Category: Reflective Focus

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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The Father of Mercies and God of All Comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

The Father of mercies and God of all comfort is the Father in the story of the prodigal son. When the wayward son came to himself in the far land, he came back to his father hoping for mercy. He never expected comfort, but that is what he received from his loving father. Even though our sin breaks the heart of God and put Jesus on the cross, our Father wraps us in his loving, forgiving, comforting arms when we come to Him in repentance. In His eyes, our sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus and He sees them no more. What amazing grace!

God is the Father of mercy and comfort. Consider the ways an earthly father might respond to a son’s transgression.

Suppose a father has a treasured collection of beautiful model airplanes. These airplanes are not made from a kit, but from the tools that the father has himself put together. He designs the airplane model, cuts the pieces himself, and puts the pieces together very carefully so that the result is evidence of a gift of creative genius. He autographs each one of them upon completion. Even though other models of the airplane type do exist, his is truly one of a kind.

While this father makes his models, he invites his son to watch him in his workshop. The son, too young to be trusted with actually working with the model, is just an observer. It brings delight to the father to have his son in the workshop and the son is so impressed with his father’s ability to create the model.

Upon completion of the model, the father places it carefully on the shelf reserved for it in the house and carefully instructs his son, “Now, remember how delicate this is and how much work went into it.  It is not a toy to play with. It is a piece of art to admire. Please don’t touch.”

There comes a day when the little boy, now ten years old, cannot resist the temptation to play with the model. He takes it down from the shelf when his father is not at home and in the process of playing with it, he drops it and shatters it into pieces.

When the father comes home, he finds his son uncontrollably sobbing with the broken pieces of the airplane model in his hands. “Father,” he says, “I know you told me not to play with it. You warned me what would happen. Look, I disobeyed you and it is broken beyond repair. Can you forgive me?”

The father has a choice.  He might respond like this:

“You are right. I did warn you. Now you see what has happened. It cannot be fixed. I can forgive you, but not only are you forbidden to touch the models, you cannot go into the room that contains the models any longer, and I don’t believe that I want you to work with me in my workshop anymore.”

You can just visualize how the son walks out of the room after his father has said these words. Not only is the model beyond repair, but the relationship between the two of them will never be the same. Crushed, this ten-year-old boy tries to figure out how he can right the relationship; but he comes up empty.

Or the father might respond like this:

Reaching out his arms, he says, “Come here, son, sit on my lap. You are right. I did warn you that the model was very delicate, but I want you to know that you are more important to me than any model could ever be. You see, I created this model for you. Someday the entire collection is going to be yours. I always wanted you to have something that I created that you could enjoy even when I was gone. You are also right about the fact that this model cannot be repaired. However, you know that I have the tools and the workshop and the supplies and we can make another one. Yes, son, I said, ‘we.’ I believe you are now old enough and wise enough to help me in the workshop. You now know the value of the work and I know you will be careful. I love you, son, more than I can say.”  As the father put his loving, comforting arms around his son, they walked together out to the workshop.

This time imagine the reflections of this ten-year-old boy. Yes, he disobeyed. Yes, he destroyed the model. However, he learned more than the reality that the model would break and that he was capable of breaking it. He learned that his father loved him more than he ever imagined or dreamed. His relationship with his father would never be the same. It was better.

That is what it is like to feel the mercy and comfort of a God who forgives, the Father of mercies and all comfort.

© Stephanie B. Blake

October 2011

* An excerpt from The Prayer Driven Life

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Public Figures, Leadership and the Best Example

For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you (John 13:15).

Public figures are normally evaluated on whether what they do matches what they say.  This is especially true in politics.  Candidates promise a lot when they are trying to get elected.  They can pull the wool over the eyes of their constituents for a period of time, but if they get elected, everything they said beforehand is quoted back to them on a regular basis.  Did they tell the truth when they promised to deliver on a certain issue?  Are they telling the truth while in office?

Observing interviews with politicians, it seems that a politician never answers a direct question.  They have an agenda they want to present.  They have a reputation they want to protect. They don’t want to be quoted later on a controversial issue.  Since I also believe that reporters often also have an agenda of their own, interviews are definitely a tricky situation for the politician.

Leaders who serve in every public field  – politics, business, academics, sports, religion – have a similar challenge.  Their actions define how their words are received.  The ultimate criteria for judgment is being able to trust the leader.

Leadership Styles

School years and working in the business world exposed me to different leadership styles.  Some were good.  Some were terrible. I remember the challenges of working with some leaders and the joy of learning from others.

Some leaders take their position seriously and care about those in their charge.  They are available. They have come through the ranks and know how the business works. They understand the assignments given to their subordinates first hand. They have been there, done that.

Some leaders are not involved.  Some presidents and CEOs choose to separate themselves from the common worker in their company.  They only see those in upper management.

These leaders don’t trust others. They micromanage. Their decisions are sometimes made without understanding the intricate workings of the business. They are known for stepping on or over those underneath them in order to get ahead.  Often these leaders do whatever it takes to make their position look good.

The Perfect Example

Jesus is just the opposite of these ivory tower managers. He did not separate Himself from those He was trying to lead. On the contrary, He lived among them.  He used various teaching methods, but one teaching style. He led by example.

Jesus led by the example of His life.  He demonstrated how to follow God’s commandments by obeying every one of them perfectly. He never avoided anyone. He showed how to relate to everyone – no matter how different they may be. He showed His disciples how to be a servant leader by washing their feet. He showed them how to endure hardship through His sacrificial suffering.

Jesus led by the example of His words. He told stories to illustrate spiritual truth. He is Truth and He told the truth. He exposed hypocrites. He offered compassion to those who trusted Him. He offered truth and allowed His hearers to make the choice of trusting Him or not.  He called many to follow Him.  Some did. Some turned away.

Jesus led by the example of His pure heart.  He is God, but His life was an example of humility. He never sinned and never needed forgiveness, but as He bore our sin on the cross, He demonstrated the ultimate example of forgiveness.

Jesus led by demonstrating how we should live. He asked for love, loyalty and service, but He did not demand it. He demonstrated it.

Jesus was perfect in every way. He was the ultimate example of a good leader and teacher. He was not a manager. Everything He said and did was related to leading others to understand the truth He offered and showing them the Truth.

If someone is a good example, he is sometimes referred to as a shining example. Jesus led by shining. He is Light. He shares His light with His brothers and sisters.  When He calls you, He equips you to bear fruit to bring glory to the Father.

You Are a Leader

Jesus, our brother, loves us so much that He gave His life for ours. His is the example we should follow as the model for leadership. Paul understood this when he told others to imitate him just as he imitated Christ.

Even if you don’t have a leadership role in the church, you are a leader.  Someone is watching you. You are an example to your spouse, your children, grandchildren, other relatives and friends who know you. You do have an influence on others.

Not all leaders are good leaders. Some have a negative influence.  However, lessons can be learned from both good and bad leaders. Bad leaders evidence the consequences of selfishness and influencing others for evil.

Jesus’ words and actions matched. His is the best example to follow.

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2011

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Disappearing Riches and Riches That Last

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy                        (1 Timothy 6:17).

 Disappearing Riches 

Riches are uncertain. They can’t be trusted. They can be lost through carelessness, mismanagement or unfortunate circumstances.

Some people do it to themselves.  Michael Jackson died owing millions of dollars. He was the King of Pop, made a fortune, but somehow couldn’t hold onto it.

Bernie Madoff did not earn his riches. He stole them. In the end, his schemes caught up with him and he lost his ill-gotten money, his family, and his freedom.

Most people, though, are not rich and famous.  They don’t have millions to lose.  They work hard.  They do what they can to provide a decent living for their family.

A lot of people can tell you how uncertain middle class is. One day you’re there. The next day you’re not. A bad economy can take your job away from you. A dishonest banker can repossess your house. Circumstances can result in the loss of your car, boat, motorcycle, or furniture.

Many others have never seen the day when they could afford the luxuries the middle class had.  For whatever reason, making ends meet has always been a struggle.  No matter how hard they tried, adequate monetary resources have never been available to them.

