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

April 20, 2018: “Understanding”

Understanding

The nearness of Jesus increases our capacity to understand things.
God created everyone with five senses to help us understand the world around us. When Jesus comes into our hearts, the Holy Spirit enables us to understand spiritual things. It is much more than a sixth sense; it is an inner capacity to know God. This is one of the four promises God makes to us in the New Covenant. Before the fall of the human race into sin, Adam and Eve knew God—they had a capacity to understand spiritual realities. Sin disrupted this capacity leaving sinful people stumbling in the dark in spiritual matters. The imagination takes over, aided by hell itself, to create all the crazy beliefs about the spirit world.

“Given to you to know the mysteries…”
The disciples asked Jesus why He taught the people using parables. In His answer He explained that only those who had answered His call to follow Him had been given the beginnings of this New Covenant understanding. The multitude, even those who had been touched and healed, did not possess this inner capacity to understand spiritual things. The earthly ministry of Jesus was a time of transition between the covenants. He spoke as if the New Covenant was already in place; perhaps because His heart was already set on the cross, the final sacrifice that would seal the New Covenant. At the Last Supper He declared that the blood of the New Covenant was His blood. Until that time, the proximity of Jesus in the lives of the disciples set them apart from the crowd. For those of us on this side of the New Covenant, the promise to understand spiritual things is in full force. We have the Holy Spirit resident in our lives to teach us the facts, to show us the signs, reveal to us the mysteries, and amplify our capacity to understand the Bible.

With Understanding Comes Responsibility.
Jesus gives a promise and a warning:

“For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance;
but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

Like a muscle or the brain itself, regular use increases capacity. If we explore spiritual things, the very things we discover will increase our capacity to understand more. On the other hand, if we are lazy and disinterested in spiritual things, our capacity to know God and to understand spiritual things will fade. It is sometimes said that to waste a mind is a terrible thing. To squander the illumination of the Holy Spirit in our lives is much, much worse. When we read the Bible, pray at our private altar, or gather with the saints before the Throne of God in public worship, we are expanding our capacity to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

“But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear”

Jesus pointed out the transition at work that day. The prophets of old could not see in their day what the disciples were seeing. The patriarchs did not hear what those close to Jesus and following Him were hearing.

The nearness of Jesus increases our capacity to understand things.

Scripture:
Matthew 13:10-9
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Hebrews 8:8-12
He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my teacher! Holy Spirit, you bring light to my understanding of spiritual things. Thank You for this gift! Help me to regularly go to Your Word for understanding, to pray in the Secret Place where the Father is so that I might see things clearly, and to be faithful to Your House of Prayer so that we who have been called out of darkness into Your marvelous light can see You high and lifted up and therefore, see the world clearly. Help me to walk in the Light as You are in the Light, seeing and understanding all things. Amen.

Song:
More about Jesus
Words: Eliza E, Hewitt; Music: John. R. Sweney

1. More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of his saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

Refrain:
More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

2 More about Jesus let me learn,
More of his holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.

Refrain

3. More about Jesus in His Word,
Holding communion with my Lord;
Hearing his voice in ev’ry line,
Making each faithful saying mine.

Refrain

4. More about Jesus on his throne,
Riches in glory all His own;
More if His kingdom’s sure increase;
More of His coming, Prince of peace.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 19, 2018: “Sowing”

Sowing

Imagine Jesus sitting on the beach, staring out to sea.
Was He tired? Discouraged? The Bible doesn’t tell us why left the house, walked past His mother and brothers to the edge of the Galilee and sat down. He stared at the horizon. If this did for Him what it does for us, it reminded Him of eternity. That’s where the similarity ends. His view of eternity was different from any that we could ever have. We cannot know what was in His mind. He had laid aside divinity for humanity for the purposes of the great Redemption plan for a lost mankind.

Perhaps He had to get away for a moment from the hard-hearted Pharisees who had just accused Him of being in league with the devil. As He sat there studying the horizon where the sky and sea danced together in the sun, the multitude gathered behind Him. They were not looking for a sign; they wanted the reality—they wanted Him. A boat was tied up close by. He climbed aboard and cast just a few feet from the shore. The water acted as an amplifier projecting His voice to the crowd. As he sat in the boat, He started teaching. He didn’t need to speak loudly; along with the reflection of the water, the crowd was hushed, consuming each word.

The Sower, the Seeds, and the Soul
He shared one of His most well-known parables, the one about sowing and reaping. The people understood this better than most of us do today. The application for us is simple but profound: life is a process of sowing things and reaping the results. The assumption is that the sower will sow good seed. The opposite is true, too, as people choose to deal in hate, in deception, in avarice, in lust, in thievery and all manner of evil seed. The rewards may come quickly, themselves a deception, but the long term harvest will be one of destruction. Count on it.
The sower in Jesus’ story is a good man who has good seed to sow. He deals in love, truth, honesty, true affections, and trust. These are the seeds of the Kingdom of God, “good seed,” the Bible calls these things.

The Elements of Chance
Even in this holy enterprise, there are strong elements of chance, things beyond the control of the sower.

  • Some of the seed fell beside the path and fed the birds, never having a chance to germinate and grow.
  • Other precious seeds fell in stony places where there was little soil. Plants grew from these seeds but their roots were not strong. The heat of the sun proved too much so they withered to nothing.
  • Still other seeds fell on good ground and grew to be healthy plants. Along with the good plants, weeds grew also, eventually stealing the water, the sun, and the air, choking the good plant so that no fruit was ever produced.
  • Only some of the seed fell on good ground free from thorns and weeds. These plants produced so much fruit they made up for the unsuccessful planting.

Why this element of chance? Because Jesus was talking about people and people have a choice. The sower’s job is to sow the seed; he does not control what others do with it.

A Life Lesson
Do the work! Sow the seed! Leave to God the results. A harvest is guaranteed if we do not give up.

Scripture:
Matthew 13:1-9
On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Psalm 126:5-6
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
2 Corinthians 9:6
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Galatians 6:7-10
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the precious seed, the good seed! You have given me the ingredients to make a fruitful life. Remind me that the more of this seed I scatter into the lives of the people in my path, the more I will have to give. This seed is marvelous stuff! Praise and worship unto You, deeds of mercy and kindness to others, and deep personal holiness in my heart—all these things are from You. When I scatter these things as I walk through this life, You will bring the harvest promised. Help me to never grow weary in this well-doing. I know I will see an abundant harvest for Your glory. Thank You, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Bringing in the Sheaves
Words: Knowles Shaw; Music: George A. Minor

1.  Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Chorus:
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

2.  Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Chorus

3.  Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
Tho’ the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Chorus

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 18, 2018: “Signs”

Signs

When you really need a hospital, don’t settle for a highway sign with a capital “H” on it.
You need the real thing, not just a sign pointing to it. While in other places Jesus told us to look for the signs of His coming, here He cautions us about a dependence on signs when hard data is available.

Pharisees and Signs
These men would try anything to discredit Jesus. After witnessing multitudes of healings and deliverances, they demanded some sort of sign from Jesus. I see them as desperate, small minded, and distracted by their hate for Jesus. Jesus was not so kind. He said they were an evil and adulterous generation.

  • Evil—they were in league with the devil.
  • Adulterous—they had broken their vows to love God and were courting power instead.

All their energies were spent toward evil, not good, and wickedness not virtue, and these were the leaders of the people.

Signs and Significance
Several words are connected to the word, “sign:”

  • Significance—having an important meaning beyond itself,
  • Signify—to function as a symbol of a higher or abstract truth, and
  • Signal—a gesture or object set forth to express needed information.

All of these words share the central characteristic of a sign—it is removed from what it signifies.

  • A hospital sign is not a hospital.
  • The significance of the Constitution lies beyond the document itself.
  • A hurricane warning pennant is not the hurricane.

The Pharisees missed the reality in front of their eyes and desired instead a sign they could argue about without facing the truth it represented. This was wicked and adulterous.

Face the Truth
Still, Jesus gave them a sign, that of Jonah. His adventure with the great fish was a prophecy of the death and resurrection to come. This sign would do them little good in the days ahead but it is helpful to us. Jesus pronounced horrible impending judgment on those who would ignore the signs given to them. Realities, not the signs pointing to them, are the important things. If they failed to fill their lives with spiritual realities, the evil that vacated their hearts would come back in even greater strength. This was the destiny of those who preferred signs to what the signs signified.

The Family
While Jesus was teaching, His mother and His brothers and sisters came to the house where He was speaking. We are not told why they came. From other sources in the Bible we know that, while Mary always believed, James and the other half-siblings of Jesus did not believe until after the Resurrection. What pain this must have been for Mary! Indeed, as Simeon prophesied, a sword pierced her heart. Perhaps Mary had brought her children to Jesus to convince them that He was who she said He was. His miracles would be a sign to them.

Someone informed Jesus that they had arrived outside. His response was a strange one. He pointed at His disciples and said,

“Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

This was and is the reality, not a sign pointing to it. Living a life of obedience is both a sign pointing to Jesus and it is the reality of Jesus in our lives.

Scripture:
Matthew 12:38-50

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.” While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the reality of Your presence in my life. It is so significant but it is much more than a sign—It is the real thing! Holy Spirit make a life a sign pointing others to Jesus. My Your Word be heard in my words. May Your love be felt in my dealings with others. May the reality of Your abiding residence in me, O Holy Ghost, flow from my life today and everyday. May those who seek the reality of Your Gospel find it in me. Help me recognize the signs of Your soon appearing and be ready when You return. Amen and amen.

Song:
Signs Are Everywhere
Words and Music: Kittie Louise Suffield

1. The King is coming in glory To catch His bride away,
It may be in the morning It may be at midday,
At the even or midnight; The trump will sound so clear,
The dead in Christ, and we that live, His voice shall hear.

Refrain:
The King is coming, hallelujah! He’s coming in the air,
The fig tree is budding, The signs are everywhere,
The saints are looking ever upward While journ’ing on their way.
He’s coming, hallelujah! To catch His bride away.

2. Behold! He cometh, and leaping, And skipping o’er the hills;
Like the young roe, like the young hart, My soul with rapture thrills;
Thru the window He’s looking, Thru the lattice work is seen,
The winter’s past, the rain is o’er, The figs are green.

Refrain

3. The King is coming, Be ready, To meet Him on that day;
With your heart right, with your robes white, And in this holy way;
Like the lightning that flashes In the twinkling of an eye,
Our Lord shall come to claim His own, He’s drawing nigh.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 17, 2018: “Trees”

Trees

In several places in the Bible the life of human being is compared to that of a tree.
Because one cannot expect to harvest apples from a pecan tree, the quality of the fruit must match the type of tree. In this passage Jesus speaks in a more general way:

  • A good tree produces good fruit.
  • A bad tree produces bad fruit.

He then said one of the most revealing things in all His teaching:

“…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

What does He mean? Simply this: the fruit of the tree may be hanging on a limb or may have tumbled to the ground, but it comes from the heart of the tree—the deep-seated nature of the tree and nothing can alter this.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad;
for a tree is known by its fruit.”

Life lesson learned—observable in nature and in society. We don’t have to wonder long about what is in someone’s heart. All we have to do is listen to the words they say. The good or bad things stored abundantly in our hearts will come pouring out of our mouths at some point. This principle offers a great opportunity—if we want good things to come out in our speech, we need to fill our heart with good things! This is the promise of Paul’s instructions on how we should we think. In short, he said fill your heart with good things, the best things “and the God of peace will be with you.”

Words matter.
Our words matter a great deal more than we might think; they will form the basis of our final judgment.

But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak,
they will give account of it in the day of judgment.
For by your words you will be justified,
and by your words you will be condemned.”

In great measure the business of life is to keep the heart full of good things so that the total life product of our time on earth will be “good treasure.” This only comes from a good heart constantly monitored and maintained for good contents.

Blasphemy
One of the most heinous uses of speech is blasphemy—to curse God. Our world and our culture is filled with profanity—unholy speech, and blasphemy—the derision of God Almighty. One of the most amazing things about God’s amazing grace is that He chooses not to strike down the profane and blasphemous. Of the Holy Trinity, the role of the Holy Spirit is to draw the sinner to Jesus. To deride the Holy Spirit is to risk offended the One who can lead us to salvation in Jesus. We must be careful for if He does not draw us to Jesus we will never get to Him.

Make the Tree Good
It is time for a word that is little used anymore—holiness. The role of the Holy Spirit is also to make us holy, to conform us to the likeness of Christ. We are called to be like tall, graceful, productive trees, bringing forth our fruit in our season. This level of living is only possible in Jesus as the Holy Spirit dwells within us to make us more like Him. Honor the Spirit of God, never deride Him!

Scripture:
Matthew 12:31-37
“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Philippians 4:8-9
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
Psalm 1
Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have called me to a fruitful life. Let my roots go down deep into Your Word. I lift my hands to You like the limbs of a blessed tree to catch every wind of Your sweet, sweet Spirit. From Your Word and Your Spirit, fill my heart with good things so that the to fruit of my life will be sweet to others and useful to the world. I will always respect and honor, You, O Holy Spirit of God. Amen and amen.

Song:
Sweet, Sweet Spirit
Words and Music: Doris Akers

There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place,
And I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord.
There are sweet expressions on each face,
And I know that it’s the presence of the Lord.

Sweet Holy Spirit, sweet Heav’nly Dove.
Stay right here with us, filling us with your love.
And for these blessings, we lift our hearts in praise.
Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived,
When we shall leave this place.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 16, 2018: “Divided”

Divided

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.
The words of Jesus and they remain true to this day. Be it house or kingdom, anything that is intended to be a whole, functioning unit, when it is divided is headed for failure.

Jesus, seeking anonymity, encountered a demon-possessed man. He was blind and mute but he was also someone’s son or brother, someone loved enough by others to be brought to Jesus. A unity of purpose had served to get the man to Jesus. Jesus drove out the evil spirit, restored the man’s vision and loosed his powers of speech—a three-fold miracle! This was not a step toward anonymity;

“…all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

Hearing of this spectacular event, the Pharisees went into high gear, grinding out the usual accusation—Jesus casts out demons because he is in league with Satan! Jesus knew these men to their core. His response dealt with the concept of division. The legions of hell had long ago learned the destructive power of division within their ranks. They were the fallen one-third of the heavenly angels who had rebelled against their Creator. They occupied hell and not heaven because of division. They were capable of all sorts of evil but not division. They formed an undivided kingdom of darkness.

The Kingdom of God
Tucked into a forgotten corner of the world’s greatest empire, the nations of Israel was just one of many conquered kingdoms. Perhaps at one time, they were a great kingdom, in the time of David and Solomon, but that was history long-since assigned to the record books. Any thoughts of Israel as the Kingdom of God was for dreamers, half-wits, and zealots. That was why the leaders of Israel had to stamp out any hint of Messiah. There was now a balance between Jerusalem and Rome. They could keep their one-god religion if they just kept the peace. Messiah would certainly spoil that—He would divide the people and bring destruction.

Enter the Stronger Man

“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God,
surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

He said the Kingdom of God, not Israel. Jesus was threatening more than the power structure in the Temple or in Jerusalem; He was threatening Rome itself. He was seeking to divide the Empire in order to bring in down. To do He would prove Himself the master of all empires, of all kingdoms. If we are to follow Him, we must never be divided from Him or from each other. The home should be an undivided kingdom and certainly the church should be as well. This why any attack of the enemy will be divisive, any strategy will be one of division.

Society is defined by division in every possible way: youth from age, race from race, party from party. These divisions seek entrance into the church. We must be wiser than the world. We must let the Strong Man to rule our lives. Only Jesus can bind the enemy form harming and bind us together as the undivided Kingdom of God.

Scripture:
Matthew 12:22-30
Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
John 17:9-12
“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.
1 Corinthians 1:10-11
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Strongman! Overrule the enemy of my soul and bind him! Overrule my own selfish heart and bind me to You. Help me be a unifying one in Your marvelous Kingdom. Let me speak against unhealthy divisions in the Body of Christ. Help me encourage unity among my brothers and sisters. Let us love one another as You have loved us. Let us be the answer to Your prayer that those who follow You would be One just as You and the Father are One. In Your name, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Bind Us Together
Words and Music: Bob Gillman

BIND US TOGETHER, Lord, Bind us together
With cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord, Bind us together,
Bind us together with love.

There is only one God,
There is only one King;
There is only one Body,
That is why we sing:

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 15, 2018: “Anonymity”

Anonymity

The challenge was one of timing.
Jesus was traveling the nation of Israel preaching the Good News and performing miracles. It was hard to keep this sort of thing quiet. His fame spread with every healing, every deliverance, and every joust with the leaders who opposed Him. Still, the climax of the growing conflict with the powers of men must wait until the right moment. To this end, Jesus sought anonymity.

When He realized the healing of the man with the withered hand had prompted a plot among the Pharisees, He withdrew from that village. Multitudes followed Him and Matthew makes a most sweeping statement:

“He healed them all.”

He also asked them to keep quiet about it. Matthew states that a prophecy of Isaiah was at work here. The Messiah would be the Lord’s Servant and God would be pleased with Him. The Holy Spirit would rest upon toward an unusual end—“justice to the Gentiles.”

The Gentiles
Every Jew was taught that Gentiles were the enemy. There was much well-rehearsed history to validate this view. Forgotten in their daily struggles to be the People of God, was God’s original intention that the nation of Israel was to be a kingdom of priests to the rest of mankind. It was only after the shameful worship of the golden calf at the foot of a stormy Mt. Zion that God assigned the priesthood to the Levites. Jesus, the promised Messiah, was bringing the Kingdom of God to the whole world, not just to Israel. The New Covenant would make this clear.

Gentle Power
Isaiah is one of the great poets of the Old Testament. Listen to his description of the ministry of Messiah—power clothed in gentleness.

  • “He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.”
  • “A bruised reed He will not break…”
  • A “smoking flax He will not quench;”
  • “He will bring forth justice for truth.”

Matthew, perhaps using a different translation, adds:

  • “He sends forth justice to victory,”
  • “and in His name Gentiles will trust.”

Now we can see why Jesus dealt so gently with people, even those who accused Him or sought to discredit Him. The time would come when He confront His enemies but the order of this day was to preach the word, heal the sick, deliver the possessed, and do this with anonymity.

What do we learn from this?
We learn to let the Spirit of God do the work! Jesus was the Christ—the Anointed One! The power of the Holy Spirit was at work. Publicity was not needed. Promotion was never even a thought, let alone a priority.

We also, following in the footsteps of the Gentle Jesus, rest in the power of the Holy Spirit—our Anointing! If we are for real, people will know without having to be told. Our deeds of mercy—our cups of cold water—will make room for us in the hearts of those we meet. They may make fun of us, but our lack of reprisal will disarm them and they will know that they have met a real disciple of Christ. The offered cheek, the surrendered cloak, the second mile will testify of Jesus and by them we will tell His Story.

Scriptures:
Matthew 12:15-21
But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory; and in His name Gentiles will trust.”
Isaiah 42:1-4
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me the gift of gentleness. May Your astounding grace mark my life. Help me turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and give more than was demanded as a witness to You. May my life reflect Your life. Give me the words to speak into the lives of those You put into my life. Show me every day the deeds of mercy I can perform to ease the pain of those in my pathway. When the time comes to speak of You as the source of my life, my words and deeds will be in perfect harmony. Like You, Lord Jesus, let me fade into Your glory; let me become anonymous! All for You, Lord Jesus, all for You. Amen.

Song:
To Be Like Jesus
Traditional

To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus,
All I ask is to be like Him.
All through life’s journey
From earth to glory,
All I ask is to be like Him

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved