Category: Reflective Focus

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).


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.


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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The Waiting Room

As I write this reflection, I am in a waiting room.  Life is like that.  We are often waiting for something – waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the traffic light to change, waiting for the mail to come, waiting for the end of the work day, waiting for the week-end, waiting for a call from a loved one, waiting for an airplane (to take us off to a destination or to receive a loved one), waiting for the chance to go to bed and get some much needed sleep, waiting for graduation, waiting for the right job, waiting for a spouse,  waiting for the birth of a child or a grandchild, waiting for the adoption papers to come through, waiting for retirement, waiting for a visit from family, waiting to heal from an injury or a surgery, waiting for another opportunity – waiting, waiting, waiting.  Actually, it seems that life is more about waiting than doing.

God tells us about His people who had to wait years for the fulfillment of the promise He had given them:

Noah, years spent building the ark, waiting for the rain, waiting for the rain to recede

Abraham, waiting years for his promised son (when God promised to give Abraham a son, his wife was already past childbearing age)

Jacob waiting to marry Rachel, working seven years for her (then being tricked into marrying Leah as well and having to work another seven years)

Joseph waiting to be freed from jail, to see his brothers and father again, waiting for the years of plenty and the years of famine

Moses waiting in the wilderness for years with a disobedient people, waiting to enter the promised land and only getting to see it from afar

You get the picture.  Even though the promised Messiah has actually come and fulfilled His promise to redeem His own, His believers are now waiting for His second coming.

Years ago, I remember one of my teachers saying, “Life is a waiting room.  If you see an open door, go through it.  It won’t stay open forever!”  That is a true statement, but most of life is spent in the waiting room.  What is to be learned there?

In brief waiting periods, practical planning can help “redeem the time.”  For instance, today, I knew I would be in a waiting room for an indefinite period of time.  I brought my Bible and my computer – thus, this reflection.  Sometimes when I know I am going to be waiting, I bring along cards that need to be written or my prayer journal – things that are difficult to do in a day filled with other activities, but can be done in a waiting room.

Waiting in line at the grocery store often gives me an opportunity to chat with someone around me – possibly giving a word of encouragement or the Holy Spirit may prompt me to share about Jesus. Waiting in an airport gives me an opportunity to catch up on my reading or some writing. Waiting for the end of the work day should be productive.  How much can I accomplish in this day before I call it quits?  Time is a valuable commodity. Waiting, waiting, waiting – if that time is spent in prayer, or some other productive endeavor, the time is not wasted and passes so much faster.

Waiting is hard for all of us, but some of our best relationship development with God occurs during our waiting times.  When we are going full speed ahead and accomplishing the things we want to do, we tend to believe the work has been done in our own effort.  It is in the waiting times we remember we need God’s direction.

“What do I do now, Lord?  I’m stuck and cannot seem to go forward.” That must have been the way that Joseph felt in jail in Egypt, knowing God had a plan, but unable to see it from his perspective.  Because he refused to take matters into his own hands and did wait upon the Lord, God enabled him to be part of the reason his family survived through the famine and grew to be a great nation.  As he and his brothers reflected on why he was in Egypt (his jealous brothers had sold him!), Joseph said, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:19-20).

God does not waste His time  – or ours. Every moment is precious.  What we consider as an unfruitful time in our lives, God may see as a time of growth and preparation. Waiting is part of the process of being productive.  A butterfly would not exist without having spent time in a cocoon as a caterpillar.  A plant will not bear flowers or fruit without the seed having spent time in the ground.  In John 15, Jesus reminded us that before we can ever bear fruit, there must be a bonding, cleansing and pruning process.

While Abraham was waiting for his son, he was learning more about God and his involvement in his life. While Joseph was serving undeserved jail time, he was strengthening his faith and his resolve to do what God wanted, no matter what.  While Moses dealt with the finicky Israelites, he discovered that he, too, had that element of selfishness in his own spirit.  The waiting room can indeed be a great school master.

God is in control of the world and circumstances surrounding the lives of His children. The waiting room is part of His plan.  God gives strength to those in His waiting room. Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say on the Lord! (Psalm 27:14).  But those that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).  When the time of action arrives, strength is needed.  Spiritual strength is a result of time spent with God in the waiting room.

God does have a plan for each of His children.  Only He can work that plan out so that it  dovetails with the plans He has for the rest of His family.  In our impatience, we are prone to go ahead of His plan, thus sometimes missing the opportunity He had reserved for us at a given point in time. A committed child of God wants the best God has for him in His time. Are you so focused on what God wants to do in your life that you are comfortable in His waiting room? Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

© Stephanie B. Blake

Scriptures taken from the New King James Version

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Choices of a Blessed Man

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 (Psalm 1:1-2).

Life is full of choices, everything from what time you will get out of bed in the morning and what you will have for breakfast to the person you will marry and what career you will choose. Many daily choices become habits and are no longer viewed in terms of a choice, but an established routine.

Major decisions can be life changing. Have you considered what determines those choices for you? Do you flip a coin? Do you seek counsel? Do you fret and worry? Do you procrastinate – sometimes waiting so late to make a decision that the right choice disappears? How do you approach the choices of your life?

The first Psalm describes a man who is blessed.  Surprisingly, his description does not begin with the positive but with the negative.  This is often the case in God’s word.  The number of “shall not’s” outnumber the “do’s” in the Ten Commandments. Proverbs is full of contrasts between wise and bad choices. Jesus warned His disciples to beware of the hypocritical choices of prominent religious leaders. Since sin is always the easiest choice, God finds it necessary to issue warnings of the pitfalls of wrong choices.

When a road becomes treacherous because a storm has washed it out or put obstacles in the way, street officials will put a sign at the beginning of the road warning of dangers ahead.  Properly advised, a wise person will not travel down that road. God’s warnings are like that road sign. Don’t go there.

The blessed man chooses not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful.  The man who does listen to evil counsel will find himself standing in the path of sinners. Once he has sat down among the scornful, he has made his decision. He has chosen the path of the ungodly.

Visualize the blessed man. As he walks, he encounters bad advice on every side but is not swayed. He chooses not to listen, refusing to stop and stand with those he knows are making bad choices.  He is too wise to sit with those who scorn God and His ways.

This man knows God and His commandments. He knows the trap, possibly from experience, that bad choices will put him in.  He does not want to move away from God because he knows God has given him those instructions to protect and guide him. The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way (Psalm 37:23).

What are the choices the blessed man makes?  He chooses to delight in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  There is a reciprocal delight: God delights in a man who trusts Him, the man who trusts in God delights in the relationship He has with God. His choices are predetermined and founded in that relationship.

The most important choice anyone makes in life is what to do with the invitation of Jesus to accept Him as Lord and Savior.  . . . the wages of sin is death. . . Everyone has sinned, but those who trust in Jesus are saved from the punishment of their sin . . . . but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

The blessed man chooses God. Every choice he makes is based on his trust of God’s righteousness. But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him (Psalm 37:39-40).

After describing what the blessed man has wisely avoided, the psalmist then describes what his life is like because his delight is in the law of the Lord. 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 (Psalm 1:3).

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).  Rivers of water are living, flowing waters, never stagnant. Nothing lives without water and nothing grows without water. The blessed man has chosen to abide in Jesus, the Living Water.  Since that is so, his life will bear fruit.  He who believes in Me . . . out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:38). He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit . . . (John 15:5).

Most fruit trees are deciduous, but evergreen fruit trees do exist. They hold their foliage – whose leaf also shall not wither. They bear fruit in summer but may also bear fruit in winter – that brings its fruit in its season.  God, the Master Gardener, takes care of His garden so that it bears much fruit (John 15:1-5).

Metaphorically, “evergreen” refers to something that is continuously renewed. The blessed man trusts in God, looks to Him for his choices in life, and is constantly nourished and refreshed by that relationship. He knows that whatever he does shall prosper. As his desire is to please the God he chose, his definition of “prosper” has eternal, spiritual implications. And God blesses his choices.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous (Psalm 1:6). The ungodly chose the wide, easy road. The blessed man is among the few who find the narrow gate and travel the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14).What about you?

© Stephanie B. Blake

Scriptures taken from the NKJV

January 2011

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The Gift from the Heart of God

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).

Christmas is celebrated practically worldwide. Many cities decorate their streets, homes are brightly lit and draped with garland for Christmas and merchants have specials.  In Europe, people look forward to delightful Christmas markets where food and local wares give a festive atmosphere to the end of winter.

For many years in the United States, the day after Thanksgiving has been the biggest shopping day of the year. This year, there was even a “Black Friday 2010” website for online specials. Some major retailers were also open on Thanksgiving Day.  News commentators believe this will be a new trend. In fact, practically all “news” right now deals with Christmas: where to get the best bargains; how retailers are faring; jobs that have been created because of Christmas; challenges of traveling during the busy holidays; recipes for holiday entertaining and how to cope with the stress of it all

Christmas is so commercialized that few could tell the real significance of it.  Christmas has become a “season,” a holiday time to have family gatherings at the end of the year. Each year, much thought and expense goes into the purchase of gifts for family and loved ones.  Often people will plan all year long for Christmas, putting money aside to buy gifts or making purchases throughout the year and saving gifts for the big day.

Today’s Christmas is nothing like the first Christmas. On that day, because God so loved the world . . . He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). The only other gifts on that occasion were given to the Christ Child: worship by those who had eagerly anticipated His arrival and gold, frankincense and myrrh given to Him by the wise men.

God planned the birth of the Christ Child before time began. Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Timothy 1:9). God, the Father, sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9).  The angel Gabriel told Mary: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Jesus, the Son, chose to be born in order to save us from our sins. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).

This plan of Almighty God was not put in place without pain on His part.  Since the creation of man, God had revealed Himself, but the world did not know Him. Many chose to ignore His presence and His claim on their lives.  What father deliberately plans for his son to suffer?  Almighty God agreed within Himself because He so loved the world that Jesus would take on man’s skin, submit Himself to the hardships and temptations of man, demonstrate a victorious sinless life and would die a sacrificial death on man’s behalf. Jesus, God in the flesh, is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation . . . for it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:15, 19-20). The everlasting love of God was demonstrated through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Jesus is the Divine Gift from the heart of God. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).  When we accept the gift of salvation Jesus extends to us, we are then called children of God. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are (1 John 3:1).

Christmas should be celebrated. Family gatherings, gifts exchanged between loved ones, enjoying good food together are all ways to appropriately commemorate that unique event. God is all about family.  He invited us to be part of His.  He wants us to express love for one another. However, if Christ is left out of Christmas, it is nothing more than a pagan holiday.

Christmas gives true Christians a wonderful witnessing opportunity. More people attend church during Christmas and Easter than at any other time of year. Although many go simply as a part of the season’s festivities, receptivity to the gospel may be greatest during these times.

Christians can and should use this time as an opportunity to remind people that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights (James 1:17). Jesus revealed the nature of God and His love to the world – No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18) – and that is indeed cause for celebration.

In Jesus, God stepped down from Heaven to show us His heart of love. At His birth, the shepherds looked up and saw the angels who told of His arrival.  The wise men looked up and followed the star to where the Christ Child was.  After Jesus’ resurrection, He was lifted up while they were looking on (Acts 1:9). As Stephen was being stoned, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56). When we look up, we can see Jesus, worship Him, and give Him our heart of love and gratitude. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and ‘your neighbor as yourself’ (Luke 10:27).

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2010

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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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