Riches That Last

Yes, worldly riches are uncertain. They can be lost.  The good news is that eternal riches cannot be lost. No one can take them away from you.  They do require a spiritual investment: faith and trust in God. Those riches start with two things you have total control over: your thoughts and your heart.The Bible combines the two. For as a man thinks in his heart so is he (Proverbs 23:7).  Your attitude, your perspective, your state of mind determines how you handle any given circumstance. 

Paul: A Man Rich in Faith

The apostle Paul was a man with many advantages in his life.  For a long time, he persecuted followers of Christ because he did not understand who Jesus was.  When he finally met Jesus and accepted His offer of salvation, he made an about face and never looked back.

Paul gave up the advantages of status and worldly riches when he became a disciple of Christ. What he gained was greater than what he lost.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8). 

Paul’s heart and his mind, given to God, enabled him to be content no matter what his circumstances.

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:12-13). 

Poverty

Poverty is a harsh reality. It does not discriminate. It touches old and young, male and female and people of every nationality. 

Jesus said the poor would always be with us. The Bible gives many guidelines about helping the poor.

In times like these, many who used to help those in poverty now find themselves in dire circumstances and in need of help themselves. This is a time of a severe reality check.

The “health and wealth” philosophy that has taken charge of churches and television has missed a vital point. Monetary riches are not guaranteed to anyone. Having riches is not proof that God has blessed you. 

Some blessed by God with riches have been given the spiritual gift of generosity.  I have known some of them.  Jesus said, “you cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).  Part of the way these believers serve God is through sharing the monetary resources He has provided.

Indeed, God does not forbid riches.  He created all things for us to enjoy. Some biblical men of faith had great riches. Others did not have the benefit of material resources. Jesus, rather than condemning the poor or accusing them of little faith, joined them.

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). 

© Stephanie B. Blake

August 2011

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“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy                        (1 Timothy 6:17).

 

Disappearing Riches

 

Riches are uncertain. They can’t be trusted. They can be lost through carelessness, mismanagement or unfortunate circumstances.

 

Some people do it to themselves.  Michael Jackson died owing millions of dollars. He was the King of Pop, made a fortune, but somehow couldn’t hold onto it.

 

Bernie Madoff did not earn his riches. He stole them. In the end, his schemes caught up with him and he lost his ill-gotten money, his family, and his freedom.

 

Most people, though, are not rich and famous.  They don’t have millions to lose.  They work hard.  They do what they can to provide a decent living for their family.

 

A lot of people can tell you how uncertain middle class is. One day you’re there. The next day you’re not. A bad economy can take your job away from you. A dishonest banker can repossess your house. Circumstances can result in the loss of your car, boat, motorcycle, or furniture.

 

Many others have never seen the day when they could afford the luxuries the middle class had.  For whatever reason, making ends meet has always been a struggle.  No matter how hard they tried, adequate monetary resources have never been available to them.

Riches That Last

 

Yes, worldly riches are uncertain. They can be lost.  The good news is that eternal riches cannot be lost. No one can take them away from you.  They do require a spiritual investment: faith and trust in God. Those riches start with two things you have total control over: your thoughts and your heart.The Bible combines the two. For as a man thinks in his heart so is he (Proverbs 23:7).  Your attitude, your perspective, your state of mind determines how you handle any given circumstance.

 

Paul: A Man Rich in Faith

 

The apostle Paul was a man with many advantages in his life.  For a long time, he persecuted followers of Christ because he did not understand who Jesus was.  When he finally met Jesus and accepted His offer of salvation, he made an about face and never looked back.

 

Paul gave up the advantages of status and worldly riches when he became a disciple of Christ. What he gained was greater than what he lost.

 

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8). 

 

Paul’s heart and his mind, given to God, enabled him to be content no matter what his circumstances.

 

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:12-13).

 

Poverty

 

Poverty is a harsh reality. It does not discriminate. It touches old and young, male and female and people of every nationality. 

 

Jesus said the poor would always be with us. The Bible gives many guidelines about helping the poor.

 

In times like these, many who used to help those in poverty now find themselves in dire circumstances and in need of help themselves. This is a time of a severe reality check.

