Category: Reflective Focus

Loving God Completely

 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).

Christianity is a hot topic these days. Much of the conversation revolves around keeping faith separate from everything else.  In some countries, Christians are physically persecuted for sharing their faith. In many European countries, people state, “Religion is one of the subjects we do not talk about.” In the U.S., politicians tell their constituents to keep “church and state separate.” Many consider discussion of faith outside religious meetings as an intrusion of another’s rights. “Watch what you say so as not to offend anyone with your belief system.  Keep everything separate.  If you want to worship your God on Sunday, fine, but keep Him out of Monday through Saturday discussions.”

For a truly committed believer in Christ, however, faith cannot be separated from any aspect of life. His Holy Spirit lives within His followers. He should be involved in every thought, every decision, every appointment, and every relationship of life.

A scribe asked Jesus, ‘Which is the greatest commandment of all’? Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12:28-31 NKJV). Notice Jesus’ emphasis on “all.”  Matthew adds that Jesus concluded with ‘On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 22:40 NKJV).

Generally, when one thinks of law, it is in terms of obligation.  “I must pay my taxes.”  “There is a fee for this parking space.  If I don’t pay the fee, I have broken the law and might get a ticket.”  Although laws are generally created for good and for order in society, often people consider ways to “get around the law.”  “Maybe I won’t get caught running this red light.” “Possibly I can claim some deductions on my income tax that I did not really make. The possibilities are slim that I will get audited.”

A relationship with God through Jesus redefines how we view law.  Christians obey the Lord because they love Him. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). He lived a perfect life fulfilling the law in Himself.  He died a sacrificial death on our behalf. He rose and is interceding for His followers still.  This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you (John 15:12-15 NKJV).  – Love your neighbor as yourself.

The Lord, our God, the Lord is one. – There are not many gods in this world.  There is one God. His person is revealed through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Faith in Jesus, the Son of God, is the only way to have a relationship with God.

Love the Lord your God –  You love a Person.  If God is your Lord, these are the ways you show Him you love Him.  He has demonstrated His love for you.  God equates your allegiance to Him as your complete love expressed in every part of your being.

With all your heart – Your actions are controlled by what is in your heart. Jesus said that evil deeds come from your heart (Mark 7:20-23).  What you treasure in life  – what you really care about – is where your heart is (Matthew 6:21). Love Him with all you do.

With all your soul – Your soul is who you are.  And the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7 KJV).  Some other translations render “living soul” as “living being,” “living person,” or “living creature.”  Love Him with all you are.

With all your mind – Choices are made with your mind.  Adam and Eve made the wrong choice in the garden of Eden, and God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22 NKJV).  The only way to conquer evil is through Christ. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NKJV). Love Him with all you think.

 With all your strength – Your body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). Strength implies bodily powers, but there is also “strength of character.”  Being conformed to the image of Christ gives one the strength to carry on through all the trials of life. I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he has judged me faithful, appointing me to his service (1 Timothy 1:12 NIV). Trust Him to lead you. Love Him with all your might and perseverance, relying on His resources.

One of Paul’s prayers covered this total allegiance to God. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to His riches in glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man [with all your strength], that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith [with all your heart]; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge [with all your mind]; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God [with all your soul] (Ephesians 3:14-19 NKJV emphasis mine).

© Stephanie B. Blake

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The Eyes of Jesus

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be a follower of Jesus during His earthly life: to have witnessed His birth, watched Him grow as a boy, seen Him perform duties at home, listened to Him talking with the wise men of the day, been present when He called His disciples, seen His miracles firsthand, watched Him walk the Via Dolorosa, observed His body hanging upon the cross, witnessed the darkness in midday and the death of the Son of God, seen Him as He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, and been able to look upward as He ascended to heaven?

If you had been there, what do you think you would have noticed most about His physical presence?  His words were life itself, but what was appealing about His presence? Scripture says He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2). Yet His Word also tells us that He saw into the hearts of people – when He saw their faith (Luke 5:20).Had we been able to walk and talk with Jesus, I think we would have been most captivated by His eyes:

  • eyes that sparkled as he looked at Mary and Joseph while lying in the manger
  • eyes that confirmed what Simeon’s eyes finally beheld – the Savior of the world had come
  • eyes of understanding that astonished the temple teachers when He was twelve
  • eyes that faced down Satan as he tempted Him in the wilderness
  • eyes that read from the prophet Isaiah when He declared, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor, He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. And with all eyes in the synagogue fixed on Him, He declared, Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
  • eyes of compassion for the man who had been inhabited by an unclean spirit as He demanded, Be quiet, and come out of him!
  • eyes that saw the two boats, empty at the end of a fruitless night of fishing, Who, after He taught the multitudes from one of the boats, told Simon to launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. His eyes, missing nothing, saw their need and met it.
  • eyes that returned the longing look from the man with leprosy as he pled, Lord, if You are willing You can make me clean. Touching Him with His hand and seeing His need for cleansing, He said, I am willing, be cleansed.
  • eyes that saw the faith of the friends who let down a paralyzed man through the roof so that He might heal him
  • eyes that beheld friends as He dined with tax collectors and sinners
  • eyes that could penetrate through the hypocrisy of the Pharisees as they accused Him of unlawfulness as He healed on the Sabbath
  • eyes that looked heavenward as He talked with His Father
  • eyes that lifted up toward His disciples before teaching the multitudes
  • eyes that radiated with amazement upon hearing of the faith of the centurion when He said, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!
  • eyes that ached at the grieving of the widow of Nain. He had compassion on her and raised her son from the dead.
  • eyes that beamed with appreciation as the woman washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them with fragrant oil
  • eyes that sought the crowds for understanding as He spoke His parables
  • eyes that searched the crowd for the woman who touched Him and was healed
  • eyes that looked into the hearts of His disciples as He gave them power and authority over demons and to cure diseases
  • eyes that shone in a transfigured face as He talked with Moses and Elijah
  • eyes that perceived the insincerity of the ones who pledged to follow Him, but first wanted to go and bury his father, or bid his family farewell
  • eyes of determination as He sent the seventy disciples out two by two and gave them instructions for their journey
  • eyes that blessed His disciples when He said, Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.
  • eyes that glowed with pleasure when His disciples understood a heavenly principle
  • eyes that viewed the woman who had an infirmity for eighteen years, could not stand up. Laying His hands on her, immediately she was made straight and glorified God.
  • eyes that saw the lepers as they pled for mercy. He healed all ten of them even though only one would give Him thanks.
  • eyes that beheld with love and tenderness the children brought to Him
  • eyes that took note of the sorrowful response of the rich man when He told Him what he must do to follow Him.
  • eyes that looked up in the tree and observed Zacchaeus straining to see Him.  He asked to stay at Zacchaeus’ house knowing that he was ready to hear the good news of salvation.
  • eyes that wept over the city of Jerusalem
  • eyes that perceived the craftiness of the chief priests and scribes as they tested Him with the question, Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
  • eyes that shed tears of grief for His friend Lazarus
  • eyes that turned to look at Peter after he denied Him three times
  • eyes of love for His mother as He asked John to take care of her
  • eyes of forgiveness for those whose duty it was to put Him on the cross.  Scripture records at least one centurion who observed and then understood that He was the Son of God.
  • eyes that filled with suffering and sorrow as He died alone on a cruel cross for sins He did not commit
  • eyes that sparkled when Mary Magdalene realized that she had been talking to her Lord, not the gardener
  • eyes that watched as the two men He encountered on the road to Emmaus recognized Him after He broke bread with them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’
  • eyes that looked upon His disciples for the last time and gave them His great commission
  • eyes that saw everything and everyone – the poor, the rich, the crippled, the arrogant, the contradiction of injustice and kindness in people, the struggles of humanity, the pondering expression on His mother’s face as she reflected on His words and His mission, the beauty of faith in those who trusted in Him.

Jesus lives on – in our hearts. The world searches our eyes for the sincerity of faith and commitment that we voice with our mouths. It is possible that a lost world can detect the depth or the shallowness of our love for Jesus and those He died for through our eyes. Can we, like Jesus, look at those around us with eyes of love?

© Stephanie B. Blake

October 2010

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The Christian Common Denominator

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. . . There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26, 28 NKJV).

A well known definition for common denominator deals with mathematics:

  • A quantity into which all the denominators of a set of fractions may be divided without a remainder (American Heritage Dictionary)
  • An integer exactly divisible by each denominator of a group of fractions: 1/3, 1/4, and 1/6 have a common denominator of 12 (Collins English Dictionary)
  • An integer that is a common multiple of the denominators of two or more fractions (WordNet)

A lesser known definition refers to people:

  • A commonly shared theme or trait (American Heritage Dictionary)
  • A belief, attribute, etc., held in common by members of a class or group (Collins English Dictionary)
  • An attribute that is common to all members of a category (WordNet)

My husband and I are privileged to be involved in an international ministry where we encounter Christians all over the world.  For Christians, there is a symbolic correlation between the primary and secondary definition of common denominator. The common denominator in mathematics is always the bottom number in the fraction: the base.  The foundation of all believers is Jesus Christ. As we mature in our faith, we become more and more like Him, sharing His characteristics. The traits (the common denominator) that make us alike are those attributes that we have obtained by virtue of the fact that we are all in His family and are being conformed to His image (Romans 8:29).

