April 30, 2018 “Dogs”

Dogs

Her people lived in the land of Canaan before Joshua brought the Children of Israel across the river Jordan.
In the estimation of the Jews, she counted as less than human, no more than a dog in the streets. Jesus was of a different view. He had heard the words of His cousin John standing in that same Jordan: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”—not just the Jews but the Gentiles, too. The prophets were clear on this, but the Jews of that day hurried over the parts that didn’t fit their narrative.

Tyre and Sidon
These two cities near the Mediterranean Sea were famous for merchandise, fishing, crafts, and sin. The Canaanites who lived there were the descendants of the people conquered by the Israelites in the conquest of Canaan. They served a nasty pagan god named Baal, a highly adaptable source of evil—each village had its own little Baal.

Amazingly, a Canaanite woman came to Jesus, expecting nothing but contempt from His men, but desperately hoping that He was different. Two things about this woman are remarkable:

  1. She knew about the Jewish Messiah—she called Jesus, “Son of David.”
  2. She knew the power of the spirit world—her daughter was demon possessed.

We know from the writings of Apostles that household idols could host demons. This poor woman had been betrayed by her native religion. Her worship of Baal had introduced her child to a demon. She knew that hell could not cast out hell. When she heard about Jesus, she decided that He, a Jewish Rabbi, was her only hope. She braved the prejudice and pleaded her case.

Playing the Game
Jesus tested her faith by pretending to be just another prejudiced man, referring to her as a dog. Her brave reply moved the heart of the Savior.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

She called Him Lord! The leaders of the People of God called Him Satan and this pagan mother called Him Lord.

“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.”

Her daughter was instantly delivered. Then Jesus left that city to find a place to preach. He had come all that way to the region of Tyre and Sidon  to rescue the daughter of a pagan woman. But He was just getting started. A great healing revival broke out and God, the God Moses, and Joshua, and Jesus, was glorified.

Prejudice offends God.
We marvel that one group of people would consider another group of people as no better than dogs. We should not marvel. There was a time in the USA when Negros were considered only a fraction of a human being for the purposes of the census and congressional representation. Race prejudice has raised its ugly head in every civilization on the planet. The only One who has an answer for it is Jesus. He can remove it from the heart. He can exalt each individual to a place of equality. The Sermon on the Mount does this; it is the constitution of the Kingdom of God. How do we please God? Love Him and love our neighbors. How do we offend Him? Treat others like dogs.

Scriptures:
Matthew 15:21-31
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there. Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.
Matthew 6:26-27; 10:29-31
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Galatians 3:26-29
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me love everybody. I want to treat people as equals. You love everyone, even the most unlovely and the most unlovable. I need help with that. From the homeless person I see on my way to church walking the street early on Sunday morning, to the prisoner behind bars, to the elderly lost in a fog and cared for my strangers to well-off in their fancy cars and snoozing in their elaborate homes in gated communities, to the radical spewing hatred, help me love them all and to show it by praying for them. They are not dogs; they are worth Your agony on the cross. Lord Jesus, help me love everybody. Amen.

Song:
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Traditional

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 29, 2018 “Hearts”

Hearts

The religious leaders in Jesus’ day had many skills. Missing the point was chief among them.
While Jesus and His men were in the North doing the work of the ministry, a delegation of scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem confronted Him. They had a pre-packaged charge to level against Jesus and His men—eating with unwashed hands. It was a big deal to them because they found power in the various traditions of the elders. Some of the rules came from Scripture but many were elaborations on the Law by teachers in past eras of time. These leaders were the keepers of these traditions and wielded power over the everyday person just trying to get by.

Hypocrisy was inevitable; they would rigidly enforce small, easily measured, readily visible infractions of these laws, while large, more important but less visible matters would be ignored if there was benefit in it for them.

Jesus was ready for them.
Instead of defending Himself and His men, Jesus leveled a counter charge involving complicated matters of inheritance. This stopped the scribes and Pharisees cold. For us it would be like someone asking about private taxation records or hidden back accounts. How did Jesus know about that? Lawmakers make laws to benefit lawmakers and they bend the Word of God to do so. He immediately applied the principle:

“Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.”

The arrogance required to do this is simply massive. To negate the Word of God by superseding it with one’s own self benefiting schemes is an amazing way to sin against God. Their trip, begun in arrogance, ended in embarrassment and a lecture. Jesus condemned them and their like. They displayed an outward, carefully manufactured show of religiosity but their hearts were far from God. Dirty hands at dinner were not the problem; dirty hearts in power were true violations of God’s laws.

“…in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

The corruption spewing from their mouths was more damaging that dirt under the fingernails of the disciples.

When asked to explain what He meant, Jesus told us all we need to know about the heart.

“…those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”

Heart Trouble
Until we meet Jesus and follow Him, the whole human race suffers from heart trouble. Our sinful words and deeds come from our sinful hearts. Even those of us who would worship God in Spirit and Truth must guard our heart for a heart full of mixed motives cannot worship in truth. Our outward show of praise does not impress God if our heart is not worshiping. The heart is led by the eyes. Sin in the heart—impure motives, lustful fantasies, proud schemes—blind us to the dangers of sin. We are deceived by these internal things, hidden from the eyes of others and we think that God is also blind to them. We become, like the scribes and Pharisees, the blind leading the blind, and the only destiny we have is the ditch.

The Heart Dealer
Jesus deals in new hearts. Yes, He repairs broken hearts. Yes, He heals wounded hearts. His specialty is this: He can give you a brand new heart! A heart that is free from sin and beating to His rhythms of grace.

Matthew 15:1-20
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God” — then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.” So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
Psalm 24:3-6
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, And righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him,Who seek Your face.
Proverbs 4:23
Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like every other human being, I sometimes have heart trouble. Mold my heart into the likeness of Your great heart, full of compassion and truth, gentle and pure, holy and a blessing to all. Purify my heart, O Holy Spirit. Cleanse it from self-centeredness. Make it pliable to the will of God. I will guard my heart, as Your Word commands, and fill it with good things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Song:
Change My Heart, O God
Words and Music: Eddie Espinosa

Change my heart O God.
Make it ever true.
Change my heart O God.
May I be like You.

You are the Potter,
I am the clay.
Mold me and make me.
This is what I pray.

Change my heart O God.
Make it ever true.
Change my heart O God.
May I be like You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 28, 2018 “Storm”

Storm

The storm is coming. Of this we can be sure.
The intensity of it is yet to be seen, but its certainty is beyond dispute. The winds may blow from the west or from some unusual direction but they will blow. The rain may pummel the ground, dropping like a hail of stones or it may join the wind and streak sideways but we can be sure the winds will blow. The sky may snap with electricity and the earth shake with sound but we can be sure that violence will accompany the storm. We may find shelter or we may be caught in transit to weather the storm in the open. The storm is coming.

After the Feast
When the multitude was fed and sent away to their homes, Jesus told the Disciples to get in a boat and sail to the other side of the sea He climbed a mountain to pray. They obeyed Him but soon the storm arose and the winds were contrary. This went on for some time, their strong fisherman arms swelling and their disciple joints complaining as they rowed against the wind. Sometime after 3 in the morning, Jesus came to their aid, walking on the raging sea. His superstitious men thought He was a ghost! Fear added itself to their inventory of troubles. Peter recognizing the form if not the face of Jesus, hailed Him:

“Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

Perhaps Peter didn’t really think this request through but the Lord took him up on it. He gave one of those one-word answers that changes lives.

“Come!”

What was Peter’s reasoning? Was he sure that Jesus would share this wonderful aquatic skill with him? Did Peter even think at all? Whatever may have prompted the fisherman, Peter exited the boat. Instead of jumping into the sea, Peter stepped out onto it—and it held him up! He paused for a moment just to make sure of this miraculous buoyancy, smiled at Jesus and the other men, swallowed hard and took a step. Then he took another and another. The winds still blew and the waves still did their best to upend him but each step took Peter closer to Jesus. When he was within arm’s reach of the Master, he took his eyes off Jesus. As if waking from a dream, the reality of the storm broke upon him like a tidal wave. With his eyes on the storm, Peter began to sink. He cried out to Jesus for salvation and a strong carpenter’s hand caught him just before the waters would have claimed him. Jesus laughed:

“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Both of them laughing, they got into the boat and immediately the storm ceased. Any lingering doubts among the men vanished and they confessed His Lordship.

After the Storm
By the next morning they reached the other side where another multitude had gathered. Many believed that all it took was a touch of Jesus’ clothes and healing would be theirs—and it was true!

Life Lesson?
When the inevitable storm arises, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. He can help us walk in places that are impossible for us to walk! Every step brings us closer to Jesus—the Master of every storm.

Matthew 14:22-36
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, when You have called me to do something, that means that it can be done! Peter walked on water at Your invitation; help me to realize the fact if this! With Your empowerment I can do what You call me to do! Give me courage to obey, to get out of a comfortable boat, keep my eyes on You and walk! I trust You in all things so let me obey You in all Your commands. I know the storm is coming, Lord. Keep me steady, Lord! All for Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
I’ve Anchored in Jesus
Words and Music: Lewis E. Jones

1. Upon life’s boundless ocean where mighty billows roll,
I’ve fixed my hope in Jesus, blest anchor of my soul.
When trials fierce assail me as storms are gath’ring o’er,
I rest upon his mercy and trust him more.

Refrain:
I’ve anchored in Jesus, the storms of life I’ll brave,
I’ve anchored in Jesus, I fear no wind or wave,
I’ve anchored in Jesus, For he hath pow’r to save,
I’ve anchored in the rock of ages.

2. He keeps my soul from evil and give me blessed peace,
His voice hath stilled the waters and bid their tumult cease.
My pilot and deliv’rer to him I all confide,
For always when I need him, he’s at my side.

Refrain

3. He is my Friend and Saviour, in him my anchor’s cast,
He drives away my sorrows and shields me from the blast.
By faith I’m looking upward beyond life’s troubled sea,
There I behold a haven prepared for me.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 27, 2018 “Feast”

Feast

Following Jesus into the wilderness was an experience not to be missed.
There were signs and wonders. There were debates with entrenched leaders (which they always lost!) and there were those wonderful stories about the Kingdom of God. Hearts were stirred. Minds were challenged. Even so, bellies still tended to report empty. The disciples reported this hunger crisis to Jesus and much to their surprise, He told them to feed them. Of course, the only thing to do was break up the meeting and send the people on their way left to their own devices as for as provisions were concerned. They were all too far into the wilderness to supply food beyond what the most farsighted of them had thought to bring. Of these farsighted ones, a solitary little boy was found to have a small lunch. Jesus commanded the small provision be brought to Him.

“Little Is Much when God Is in It”
There is a vintage gospel song by this title and it remains true to this day. Remember that Jesus measured faith in grains of mustard seed—small measures in the world’s eyes. The disiciples could not see the little boy’s lunch as relevant to the massive needs of the multitude, but Jesus knew better. He took the loaves and fishes in His hands, gave thanks, and blessed them. (The word used in John’s gospel is the root word of Eucharist, the “Great Thanksgiving!) This “little” bit of food became “much” in the hands of the disciples. As they broke the bread and the fish, it multiplied before their eyes. A miracle of creation occurred with each plunge of their hands into the baskets and they had enough for each group of people all sitting orderly on the ground. There was no panic, no rush to get food before it ran out. Jesus was in charge, this one who commanded demons and disease with equal authority, so people quickly relaxed and waited their turn. If the fish needed salt, I am sure the tears of the disciples supply that seasoning as well.

The Fellowship Meal
Eating together is an indispensable method of spiritual fellowship. The Old Covenant was celebrated by the Seder and Passover meals. For New Covenant worshipers, the Communion Meal is the heart of public worship. Why are these feasts important?

  • They physically represent spiritual realities. We are family, committed to God and to each other! Our souls are nourished by this fellowship.
  • Spiritually, the things of God and His Kingdom nourish our spirits, strengthening us for demands of the times in which we live. In the Bible, the Word is called meat and bread, the flow of the Spirit is New Wine, and the waters of worship are the very River of Life.

The feast in the wilderness teaches us that to follow Jesus is to be well fed. He can take “little” and make it “much.” There is always enough because Jesus is serving the substance and life of His own victory over death.

One More Thing
Like the tiny mustard seed in the parable and the little boy’s lunch in this feast, when the Lord takes into His mighty hands what we have to give, He blesses it. He blessing is so powerful, what we have becomes enough!

Scriptures:
Matthew 14:14-21

And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Prayer:
Communion Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer (adapted SRP)
We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.
Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Substance and Life of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom. All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ: By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.

Song:
Little Is Much
Words and Music: Kittie L. Suffield

1 In the harvest field now ripened
There’s a work for all to do;
Hark! the voice of God is calling
To the harvest calling you.

Refrain:
Little is much when God is in it,
Labor not for wealth or fame;
There’s a crown, and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ name.

2 Does the place you’re called to labor
Seem too small and little known?
It is great if God is in it,
And He’ll not forget His own.

Refrain

3 When the conflict here is ended
And our race on earth is run,
He will say, if we are faithful,
“Welcome home, My child, well done

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 26, 2018 “Dances”

Dances

There are all kinds of dances: musical, psychological, political, mental, and deadly.
While Jesus was trying to do some good in Galilee, events beyond His control were unfolding down in Jerusalem. John the Baptist was imprisoned by King Herod, the evil son of the Herod who had slaughtered the innocents when Jesus was born, because John had denounced Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law. I don’t claim to know how good King Herod was on the dance floor, but he was good at the political dance—keeping opposing forces under control to keep the peace with Rome. John had just gone too far, that was all, denouncing the private life of the king. Prison was where he belonged. It was not enough for with new wife, Herodias. She wanted John punished and eliminated. Her new husband didn’t feel that was necessary. Herodias knew how to dance the dance of manipulation. She arranged for her daughter to entertain the King and his guests. It is good not to try and imagine the young woman’s dance, but, coached by her mother, it pleased the king. Inflamed by her dance, Herod made a rash promise.

“Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.”

Still out of breath from her sensual dance she panted out her demand.

“Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.”

Surprised by the demand, Herod’s ardor quickly cooled. He realized he had been danced into a corner. For the sake of his guests, he felt he must honor his promise. What’s one prophet more or less, anyway? He ordered the execution. The party was suspended until a servant returned with the severed evidence of a promise kept. Herodias was the only one who still had an appetite. John’s disciples took his body away for burial and representatives came to tell Jesus.

Jesus Receives the News
Herod had convinced himself that Jesus was really John resurrected. His political dance had failed to bring any peace to his soul. It is certain that both John’s disciples and those of Jesus considered this a serious threat to the Lord. Hearing the sad news of His friend, cousin, and forerunner, Jesus needed to be alone. He was not a dancer, especially not the political kind. He hated plots and saw through them easily. His enemies were never successful at covering up their political schemes against Him. Neither did Jesus dance with words. He was the original man who said what He meant and meant what He said. Those who tried to dance around Him with clever words and trickery always ended up tripping and falling on their faces.

Sometimes it is good to be alone.
Here we see the humanity of Jesus. The death of a good man saddened Him. The murder of a friend broke His heart. He wanted to be still and quiet so He sought solitude. It wasn’t long before the multitude discovered His location and came bringing their needs to Him. There was little time to grieve the loss of His friend or to ponder the opposition of a powerful politician. There were sick people to heal, demons to scatter, and there was a message of hope to preach. This was no time to dance with grief.

Scripture:
Matthew 14:1-13
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the news of the death of John the Baptist broke Your heart. You had to get alone with the Father for a while. Give me the wisdom to get alone with You. You said the Father was in the Secret Place. I want to join Him there today. When I am alone with You, I am not really alone at all! Your Spirit abides within me so I am never alone.  Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Shut in with God
Traditional

Shut in with God in the Secret Place.
There in the Spirit beholding His face.
Gaining new power to run in the race.
Oh I long to be shut in with God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 25, 2018 “Family”

Family

It took courage for Jesus to claim to be Messiah.
It took even more courage for Him to make this claim in His hometown synagogue. There was trouble at home. When don’t know when Joseph died but he is no longer mentioned in the narrative. Mary and her other children seemed to be divided in their opinion of Jesus. There is no doubt that Mary believed in Jesus and everything He said and did. After all, she had been visited by angels. She knew that Joseph was not the father of Jesus; He had been a true miracle child. Some claim that Mary and Joseph never consummated their marriage. The evidence in this passage disputes that. Mary and Joseph had four sons and more than one daughter. We are not given the breakdown of who believed in Him and who did not but it seems Mary was in the minority.

Unbelieving Family
It was all very hard to believe. It is likely that the circumstances surrounding Jesus birth before their marriage was like a dark cloud over the family. Small towns have long memories. Mary’s other children had to live with suspicions and snide remarks their whole lives. Perhaps they thought it would be better when Jesus finally left home. It was not to be. He didn’t leave quietly and fade into obscurity in some other town. No, He was preaching heresy and performing magic tricks all the way to Jerusalem and back. Why didn’t He just go away and stay away?

In the synagogue at Nazareth, the leaders gave Jesus one more chance; they invited Him to speak. As He spoke the inherent authority in His voice, manner, and message was undeniable. People quizzed Him about the miracles rumored to accompany Him everywhere. Was it all true? Either Jesus or someone else assured them it was all true. The people were astonished.

“Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”

Obviously they were skeptical. They knew this man! He had always been on the strange side. He never disobeyed His parents. He never got in trouble as a child, unless some other boy lied about Him. He was always respectful and His carpentry work was without peer. Many of them had objects in their homes He had made for them. He had only one fault—He didn’t know His place. All of this notoriety was unseemly for a carpenter’s son.

Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary?
And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?
And His sisters, are they not all with us?
Where then did this Man get all these things?”

This embarrassed Mary and broke Jesus’ heart. Then it got worse. From Luke we learn that at that time, or perhaps at a similar time, the good people of Nazareth rose up and sought to throw Jesus off a nearby hill. Jesus stopped them with a look, exited through the middle of them and no one dared oppose Him. His conclusion?

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”

The Price of Unbelief
The sick people of Nazareth went to bed that night with no divine touch to relieve their pain. The blind people still could not see,  the deaf ones could not hear, nor did those infested with demons find release. Why? Because these people refused to believe. How foolish. How tragic.

Scripture:
Matthew 13:53-58
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there. When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
Luke 4:28-30
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I believe. You said the work of God is to believe. I believe all of your story: born of a virgin, a life without sin, an atoning death, a spectacular resurrection, and Your ascension to the Throne of Heaven. I believe it all. As the angel said to Mary, “with God nothing is impossible.” I believe in Your will for my life. I believe You will be with me throughout the day ahead. I believe. I believe. That makes us family! Amen.

Song:
Only Believe
Traditional

Only believe. Only believe.
All things are possible, only believe.
Only believe. Only believe.
All things are possible, only believe.

Lord, I believe. Lord, I believe.
All things are possible, Lord I believe.
Lord, I believe. Lord, I believe.
All things are possible, Lord I believe.

Jesus is here. Jesus is here.
All things are possible, Jesus is here.
Jesus is here. Jesus is here.
All things are possible, Jesus is here.

Only believe. Only believe.
All things are possible, only believe.
Only believe. Only believe.
All things are possible, only believe.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 24, 2018 “Hidden”

Hidden

There is something about the search that excites the human soul.
Solomon, mankind’s wisest king, said this:

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”

God is not surprised by our love of the search; He put it in our hearts. All of the wonders of science discovered by experiment and observation have been there all along, waiting for some curious person to search them out. It took many centuries to discover the secret of flight in the shape of the wings of the bird while birds flew effortlessly all around the heads of those who were searching for it.

Hidden in the Word
The Word of God is like that, too. Somethings are not hidden at all; they are stated in clear, unambiguous terms for us to believe on first reading. We can search these things out and find deeper applications, thrilling prophesies, inspiring metaphors, and instructive similes about these truths all through the Bible. God put them there; in Solomon’s words, He concealed the matter. He did not do this to hide truth from us, but to reward the combination of curiosity and faith. We search the Scriptures in faith because it is the only way to please God. We search with curiosity because there is joy in discovering eternal truth while we walk each day locked into time.

Parables of the Search
Jesus spoke parables on the joy of the quest, teaching us about the Kingdom of Heaven.

  • A Treasure Hidden in a Field. When an individual learns of a treasure hidden in a field, he/she changes his/her plans and buys the field. Then begins the joy of searching until the treasure is uncovered.
  • The Pearl of Great Price. When a merchant finds an overlooked pearl he/she determines to be of greatest value, the only thing to do is refinance everything and buy that pearl. The merchant sees value others do not.
  • The Net Full of Fish. When fishermen cast a large net into the sea, there is no selection process—all kinds of fish are caught up in it. The fishermen drag the net ashore and there they separate the good from the bad.

Life Lessons from these Parables
These are not meaningless bedtime stories. There are priceless truths hidden in these simple analogies.

  • Somewhere along the line, we heard the gospel story. Somehow we knew this wasn’t a fairy tale; it was the truth! We could see the difference between Jesus and Santa Claus. Jesus was and is who He said He was and is. We knew that to find Him, we had to “buy the whole field”—believe the whole Bible—and we did.
  • Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price. His church isn’t perfect. He told us that His field contained both the real and the fake. We cling to His church despite its imperfections. We have reordered our lives around the value of this Pearl of Great Price.
  • We keep on casting the net. The world is full of people who haven’t heard the Jesus Story so we keep telling it. When the net comes to shore there are bad fish and good. We seek out the good and pray for the bad for we know the Day is coming and the angels carrying the scythes.

As we go along, we enjoy the search for the hidden treasures of the Kingdom. God has given us the opportunity to fulfill this urge He planted deep in our hearts.

Scriptures:
Matthew 13:44-52
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”
Proverbs 25:2
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my treasure! I will search for You in Your Holy Word. I will buy the whole field of Your truth. I want to believe it all, even the parts I do not understand. You are the Pearl of Great Price. I will remain with Your church and I will be a blessing in Your power. Guide me, Holy Spirit as I search the Word for priceless treasure. Amen.

Song:
More Precious than Silver
Words and Music: Lynn DeShazo

Lord, you are more precious than silver.
Lord, you are more costly than gold.
Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds,
And nothing I desire compares with you.

Who can weigh the value of knowing you?
Who can judge the worth of who you are?
Who can count the blessings of knowing you?
Who can say just how great you are?

Lord, you are more precious than silver.
Lord, you are more costly than gold.
Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds,
And nothing I desire compares with you

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 23, 2018 “Field”

Field

Who can deny the beauty of a wheat field as the wind makes the stalks move like waves on the sea?
The mission of Jesus was larger than any single field of grain. When the disciples asked Him to explain the parable of the tares, Jesus said this:

“The field is the world…”

As wonderful as the personal ministry of Jesus is to each of us, He is also ministering to the whole world. This is not some local event; it is cosmic, universal, majestic, and mighty. The Lord has the ability to care for each of us as he does the sparrows and to tend the garden of each heart the way He does the lilies of the field and at the same time deal with nations, peoples, and generations. Neither the individual nor the people groups are lost to His care. Just as gravity pulls on everything on the surface of the earth, the love of God pulls on every beating heart.

  • Some have never heard the truth about God but He is working on someone’s heart to go and tell them.
  • Some have heard the Good News and filed it away as if it were just a legend or a myth. His Spirit is convicting them of its truth.
  • Some have heard and believe but are distracted by lesser concerns that seem to be more pressing. His Spirit is convicting them to reorder their lives around what is really important.
  • Others have heard the Word, believed it, and set about to live it. There is no way to count the number of true believers in the world; only heaven knows. There is no particular color to them, or shape of the eyes, or language on their lips. John heard the hosts of heaven declare that we are from “every tribe and tongue and nation.”

And there are the tares, the fakes, the enemy agents standing with us, waving in the same wind as if they, too, were followers of Christ.

Tares and Wheat
The field of the world contains the genuine and the imitation, the real and the fake. Jesus did not leave us to their devices. He told us how to recognize the fake—by the fruit of their lives—a bad tree yields bad fruit. He said listen to what people say. Eventually, the contents of their hearts will come spewing out of their mouths. Our first instinct is to grab the scythe and chop away, cutting them down and casting them away. The church is instructed on how to do this in the correct way. When the divisive deceivers are revealed they are to be cast from the fellowship. But if they are believers who are carnal, we must treat them in a way to restore them to the faith.

What about the tares?
Tares were a particular kind of weed that looked very similar to a stalk of wheat. Jesus said let them grow in the field until the Day of Judgment when the truth shall be revealed. We cannot be distracted by them. None of us is called to be the judge—that is a job for angels and there are none of those among us. Jesus made it abundantly clear what would happen to them. Our job is to keep on being good wheat—catching every nuance of the winds of the Spirit—beautiful and fruitful as we are changing the world. His field is our field and each of us has a place in it.

Scriptures:
Matthew 13:36-43
Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
2 Thessalonians 3:6;13-15
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he* received from us. …But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
1 Corinthians 15:33-34
Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
Jude 16-19
These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage. But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to realize this day that Your field is wide; it is the world itself, not just my little world. Lord give me wisdom to follow You when others choose not to. Give me discernment to sense when someone who should be genuine is not. Lord, if they are a brother or sister who have been deceived, use me to help them find their way back to You. If they are from the evil one, I pray against them in Your Holy Name! Amen and amen.

Song:
A Pure Heart
Words and Music: Rusty Nelson

A pure heart, that’s what I long for.
A heart that follows hard after Thee.
A pure heart, that’s what I long for.
A heart that follows hard after Thee.

A heart that hides Your Word
So that sin will not come in,
A heart that’s undivided
But one You rule and reign.
A heart that beats compassion,
That pleases You, my Lord.
A sweet aroma of worship
That rises to Your throne.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 22, 2018 “Weeds”

Weeds

When the seed is precious and the soil is rich, weeds will grow.
That’s just the way it is. This is a fallen world infested with fakes and frauds—human weeds. They take up space without adding anything to the garden. They use up resources without yielding any measurable results. They hinder the intended harvest by choking the healthy stalks of wheat. That’s just the way it is.

How did the weeds get into the wheat field? Jesus said the enemy crept in while the owners slept and sowed the weed seed in the field. Lesson? Everyone should never sleep at the same time—keep an around-the-clock watch. These were not just any weeds; they were tares, a plant that looks like wheat until it reaches maturity. The farmer is not surprised when workers reported the illicit, destructive plants standing next to the wheat, waving in the same breeze. He knew he had an enemy capable of this attack. When asked if the workers should pull the weeds, the owner declined; his primary goal was to protect the good plants. Each one was too important to risk just to spoil the enemy’s plot. At the time of the harvest the differences between the tares and the wheat will be so clearly seen the harvesters can actually mount two campaigns, one to remove the weeds and the other to harvest the wheat. They will bind the tares together in bundles to burn them. From the same field, wheat went into the owners’ barn and the tares went into the fire. The enemy’s plot did not destroy the harvest.

Lesson’s from Parables
These little stories from Jesus still ring with truth more than 2000 years later. They teach us truths for today:

  • “The Wheat and the Tares:” Until the Lord returns, the church will have deceivers and hypocrites in its ranks. At first they appear to be genuine believers but time tells the tale. Eventually, their true nature will be revealed and God will deal with them.
  • “Mustard Seed Faith:” Faith in God is so powerful, that an amount that seems small by society’s standards is actually a powerful force for good in the world. There are tall, healthy trees that shelter the land and host families of birds that grew from tiny seeds. So it is with the person of faith; insignificant in the eyes of the world but doing the work of God in the earth.
  • “The Leaven of Faith:” It doesn’t get the headlines like heroic deeds or horrific sins, but a life of faith in Christ changes the world. As leaven causes the dough to rise in the oven to become a nourishing loaf, so the person of faith is a blessing to everyone.

People of Faith
Putting these three parables together, we see that though there are hypocrites in the church, there are more genuine followers of Christ. These people are people of faith and they make all the difference in this world. They do the work of the Kingdom by the power of the Spirit. The world may measure their beliefs and behavior as small and insignificant, the truth is, their faith is a major force for good. Their faith in Christ is like a spiritual-chemical reaction in their heart, changing them even as the heat of life increases. They emerge from life’s oven, stronger, sweeter, and substantial enough to feed the world.

Scriptures:
Matthew 13:24-35
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘” Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to be a person of great faith. Teach me great truths to fuel my faith. Show me great prayers to pray so my faith can grow. I know that without faith it is impossible to please You. That means that with faith I can please You. That is my heart’s desire. May faith be the leaven in my life. Though the world may think my measure of faith is small, I know You will give me enough for the task. Lord Jesus, I want to be a person of great faith. Amen.

Song:
Faith Is the Victory
Words: John Henry Yates; Music: Ira David. Sankey

1. Encamped along the hills of light,
Ye Christian soldiers rise,
And press the battle ere the night
Shall veil the glowing skies;
Against the foe in vales below
Let all our strength be hurled;
Faith is the victory, we know,
That overcomes the world.

Refrain:
Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, That overcomes the world.

2. His banner over us is love
Our sword the Word of God;
We tread the road the saints before
With shouts of triumph trod.
By faith, they like a whirlwind’s breath
Swept on o’er every field;
The faith by which they conquered death
Is still our shining shield

Refrain

3. On every hand the foe we find
Drawn up in dread array;
Let tents of ease be left behind,
Salvation’s helmet on each head,
With truth all girt about,
And onward to the fray
The earth shall tremble ’neath our tread,
And echo with our shout.

Refrain

4. To him that overcomes the foe,
White raiment shall be giv’n;
Before the angels he shall know
His name confessed in heav’n;
Then onward from the hills of light,
Our hearts with love aflame,
We’ll vanquish all the hosts of night,
In Jesus’ conqu’ring name.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 21, 2018 “Consequences”

Consequences

Consequences are not always bad. Good deeds bring good ones; evil deeds yield evil ones.
When Jesus explained the parable of the sower, the seeds, and the soil, His emphasis shifted from the sower and the seeds to the soil itself—the person who hears the Word.

  • The sower had done his job.
  • The seed is good seed, precious seed, the very Word of God.
  • The soil is the variable that determines the effectiveness of the sower and the seed.
  • The consequences, good and bad, come from the interaction of the seeds with the soil.

Four Kinds of Soil
It isn’t very flattering but in this parable, people are represented by different kinds of soil.

  • Wayside soil—the displaced person who is on the road to nowhere, listening to no one, allowing other competing viewpoints to steal away the truth. This is a hard-headed, hard-hearted person who hears the Word of God but does not take it in.
  • Shallow soil—the person who hears the Word and takes it in without hesitation but does nothing to prepare his life for something new. No plow is set to this shallow soil to turn it over or break up the stones to find the good soil beneath. Strong roots do not develop and the plant dies in the sun.
  • Thorny soil—the busy person who adds the Word to his library but does not read it. This is a life full of potential but also full of distractions. Priorities are mixed and a productive routine is never developed. Soon other concerns claim the time and energy of the plant and the plant is choked—not choked to death, just choked to the point of impotence.
  • Good soil—the careful, thoughtful person who receives the Word and puts it in a place of supreme authority. Here is the manual for living and for productivity. Instructions are found and followed. Care and thought go into the life of the plant. In season there is a bountiful harvest.

Consequences
The kind of soil that we choose to be determines the consequences of our actions.

  • The Wayside One The person who dwells by the side of the road and never on it will never arrive at a destination of worth. He will, in the words of Paul, “be tossed about by every wind…” This is not God’s plan for any of us. We have a calling, a destiny, a destination in the will of God.
  • The Shallow Soul The person without depth of character but this is not a life sentence. He can choose to deepen his heart, to expand his mind, and to reach for the great things God has for him. It will call for study and discipline but he is not alone in this process—the Holy Spirit functions as a plow to till the soil of the heart. The prophet’s invitation is to us—“break up the fallow ground; it is time to seek the Lord!”
  • The Distracted Individual The person who is just too busy to follow the call of God will most like only produce excuses. It doesn’t have to be this way! He can strip away the hindering things. Life is more manageable when pared down to the will of God.
  • The Fruitful Servant The person who hears the Word and obeys it will be a blessing to all and will be pleasing to the Lord. The Kingdom of God will profit from such a one.

The consequences, good and bad, come from the interaction of the seeds with the soil.

Scripture:
Matthew 13:18-23
Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Hosea 10:12
Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord , Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Lord of the Harvest! My job is two-fold: 1) to scatter the precious seed and 2) to pray that You will send forth laborers into the harvest. May those who find themselves by the side of the road, remove to the road and follow You. May those whose lives are shallow, allow the plow of the Holy Spirit to break up their fallow ground. May those who have received Your Word but not prioritized it reorganize around Your call and mission. The harvest is great; send forth laborers, Lord Jesus! Amen and amen.

Song:
The Songs of the Reaper
Words and Music: William A. Spencer

1. The seed I have scattered in springtime with weeping,
And watered with tears and with dews from on high;
Another may shout when the harvester’s reaping,
Shall gather my grain in the sweet bye and bye

Refrain:
Over and over, yes, deeper and deeper
My heart is pierced through with life’s sorrowing cry,
But the tears of the sower and songs of the reaper
Shall mingle together in joy bye and bye.
Bye and bye, by eand bey, Bye and bye, bye and bye,
Yes, the tears of the sower and songs of the reaper
Shall mingle together in joy bye and bye.

2. Another may reap what in springtime I’ve planted,
Another rejoice in the fruit of my pain,
Not knowing my tears when in summer I fainted
While toiling sad-hearted in the sunshine and rain.

Refrain

3. The thorns will have choked and the summers suns blasted
The most of the seed which in springtime I’ve sown;
But the Lord who has watched while my weary toil lasted
Will give me a harvest for what I have done.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved