Tag: Jesus

In the Company of Angels

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:11-13 NASB).

 

Angels capture our imagination because there is much we do not know about them. We do know that they rejoice over the salvation of every sinner that repents (Luke 15:10); that we may encounter angels on earth without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2); and that they are ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). In eternity, we who are sons and daughters of God will live in the company of angels and together we will all serve God and praise Him forever.

Now we share a common purpose as well – to obey the voice of God and proclaim the good news of what God has done.

Bless the Lord, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word! (Psalm 103:20 NASB).

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to give Zacharias the good news of the birth of his son John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:19). God also sent Gabriel with a message to Mary that she would bear Jesus, the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:26, 31-32).

When Jesus was born, God announced it to a special group of humble shepherds by sending His angel to announce His birth – then that angel was joined by a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14 NASB).

Like the angels, we have good news to share. We can proclaim the good news of salvation and what God has done for us individually, but we can also join with a great host of others whom God has blessed as well.

In the Bible, we find some specific occasions when the daughters of God have added their voices of praise to the unnumbered multitude. The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host (Psalm 68:11 NASB). The Lord  announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng (Psalm 68:11 NIV). Generations before the birth of Christ, the Lord gave the word for women to proclaim the good tidings. This group of His chosen daughters proclaimed the goodness of God as He had rescued His chosen people from bondage in Egypt.  Miriam led the women to sing praises to the Lord after He brought the children of Israel through the mist of the sea on dry land – miraculously saving them from the pursuit of the Egyptians (Exodus 15:20-21). David was reminded of this when he wrote Psalm 68:11.

The Lord provided the message. The women who proclaimed it were a great army (Psalm 68:11 EHV). God has always provided the message for good news. And women love to share good news. They celebrate anticipated births with baby showers and upcoming marriages with wedding showers. They are usually the planners of children’s birthday parties and family holidays. In the U.S., Americans greet each other with “How are you?” Christians often replace the common response of “I’m fine, thank you” with “I’m blessed.”  A man will smile and understand that the response indicates a fellow believer. Ask a man what the Lord has done for him, and he will gladly tell you. You don’t often have to ask a woman. She will sometimes respond with, “I’m blessed as well. Let me tell you what the Lord has done for me today.” She shares why she is blessed. Women love to take any occasion to celebrate the goodness of God with others.

The good news is that no one has to remain in the bondage of sin. As the children of Israel were miraculously led out of Egypt, the miraculous birth of our Savior, His sinless life, His sacrificial death and His resurrection led to our salvation. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12 NASB).

And that is something worth proclaiming – by angels, by men and women of all the ages.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12 NASB).

The Lord gave the word; Great was the company of those who proclaimed it (Psalm 68:11 NKJV).

God gave us the Word. Let’s all be part of the company – the mighty throng – the great host – that proclaim the good tidings. Jesus is the Holy Son of God. Jesus saves.

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2018

In The Company of Angels

An Audience of One

Popularity seems to be the theme of the day. And there also seems to be much competition in that arena. The more “likes” you have on your Facebook page, the better. In theater, movies, public speaking, even preaching, the bigger the crowd the better. It is even possible that people are forming their speaking content around what they know will be popular – even if they don’t believe in it themselves. Some will do or say anything to draw a crowd.800px-Bocelli-concert-crowd-in-abu-dhabi-du-arena-du-live.jpg

It is reasonable to want to reach the most people – especially if it affects your business. How can you sell something if no one knows about it? How can you communicate a truth if no one hears it? A large crowd has a positive effect on musicians, comedians and other performers – it is their livelihood. Bloggers seek to have a large number of readers to get their message across. Preachers utilize the internet, radio and television as well as their churches to share the message of the gospel with the most people.

There are even businesses built around the business of reaching the largest number of readers, customers, etc. Companies hire web masters to construct their websites to attract the most people. Politicians hire publicists to reach the largest audience.

A problem arises when there is a tendency to do or say something just to please the crowd. Crowd pleasers want to be in the majority no matter what the issue.

As with many things in our world, our perspective in this area can be upside down. If we are constantly trying to please other people, our own values can get buried in the effort. It is possible to attend some churches where you can enter the church, be in a huge crowd, be entertained by the music and the message and leave without having really having turned your thoughts toward worshipping God. It is also possible to spend a day with coworkers and family and be so intent on pleasing them that by the end of the day, you discover that you have sacrificed not only your valid opinion, but also your convictions in an effort to be a part of the crowd.

The Bible gives us some great examples of those who had a right side up concept of an audience – an audience of One – focusing on pleasing God no matter what the crowd might think, do or say. Christian martyrs through the centuries have joined these great men and women found in scripture.

One such example was Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stephen was first in the list of seven men chosen to relieve the disciples from service that would hinder their ministry of the word of God. Stephen was referred to as a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” and “full of faith and power”.

Stephen’s dedication to Christ angered some so much that they brought false accusations against him. When given a chance to defend himself, Stephen recapped all God had done for His chosen people, turning the table on his accusers by telling them that they had resisted the Holy Spirit of God, just as their fathers had done. Enraged, they gnashed at Him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:54-56). With that, they stoned him. His last words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…. Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:59-60).

Stephen, full of faith and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, focused on God and God alone.

On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” and “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:34, 46). With His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus’ mission was complete and He is now sitting at the right hand of God – Mark 16:19, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 10:12. This passage in Acts where Stephen saw Jesus in glory is the only reference to Jesus STANDING at the right hand of God.

Often at a concert or a professional performance, those in attendance who stand at the end are signifying a job well done – a presentation worthy of recognition.

Stephen, his life focused on an audience of One, was rewarded not only with his Lord receiving his spirit, but seeing His Lord stand as Stephen passed from the presence of his accusers into His presence.

By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).

We are not told exactly how Enoch pleased God, but we know he did – so much so that God spared him from physical death.

We do know how Stephen pleased God. God did not spare Stephen from physical death, but the way he died, his testimony before he died, and his Christ-like prayers when he died were evidence that he was only concerned with pleasing one Person. And he did. While Stephen was dying, Jesus was standing!

What we choose to do, how we choose to live, what we choose to say has a great deal to say about whom we choose to please. For you, will it be as large an audience as possible – a fickle crowd – or will it be an audience of One – Jesus, the one who died for you?

© Stephanie B. Blake

May 2017

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In the Classroom with Peter

Identifying basic skills of learning as reading, writing and arithmetic – the three Rs – has been around as early as the 17th century in America. Without some competency in these areas, most students are unable to graduate from school. Even educators who debate about how to test these skills basically agree that these are essential tools for advancement in life.

Jesus, the Master Teacher, taught multitudes but His ongoing classroom had twelve men in it – His disciples. Simon Peter (someone many Christians can relate to) was sometimes at the head of the class and other times failed miserably. In the process, Peter’s specific assignment was to process his own three Rs – Redemption, Recommitment and Restoration. He did graduate and as a result, became an example of hope for the rest of us.

Although his brother Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus, in every list of the apostles, Peter’s name comes first. In God’s plan for Peter’s life, He knew that Peter’s personality – outgoing, impulsive, outspoken and excitable – could be developed into a strong leader for the first century church. He just needed to learn a few lessons first.

Redemption

When Peter, a fisherman, left his nets behind and followed the Lord, he listened, observed, absorbed and learned. Only a man with an awareness of his own need for salvation would say, “depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Only a man of faith could declare, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) and “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Yet, with all his faith and confession, Peter had a bad habit of arguing with the Lord. Someone once said, “I have spent half my life wishing I had shut up ten minutes ago.” Peter must have felt that way many times. Scripture mentions only a few of Peter’s impulsive statements to the Lord.

  • Far be it from You, Lord. This shall not happen to You” (Matthew 16:22).
  • Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Matthew 26:33).
  • “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You” (Matthew 26:35)
  • You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8).
  • Not so, Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean” (Acts 10:14).

Peter loved the Lord and the Lord loved Peter. He was included in a special trio that was with Jesus on the mountaintop when He met with Moses and Elijah. It was Peter who wanted to erect temples for each one of them. He was brought along to the Garden of Gethsemane to stand by the Lord and pray before the crucifixion. When Jesus found the disciples sleeping, it was Peter that the Lord asked, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”(Matthew 26:40-41).

As Jesus observed His last Passover with His disciples, there ensued an argument among them about who should be considered the greatest. Jesus interrupted their dispute, saying …he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves”. Then He turned to Simon and said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:26, 31-32).

Not long after that, as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied three times that he even knew the Lord. He followed Him at a distance (Matthew 26:58). We “keep our distance” when we don’t want to be involved, don’t want to be recognized and don’t want to be associated with someone. The bold fisherman who had left all to follow Jesus was now afraid and weak.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter went back to fishing with some of the other disciples. They fished all night and caught nothing. Waiting for them on the shore, the risen Jesus instructed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. They then caught 159 fish. After breakfast, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Three times Peter said, “You know I love You.”

Jesus then told Peter what type of death he would experience and told him to “Follow Me.”

Peter, still dealing with a bit of jealousy, referring to the apostle John, asked Jesus, “What about this man?” Jesus said to him, …what is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21:21-22).

Recommitment and Restoration

This third command to “Follow Me” was pivotal in Peter’s life.

At the beginning, Jesus told Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-19). Now His call to Peter was more personal. “You follow Me.” This time, Peter followed Jesus, not by His side, and not from a distance, but with a heart empowered by His Holy Spirit. The presence and influence of Jesus would no longer be determined by time or space.

Initially, Peter followed Jesus but allowed his impulsiveness and outspokenness to get in his way. After an egregious heart breaking denial of his Lord, he recommitted his life to follow Him – this time with much different results. Jesus restored him, molding him into someone He could rely on. Peter had learned his lesson. No longer wanting recognition, no longer jealous, his ministry was now focused on the love of God. The Peter of denial became the Peter of Pentecost, his “foot in mouth” disease giving way to life-giving sermons, his fear replaced by miracle performing power.

Jesus knew Peter would deny Him, but also knew Peter would return to Him and with an ever-present memory of those denials, accomplish his calling – to feed and tend the Lord’s sheep and strengthen his brothers to do the same.

Satan recognizes those who have great potential to be used by God. He asked permission to ruin Job’s testimony, certainly he tried to divert Jesus’ attention from His mission and he asked permission to sift Peter like wheat. When Satan’s attacks come hurling toward you, recognize that he no only had to ask permission first, but he is doing so because of the potential he has seen in your life. Also remember that Jesus is interceding for you, just as He did for Peter.

Redeemed, recommitted and restored is the testimony of Peter. Is it yours?

© Stephanie B. Blake

February 2016

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I See Home

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2)

DSC_2040I am blessed with six amazing grandchildren. The most recent addition is another precious girl from China. She was three and one half when she came into the family and was a little over four when I met her for the first time. During my second visit with her and her family, I took her and her sister to the park where her dad, Opa, and her brothers were playing basketball. On the way back, I carried her on my back. As soon as we were in sight of their house, Ava said, “I see home!”

When my son’s family picked her up in China, Ava spoke no English. As any young child can, she has learned fairly quickly although I believe some concepts are still a little confusing to her. In time, everything will make sense. What is so gratifying is that now, after just a few months, she knows exactly what “home” is. It is not only the house she lives in; it is the safe place she shares with the family that is giving her constant and unconditional love.

I am also adopted into God’s family. The older I get, the more I think of Heaven on a daily basis. I have many loved ones who are waiting for me. Jesus promised He is preparing a place for me there. With joyful anticipation, I know that not only will I have a place to forever call home, but it will be a safe place where I can continue to experience God’s constant and unconditional love. As I approach, it is my Brother and Savior who is the one carrying me on His back – every step of the way.

heavenrainbowLike Ava, I see home.

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).

What Counts With God

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Every true believer knows he cannot earn his salvation. It is the ultimate love gift from God brought about by the miraculous birth, sinless life, sacrificial death and bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Offered to all, those who receive that gift by trusting Jesus are saved from sin judgment and will spend eternity in His presence.

Most of us do not go immediately to Heaven after we are saved (although the believing thief on the cross did). While we are waiting for that day, we can show our gratitude to our heavenly Father by loving Him and loving others. Love is the measurement by which God judges our hearts and our activities. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Jesus, asked which was the first commandment of all, answered, “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.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31).

What We Do Must Be on the Foundation Laid by Jesus

Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:8-15).

Although God does His work through us, He carefully judges our attitude while we are working. The starting place of any work that will last for eternity is with Jesus. Any thing worth working for is founded on Him – trusting Him, conforming to His image and willingly doing whatever He asks. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus likens those who hear Him and do what He asks to a wise man who built his house on the rock. He also said that those who are persecuted on His behalf should rejoice for their reward is great.

Jim Elliott (one of five missionaries killed in 1956 while attempting to evangelize a tribe in Ecuador) wrote,  “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose…. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you Lord Jesus.” Jim was 29 when he was killed. Since that time, because of the forgiveness and the witness of his wife and others, many in that tribe became believers.

What is Done in Love Identifies a True Believer

Jesus was the supreme example of how to act in love. He was the sinless Son of God and yet, because of His love for us, He chose to become our brother and show us how to lovingly obey our Heavenly Father.

There are those who claim to be believers, do “good” works, and yet are not acting in the love of Christ Jesus. They will be surprised when their deeds are described as lawlessness by Jesus.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

The Shepherd/King will one day separate His sheep from the goats. To the sheep, He will say, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” The righteous will answer, “When did we do those things?” Jesus’ answer is that whenever you do these things to the least of His brethren, you do it to Him. The righteous are surprised because what they did came naturally – through the Spirit of Jesus living within them, they acted in love toward their fellow man. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him (1 John 4:16).

On the other hand, the goats – on His left – will be told, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” He then proceeded to remind them that they did NOT do anything for Him. Equally surprised, the goats asked the Lord when was it that they saw Him hungry, thirsty, as a stranger, naked, sick or in prison. His answer was, “inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (Matthew 25:31-46).

 What is Done in Love will Count

 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

As God’s fellow workers, our work will be tested. It’s not so much what we do that counts – it’s why we do it. Those who love Jesus, such as the sheep at judgment day, didn’t realize what they had done was going to be commended by the Lord. They just loved Him and showed that love to others.

Every action Jesus took was because He loved the Father and His followers. His actions resulted in bringing glory to the Father and salvation to His brothers.

As believers, we will be judged by the principle of love. Let all that you do be done with love (1 Corinthians 16:14).

What counts with God? Love, founded in the person of Jesus, and acted out through faith in Him.

I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).

© Stephanie B. Blake

January 2016

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The Only Way Out

Have you ever felt trapped, or been in a situation that seemed to have no way out, no solution? Can you remember a time when you felt all of your efforts were not successful in getting you where you wanted to go in life?

Have you done something in the past that because it could not be undone, has haunted you to the point where everything else is viewed in terms of “what if things had been different?” Has someone so incredibly wronged you that the memory of that event or circumstances dominates your thoughts? Have you in the past or are you at the present fighting the demon of despair that threatens to imprison you and everything that concerns you?

~~~~~

Imagine yourself in solitary confinement in a dark, damp and cold prison. You are there because you have done something to deserve this terrible judgment. There are no windows in your cell, only darkness. There is definitely no way out. To make matters worse, your sentence is a justifiably a lifetime one. There is absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself from this perpetual reminder that you are a sinner and deserve this lonely, loveless existence with no hope of having a productive life. The boredom is practically unbearable, but you are forced to endure it, day by unending day.

The only way you stay alive is the daily provision slipped through the slot in the metal door that confines you: a little bowl of water and some bread. Then one day, a bright light stuns you. You blink from the brightness of the unfamiliar and wonder if you just imagined the light. But no, someone has actually opened the door. In fact, as your eyes adjust to the light, you see that the person who opened the door fills it with his presence. He is a simple shepherd, a kind man with an expression of compassion you cannot recall ever seeing in anyone else before.

Suddenly, you are embarrassed by your lack of hygiene. You are incredibly smelly, your hair is matted and your prison uniform is dirty and torn. The difference between you and this man cannot be measured. Even though he is humbly dressed, he is the essence of purity itself. His countenance makes you think of refreshing water running from a brook. You are suddenly thirsty for that water, a thirst you are unable to put into words. You want more than relief from a parched mouth. Without understanding how or why you feel this way, you know what you really need is a drink from a brook that will never run dry. You discover that you believe this man can give you that gift, cleansing in every sense of the word.

He, however, seems to be unaware of your filthy state. He enters your cell and gently takes your hand, seemingly unconscious of the grime and germs located there. Leading you out of your cell into light of day, he resurrects you from the pit of that dungeon and despair.

The good shepherd says, “Follow me, for I am the way to God. I tell you the truth. I am the source of all life and I want to give it abundantly to you. I have paid the price for your crime that put you in this place. I have redeemed you. Just trust me and get the source of your strength from me, for my desire is that you have a useful and fruitful life. My father and I want to make our home with you and have you be part of our family. We tend a lovely vineyard. My father is the caretaker and I am the true vine. If you will get all your strength from me, I promise that you can live a full, abundant and productive life.”

Still reeling from the wonder of it all, you take the shepherd’s hand and continue walking into the light, never to return to your cell or utter despair.

~~~~~

Sin against God literally puts us in the dark cell of despair. There is no hope of restitution without divine intervention. Jesus came to rescue us from that sinful state. He asks only that we trust in Him. Faith in Jesus is based on His trustworthiness. All that we need He has done. Giving feet to our faith, we must eat the bread, look to the light, walk through the door, and follow our Shepherd-Redeemer out of our prison of sin.

Once rescued from that dark place, we must continue to follow Him. Everything concerning us from then on has new meaning. Productivity is now possible by His example and through His Spirit.

Robert Frost, an American poet (1874-1963), said, “The best way out is always through.” The only way out of our sinful lost state is through Jesus Christ. Trust Him. He will never fail you.

~~~~~

Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

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

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25)

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

“I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser….I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 5).

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2015

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The Source

In the midst of an ever changing world, the source of my peace is Jesus.

For He Himself is our peace.

In the midst of frightening circumstances, the source of my refuge and trust is Jesus.

What time I am afraid, I will trust in You. 

In the midst of losing loved ones to death, the source of my hope is Jesus.

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

In the midst of experiencing aging and its limitations, the source of my strength is Jesus.

The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.

In the midst of Satan’s temptations, the source of my escape and salvation is Jesus.

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

In the midst of confusion and doubt, the source of my faith is Jesus.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. 

In the midst of sadness, the source of my comfort is the Spirit of God.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

The source of my joy is God’s everlasting love revealed through His Spirit and declared through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ.

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

Ephesians 2:14, Psalm 56:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, Habakkuk 3:19, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Hebrews 11:6, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, John 15:11

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  © Stephanie B. Blake June 2015

The Cure for Loneliness

The Cure for Loneliness

Furthermore, if two lie down together to keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart (Ecclesiastes 4:11-12).

We are made for companionship and we feel it keenly when it is absent.

The refrain of the Beatle’s hit song, Eleanor Rigby is:

All the lonely people.

Where do they all come from?

All the lonely people.

Where do they all belong?

Some of the most popular pop songs have had this lonely theme: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry by Hank Williams; Only the Lonely by Roy Orbison; Lonely Man by Elvis Presley and many others. Why are those songs so popular? Many people can relate to the lyrics.

Being alone and being lonely are two different things. You can be by yourself but not be lonely. You can be in a crowd, but the loneliness can be devastating.

A February 2014 article in The Guardian says that loneliness has found to be more deadly than obesity and is now being defined as a disease.

In a report called Rewarding Social Connections Promote Successful Ageing that Professor John Cacioppo presented in Chicago… the effect of satisfying relationships on the elderly was measured.

Cacioppo’s team found that friendships helped older people develop their resilience and ability to bounce back after adversity, as well as an ability to gain strength from stress rather than be diminished by it.

Not surprisingly, there is no corresponding good news for those less well connected to other people. Loneliness has dramatic consequences on health. Feeling isolated from others can disrupt sleep, raise blood pressure, lower immunity, increase depression, lower overall subjective wellbeing and increase the stress hormone cortisol (at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually wears your body down).

Elderly people can often be so lonely that they will keep telemarketers on the phone just to have someone talk to them, but it is not just the elderly who are prone to loneliness.

Social media is not always beneficially social. Occasionally the harsh comments made through twitter, Facebook and other sources can cause great damage to the targeted person – often a young person.

God knows we need fellowship. He made us that way. Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

Loneliness is a malady that can strike even God’s choicest servants. Elijah had performed great miracles in the name of the Lord, but then had a spell of depression when he thought he was alone. Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men” (1 Kings 18:22). With that declaration, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a demonstration. Each one would place a bull on an altar but put no fire under it. Elijah said, “Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God” (1 Kings 18:24). After much pleading, the prophets of Baal were unable to get their gods to consume their offering. Elijah then poured water over the sacrifice and the wood and called upon the Lord who then consumed the sacrifice. The people saw, fell on their faces before God, and seized the prophets of Baal.

Even with the miracles that God had performed through Elijah’s hand, Elijah continued to believe that he was alone. When Jezebel sought him out to kill him, he ran away, crying for God to take his life. When God confronted him, Elijah twice said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10,14).

God did two things to help Elijah understand he was not alone. He informed him of seven thousand in Israel who had not worshiped Baal. He sent Elijah to meet his own successor. Elisha became his servant and served the Lord with him. Cured of his disease of loneliness, when the Lord told Elijah He was going to take him to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah tried to leave Elisha behind. He wanted to go on alone. Elisha begged him to allow him to go with him, saying three times, “I will not leave you!” 

What made the difference for Elijah? God became enough. He had believed in God and performed His miracles. Elijah wanted companionship. God gave him Elisha. In the time between his bout of depressing loneliness and his ride on the flaming chariot, Elijah realized that with God, he was never alone.

Jesus knew rejection, but He never gave in to the disease of loneliness because He knew that His Father was always with Him. “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me (John 16:32).

Alone, but not lonely, could describe many people I know. Like Anna, who was a widow eighty-four years and was so dedicated to God that He gave her the special gift of seeing the Christ Child, I know widows who spend most of their time in prayer. I have friends who are so sick they cannot do the things they would like to do, but give glory to God because they totally trust Him.

Jesus knew His disciples would be confused and lonely after His death. He told them it would be to their advantage that He went away because He would be sending His Holy Spirit to be with them always.

All the lonely people – where do they all come from?

They come from all ages and all nationalities. They come from every sex and every vocation. They come from every walk of life.

All the lonely people – where do they all belong?

In the loving presence of Jesus, who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b).

© Stephanie B. Blake

May 2015

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That Special Someone – A Friend

We all need friends.

I have some very special friends – some that I don’t see very often, but when I do, we take up right where we left off.

DSC03454 Cuba Oct '08 153 Stephanie, Sharon and Tina Photo on 8-10-14 at 4.56 PM IMG_1255I am an American. Some of my friends are American but many of my friends live in other countries. We communicate by phone, email, or Facebook but there can be great lapses of time between each message. I often wish for a chance to catch up – to have a cup of coffee or tea with that special someone – a person I feel comfortable with, I can relate to, who understands me.

Although I consider myself a friendly person, not everyone I meet falls into that “special someone” category. There are those who do not share my interests, my values, or my faith.

God is the creator of all people, but not every person wants to be close to Him. I take encouragement from those who do and learn from their special relationship with God, such as these biblical characters:

  • Noah who found grace in the eyes of the Lord and he and his family were saved from the flood.
  • Abraham who was called a friend of God.
  • Moses who could talk with God face to face.
  • Job whom God called a blameless and upright man.Oma and her friend Lisa
  • Elijah who was known as a man of God.
  • Isaiah who was given prophetic visions by God.
  • Ezekiel who had the hand of the Lord upon him.
  • Daniel who was protected by God in the lion’s den.
  • The virgin Mary who was highly favored, chosen to be the mother of the Savior.
  • John, the apostle, who called himself “the one whom Jesus loved”.

Jesus makes it possible for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him. His miraculous birth, His sinless life, His sacrificial death and His bodily resurrection is a gift of grace to those who chose to believe in Him. There don’t have to be any lapses of time for communication – we can talk with Him constantly.  Especially comforting is – like Abraham – we are His friends. And like John, He loves us completely.

“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. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13-15).

 

The Perfect Student

Every teacher must be a student first. Jesus, well known as the Master Teacher, was also a student.

The Bible is fairly silent about the years between Jesus’ birth and public ministry – with one exception. In his orderly account of the life of Jesus, Luke includes a unique story in his gospel. He must have had a reason.

His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41).

Jesus’ family had a custom of traveling to Jerusalem yearly to observe the feast of the Passover. There is no other occasion where Jesus’ exact age is given, but here Luke makes a point to tell Theophilus that on this journey to Jerusalem Jesus was twelve years old.

And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast (Luke 2:42).

The twelfth year was very important to Jewish boys. At the end of that year, Jesus would go through a ceremony where He would become a bar mitzvah or “son of the commandment”. At age thirteen, he would have the same rights and responsibilities as an adult.

His heavenly Father had been preparing Jesus for this day. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). Jesus was already aware of His role in the Godhead to provide salvation for sinners. He had voluntarily emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8 NASB).

Jesus went through the human process of learning just as we all do. He had to learn to walk, talk, feed Himself and how to apply what He was taught in His home and in the synagogue to His life.

And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him (Luke 2:40).

On this trip, Jesus sought out the teachers in the temple, listening to them, asking questions and responding to theirs. They were so engaged in conversation that they sat together for several days. As His family had traveled to Jerusalem in a large caravan, it was not unusual that He had not stayed by their side. When the caravan left the city, His parents supposed He was with their group. When they realized He was not, they searched for Him, finding Him sitting in the midst of the teachers – absorbing all they had to say.

When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers (Luke 2:43-47).

The type of conversation Jesus engaged in with the teachers was common then and is a great teaching style even today. If you have ever taught a lesson of any kind, you know that when your student listens intently and asks questions that he is interested and is “getting it.” The interchange between teacher and student helps cement the lesson material in the student’s mind. It is also very gratifying to teachers when they observe this depth of understanding.

Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them…. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:51-52).

Just as others grow and learn, so did Jesus. He grew and He increased in wisdom.

Later in His adulthood, the Jews marveled because of His teaching, wondering aloud, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” (John 7:15).

Jesus’ reply to this query was similar to the psalmist: I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me (Psalm 119:102). God the Father taught Him.

Jesus answers them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him (John 7:16-18).

Jesus, as the Son of Man, was always a student of the Father. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal (Philippians 2:7-8 J. B. Phillips New Testament).

…though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:8-9).

There should never be a time when we stop learning. Even teachers need refresher courses; professors need to study to keep abreast of current affairs; doctors and scientists must be aware of the latest research; preachers and Bible teachers can always discover something new as they study. Throughout life, we are students.

Jesus was the perfect student and gave us an example of how to be one as well. He was humble, obedient, and totally focused on knowing and doing the will of the Father.

Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] (Philippians 2:5 Amplified).

If Jesus, who was God and perfectly fulfilled the law, learned obedience from the things He suffered and stayed focused on the will of God the Father, how much more should we be determined to be humbly obedient to God and do His will?

Stephanie B. Blake

March 2015

Unless otherwise indicated, scripture references are from the New King James version.

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