Each person must come to faith in Jesus alone. Once a believer, however, he is then part of a whole. The Bible refers to this “whole” in many ways: a family i.e. children of God and brothers (John 1:12, 1 John 3:1-2, Romans 12:1, Galatians 4:28), a flock (John 10:16), God’s elect (Romans 8:33), the church (Matthew 16:18, Acts 5:11, Acts 8:1, Ephesians 3:10), the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:17, Ephesians 4:12), building or temple (Ephesians 2:19-22) and the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7, 22:17). Our commonality is based “in Him” (Ephesians 1:4, 7, 10, 11, 13).

These are some common traits among true believers everywhere:

  • Love for others – compassion (Galatians 6:10). I have observed incredible sacrificial love on the part of Christians throughout the world.  They believe that God has given them a purpose for being and that involves loving and serving others. They are involved in taking care of the needs of the Body of Christ and ministering to those who do not yet know Him through humanitarian service.
  • Joy in the Lord (John 16:24, John 17:13, 1 John 1:4). Our travels have taken us to prosperous countries and poverty stricken nations as well as those who are in a time of transition. The cultural norm in some countries is to be very serious with only a rare smile while other nationalities are naturally gregarious and outgoing. Regardless of the circumstances in which these dear brothers and sisters in the Lord live, there is a distinct difference between believers and non-believers. The joy of the Lord is always evident among His family members.
  • Sense of family.  No matter where I worship, I feel at home.  I know that I am with family.  The sense of belonging is immediate and does not leave when I travel to another destination.  If God does not allow me to return to serve in a particular location again, I am aware that I will see them again. We will live forever with the Lord.
  • Sacrificial spirit (2 Timothy 2:3). Many of my brothers and sisters truly endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ. The hardships take many forms: persecution, deprivation, misunderstanding, physical ailments, family trials and many more. The common thread of sacrificial love among believers is that the hardship is understood in the context of God’s plan to use them for His glory. Even in the midst of hardship, believers are “others oriented.”
  • Teachable. There is a constant delight in encountering believers who are eager to learn more about Christ and apply what they have learned.  I feel a tremendous blessing in teaching many who are hungry for solid food (1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12).
  • Exercise their spiritual gifts.  The common denominator of us all is Christ, but He has equipped each of us with unique qualities and gifts to be able to serve Him.  Together, we make a whole (Ephesians 4:4-7) and His Spirit uses us to cause growth in the body (Ephesians 4:15-16). It is a delight to observe members of His family use their gifts.
  • Desire to please and glorify God (2 Timothy 2:19).  With Christ as our solid foundation, believers work at removing sin in their lives so that their lives will glorify Him. Bringing glory to God is a uniform goal among true believers.

Without Christ, we can do nothing. With Him, anything is possible (Matthew 17:20, 19:26). Collectively, as one in Christ, we are the answer to His prayer (John 17). When we obey His command to love Him and others, the world can see Him in us.

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common . . . and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:44,47b NKJV).

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2010

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Avoiding Spiritual Heat Stroke

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God (Psalm 42:1-2a NKJV).

It has been a very hot summer. In fact, many are saying this is the hottest summer on record. Since yard maintenance needs to be done no matter what the weather, it has been necessary to protect against heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  Hints for prevention include drinking plenty of fluids, taking rest breaks and avoiding the midday sun.  In other words, use common sense in extreme heat.

Even the ancients knew the wisdom of these precautions.  In Biblical days, women usually went as a group early in the morning to gather water from the town’s wells.  There was an instance, however, when John tells us that Jesus met a woman who was drawing water alone in the heat of the day (John 4). From His conversation with her, we might conclude she preferred exposure to the midday heat to the scorn of others. However, on that particular day, she found a more important source of water than Jacob’s well. She had come to quench her physical thirst for perhaps a day, but after meeting Jesus, she realized her greatest need was for Living Water.

If she was truly an outcast in her city, her discovery immediately changed her. She forgot herself and thought of others. Leaving her water jar at the well, she rushed into the city to announce that she had found the Christ. She felt an urgency to introduce them to the Man who knew all about her and loved her anyway, offering her the gift of Living Water that lasts for eternity. She wanted to share her Good News in the hopes that others would also recognize Him. And that is what happened.  As a result of her testimony and her introducing them to Jesus, many in her town believed in Him. The Living Water is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world (John 4:42).

Dehydration and heat stroke are similar to the spiritual dryness of life without Christ. Confusion and fatigue are symptoms of both dehydration and heat stroke. A dehydrated person cannot sweat enough to cool down and if his internal temperature rises to a dangerous level, he may have a heat stroke. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and if not properly treated, can be fatal.

The prevention for spiritual heat stroke is accepting the gift of Living Water. Living Water cleanses from sin and enables you to see things more clearly, dispersing confusion.  Attempting to work your way into God’s kingdom is very exhausting, but trusting in the Living Water, who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), refreshes your spirit, ridding you of spiritual fatigue.   Living Water gives eternal life.  If you never partake of the Living Water, it is eternally fatal.  Those who do not accept Him experience what the Bible calls “the second death” (Revelation 2:11, 20:14, 21:8).

Death from heat stroke is preventable.  So is “the second death.”  Jesus said, “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).  Although sin separates us from God, He has made a way for us to come to Him through Jesus Christ, the Living Water. Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water’ (John 4:10).

The body can exist much longer without food than without water.  There is no substitute for water. Our bodies must have it in order to survive.  There is also no spiritual substitute for Christ, the Living Water. For My people . . . have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns- broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13). Satan will offer us substitutes, but they are like broken cisterns that cannot hold water. The only way to God and eternal life is through Jesus.

Spiritual dehydration and heat stroke do not exist in the eternity of a believer.  The reality is:

. . . And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 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 7:15-17).

The opposite is true in hell, however.  Jesus told the story of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. They both died. In Hades, the rich man was able to see Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom.  He cried out for Father Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, for he was tormented in the flame (Luke 16:24). Abraham responded that the rich man was asking the impossible.  The great gulf between the two could not be crossed.

Jesus describes hell as a place where the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44, 46, 48). John tells us that Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15). Once there, there is no chance for a sip of the Living Water.

If this summer heat has made you uncomfortable, reflect on the status of those who reject Christ and what they will experience for eternity.  If you are a believer, thank Him for His cool, cleansing, refreshing Water. Like the woman at the well, lose your inhibitions and share the Living Water with those who need to drink.  If you are not yet a believer in Jesus, repent of your sin, trust Him, and take the gift of Living Water He offers.  You will never thirst again.

© Stephanie B. Blake

August 2010

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The Price of Freedom is Sacrificial Love

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. . . What is important is faith expressing itself in love. . . For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:1, 6, 13-14 NLT).

The 4th of July commemorates the birth of America.  The labor pains of that birth are well known in history.  Liberty came at a deep cost of the lives of those who fought for it. Freedom is not free. Someone has to be willing to pay the price to obtain it. William Wallace is known for his battle cry “Freedom!” in leading Scots to fight for their families and lands. Patrick Henry is remembered for his speech to America’s Continental Congress, “Give me liberty or give me death!” The heroes of the Alamo knew that they were sacrificing their lives for the hope of freedom. Many others through the ages have recognized that freedom might call for the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.

Keeping America free has also been very costly. What still compels young men and women to continue to do whatever is necessary to maintain America’s freedom? Love does.  America’s military is peopled by volunteers. Without love of country, family and for many, love of God, there would be no defense forces to protect my home country.  I am indebted to my father, my husband’s father, my sons, neighbors and many friends who have served and are serving in any branch of the military that keeps watch over my privilege to live in “the land of the free.”  I have never volunteered to serve myself, so with a grateful heart, I thank each one for the blessing they have bought for me.

Our spiritual freedom was purchased for us by Jesus. After sin entered the world, a war began. Since then, man has been in a continual battle against Satan and his desire to keep us in bondage to sin. Jesus voluntarily paid the price for man to be reconciled to God through His own death on the cross. God’s great love for us and His desire for us to be free cost Him dearly.

The battle has been won.  Our freedom has been purchased for eternity, but many times we do not live like it. Although certain that we are saved by grace, we often try to live by works.  The result of that is a return to the Satan’s bondage. Paul told the churches in Galatia that the remedy for that was to serve one another, remembering that the law is summed up in love your neighbor as yourself.

Christians owe an eternal debt to Christ for our spiritual freedom.  Americans owe a debt to our service personnel for our freedom.  We cannot pay off that debt.  It is not possible to go to Heaven through our own works, nor is it possible to bring back those who have sacrificed themselves for our country’s freedom. The proper response to both is love.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31 NKJV).

© Stephanie B. Blake

July 2010

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Becoming Like Children

My three grandsons are very blessed. Their godly raising is a joyful priority for their dads and moms (my sons and their wives). It is truly a delight to watch them grow and develop under the security and safety of their loving environments.

DSC01573Do you remember the carefree feeling of being a child? Unfortunately, some of you may not have had that kind of childhood so that memory is not available to you, but others may have been part of a caring family where memories of growing up actually make one wonder “when did I get to be so serious?” and “when did life get to be so hard?”

God’s word is full of references to the fact that as a believer, He is our Father.  He is the creator of everything and everyone, but He is Father to those who trust in his Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus refers to Himself as our brother and prays to “our Father.”  Our Father is trustworthy, loving and provides a safety net for the inevitable trials of this life. Jesus said we should have faith like a little child.  Many of us have forgotten what that is like, but it might be helpful if we remind ourselves that we are children in God’s eyes.

How does a young child, who knows he is loved by his father, spend his day?

  • He has a natural sense of belonging.  He stays close to his mother and father in strange situations, making sure they are close at hand.  As long as he can see his parent, he knows he is safe.
  • He trusts his parents.  If his dad says, “Jump. I will catch you,” the child believes his father will catch him, he jumps and often the first jump is followed by “More, daddy, I want to jump some more.”
  • He doesn’t worry about tomorrow. He is intent upon enjoying today.
  • If he wants to know something, he asks his father or mother.  He trusts that they will have the answer.
  • When he has a need, he goes to his parent.  “Mom, I’m hungry.”  “Dad, fix my bike.”
  • When he is tired, he takes a nap.
  • When he has a hurt or needs comfort, he seeks out his mom or dad.
  • At the end of the day, most children want their parents to stay by their side until they fall asleep.

Robert Fulghum’s bestseller All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten may have been so popular because sometimes we adults need to 405222_4705692559391_1206575027_102736429_732991019_nrealize that we are the ones that made our lives so complicated.  Is it possible to return to the simplicity of childhood and trust God for everything just as a child trusts his parents?  The Bible seems to indicate that this is the very thing we must do.

Take a look at the statements about the child above and compare his relationship to his parents and your relationship with God your Father.

  • Through Christ, you belong to God’s forever family.  God is your Father and there is never a time when He is not by your side.
  • You can trust your Father.  He will never let you down.
  • He tells you not to worry about tomorrow.  Leave tomorrow to Him.  He will take care of you tomorrow just as He has today.
  • He also makes it clear in His Word that if you want to know something, ask Him.  He has the answer. He promises wisdom and guidance to those who trust Him.
  • He will provide your every need.  He takes care of the sparrows, and He will take care of you.
  • God instructs us to rest in Him.  Basically, faith in God is relaxing and believing that He will do all He says He will do.  A biography of Oswald Chambers, Abandoned to God: The Life Story of the Author of ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ gives an instance where Chambers is quoted as saying, “Trust God and do the next thing.”  He then proceeded to take a nap.
  • Our Father is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).  No situation is a surprise to Him.  He has the ability to comfort you in any trial you may face. Often the comfort that He gives to you then enables you to have the resources to comfort someone else in a similar situation at a later time.
  • God is always with you. Remember that He is with you in the morning when you awake, at night when you got to bed and because He never slumbers, He is watching over you as you sleep.

“unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 NKJV).

©Stephanie B. Blake

June 2010

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Men of Faith

The righteous man walks in his integrity; his children are blessed after him                      (Proverbs 20:7).

Dad

A little over two years ago, my father passed away at the age of 90.  If anyone was ever ready to go to Heaven, it was Dad.  For years he was fairly consumed with looking for the Lord to come get him “in the air.”

Although a layman, he was a great student of the Bible.  While in his 80’s, he wrote and published a book entitled “The Unveiling: How the Symbols of Prophecy Reveal What Happens in the Last Days.”

Dad loved God and is the primary reason I am a believer today. He had a steadfast dedication to the word of God and serving Him.  Recently this inscription was discovered in one of his books: “Frank, there are no words to express our gratitude for your care and concern. You are the finest example of a true servant of the Lord that I have ever personally known.”

As part of “the greatest generation,” I am also very proud of his service during World War II. I miss him.  He was a great man of God.

Uncle and Cousins

Dad’s brother’s spiritual strength was also notable.  My grandmother single handedly raised godly sons along with their two Christian sisters. My uncle’s sons still participate in the ministry of their church: one as a Bible study teacher and the other as part of a gospel quartet.

Brothers and Father-in-Law

Through marriage, my sister gave me one of the kindest men I have ever known as a brother. He is a believer and an active church member. My husband provided me with three more brothers who have given themselves to serving God. All four of these men have been what brothers should be: supportive, encouraging, and light hearted teasers.   And I couldn’t ask for a better father-in-law. His sons followed in his footsteps in their allegiance to the Lord. He is still faithfully serving God.  Like Dad, he is also part of the “greatest generation,” having served our country in WW II and beyond.

Sons

My two sons are all I had ever hoped they would be, incredible men of faith who are loving, strong husbands of Christian women.  Along with their wives, they are raising three boys in a Christ-like environment.  I count myself blessed to be their mother. They are already seeing the fruit of their commitment to Christ, as one grandson recently invited Christ into his heart and the other two, I am sure, are close behind as they are faithfully taught to love God, His word and His church.

Husband

And then there is my husband.  The things I have learned from him are too numerous to mention.  Dad led me to faith in Christ, but my husband continues to help me grow as a Christian.  Through the years, I have watched his loyalty to Christ grow stronger and stronger.  He is the best preacher I know and loves God unreservedly.  I believe his priorities are His Lord, his family and bearing fruit for Christ. It is an honor to be his partner.

These men are not perfect. None of us are.  However, as I travel and hear others tell their family stories, I believe I have a rare blessing in being able to truly say I am surrounded by men of faith in my family.  I thank God for such a special gift and their influence on my life.

Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father (Proverbs 17:6).  This reflection started with my Dad.  However, his relationship with his own father was fairly non-existent, tainted with the fact that his dad was an alcoholic.  In a day when divorce had a great stigma, his mother went through that painful process in order to provide a godly environment for her two sons and two daughters.  My grandmother raised her children by herself, just as many women do today. God richly blessed her for her devotedness to that task.

I share this “reflective focus” about my family because bad patterns can be broken and new godly patterns can be established.  The Bible gives many examples of the value of positive influence of fathers.  Today’s society does not make it easy, but the perseverance of a man of faith does bring forth fruit.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper (Psalms 1:1-3).

© Stephanie B. Blake

Scriptures are taken from the NKJV (Dad’s favorite!)

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Luxurious Poverty

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a story about George Bailey, a very kind man with big dreams who became stuck in his hometown through a series of unfortunate circumstances.  His financial situation became so bad he actually contemplated suicide, hoping his family would be able to cash in on a small insurance policy. In order to save him, Clarence, an angel-in-training, gave George a look at what Bedford Falls would have been like if he had never been born.  The view of “Pottersville” (named after the rich and evil Mister Potter) was such a contrast to the town that George knew and loved that George prayed to be restored to life and family, and he was. The townspeople, whom had all been recipients of George’s kindness, came through to help George in his financial crisis.  The story ends with a toast made by his brother, “To my brother George, the richest man in town.” In truth, Mr. Potter was still the wealthiest man in town, but George’s riches lay in the loving relationships he had with his family and his friends. Although the theology of the movie is not right (people do not become angels after they die and “earn their wings”), the message made the movie a classic, definitely a favorite of mine.

No man ever lived with access to more wealth than Jesus. Yet love caused him to choose to set privilege aside. Jesus became poor for our sakes, with nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). Although all the riches of Heaven and earth were at His disposal, He did not use His resources for His own comfort. His was a life of hardship, deprivation and persecution coupled with the confidence of His Father’s love and joy that brought Him.  In the midst of a sin filled world, He wanted to show us how that was possible. The apostle Paul called the gospel the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

My husband and I minister among a group of believers who live in utter poverty. Nothing is taken for granted as everything is a luxury.  And yet, spiritually, they are the richest and most joyful people I know.  Each time I am with this family of believers their joy spills over into my life. I am unaware of a “nominal” Christian among them.  They serve God unreservedly with a whole heart, storing up “treasures in heaven.” I truly believe I observe “the full measure of [Jesus’] joy within them” (John 17:13 NIV).

These brothers and sisters in Christ constantly give testimony of the miracles of God in their lives.  These are just a few observed during my last trip: Bible, bookmarks, bags, blankets, broken reading glasses and balls.

Bible

During a worship service, a young man sat next to me in order to translate the songs and message. As we shared my Bible, I observed him looking longingly at it. This was my most “marked up” Bible, but God impressed me to offer it to him. As I did, tears welled up in his eyes and he said, “This is the best gift I have ever received.”  He then told me he had hopes of becoming an interpreter for preachers who came to his country. Nothing like this Bible is available where he lives, and if it had been, he could not have afforded it. Only God could have placed us together that evening.

Bookmarks

A dear friend made special bookmarks for me to take to the ladies. As they received this gift, the light in their eyes was a joy to behold.  My translator kept stroking hers saying she had never had anything so beautiful. However, she was typical of many others and gave that precious gift to her mother that evening.  Upon discovering that the next day, I gave her another with her promise that she would keep it for herself.

Bags

Other friends wanted to contribute something to the ladies and they made attractive drawstring bags in which I carried toiletries that had been donated by our local hotel chains.  By the time the bags were filled, my suitcases were at the weight limit, but God blessed and allowed me to get them all through customs and distributed to the ladies who appreciated them so much. That in itself was a miracle.

Blankets

One hotel, unable to donate toiletries, offered blankets instead!  Upon arriving at my destination, I discovered that blankets were no longer available for purchase and they were desperately needed.  Again, God knew how to provide for these precious friends.

Broken reading glasses

Shortly after arrival, the only pair of reading glasses I had with me broke. They were not repairable.  During one of my lessons, I noticed a little frustration on the part of one of the ladies because she had broken reading glasses.  Even though I couldn’t talk to her (I need to learn the language!), I pulled out my glasses to show her. They were exactly the same. Her glasses were still broken, but she and I had a good laugh about it!

Balls

A ministry partner carried a few soccer balls with him to give as door prizes to the men.  One man whose name was chosen told my friend that although he worked with children, he had just given his soccer ball away to someone who needed it more. He then asked God to give him another one!

The Spirit of Jesus, His love, His joy and His generosity are so evident in these precious friends of mine. You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us – in one stroke he became poor and we became rich (2 Corinthians 8:9 The Message).

© Stephanie B. Blake

April 2010

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Reflections of a Christian on the 2010 Winter Olympics

The Christian life has often been compared to a race.  The apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 2:2, Philippians 2:16, 2 Timothy 4:7) and the author of Hebrews knew their readers would understand the comparison.  Although the Olympic games were pagan in origin, people living in Biblical days could see a relationship between the dedication required to compete in games, perhaps even the ancient Olympic games, and the Christian life.

Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV).

A CLOUD OF WITNESSES

  • When Joannie Rochette of Canada skated her short program just two days after her mother died of a heart attack, it was before a crowd of over 11,000 observers. They were awed that night as she scored a personal best and again two days later when she won the bronze medal.  The commentators, some former Olympic champions themselves, were stunned by her grace and ability to carry on through her grief.
  • The writer of Hebrews mentions a great cloud of witnesses after naming some of the strongest spiritual giants of the ages.  Those in that roll call were faithful despite many hardships. They were commended by God because they did not give up.  No matter how hard the race is for the believer, spectators in the family of God are cheering him on.

LAY ASIDE EVERY WEIGHT

  • Apolo Ohno, who now has eight Olympic medals, said, “Being an Olympic athlete for me is 100% pure sacrifice.” Lindsey Vonn, after winning her gold medal in the 2010 winter Olympics, said, “I’ve given up everything for this.  It means everything to me.”  Shaun White, winner of the gold in the men’s halfpipe, said, “I didn’t come out here to hold back anything.”
  • Training is a necessary prelude to the race.  Complete dedication is part of that training.  Just like the Olympic athletes, the Christian life is not for the lazy.  There is sacrifice involved.  It is hard work, but more than worth every effort to bring glory to God.

THE SIN WHICH SO EASILY ENSNARES US

  • Sven Kramer of the Netherlands experienced on the most disappointing moments in Olympic history. After having broken a speed record and supposedly securing the gold medal for his speedskating event, he was disqualified.  The record was struck and the gold medal was lost because his coach, Gerard Kemkers, convinced him to change lanes during the race.  Sven’s initial anger was understandable.  However, the next day, he realized that it would not benefit him, his team, his coach or his country if he hung on to resentment. He let it go.
  • Satan is well aware of what can ensnare the life of any Christian.  He will use that to his advantage.  He is in the business of robbing the fruit, or the prize, from a believer’s life.  The Bible tells us that we should be aware of his schemes and to resist him.  The way to do that is to draw closer to Christ, who knew no sin.

JOY SET BEFORE HIM

  • The huge grins on the faces of the medal winners are still plastered across the internet and newspapers.  For them, all the preparation and pain was worth the prize.
  • Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured His race, which was the journey to the cross.  People who believe in Him are His joy.  As His followers, we will also experience true and lasting joy as we run our race for His glory.

SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD

  • In the modern Olympics, prizes are gold, silver and bronze medals.  Those were not the prizes, however, in the ancient Olympic games.  In “The Persian Wars,” Tritantaechmes, upon learning that the prize for the ancient Olympic games was not money but an olive wreath, is said to have exclaimed, “Good heavens, Mardonius, what manner of men are these against whom you have brought us to fight – men who contend with one another, not for money, but for honor.”
  • Jesus wore a crown of thorns so those who trust in Him could inherit a crown of glory.  Paul said that his crown was his faithful brothers in Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19.  Jesus says that faithfulness is rewarded with the crown of life (Revelations 2:10).  As Christians, our hope of glory is Jesus Himself (Colossians 1:27).

LOOKING UNTO JESUS, THE AUTHOR AND FINISHER OF OUR FAITH

  • Approximately 12,000 people were involved in the torch relay before the 2010 winter Olympics.  During the closing ceremony on the last day of the games, the flame was extinguished.
  • The light that a Christian carries is never extinguished as Christians reflect the light of the one who is Light Himself.  As we walk in His light here (1 John 1:7), we can look forward to being in the city where the glory of God gives light forever (Revelation 21:23).

The Christian life is not a sprint. It is a race of endurance.  The rewards are heavenly and eternal.

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2010

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Living with Floaters and Flashes

 A few weeks ago, while my husband was driving, I was disturbed by moving lines on our windshield.  The windshield was obviously dirty, but lines don’t usually move around.  Ordinarily they stay put.  Returning home, everywhere I looked I saw spider webs – although on closer inspection, there were no spider webs. Later, as I tried to swat away the mosquitoes I was seeing, I realized I was having trouble with my left eye.  I was seeing things that weren’t really there. At my husband’s urging, I called for an appointment to see an eye doctor and got one for that day – immediately!  The doctor told me I had developed floaters, which, unfortunately, sometimes happens to people of “my age.” Ouch!  He said not to worry unless things changed.  If they did, I should call him promptly.

The next morning, as I walked through a dark house, I saw lightning streaks at the edge of the same eye.  Again, I called the doctor’s office and again was told to come right on in. After another examination, he still said things were OK.  However, he said my jogging days were over and I shouldn’t operate a jack hammer or a garden tiller!  He said (lucky me), “you may just have to live with your new friends.”

The floaters and flashes have subsided somewhat since that day; however, they are still there.  Now that I know what they are, I can work to look past them and go on with whatever I am doing.  I admit it is a bit disconcerting, but I am adjusting.

It occurs to me that spiritual life is a little like my floaters and flashes.  We tend to let things get in the way of our seeing the big picture.  Sometimes we have to look through floaters to see the beauty of God’s creation and His purposes for us.  Floaters can take many forms.  Like the floaters in my eye, certain circumstances, people and things can annoy us and obscure our vision.  This brings new meaning to the old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” The “floaters” and the “trees” give us a shallow perspective, and they must be dealt with in order to have a proper view of life.

Do you have things that annoy you, that frustrate you so that you are unable to be as productive as you would like? Can you look past your “floaters” and try to see things from God’s perspective? Can you be confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6)?  Do you have any floaters or flashes that thwart your view of God’s plan?

Psalm 19:8 states: The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes (NIV).  The NLT renders the last half of this verse this way: The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight to life. Paul prayed that his friends in Ephesus would have the eyes of your heart . . .  enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:18 NIV). Emphases are mine.

We do have to live with the floaters and flashes of life – things that Satan tries to put in our path to block what God really wants us to see.  But we have a choice to look past those things that annoy, frustrate and tempt us. We can develop spiritual “eyes” that focus on Jesus.  It takes work.  In covering the subject of floaters in an online medical dictionary*, it is noted that “over time you will become less aware of these floaters as the brain learns to ignore these retinal images.  Therefore, while some floaters may remain in your vision, many of them will fade over time and become less bothersome.” It is possible to train yourself to deal constructively with the annoying, frustrating circumstances of life.  Looking at things from God’s perspective is possible through the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).

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

Concentrating on Jesus and His example can prevent us from being chastised by Him as He did His disciples, Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear (Mark 8:17NIV)?

What is your one focus?

© Stephanie B. Blake

February 2010

*http://www.agingeye.net/visionbasics/flashesandfloaters.php

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