world.

2. The Way We Work: Want to Move Up? Get a Sponsor by Jennifer Alsever

This article examines some critical differences between mentoring and sponsoring. Ms. Alsever states, “A mentor can coach you, give advice, and help prepare you for your next position. A sponsor will go out on a limb for you, open the door to your next job, introduce you to the right people, and make the case for you in those top-level conversations that could make or break your career.”

Biblical principle (Acts 9:26-31)

The Bible certainly has many examples of mentors. Paul was a mentor to Timothy and Titus, helping develop them as young preachers. When Paul was first saved, however, what he needed most was a sponsor. He got one in Barnabas who brought Paul to the disciples and spoke to them on Paul’s behalf. It was because of Barnabas and his sponsorship that Paul was able to work with the disciples that previously had such good reason to be afraid of him.

3. David vs. Goliath: Business Cards, Popcorn and Hyperlocal Listings: How Three Small Owners Created Successful Businesses from Scratch by Elaine Pofeldt

Ms. Pofeldt explains her premise in her title. Small business owners, with the right idea, have a chance of success even against larger established businesses.

Biblical Principle (1 Samuel 17)

The title says it all. Even a non-Christian, non-Bible based, totally business oriented U.S. magazine is aware that everyone will understand the David vs. Goliath analogy. No one is too small to get the job done right. Like David, depend on our big God.

4.  How Amazon Learned to Love Veterans: Won over by their logistical know-how and “bias for action,” the online retailer is on a military hiring spree by Adam Lashinsky

Mr. Lashinsky reports that” it’s easy to see what hiring managers see in veterans, particularly the young former junior officers who literally are battle-tested in addition to being well educated.” He quotes Josh Teeter, the general manager of one of Amazon’s facilities: “They understand that it’s not about them. They have a huge running start. They’re smart. And they’ve already met a certain bar.”

Biblical Principle (Titus 2:1-8).

Here’s where the mentoring comes in. Known in Christian circles as the Titus principle, it is expected that the older men and women will use what they have learned to teach younger members of the church. It is not so much an age principle, but an experience principle. Older men and women of the church have “been there, done that.” The principle is good for the older members and good for the younger ones. What the elders have learned through experience, positive and negative, over the years will not go to waste if they can help steer younger ones through pitfalls and keep them from making the same mistakes or help keep them focused on what is truly important. This is a ministry of encouragement and guidance. Just like the veterans, they understand that life is not about them. It is about loving God, seeking His guidance, doing His will and bringing glory to His name.

© Stephanie B. Blake

June 2012

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The Best Place to Stand

“Be still and know that I am God… And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Psalm 46:10, Exodus 14:13).

Not many of us are comfortable standing for very long, especially if it requires standing still. Observe people standing in line at a store waiting to pay for their purchases, looking for the shortest line and sometimes changing when one cashier is working slower than the others. Standing in a corner is punishment for some children.

In order to be productive (or feel productive), most of us think we need to be on the move. We leave little room in our lives for standing.

Interestingly, the English word stand is both a verb and a noun. The very fact that it has a verb form indicates that there is decisive action involved.

Among the definitions for the verb form of the word stand are:

  1. Have or maintain an upright position, supported by one’s feet: Sally stood in the center of the room
  2. Rise to one’s feet: they stood up when the king entered the room
  3. Move to and remain in a specified position: he stood aside to let them enter
  4. Be situated in a particular place or position: the courthouse stood in the middle of town
  5. Remain upright and entire rather than fall into ruin or be destroyed: only one house stood after the tornado came through the town
  6. Remain valid or unaltered: the decision stands
  7. Remain stationary: the train stood on track 2
  8. Remain on a specified course: the ship was standing south
  9. Adopt a particular attitude toward a matter or issue: the people took a stand on that issue

To stand is to take a position. It involves a choice. You can choose to move from a lying or sitting position to a standing position. You may also choose to stop moving in order to stand. The choices are not one-time choices, however. They are continual. You decide not only that you will stand, but you must also decide whether you will remain standing or fall back to the position you previously had.

Contrary to what seems to be true, standing can be hard work. Since it somewhat goes against our nature to stand, God has to continually instruct us to do so. He knows our tendency to move ahead of His plan for us.

Obviously, there is a time when we need to move on, but our reluctance to stand still can adversely affect our relationship with God. Until we learn to stand before Him, there are several things we may miss. The Bible describes in detail an upright man – who is a person who has learned to stand before God.

Stand before God to hear Him speak

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel for the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners…but his delight is in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:1).

Moses knew the need to stand before the Lord. Moses instructed men inquiring about whether they could participate in the Passover after they had been come in contact with a human corpse to stand still while he asked the Lord about it (Numbers 9:8). While the people were to return to their tents, God told Moses to stand by Him to hear the commandments that God had for His people (Deuteronomy 5:31).

Stand before God to see Him work miracles

As we stand before the Lord, He works His miracles of nature. Samuel instructed the people to stand and see God work a miracle before their eyes (1 Samuel 12:16). As they stood before the Lord, He brought thunder and rain just as Samuel said He would. Elijah, on the other hand, told Ahab there would be no rain – not even dew – for years, except at his word because of the Lord God of Israel before whom he stood (1 Kings 17:1).

Stand before God to worship Him

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3-4a).

Part of the job of the Levites was to stand every morning and evening to thank the Lord and praise Him (1 Chronicles 23:30). Hezekiah, who opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them, brought in the priests and Levites and instructed them to stand before God and serve Him (2 Chronicles 29:11).

Stand before God to let Him fight your battles

Jehoshaphat, being warned that a great multitude was coming to attack his people, sought the Lord. Through Jahaziel, God’s Spirit spoke to Jehoshaphat and the people. The battle was not theirs, but the Lord’s. They were not to worry. Their part was to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:15-17).

When a Christian puts on the spiritual armor of God, the protection it provides allows him to stand and be victorious. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all , taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Ephesians 6:13-16).        

Stand and Deliver, a movie produced in 1988, is on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 most inspiring movies. It tells the story of a California high school teacher who, determined to lead his students to a new level of accomplishment in math, did what others thought was impossible. He designed an intense math program for his students which required substantial sacrifice on his part as well as theirs. Not only did these troubled teens learn the basics of mathematics, but they mastered advanced algebra, math analysis and trigonometry in preparation for calculus in their senior year. Through all kinds of personal hardship, every student passed the AP calculus exam in their senior year only to have those results challenged by the Educational Training Service. Once again, their teacher came to their aid, getting the ETS to agree to let his students retake the test to overcome the implications of cheating.

Christians have a champion who is always on our side. He alone is in a position to obtain for us what would otherwise be impossible. His sacrifice enables us to stand the test of opposition and our own sinful nature. We can trust that if we stand righteous in the presence of the Lord through His Son Jesus Christ, He will deliver.

May 2012

© Stephanie B. Blake

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The Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ: The Pivotal Point in History

Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

History is the story of God’s love expressed through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is really His Story. Everything preceding His arrival looks forward to it. Each event after His resurrection reflects back on His time on earth.

The Gregorian calendar: The most widely used calendar in the world today marks two periods of time: before Christ – B.C. – and Anno Domini (the year of our Lord) or A.D. The division may not be exactly the occasion of Christ’s birth (many scholars believe Jesus was born between 6 and 4 B.C.), but the intent is clear. The coming of Jesus Christ marked the most important event in history.

The Bible: The sixty-six books of the Bible are divided into two sections. The Old Testament chronicles the journeys of faithful men and women of God who looked for the Messiah. Many prophesied about that day.

The New Testament begins with the birth of Jesus, gives the story of His life, building His church, the activities of the first century church and promises His final appearance.

Of all the events in the life of Jesus that marked the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament that was fleshed out in His person in the New Testament, His resurrection is the culmination of all that had come before.

Easter: The resurrection of Jesus Christ marks the pivotal point in history where reconciliation between God and man became possible. His birth was miraculous. His life was pure and without sin. Jesus revealed God in the flesh. His death was the sacrifice for our sin. It was the resurrection that put the period on all that had come before. With the resurrection of Jesus, His mission was completed.

Jesus was always looking to the cross. Even when as a young boy of twelve He told His mother that He must be about His Father’s business, He knew that would lead Him to the cross. …looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…(Hebrews 12:2).

Mary and Joseph knew the prophecies about Jesus. The angel told Joseph that he was to call the child Jesus and that He would save His people from their sins. When Simeon saw Him in the temple when He was just a few days old, he warned Mary that her heart would be pierced. Although she and Joseph may not have known all the details of the horrors that lay ahead for Jesus, they were aware of how sin was paid for – a sacrifice. Even the wise man who brought myrrh as a gift to the Christ child knew that it was used for anointing the dead.

The Lord’s Supper: Just before His crucifixion, Jesus took His disciples aside and had a special supper with bread and wine: the bread symbolizing His body which He was about to offer as a sacrifice and the wine representing His shed blood. Christians around the world still practice this ordinance in memory of Him.

Lent: Observed by many worldwide, Lent is a forty day period leading up to Easter marked by self-denial and reflection on the sacrifice Christ made.

Many who observe Lent in the West start on Ash Wednesday. Those in the East often begin their observation on Clean Monday – the Monday before Ash Wednesday. Clean Monday is a reminder for them to begin the period of Lent with good intentions and a desire to clean their spiritual house. Even non-Christians are aware of pre-Lent festivals, such as Mardi Gras – also called Fat Tuesday – as times of feasting before Lent officially arrives.

According to the early church historian Eusebius, the earliest Christians fasted and prayed for one or two days, some for forty hours continually before Easter. When Eusebius’ History of the Church was translated from Greek into Latin, the translator put a punctuation mark between forty and hours, thus leading some people reading the document to believe that the fast was for 40-24 hour days instead of 40 hours. By 300 A.D., a 40-day celebration leading up to Easter was widespread.

Nevertheless, when Easter approaches, every Christian is reminded that Christ’s virgin birth, perfect life and love for mankind led Him to the cross. The cause for celebration is the resurrection. So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” (Matthew 28:8-9).

Without the first Easter – the resurrection – all of the prophecies, calendars and celebrations marking the coming of Christ would be meaningless. For it is with the resurrection that Jesus conquered the grave and defeated Satan. It is with the resurrection that He proved what He had been saying all along – that He is the Son of God. It is the resurrection that made it possible for us to live with Him eternally.

And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!…If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead… (1 Corinthians 15:17,19,20).

© Stephanie B. Blake

April 2012

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The Proper Place for Anger

Everyone knows you can sin by being angry. Anger is a very strong emotion that can lead to some horrible consequences. Consider Cain whose anger resulted in the very first murder. Scripture tells us that being quick tempered is not only foolish, but it can give Satan a place in your life. He feeds on unrighteous anger.

Much of human anger comes from pride and selfishness. Daniel Webster said, “Keep cool. Anger is not an argument.” Someone with a short fuse is not only unpleasant to be around, but the stress his anger produces can backfire. It can make him ill.

Not all anger is sin. Some anger is justifiable. Jesus, God in the flesh, had occasions when He was angry and yet He never sinned. Righteous anger is never rooted in selfishness or revenge. It is directed at a real injustice that dishonors God.

You’ve probably heard that you should stay away from a bear cub if you see one, for the mother bear would not be far off and would attack if she believes her young one is threatened. The protection instincts in a human are somewhat similar. Imagine how you would feel if someone threatened to torture your child. That spontaneous anger might give you the strength to fight the attacker.

Unlike wild animals, however, we have the resources to control our anger.  We are capable of making a judgment between true injustice and our selfish desires. God knows anger that produces sin is an emotion that is dwelt on, so He led the apostle Paul to say, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

Although God is slow to anger and has abundant love for His people, His holiness cannot overlook sin. We shouldn’t either.

There were many times God was justifiably angry with His chosen people. They provoked Him time and time again. Their abominations, idols, rebellion, unbelief and evil deeds made Him so angry that He was ready to destroy the offenders. He, however, heard the prayers of men like Moses and Nehemiah and stayed His hand of judgment.

In an unexplainable act of love for those of us who disappoint Him, God presented the only solution possible. He sent His Son Jesus to bear our sin. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:8-10 NAS).

Since Jesus saved us from the wrath of God’s judgment, it would be good for us to know what made Him angry while He was on earth and avoid those things.

Defending the Holiness of God’s House (John 2:14-16)

Every gospel records Jesus’ purging the temple of the moneychangers. In John’s gospel, he helps us form a vivid picture of just how angry Jesus was. He made a scourge of cords with which to drive out the merchants and He used it.

Twisting God’s commandments  (Mark 3:4-5)

When Jesus saw a man with a withered hand and healed Him on the Sabbath, the Pharisees’ lack of compassion made Him angry. The Pharisees had so twisted the law that practically any thing done on the Sabbath was considered a sin.

Jesus’ anger at the Pharisees was evident many times as He called them by their real names: hypocrites.

Keeping Others from Coming to Him (Mark 10:14)

Jesus became angry with His own disciples when they tried to keep the children from coming to Him. Jesus came for all. No one is denied access to Him.

Unbelief (Mark 9:19)

Satan has always attempted to blind the eyes of people so they don’t see Jesus for who He really is. The most remarkable instances are the people who lived when Jesus did. They saw His miracles with their very own eyes and heard His words with their very own ears. Many of them still did not believe. Jesus was grieved and angry with that unbelieving generation.

Our Response

Jesus always loved the sinner, but hated the sin. He demonstrated his love for sinners by dying for them. He bore the hideousness of hateful sin on His cross.

Many people are angry with God. Help them to direct their anger toward Satan who deceives them. Satan is the one who wants to make God’s house unholy, the one who fills it with hypocrites, the one who tries to keep people from Jesus and he is the one who wants to prevent every one he can from believing in Jesus.

Jesus’ followers should conform to His image and be holy as He is holy. Challenge Satan’s influence in the church. Rebuke hypocrisy. Work to make sure everyone has access to Jesus. Unbelievers are still everywhere, but when God gives you opportunity, share the Truth. Defend the defenseless.

Be angry with Satan. He deserves it.

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2012

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The Ultimate Word Picture

Of all the senses, sight is the one we most rely on. Sound, touch, smell and taste add another dimension to our reality check, but we give more credibility to what we see.

Other senses are magnified for those who were born blind or have lost their sight. For them, sound, touch, smell and taste become their eyes. However, for the rest of us, sight is the number one checkpoint for verification.

For instance, a low battery warning in a fire alarm can be mistaken for a cricket, so sound can confuse us. Forced to identify something by touch alone (as in a popular game) can be very difficult. What smells like a flower may actually be perfume. Chefs are expert in making food taste like something else, to please our palate. However, unless we are watching an illusionist perform, what we see, we believe.

This tendency to only believe what we see presents a problem for some people as far as a relationship with God. That may be the reason some people are comfortable with an idol.  People often state that they cannot believe in a God they cannot see.

God, our creator, knows this is a human characteristic and addressed it in several ways. He knows that people want to see Him.

God’s creation is a visible witness of an invisible God. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:20 NIV).

God expects that those who are looking for Him will find Him in His creation. He also created us with spiritual eyes, with an inner sight that recognizes His presence. Jesus observed that some have eyes, but do not see as well as ears that do not hear. He is referring to spiritual sight and hearing.

God told Moses that He could not see Him face to face Jesus is the ultimate Word picture. For those who lived during His lifetime, many of them had the privilege of seeing Him face to face. Some in Old Testament times saw Him in a pre-incarnate form, sometimes as an Angel of the Lord. Those of us who were born after His death and resurrection can see Him through His involvement in history and time as a real, literal historical figure. No accurate pictures of Him exist and that is probably a good thing. He has provided what we need the most: an accurate Word picture of what God looks like.

It is God’s love that caused Him to give us the ultimate Word picture. He did not have to involve Himself in the lives of those He created, but He did.

© Stephanie B. Blake

February 2012

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Living in the Land of Beginning Again

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

In the early 20th century, Louisa Fletcher wrote a poem entitled “The Land of Beginning Again.” Since then, others have added to it and even made it into songs. One version was sung by Bing Crosby in The Bells of Saint Mary. Now in public domain, Louisa’s original poem is as follows.

 

I wish that there were some wonderful place

In the Land of Beginning Again

Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches

And all of our poor selfish grief

Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door

And never put on again.

I wish we could come on it all unaware

Like the hunter who finds a lost trail

And I wish that the one whom our blindness had done

The greatest injustice of all

Could be there at the gates like an old friend that waits

For the comrade he’s gladdest to hail.

We would find all the things we intended to do

But forgot, and remembered too late.

Little praises unspoken, little promises broken,

And all the thousand and one

Little duties neglected that might have perfected

The day for one less fortunate.

It wouldn’t be possible not to be kind

In the Land of Beginning Again.

And the ones we misjudged

And the ones whom we grudged

Their moments of victory here,

Would find in the grasp of our loving hand-clasp

More than penitent lips could explain.

For what had been hardest we’d know had been best

And what had seemed loss would be gain

For there isn’t a sting that will not take a wing

When we’ve faced it and laughed it away.

And I think that the laughter is most what we’re after

In the Land of Beginning Again.

So I wish that there were some wonderful place

Called the Land of Beginning Again

Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches,

And all of our poor selfish grief

Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door

And never put on again.

 

Most of us at some point in our lives share Louisa’s sentiment. We would like to go “where all our mistakes and all our heartaches and all of our poor selfish grief could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door and never put on again.” We agree with Neal Morse whose lyrics to his song, The Land of Beginning Again include, “I wish there was a way to start again, to wake up among friends in the land of beginning again and I love my brother more than my own life and no one feels mean. All things are new. Behold, the slate is clean.”

It is uncertain whether the authors of the songs or poems about the land of beginning again knew they were talking about spiritual truths, but they were.

Decisions of our past, both good and bad, have a bearing on where we are today. We may be pleased with where we are or wish things were radically different. There may be scores of things that we wish we could change about our past.

Sometimes it is circumstances beyond our control that have put us in a place of sorrow, heartache or persecution. Perhaps the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a natural disaster, ill health or any other sad events in our lives have been ever too present.

For a Christian, the desire to begin again is a reality. When we come face to face with sin in our lives, we wish we could begin again. In Christ, we can. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12 NIV). True repentance is more than regret. It is seeing ourselves as God sees us – sinners in need of salvation. His love in sending Christ to bear those sins on His cross makes it possible for us to start life anew. Once we repent of our sins, because of Jesus, our slate is clean. Now God sees His Son in us. Our sinfulness has been replaced with His righteousness. And the promise of eternity is that when we enter the gates of heaven, we will drop all of our sorrows at the door and never put them on again.

There is, however, the challenge of living day by day. Between the time we accept the gift of salvation through Christ and we go to heaven where there is no sin present, we must still live in a world full of sin. The Christian life is hard. Satan delights in attacking believers and tempting them in our most vulnerable points.

We must remember, then, because of Christ, we truly live in the land of beginning again.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of God in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). God’s promises are true. In the good times and the bad times, trust in the God who gives us a chance to begin again.

© Stephanie B. Blake

January 2012

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The Coming of the Lamb and the Shepherd

Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock; you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth between Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might, come and save us. Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved (Psalm 80:1-3 NIV).

Picture the nativity scene. That’s easy for most of us. Displayed in illustrated Bibles and Bible storybooks and set up in homes and churches during December, the characters are always the same. Mary and Joseph with shepherds and wise men and animals in the stall surround a baby in a manger – the Son of God who had just become the Son of Man.

The most striking elements in this picture are its simplicity and its majesty. No one seems to think it strange that rich wise men from the east are facing humble shepherds from the fields  – standing or kneeling on a carpet of straw with singing angels above joining sounds of animals below and the sweet coos of the baby who planned it all.

This scene had been foretold by many but understood by few. Unable to grasp the possibility that God’s Son would make His entrance with such humility, most were expecting the Savior to come with the only kind of majesty they were accustomed to – to reign and to rule.

Amidst the many prophecies about His coming, the two that capture our attention in the nativity are symbolically sitting at the feet of the child or standing at His side: the lamb and the shepherd.

The baby lying in this manger would someday hang on a cross. Naked, He would die there. His humble beginnings would lead to an even more humiliating climax.

Submitting Himself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter, the Good Shepherd did for His flock what they could not do for themselves. All His sheep having gone astray, the Lord laid on Him the sins of them all. He bore those sins on the cross and left them there.

The one announced as the Lamb of God also revealed Himself as the Resurrection and the Life.  Having shed His blood and redeemed His flock, the Good Shepherd walked out of the tomb.

There is no longer any need for a sacrificial lamb. Now, the church, the Bride of Christ, is being made ready for the Bridegroom, the Lamb who sits upon the throne.

The tranquil scene of the nativity makes perfect sense to those who worship the Son of God who came in humility in order that we might reign with Him.

“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb . . . for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Revelation 7:10, 17).

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2011

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Relating to God as Father

“What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God for His Father.” – J.I. Packer

What are your thoughts about God as your Heavenly Father?

People often form their opinion of God the Father based on their experiences with their own earthly fathers. If a person is fortunate enough to have a good Christian father, those experiences bear some resemblance to God as Father. There are many, though, who had very bad models of fatherhood. Their perception of God as Father may be quite different. However, all comparisons fall short of God, our Heavenly Father.

Backward Thinking

When we apply our father’s attributes to God, we get it backwards. God created our fathers. God came first. Everything that a father should be God is.

Every limitation our fathers had, every mistake they made is because they were born into sin, just like the rest of us. The standard of measurement as a father is God whose love and ways are perfect.

Our error in thinking about the family of God, and God as our Father, comes from our perspective. When we view God as Father through the filter of family as we know it, there will always be faulty thinking.

If we are reluctant to take responsibility for disciplining our children, we may judge His commandments as harsh and resent His discipline in our own lives.

If we were never able to have a good conversation with our own fathers, we may have difficulty praying and approaching God intimately as “Abba, Father.”

If our father was selfish and did not work to provide adequately for his family, we may be hesitant to believe that our Father can and will provide for our needs.

If we had an absentee father, we may have difficulty knowing that God the Father will give us protection and guidance and be there when we need Him.

If we had a father who did not keep his promises, we may have problems believing God means what He says.

If we had a father whose comments tore us down instead of building us up, we may not see God as trustworthy and loving.

If we had a godly Christian father, we may still limit God in our thinking because our father had limitations simply because He was human. God is able to do far more than our earthly fathers were capable of doing.

God the Father loves us so much that He paid the price for adoption

Adoption is never accidental. It is an expensive and enormously time-consuming process. Parents who adopt a child reveal  – through their sacrifices – that they really want that child. Most parents adopt because they cannot have children any other way. God has a Son, but He and His Son desired to add to their family. The cost of our adoption was the sacrificial death of God’s Son on the cross. God is Creator of all, but only Father to those who believe in His Son.

“Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as His children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is greater” (Knowing God, J.I. Packer).

God the Father shares His heart and searches for those who share their hearts with Him

The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His (2 Chronicles 16:9 NAS).

God’s children can grieve and pierce His heart by disobeying Him and doubting Him. They can, however, please Him greatly with their trust and faith in Him.

A small child may be tempted to touch a hot stove. If he trusts his father, he will save himself a lot of misery by obeying his father when he is told not to touch the stove. He doesn’t have to understand what a burn feels like to trust his father. His father knows, though, and wants to save him from pain.

A child of God never understands everything God tells him to do. If he trusts and obeys Him, he will not only please His father, but protect himself. God reserves a secret place for those who trust Him. You can trust the heart of your Father.

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).

© Stephanie B. Blake

November 2011

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