 

The “health and wealth” philosophy that has taken charge of churches and television has missed a vital point. Monetary riches are not guaranteed to anyone. Having riches is not proof that God has blessed you.

 

Some blessed by God with riches have been given the spiritual gift of generosity.  I have known some of them.  Jesus said, “you cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).  Part of the way these believers serve God is through sharing the monetary resources He has provided.

 

Indeed, God does not forbid riches.  He created all things for us to enjoy. Some biblical men of faith had great riches. Others did not have the benefit of material resources. Jesus, rather than condemning the poor or accusing them of little faith, joined them.

 

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).

 

© Stephanie B. Blake

August 2011

 

What Was So Special About David?

Shepherd Boy

From his very beginning, David held a special place in God’s heart.  He was the shepherd boy who killed Goliath with only a slingshot and his faith in God. Perhaps his relationship with God was developed while he was taking care of the sheep in the field.  Certainly, we know that his experience as a shepherd gave him the background knowledge for the most familiar psalm in the Bible: Psalm 23. He knew the Lord was his shepherd. He had seen His hand in his life as a young boy.

King of Israel

Saul, the first king of Israel, was a great disappointment to God.  He did not follow through on his faithfulness. He took matters into his own hands.  God told Samuel that He would replace Saul with a man after His own heart.

When Samuel started examining the sons of Jesse for the one God was calling to be Saul’s replacement, God told him not to judge by their appearance. He was looking on the heart. The heart He was looking for was David’s heart.

God sought for a man after His own heart and He found that man in David.  He is still searching for someone like David.  He is looking for those whose hearts are completely His.  Will He find you like He found David – to be a person after His own heart?

Faithful Friend

The story of David and Jonathan (Saul’s son) is a familiar account of friendship. They were closer than brothers, but because Saul intended to kill David, they were forced to separate.  David never forgot his relationship with Jonathan.  After Saul and Jonathan had been killed and David gained the throne, David sought out his surviving son, Mephibosheth, so that he could show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake.

Musician and Song Writer

David’s music soothed King Saul’s troubled spirit until Saul’s jealousy drove him away.  Perhaps the biggest clues we have about David being a man after God’s own heart are contained in the songs he wrote.

What are those clues? What made David so special? What was so different about this shepherd boy called to be king?  How did David earn the distinction of being a man after God’s own heart?

Most important, what can we learn from his life that can help us have a closer relationship with God?

David’s Predetermined Choices

In the many Psalms that David wrote, he declared his trust in God, he prayed to God, he declared God’s glory and he asked God questions. It seems, many times, that we are privy to a private conversation.  David seems to be thinking out loud.  His prayers are intimate.  He is seeking God’s heart.  He knows that God is responding to his.

These psalms, written at different stages of David’s life, give clues to where he is and what he is doing at the time.  In examining them, you will discover many references to what David plans to do.  He declares his predetermined choices.  He states the things that he will do.  Among these “I will” statements are the following (many of these are repeated throughout the psalms):

  •  I will praise God
  •  I will sing praises to your name
  •  I will pray
  •  I will worship
  •  I will bless the Lord
  •  I will tell of Your marvelous works
  •  I will give thanks
  •  I will trust in God
  •  I will rejoice
  •  I will wash my hands in innocence
  •  I will restrain my mouth
  •  I will teach others the fear of the Lord
  •  I will wait for God
  •  I will meditate on God’s wondrous works
  •  I will lie down in peace
  •  I will hope continually
  •  I will go in the strength of the Lord

Like David, we have the ability to start anew each day.  Whatever is in the past or whatever is going on today, we can make the same choices David did and be a person after God’s own heart.

© Stephanie B. Blake

July 2011

(for a Bible study on this subject, see “Will You Be a Person After God’s Own Heart”)

Separated by a Common Language

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29 NAS).

English

I travel and speak internationally, sometimes with an interpreter, many times in English. In an international setting in a country where English is not the first language, many attending my conferences know English as an additional language.  Even if English is the national language of the foreign country where I am speaking, the English spoken in that nation has its own cultural identity.

Traveling to nations where English is spoken supposedly relieves the pressure of having to learn another language.  I have become aware, however, of communication difficulties among English speakers in different cultures. If you do travel, you might incur the same issues.  Even in you live in an English speaking country, you will encounter others who have learned English as an additional language.  Below I have shared a few tips I have learned in my travels.

Although English is so widespread, communication problems do exist between English speakers of different nations. Often what one intends to communicate is lost in the language itself. What can be done about it?

Be aware of the possibility of misunderstanding. Watch the person you are speaking with closely for body language that communicates he did not fully understand what you had to say.  When that happens, rephrase your comment.

Do not use idioms. Although a dictionary exists which tries to explain idioms used in American, British and Australian English, avoid idioms altogether.

Stay away from jokes. It is a rare joke that is understood by all cultures.  Humor can be effectively used without telling a joke.

Never insult your listener.  Resist the temptation to say something like, “I just used simple English.”  If you had really used simple English, you probably would not have been misunderstood.  So, a good rule is to simplify, simplify, simplify.

Take special care if you are teaching or speaking to a group. Often your attendees are a mixture of native English speakers as well as those who have learned English as an additional language. If you have been sensitive in preparing your speech, everyone should be able to benefit from what you have to say. You don’t want anyone to spend time trying to figure out what you meant by a certain comment at the beginning of your speech, thus ensuring that the rest of the speech was a loss.

Keep cultural references to a minimum. It can be offensive to others when all of your examples are from your own culture. Personal examples can be effective, however, such as “As a father, I have found that my children watch my every move.  This makes me think twice about the kind of leader I am at home and in the business world.”  Your example can then be very specific.

Even personal examples, however, have their limitations. For instance, if you are speaking to a group in a poor, depressed country, making references about the difficulties of finding what you want while you are shopping not only does not make sense to your audience, it points out the differences between your cultures.  They may not have the ability to buy basic things, much less shop around for “just the right thing.”

Enjoy the experience. People of different cultures can learn much from each other.  Being able to speak the same language is a huge plus, but consideration and humility should always be present. If you are truly interested in communicating, your listener will know it and you will be encouraged to return.

Christianity

Just as one would expect that he would be understood when speaking English with another native English speaker, we often make the mistake that everyone who claims to be a Christian will also understand the words that we use in describing our faith.  That is not always true.

Some denominations have attached certain meanings to common words used in the Christian community.  Sometimes this can lead to not only a lack of communication, but a vital difference in doctrine as well.  If you are in doubt about whether you and the person you are speaking with are in agreement, clarify.  Some commonly misunderstood words are:

  • Christian.  A true Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ.  Some people equate the title with cultural Christianity, i.e. living in a “Christian” nation, being part of a “Christian” family, being a member of a “Christian” church.
  • Baptism.  Baptism is a testimony of a person who has trusted Christ as his Savior and Lord. It is not essential to salvation; however, some denominations teach that it is.
  • Spiritual gifts.  Every believer has been given at least one spiritual gift to use for the building up of the body of Christ.  There are some denominations, however, that teach that some of the gifts are evidence of salvation and present in every believer.

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Colossians 4:5-6).

© Stephanie B. Blake

June 2011

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Spending Time with God: Digging for Treasure in His Word

Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his son (Hebrews 1:1 The Message).

God loves to communicate with His family. That is why He sent His Son, the Word, to live among us. That is why He gave us the Bible, His written word. That is why He puts such an emphasis on prayer.  He is so intent on making Himself understood that His Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of His believers. Unlike false gods, He is totally engaged with His people.

If someone wants to know what God has to say, he studies the Bible.  Unfortunately, Bible “study” is often viewed as an obligation rather than an exciting privilege. However, the psalmist did not feel that way. I have put my hope in your word. . .  How sweet are your promises to my taste. . . I gain understanding from your precepts. . . Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119: 81,103, 104, 105 NIV).

Reluctance to spend time in God’s word is usually more prevalent in a society where Bibles are readily available.  In countries where access is limited, if a Christian owns a Bible, it is his most precious possession. He can say with Job, I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread (Job 23:12b NIV).

There are many ways to study the Bible: a careful word-by-word exegesis of a particular passage (such as John 3:16), an in depth study of a book (such as Genesis), a character study (such as Daniel), and many more.  The important thing is to set aside time each day to hear from God – through His word and through prayer. I get excited about discovering threads of truth that run from the beginning to the end of God’s word or “connecting the dots” about a Biblical theme.

Although the Bible was written by many people over several hundred years, it has one underlying theme.  It is, after all, God’s word. It is all about God and what He is doing. The theme of every story, book, and character is how God used that person or circumstance for His redemption of fallen man. Redemption is through Jesus, the Word of God. He appears in the Old Testament in pre-incarnate forms and comes as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies in the New Testament.

Jesus revealed Himself as God: I Am (John 8:58), the Bread of Life (John 6:35), the Light of the World (John 8:12), the Door (John 10:7), the Good Shepherd (John 10:14), the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), and the True Vine (John 15:1).  Although these statements are unique to Jesus, He shared the characteristics of one of them with His believers. This is the theme of the Bible study on this site: Living in the Light: Looking Up and Lighting the Way for Others to Follow.

© Stephanie B. Blake

May 2011

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Trusting God: A Predetermined Choice

. . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

The predetermined choice to trust God is a common characteristic of Christian heroes. Their examples are recorded in the Bible, in history and continue to flesh out before us the one thing that pleases God the most: faith. Solid, unshakeable faith founded on an intimate relationship with God is seen in those who make the decision to take Him at His word regardless of circumstances.

Abraham’s trust in God led him to be obedient to God’s unexplainable request to sacrifice his son Isaac. When God provided the ram for the sacrifice, Abraham’s relief must have been indescribable; however, he was sure that if God expected him to carry out the sacrifice of his son, God would raise him from the dead. Abraham was certain that the promise God made to him about his legacy through Isaac was true. Only a man who had made the decision in the past to trust and follow God, no matter what, could have passed this test.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego refused to worship the image Nebuchadnezzar set up even when the king’s wrath sent them into a fiery furnace. They knew God was capable of delivering them. Their testimony to the king was even if God chose not to rescue them from the fire, they would trust Him. It is questionable that these men foresaw that God would walk with them in the fire, but that is what happened and what continues to happen symbolically for many believers today.

Joshua was sent as part of a team to scout out the land God promised to Israel. The presence of giants in the land frightened all but two of the team. Joshua and Caleb were certain God would secure the land for them.  The influence of the rest of the team, however, infected the people of Israel with doubt and fear. Instead of entering the land of milk and honey, they spent forty years in the wilderness. Only Joshua and Caleb were still alive when God brought his people into the promised land, having maintained their youthful energy and determination to follow God.

Joshua did not argue with God when He revealed His unusual battle plan for conquering Jericho.  Instead, Joshua did as directed and the walls of Jericho fell down as God had promised.  Joshua was aware some of his kinsmen might abandon God even after His miraculous intervention in their lives, but Joshua went on record with a declaration in the future tense: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Job never saw what was coming when his trials began, but his predetermined choice to trust God was the reason he was able to declare, Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job 13:15)Even when his darkest days made him question God, his decision to trust God prevented him from sinning against God with his words. 

Testimonies of those who have made the predetermined choice to trust God did not cease with Biblical accounts. Although history tells of many who did the same, those I have known who have lived that decision before me have made the most lasting impression.

When my husband was in seminary, the pastor of our church received the horrible news that one of our church members, a recent seminary graduate, lost his life in a fire along with his infant child.  When the fire began at his home, this man brought his family out of the burning building only to discover that the baby was still in the house.  As he rushed back in to save his baby, his wife and older children waited outside for him.  He never returned.  As our pastor prepared to visit the widow, he confessed to us he had no idea what he could say to help her through such a horrendous event.  As the widow opened the door, she looked her pastor in the eyes and said, “Pastor, the joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Several years ago, I lost one of my best friends to brain cancer.  When the diagnosis was given to her, she said to her husband, “God has just told me I will not survive this.”  During the remaining nine months of her life, her favorite saying, “God is faithful,” continued to be on her lips wherever she went.  She suffered much and was even criticized for not having enough faith to believe God would heal her, but she never wavered in her steadfast trust of a faithful Father who loved her and her family.

A few years after that, my husband also got cancer.  With his diagnosis, he made the determination that he would glorify God no matter what happened.  In his case, God healed him, but he did have to go through surgery, months of chemotherapy and additional hospitalizations because of complications with the chemotherapy. Through that year, he continued to travel with our ministry and made an impact upon those who were in the congregations and conferences.  He is healthy today and continues to preach and teach the love of a God he trusts.

During trial and tragedy is not the time to wrestle with the issue of whether God can be trusted.  That choice must be made ahead of time.  If a trusting faith is not already in place when hard times come, there is no well to draw from.  The well of resource must have already been filled with Living Water to sustain one through a time of drought.

It is impossible to please God without faith.  His word is full of promises of His presence for those who trust Him.  He promises to be a refuge, a hiding place, a rock, a fortress, a shield, a present help in time of trouble, a deliverer, a defender, a stronghold.  Those who trust Him live under the shadow of His wings, are blessed, feed on His faithfulness, are given a new song to sing, are not afraid, are not put to shame, are known by God and are kept in perfect peace.

© Stephanie B. Blake

April 2011

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Prayer Powers the Life of a Christian

Is there a correlation between lack of prayer and the lack of productivity in a believer’s life? What about the lack of positive witness for the Christian church?

Have you ever run out of gas on a trip? It doesn’t matter how big your engine is, how well decked out the interior of the car is, or what a beautiful paint job it has. If there is no fuel, there is no power. A car cannot go anywhere without fuel.

In January 2010, an inaugural Interior Design Show symposium held in Toronto, Canada featured “Conversations in Design, A World without Oil.” Designers from around the world were encouraged to introduce design ideas that would work in a world no longer dependent upon oil. This has been a concern for years.  In the 1950s, Dr. M. King Hubbert developed a theory that oil, as a finite resource, would someday reach its peak.  Building on that theory, Dr. C. J. Campbell conducted a study using data from Petroconsultants of Geneva. The Petroconsultants database is the largest database on oil outside the continental U.S. and is used by all international oil companies. As a result of his study, a graph was developed indicating that oil production did peak in 1999 and as of 2011, we are on the downhill side of oil production.

Snowstorms, thunderstorms and heavy rain can create massage power outages resulting in life-threatening problems. Utility companies often race to restore power to homes totally dependent upon their services. The upheaval in the Middle East has sparked debate about oil prices and availability. Countries with limited power sources already have mandatory blackouts which is becoming more common even in the U.S.

What does all this have to do with prayer? The power behind a believer’s life comes from God. Prayer fuels the Christian’s life. A person can be a true Christian, but be spiritually ineffective. Unless he fuels up, he has no power. He “just runs out of gas.”

The source of a believer’s power is God. His power will never run out. It is a resource we can count on for eternity. To live a productive life, however, believers need to stay close to the source of His power.

In order to have fuel in your vehicle, you must first go to a supply source, typically a gas station. You must use the nozzle and fill the car with fuel. It is a similar process to use the power in your home. The electricity may be installed throughout the house, but if the switch is not turned on, the power source is not tapped. I don’t have to know all there is to know about fuel production to be able to put gas in my car. Neither do I have to be an electrician to turn on the lights in my house or run my washing machine. In a sense, I just have to do what is required to ask for it.

It is like that with prayer. Jesus said, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24). What honors Him is to ask Him for power to do His will. Stephen was said to be full of faith and power (Acts 6:8). Stephen had power because of his faith. His faith was in the God of power. Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Power is a gift from God. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). It is all of God. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us (2 Corinthians 4:7).Quotations are from the New King James Version.

This brings us to the relationship between power and prayer. James 5:16 is a familiar verse and many can quote from the KJV, The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. However, in over half of twenty translations of the Bible, the word “power” or “powerful” is used. For example:

The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful (HCSB).

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (NIV).

The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with (The Message).

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (NLT).

Although it does not use the word “power,” I also love how the New Century Version puts this verse:

When a believing person prays, great things happen.

Great things do happen in the life of the praying person and the lives of others when prayer taps into God’s power.

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2011

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