July 21 “Rejected!”

Rejected!

In baseball, there is a play called the “sacrifice.”
With a bunt or a ground ball or a high fly ball to the outfield, a batter gives himself up as an out to advance a baserunner or to score a man from third base. One player suffers a loss to advance the winning cause of the whole team. Just so, in life there are sacrifices, temporary losses that eventually secure a larger win.

The Sacrifices of Jesus
In the earthly ministry of Jesus, there were many, many victories. He began in His home region of Galilee teaching and working miracles and multitudes followed Him. Of course, there were local rejections:

  • There was that awful day in Nazareth where the people in His own synagogue rioted and threatened to throw Him off a cliff, and there were
  • those foolish town elders in Capernaum who sent Him away after He delivered the town demoniac, but who’s counting, right?

For the most part, like the 5000+ plus multitude who filled their bellies in the wilderness, people went away healed and happy. The victories outnumbered the sacrifices.

We should not forget the constant rejection of Jesus by the leaders of the people; it was nearly unanimous, with only the occasional priest or Pharisee or lawyer who expressed interest in the Good News of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus said, He had come to divide those who believed from those who refused to believe.

The Road to Jerusalem
In Dr. Luke’s narrative, Jesus turned away from the adoring crowds and turned toward the Cross. This was His sacrifice play, a personal loss of great and terrible cost for the good of all people who would believe in Him. He tried to prepare His men for the horrors ahead. It was not an easy thing to do. For one thing, the “Day of the Lord” has many seemingly contradictory aspects. In this place, Jesus refers to His return with the image of a flash of lightning that illumines the whole world from horizon to horizon. In other places, He depicts His return as a “Thief in the night.” (Luke 12:39-40) Our job is not to choose one or the other but to believe both.

A line had been crossed.
With this turn in the journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus crossed a line; things were going to be different from there on to the conclusion. Rejection would increase and acceptance would retreat. For a while, Jesus would remain with them every day, teaching, healing, touching, loving them at close range. A time was coming when His presence with them would be spiritual, not physical. There were so many details about the New Covenant in His blood but they would have to wait until the extreme rejection did its work. He tried to warn them:

“The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man,
and you will not see it.”

In those days, it would be crucial that Christ-followers know the facts and know them well. It will be a day revelation and deception: the Truth revealed by the Spirit and horrible lies broadcast by the mechanisms of hell. It will be up to us to fill our hearts and brains with the truth about Jesus and to walk in His enabling Spirit every day.

Those days are these days. We celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus in the light of His ultimate victory.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:22-25

Then He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Do not go after them or follow them. For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are with me today! Not in the way that You were with the Twelve as You walked the dusty pathways of human existence, but in spiritual ways that are just as thrilling. You promised never to leave me or forsake me and it is so. Following You, I have a story to tell, Good News to share, and a healing touch to administer to the people in my path. Many will reject You and Your story but some will believe and come alongside me to share this journey to glory. I, too, will be a willing sacrifice to see the ultimate victory—the Thief in the Night and the heaven-to-earth stroke of lightning. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!

Song:
Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus

Traditional

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 20 “Within”

Within

Long before maps and GPS, the Kingdom of God could be located with ease.
It is not a continent or country. It is not an island or mountain range. Its borders do not change as armies march over them. The Kingdom of God has a native tongue—Truth! There is a national culture—Spirit!

When will the Kingdom come?
Everybody wanted to know—the disciples, the critics, the people, everybody. This, of course, was the direct result of all the “Messiah” talk. When Messiah comes, he will overthrow the Romans! It will be a restored Kingdom of Israel like David, like Solomon, the world bringing tribute to Jerusalem. The Temple would be restored to the center of the world as it should be. The Chosen People of God will rule the earth in benevolence and peace with Messiah on His rightful throne. The nation of Israel will be a kingdom of priests unto the whole world, bringing all the Gentiles to the knowledge of God, as promised at Mt. Sanai. (Exodus 19:6)

How do we find the Kingdom?
This Kingdom of God was in everyone’s best interest but there was a problem.

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation…”

Normal processes of inquiry do not reveal the time of the Kingdom. Friends and forbears may share anecdotes, inspiring us with their experiences but testimonies do not locate the Kingdom for us. The Bible is all about the Kingdom of God, providing us with its borders of truth so that we know when we have transgressed into error and exited the Kingdom. Awaiting the revelation, we must see into the spirit realm for this Kingdom is not of this world. It stands pristine, unblemished by sin, pure and centered on the Throne of God where angels declare in unceasing song, “Holy, holy, holy!”

The New and Living Way
When the Pharisees asked this of Jesus, the plan for its revelation was in progress. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, the courts of men, the cross, and to an empty tomb. He would open a “new and living way” to God, replacing the old and dying ways of types and shadows with present realities.

  • The Living Word would apply the truth of the written Word.
  • The one Final Spotless Lamb would take the place of the countless animal sacrifices.
  • The heavy veil in the Temple separating God from the People of God would be forever rent.

So where is this Kingdom?
It dwells within us, beyond the mountain ranges of faith, across the tossing seas of circumstances, over the River of the Spirit and into the realm of the Splendor of His Holiness! Without fail, we locate the Kingdom of God within our hearts. This is the unchanging truth.

  • The Kingdom of God is in the Church because Jesus reigns in the hearts of believers.
  • Until we draw our last breath on earth Jesus reigns in our hearts.
  • Until Jesus reigns for 1000 years of peace, He reigns in our hearts.

So, the Kingdom of God within us is “already, but not yet,” as theologians like to say. It is and will forever be a Kingdom of Peace. Here and now in our hearts and soon in the whole world.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:20-21

Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Hebrews 10:19-25
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
John 14:23
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.

Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today, our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the Kingdom and the power and the glory are Yours, now and forever. Amen!

Song:
King of Kings and Lord of Lords

Traditional

King of kings and Lord of lords,
Glory! Hallelujah!
King of kings and Lord of lords,
Glory! Hallelujah!
Jesus, Prince of Peace!
Glory! Hallelujah!
Jesus, Prince of Peace!
King of kings and Lord of lords,
Glory! Hallelujah!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 19 “Mercy”

Mercy

They found each other, these ten lepers.
They had no one else. Their families had turned them out; they had to. It was only right. Their villages had sent them away; they had to. And now they had found each other; they had to, as well.

They drifted from garbage heap to garbage heap finding only rags to wear and scraps to eat. When the wind was right, their collective odor announced their approach and people scattered before them. When the wind blew the other way, they would often catch people unaware, the people fled before them, like a beaten army before a conquering foe and always with the cry, “Unclean! Unclean!”

The sight of healthy people running from this rag-tag mob was ironic. The lepers had no strength; they were practically starving. There weren’t even enough fingers and toes, and hands and feet to go around. There was no cure except to keep it away and pity the poor ones who had it. It was only right.

So, they had each other and that was it. This was the life they lived: human refuse, a moving trash heap.

“He saw them…”
But, somewhere along the way they heard about a man who did not run from lepers. He was coming their way. As He approached, they stood at the appropriate distance.

“Jesus, have mercy on us.”

Jesus looked at the ten, seeing them, not their disease. He saw

  • wives without husbands, homes without fathers, and important work that was not being done. He saw
  • men whose dreams had crumbled within them as their bodies crumbled on the outside and He saw
  • helplessness and despair.

“…he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests.
And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.”

This man told them what to do—go to the priests. There was a ritual, a Word from God for them. God had not forgotten them. He had a plan. Something in His words, in His eyes, in Him, told them to obey. They ran as well as rags and bandages and makeshift crutches would allow.

As they went, something began to happen.

  • Crippled feet began to tingle and burn with new growth as toes sprouted where stumps had been.
  • Fingers and hands and whole arms began to swing in the wind as strength returned.
  • Their rhythm-less running became smooth and effortless like Greek gods in a race.
  • They began to strip away rags they no longer needed or deserved.

Nine of them ran on to the village but one stopped and looked back to Jesus. If Jesus hadn’t met them on the road their lives would never have changed. Slowly, this man who was one in ten, a Samaritan, realized that before he ran to meet his future, there was something else he had to do. He fell at Jesus’ feet giving thanks. He had asked for mercy and found it.

It was only right.

Jesus was touched with the thanksgiving of this one. But He wondered about the others.

“Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”

The man did not know where they had gone; home most likely. Ironically, their disease had made them a community and healing had separated them. Jesus smiled at the thankful one, seeing in him those who would someday return to give thanks when the other great disease of mankind was cured.

It is only right.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:11-19

Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my healer, my deliverer! You found me in the fellowship of the diseased and despised and took away the leprosy of my sin. You restored the withered limbs, rescued my wounded mind, and revived my fainting heart. I give You thanks today. May I never miss an opportunity to honor You whether others do or not! I will walk today in the health and strength You provide. When others inquire as to my strength, I will tell them of You! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Give Thanks
Words and Music: Don Moen

Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son.
Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son.

And now, let the weak say, “I am strong.”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
because of what the Lord has done for us!
And now, let the weak say, “I am strong.”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
because of what the Lord has done for us!
Give thanks. Give thanks.

Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son.
Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 18 “Duty”

Duty

There were times when the Disciples asked Jesus for one thing and received something else entirely—or did they?
It is easy to understand why the Twelve would ask Jesus to increase their faith. His faith never wavered while theirs seem to come and go. On one assignment, as when they led the 70 disciples, demons were subject to them and sicknesses fled at their touch. At other times, demons were intransigent and immovable at their command. Why? It was a mystery that made life a public risk. It is one thing to have a demon depart at one’s command and another thing entirely to have one snarl back and stay put. So, they came to Jesus:

“Increase our faith.”

More Mustard Seeds
Of course, when they asked Jesus a question, the answer was sure to be an adventure they did not expect. He reviewed the lesson of faith the size of a mustard seed, so tiny yet so powerful. This time, instead aiming this faith at a mountain, it was a nearby mulberry tree. With mustard seed faith they could command it to be uprooted and transplanted in the sea,

Yes! That was it. That was the kind of faith they wanted more of, the spectacular, the crisis kind of faith that overcomes obstacles in memorable moments! But, Jesus spoke of a different kind of faith, an ordinary faith, a daily, moment-to-moment kind of faith.

The Faithful Servant
Jesus asked them a rhetorical question about servants, slaves really, and their masters.

  • When a servant comes in from a day in the fields, hot, tired, spent in the service of his duties, does he kick off his sandals and join the master at the dinner table for a relaxing meal prepared by other servants? That was a foolish notion.
  • When the servant comes in from a day in the fields, he is commanded to prepare a meal for the master and then eat later if there is anything left.

Does the master commend the servant for this second shift? Of course not. He was only doing his duty and had earned no such commendation.

The Duty of Faith
Mountains and mulberry trees get cast into the sea when mustard seed faith meets a crisis, but an every day kind of faith is the duty of the servant of the Lord. There are no crowds looking on, no accolades to be won, and no celebrity to be gained. There is just work, the work of the Kingdom of God. The work of both the field and the kitchen requires faith of mustard seed proportions, too.

Duty-faith is routine not remarkable, expected not extraordinary, and it is on-the-job and not optional. Each of us has a set of duties to perform each day. These things–Worship, Word, and Prayer–must be our daily tasks. They are not spectacular but they are powerful, essential, and they enable success, public and private, throughout the day.

The Witness of the Spirit
These spiritual duties connect our human spirit with God’s Holy Spirit resulting in blessings that are remarkable, extraordinary, and on-the-job. We have within us, not just the words of Jesus, “Well done!” or “She has done what she could!” “You’ve done a beautiful thing to me.” but the witness of the Spirit that we are not just His servants, but His family! And so we cry, “Abba Father!” And as King David advised Solomon, we simply “do the work.”

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:5-10

And the apostles said to the Lord, So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'”
Galatians 4:1-7
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
1 Chronicles 28:20
David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is work to be done for You today! I want to be faithful and do this work. I don’t seek adoring crowds or approving experts, I simply want to serve You in the ordinary things of everyday life. I sense Your Holy Spirit speaking in my spirit that I am Your child, a trusted member of Your family, a player on Your holy team. Help me find the courage and strength to do the work today! For Your Glory, Lord. All for You! Amen.

Song:
Every Day with Jesus

Traditional

Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.
Every day with Jesus I love Him more and more.
Jesus saves and keeps me. He’s the one I’m working for!
Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 17 “Offenses”

Offenses

Just as Jesus was not immune to the pain of the whip, the thorns, and the nails, personal offenses hurt him, too.
He was not a whiner, easily upset by every little thing that happened, but the rejection of the religious leaders hurt Him. The ingratitude of those who received His miracles but refused to follow His teaching offended Him. In the days ahead of Him as He turned toward the cross, the betrayal of Judas will hurt Him. The denials of Simon Peter will offend Him. The taunts of the crowd around the cross will be an emotional storm of offense as hurtful as the Roman soldiers working at their horrid craft of crucifixion.

Offenses will come.
The road to Calvary was not an easy one. The Kingdom of God Jesus brought was a radical departure from the established Old Covenant religion. As such, it sparked violent opposition from the religious establishment. Leaders understood immediately that the “Good News” Jesus preached was not good news for them. He threatened their power structures and jeopardized all their control mechanisms.

The freedom Jesus brought was dangerous on many counts:

  1. They could not match the flow of God’s power through Jesus to heal and deliver.
  2. They could not refute the truth He taught—He knew the Law and the Prophets better than they did.
  3. His message of the love of God for the individual threatened to bypass the leaders altogether.
  4. His friendliness toward sinners, tax collectors, the sick, and the poor upset the carefully balanced stratified society threatening chaos at every level.
  5. His radical teachings and the accompanying signs and wonders could not be ignored by Rome. When the people called Him, “Messiah,” this was an insurrection in the making, something the leaders did not need.

In fairness to the leaders, they were trying in their own way to be true to the Covenant with Jehovah and keep the peace with the Romans at the same time—no easy set of tasks. Their lives were tough enough without Jesus; with Jesus in the picture, they seemed impossible.

So they fought back. The schemed against Jesus, spied on Him and His men, attacked Him in public, and finally conspired against Him. Jesus saw their tactics and these things broke His heart. The Bible is sparse in its descriptions of Jesus’ pain, reporting only His times of solitude and His tears over the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. We know Jesus loved His enemies, these same Pharisees, Sadducees, priests and scribes. He came to save them, not antagonize them, to relieve their suffering, not add to it. Thus His sad commentary:

“It is impossible that no offenses should come…”

The Cost of Offending
Offense causes more than just the pain of the one who is offended. Jesus completed the sentence:

“…but woe to him through whom they do come!”

Everyone has the power to offend and to strike back when offended. This is how cycles of violence get started and continue from generation to generation: attacks followed by reprisals, ad infinitum.

In Jesus, every believer has the power to forgive—the Sermon on the Mount in action!  Violence and counter violence can only be stopped by a new and living way—the Gospel of the Kingdom of God!–Repentance and forgiveness, grace received and extended. If your brother offends you, forgive him, no matter how many times it happens!

Life Lesson: Do not offend your brother and when offended, forgive.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:1-4
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is so much violence in this world! May I never contribute to any of it! Give me the courage to break the pattern of strike and reprisal with forgiveness. Help me turn the other cheek when necessary. Lord, may I never offend my brother or sister and help me be quick to forgive others. Most of all, may I never offend the Holy Spirit! May I never break Your heart! Keep me true, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Freely, Freely

Words and Music: Jimmy and Carol Owens

Freely, freely, you have received.
Freely, freely give.
Go in my name and because you believe,
Others will know that I live.

God forgave my sins in Jesus’ name.
I’ve been born again in Jesus’s name.
And in Jesus’ name I come to you
To share His love as He told me to. He said,

“Freely, freely, you have received.
Freely, freely give.
Go in my name and because you believe,
Others will know that I live.”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 16 “Crumbs”

Crumbs

The story of the rich man and poor Lazarus is not presented as a parable.
“There was a certain rich man…” These are the words of Jesus. It may be that the Pharisees at whom this story was directed knew the man and the beggar as well. The only connection between the wealthy diner and the wretched beggar was the harvest of crumbs that fell from his table. On these, perhaps gathered by compassionate servants and delivered to Lazarus at the gate, the beggar subsisted.

It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast between lifestyles than a rich man who “fared sumptuously” and Lazarus, emaciated and bleeding in the street by the city gates. Dogs were his medical team.

A Further Separation
Just as life separated these two men, death drove them farther apart. When Lazarus died, angels bore him into the bosom of his father in the faith, Abraham. When the rich man died, he plunged into the depths of hell. If this story is indeed a true history and not a parable, we have a vivid glance into the afterlife: bliss in the presence of the Lord and His saints in heaven, and torment in a hell designed for rebellious demons.

Action in the Afterlife
Almost like a science fiction tale, the tormented rich man could see into the bliss of the faithful. He called out to Father Abraham for mercy. Seeing the former beggar, Lazarus, at peace and in perfect health, the familiar face gave him an idea—Send Lazarus with a drop of water to ease the burning pain enveloping the formerly rich man. Abraham answered:

“’Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”

Not good news. There was no passage from heaven to hell and back again. Why? There was a great span of nothingness between heaven and hell that no mortal could cross. Each man was now reaping what he had sown in life.

“…between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ “

Not accustomed to having his requests denied, the “rich” man thought, finally, of others.

‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’

With no need for further thought, Abraham explained that his brothers were adequately warned by the Word so present among them. He speculated that even if someone did return from the dead, he would not be believed by them.

Back from the Dead
The story/history ends at this point. In the light of the Jesus Story we can take it deeper. One has returned from the dead! The Apostles Creed proclaims that Jesus, “descended to the dead” and scripture claims that He “led captivity captive” and rescued the souls waiting for Calvary in Abraham’s bosom. The Good News is, the “great gulf” was spanned by a Cross. Hell still exists and awaits those who refuse the Gospel, but this is an unnecessary outcome. Jesus has opened a “new and living way” to heaven for those who believe wherever they lie on the social scale.

Sumptuous fare at the Table of the Lord, not stale crumbs from those who have sold their souls to riches, awaits those who believe.

Scriptures:
Luke: 16:14-31

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I believe! You have spanned the great gulf that could not be crossed! You did it with Your holy, sinless life. Now there is a new and living way from the hell we create for ourselves in this life to the joy and satisfaction of serving You. By the time the “rich man” came to his senses, it was too late for him. I pray for my friends and family who still do not know You—Send someone to them (could it be me?) to give them the Good News. There is a path to eternal life and You are the Way! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Jesus Opened Up the Way

Words and Music: E. M. Bartlett

1. Jesus Christ the Lord opened up the way to glory
When He died to save us from our ruined state,
And He asks that we shall go tell the world the story,
How His blood will save them from their awful fate.

Refrain:
Jesus opened up the way to Heaven’s gate
When He died on the cross,
To redeem all the lost;
He prepared the road that leads To His abode,
’Tis a road marked by blood
But it leads us home to God.

2. And the way is marked by the footprints of the Savior,
With His blood he made it, made it plain and straight;
If you walk that way, it will lead you into Heaven,
Lead you safely into glory’s golden gate.

Refrain

3. Sinner, will you come and join in this heav’nly journey,
Walk the bloody pathway that the Savior trod;
Then when life is over and all the sheaves are garnered,
You will meet the Savior and be not afraid.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 15 “Justice”

Justice

The subject is wealth—wasted by the prodigal son and now, pursued by any means by the Unjust Steward.
Jesus dealt with the world the way it was—wracked with the wickedness of some and blessed by the benevolence of others. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, the wicked ways of the world are explored. We must be sure to see that Jesus does not commend the wicked shrewdness of the steward. The “lord” in this parable is a worldly businessman, not a man of God.

The Unjust Steward
The man was a crook. He was caught red-handed cooking the books of his master’s business. He had grown rich in this under-the-table double dealing but it all came crashing down. He was fired but first he had to settle the accounts. It is said he was shrewd so he came up with a scheme to provide good wishes in the future so he could continue to enjoy his ill-gotten gains.

He still had his master’s books so he started calling on those who owed his master money and valuable goods. It is thought by some commenters that he used his own money in this scheme. He altered the books to lessen the debt owed by the creditor, perhaps making up the difference out of his own pocket. He was hoping to benefit the creditors now so they could benefit him later on. It was a clever scheme.

Except the master found out about it.

Now this “lord’ was a crooked as his steward. We can only imagine that much of his wealth was gained by nefarious means also. So the steward was caught a second time but this time the master had to admire the shrewdness of the scheme so he actually commended him.

The Sons of Light
At this point in the parable Jesus injected a comment.

“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.”

Far from commending dishonesty in business dealings, Jesus condemned these methods as worldly and based in darkness, not light. As children of the Light, we must never be dishonest in the first place. We can then use our cleverness to do great things rather than to get out of trouble. As “Children of the Light,” we, too should be clever and inventive but we must do so in the cause of righteousness, not evil.

The Divided Heart
In this strange story, Jesus calls us, at last, to righteous servanthood. He makes it plain that we cannot have life both ways. We cannot serve God and riches, too!

“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

The divided heart will always bleed trouble, one scheme upon another, until we are exposed for what we really are—an unjust steward.

Justice will be served.
We are all stewards of this life. Whether we follow Jesus or not, we will find ourselves carrying responsibilities for others. In these things we can deal honestly or dishonestly but we must recognized that either path will yield a harvest—trouble and more trouble or blessing and more blessing. How wise to have a heart undivided with its  methods and means in perfect unison. How wise to be a child of Light!

Scriptures:
Luke: 16:1-13

He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You took the punishment for my sins! Now I stand before the Father as if I had never sinned—how amazing is Your grace! Lord, give me an undivided heart. May I never be tempted by the love of money for that is a cruel master. I want to serve You with gladness and singleness of heart. Save me from the wicked ways of this world and help me be clever in righteousness! For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
I’d Rather Have Jesus

Words: Rhea F. Miller; Music: George Beverly Shea

1. I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands.
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand

Refrain:
Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

2. I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame.
I’d rather be true to His holy name

Refrain

3. He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs.
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 14 “Found”

Found

Prodigal: “…wastefully or recklessly extravagant…”
Perhaps the most famous of all the stories Jesus told is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. No other story has as many highly developed characters and as much real family conflict. Some people call this the Parable of the Faithful Father because on closer inspection, the story is really about the Father and not about either of the man’s sons.

A Father and His Two Sons
Like a reflection of the first family on earth, Adam and Eve with Cain and Able, this is the story of painful strife within a family. Unfortunately, these types of conflicts are all too common still today. The same identical home can produce very different offspring leaving the parents with a puzzle to solve before it is too late—how do we love both of these children?

  • The older son was the model of what a son should be, at least on the outside. He worked hard at his father’s business, was faithful, dependable, respectful, all, it seems, in an effort to gain his father’s affirmation.
  • The father was a good provider, a successful businessman with wealth to share, and a careful planner, having already divided his sons’ inheritance ahead of time. There are hints that his love for his sons, while authentic, was not readily expressed. For some reason, the older son did not feel his father’s love.
  • The younger son was the wild child, living for the moment, caring little for the things his father provided and possessing a sense of entitlement that must have deeply grieved his father. Perhaps the father was unaware of the needs in his older son’s life because his younger son took so much of his time and energy.

The Runaway
With hormones raging, the younger son claimed his inheritance and left home, caring not for the grief this caused his parents. He ran away to a great city where “friends” were delighted to profit from his wealth in return for their attention. The appetites of the flesh controlled life in the big city and soon the money and the “friends” were gone. Gossip about their son reached the Father, breaking his heart even more.

The young man found work that was so disgusting he eventually realized what a fool he was and returned to his family willing to take the place of a servant. His father was in the habit of watching the road every day, praying for his son’s return. One day it happened but the older brother, working faithfully in the field, did not witness it.

A riotous celebration commenced immediately as the father fully reinstated his son in the family. When the older brother returned from work and learned of these events, he finally let his anger loose on the Father. He had been faithful and this virtue was never celebrated! It just wasn’t fair. He had a point. The father’s joy at the return of the younger son was tempered by the realization of his neglect of the older son.

When the Lost One Is Found
We can hope when the dust from all this settled that the three men could forgive each other and begin a new partnership of love expressed and received. Much had been lost but much more had been found.

Scriptures:
Luke: 15:11-31

Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”‘ “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You found me! You heard my prayers of repentance. You received my confession of Your Lordship! You saved me! Thank You, Lord! You sent Your Spirit to abide in my heart and to empower me for service. You have called me with a holy calling and given me a job to do, an easy yoke to bear, easy because it fits me. You have given me light burdens to bear that I can manage with Your help. I long to hear You say on that great day, “Well done. Good and Faithful Servant!” Thank You for Your Amazing Grace! Amen.

Song:
Amazing Grace

Words: John Newton; Music: Traditional

1. Amazing grace – how sweet the sound –
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.

2. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed!

3. The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures;
he will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.

4. Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.

5. When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun,
we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
than when we’d first begun.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 13 “Lost”

Lost

To the human soul, being lost in the woods is a most terrifying experience.
Nothing is at it appears to be. Familiar things appear strange. The path out of the woods is full of uncertain turns and blind passages. There is no horizon to go by and strange noises assail your ears and distort all your senses of direction. With quickened breath you fight off a sense of panic.

One of the terms we use to describe the person without God is, “lost.” It is descriptive and revealing. Every turn you makes could be the wrong turn. Every voice you hear is a questionable one—who knows whom to trust? You do the best you can with the information you have but you cannot escape the feeling that you are just getting deeper into the woods.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep
In a strange turn of events a group of tax collectors and other notorious sinners gathered to Jesus. We are not told why. It could be that the teaching of Jesus and His obvious power from God convinced them that they were lost and He could show them the way out of their woods. Perhaps in their world of dishonest dealings and routine wickedness they saw true virtue in Jesus and His men. This was a company of men who told and lived the truth. They were certainly not rich but they had something valuable, something the wicked men had lost or never even had.

For whatever reason, they came to Jesus and He responded, having dinner at one of their homes. Predictably, the Pharisees complained.

“This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

We are not told how this accusation was made so let’s imagine that a delegation of Pharisees invaded the home of their enemies. Jesus answered them with a Parable.

He placed each of the Pharisees into the lead role of man with 100 sheep safely grazing in the wilderness, no doubt in the care of professional shepherds. An emergency arises—one of the sheep is lost! A lamb has wandered away from its mother. The owner takes matters into his own hands, leaves the 99 with his shepherds, and begins a thorough search for the lost lamb.

Eventually it is found and there is great rejoicing, extending beyond the man and his hired shepherds to his neighbors.

A lovely story, but what did it mean? Jesus sprang His trap:

“I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”

Even the thick-skulled Pharisees got the point. Jesus went on.

The Parable of the Lost Coin
Jesus shifted genders to tell the story of a woman with 10 silver coins who had misplaced one of them. She did not count her losses and soldier on—she ransacked her house until the lost coin was found. She also called on her friends to celebrate with her!

‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’

Meaning? The focus of heaven is not simply on those safe within the fold—heaven searches for the lost lamb and scours the whole house until the lost coin is recovered.

A Party in Heaven
When a sinner comes home, there is a party in Heaven! When a lost treasure is found, Heaven pulls out all the stops! Why? The whole point of the Jesus Story is this: to find the lost ones and bring them home!

Scriptures:
Luke: 15:1-10

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, saying: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for finding me when I was lost! I know You love the 99 but You also love those who are lost and You seek them out. Your love is amazing! Help those who are lost in the woods, confused by the terror of being lost. Speak clearly to their hearts, Lord. Help them to know Your voice, that still, small, voice of peace. Let them sense the wooing of Your Holy Spirit. Help them see that You are their only hope! Save them, Lord!

Song:
A New Name Written Down in Glory

Word and Music: C. Austin Miles

1. I was once a sinner, but I came
Pardon to receive from my Lord.
This was freely given, and I found
That He always kept His word.

Refrain:
There’s a new name Written down in glory,
And it’s mine, oh yes, it’s mine!
And the white-robed Angels sing the story,
“A sinner has come home.”
For there’s a new name written down in glory,
And it’s mine, oh yes, it’s mine!
With my sins forgiven I am bound for heaven,
Nevermore to roam.

2. I was humbly kneeling at the cross,
Fearing naught but God’s angry frown,
When the heavens opened and I saw
That my name was written down.

Refrain

3. In the Book ’tis written, “Saved by grace.”
Oh the joy that came to my soul!
Now I am forgiven, and I know
By the blood I am made whole.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 12 “Salt”

Salt

Salt is strong stuff. God has provided lots of it in this world because lots of it is needed.
Salt preserves the precious. The meat of animal can feed the family for months if it is preserved and salt does that. The body needs salt in order to make all its functions work. Jesus chose this image to illustrate how those who follow Him act as preservatives in a most sinful world.

Hate Your Parents?
I recommend a book called “Hard Sayings of the Bible.” (You can find it at Amazon.com: https://tinyurl.com/y7tkmtx8) This statement ranks a place of honor. Here’s what Jesus said:

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”

Doesn’t this fly in the face of other things Jesus said? Looking up the original language doesn’t help, either, for we discover that the word used for “hate” really means, well,—hate. How can we square this with rest of Jesus’ teaching?

Scholars say that Jesus was setting up priorities. As important as family relationships are—and they are at the heart of things as the family is a primary image for the church—the priorities of the Kingdom of God must have a greater pull on the one who follows Jesus.

Parents Who Believe and Those Who Do Not
When we take up our cross to follow Jesus and our parents support us in this, there is no reason to “hate” them. We know it is important to build a heritage of faith in our families. When our parents stand against us following the will of God for our lives, we must act as though we hated them. It hurts because we really do not hate them—we love them and seeing them in rebellion to God breaks our heart. However, we know that when we stand before the Lord and give an account of our lives, we cannot offer the opposition of our parents as a reason to fail God. Such an excuse will never stand the fires of the judgment of God on our life’s work. (1 Corinthians 3:9-13)

Salt gives us courage when we must take such drastic measures. If we shrink back from the call of God because of parental opposition, it will do them no good. If we follow Christ at the cost of offending our parents, the Kingdom of God will advance and the Holy Spirit will have a tool to use to bring our parents around to a Kingdom view. What a victory that would be!

Salt in Action: The Cost of Discipleship
To follow Christ is to find God’s will and set about doing it. This is a costly, if blessed, way to live. As would an entrepreneur who builds a tower for greater business, we must count the cost of this life. When we begin serving God intending to finish our job on earth, we must count the cost. This avoids mockery of starting well but finishing poorly. To follow Jesus is to engage in spiritual warfare. This, too, involves counting the cost if one is to wage a victorious warfare.

Salt Is Good
Salt is good if it does its job of preservation and preparation. If we attempt the mission or go into battle with salt that has lost its power, we will fail. If we keep the salt supply in strength, we will save ourselves and those who hear us.

Scriptures:
Luke: 14:25-35

Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it —lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, as I pray this morning, the salt of Your Word is preserving my life and purifying my soul to serve You more excellently. Thank You for this gentle, thorough preservative. Cure my heart of sinful motives and base desires. Let spirit rise above soul and body in my life. Help my life be a strong preservative in this world as I stand for You, follow You, and love You in ways the world around me can clearly see. Help me wage a holy and effective warfare. Help me to finish the tower of my life so that all can see You in me! Amen and amen.

Song:
I Am Thine, O Lord

Words: Fanny J. Crosby; Music: H. Howard Doane

1. I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,
And it told Thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to Thee.

Refrain:
Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To the cross where Thou hast died;
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To Thy precious, bleeding side.

2. Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord,
By the pow’r of grace divine;
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope,
And my will be lost in Thine.

Refrain
3. Oh, the pure delight of a single hour
That before Thy throne I spend,
When I kneel in prayer, and with Thee, my God
I commune as friend with friend!
Refrain
4. There are depths of love that I cannot know
Till I cross the narrow sea;
There are heights of joy that I may not reach
Till I rest in peace with Thee.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved