April 20 “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 were 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, to reveal to us the mysteries, and to 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 “Sowing”

Sowing

Imagine Jesus sitting on the beach, staring out to sea.
Was He tired? Discouraged? The Bible doesn’t tell us why He 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 in all manner of evil seed. Rich 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, proper 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 “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 the ones 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 my life a sign pointing others to Jesus. May 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 “Trees”

Trees

In several places in the Bible the life of a 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 “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 nation 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 this 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 allow 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 “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

April 14 “Lawful”

Lawful

Like the man with the withered hand, each of us is hampered in some way.
Our impairment may not be as obvious as a shrunken, malformed hand, but it is there nonetheless. Our close friends are kind not to mention it. Others may not see it all but we know that part of us that ought to work doesn’t.

Jesus and the Twelve went to worship at a local synagogue. The service order was just like in all the other meeting places in all the towns and villages they had visited. A worship leader would lead the worshipers in the chanting of the psalms chosen for the day. Extensive readings of Scripture would be performed by the best readers in the group. The Rabbi would comment on the readings before dismissing the meeting. Somewhere in this service, some Pharisees thrust an unfortunate man into the center of attention. One sleeve of his outer garment was full with a powerful arm inside functioning at full use and dexterity. The other sleeve, however, was empty. At first one would think the man had only one arm but then, on closer inspection, one could see the useless, shrunken arm, no bigger than that of a child. The last thing the man wanted was to have all eyes on him. His daily allotment of courage needed to ignore all the stares and whispered comments was strained by the unthinking Pharisees. Pushing him forward, they challenged Jesus:

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

Jesus looked into the eyes of the man and smiled, reassuring him that He would handle the matter. He looked into the eyes of the Pharisees, burning through to their withered souls and making them squirm.  Lawful?  They had no interest in what is lawful except to control people and retain power over them. He used the familiar analogy of a lost sheep fallen into a ditch. What would they do? Leave it there?

“Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?
Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

He told the man to stretch out his withered hand. The crowd took an audible breath as the hidden appendage was revealed, each one unconsciously, touched each of his arms in gratitude. As the man did his best to present his affliction to the Lord, something strange began to happen. The shortened arm began to lengthen. Bones started snapping. Beneath the surface of the skin, muscles grew right before their eyes. In a matter of seconds, the withered arm had grown to match the other one. Beaming, the man lifted both his hands to praise the Lord. The crowd joined him as Jesus and the Twelve smiled.

“Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.”

Stretch It Out!
Whatever has become withered in your life, stretch it out to the Lord Jesus! His command will restore it. His power will heal it. His love will make it useful again. This more than lawful–this is full of grace! You may ask, “How do I do this?” We offer to the Lord who we are and what we have—nothing more does He expect. When we present ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice, He responds. He breaks the world’s hold on us. The Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Jesus. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. There is no need to live with shrunken hopes and abilities. Like the man in the synagogue, stretch these things out to Jesus!

Scriptures:
Matthew 12:9-14
Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” — that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.
Romans 12:1-2
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You see my hidden weaknesses. I have no garments that can hide them from You. You long to relieve me of my pain, my inadequacies. Lord Jesus, at this moment, with this prayer, I stretch out ____________________to You! Make me whole, Lord Jesus, as You did that man in the synagogue that day. He did not come to You for healing. He had accepted his disability. But at Your command, he stretched forth his weakness and You made him strong. Touch me, today, Lord Jesus. I am reaching out to You. Amen and amen.

Song:
Reach Out and Touch the Lord
Traditional

Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.
You’ll find He’s not too busy to answer Your cry.
He’s passing by this moment your needs to supply.
Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 13 “Sabbath”

Sabbath

Knowing it would be grist for the mill of opposition, Jesus claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath.
It was about more than some hungry disciples; this claim was about staking out His rightful place as the Son of God. Jesus and the twelve passed through some grain fields on a Sabbath day. His men were hungry and the food was right there, so they each had a personal little harvest and ate some of the grain. The watching Pharisees saw their opportunity.

“Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”

Jesus knew more about the Sabbath than these experts in the Law. He knew that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. He reminded the legalists of times in the history of the nation when to stave off hunger holy men had violated the laws of the Sabbath to feed themselves.

“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

There was no response from the Pharisees. They had conveniently forgotten scripture stories that did not suit their purposes. Jesus went on;

“Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?”

There is no record of their response to Jesus so they probably had none. Jesus seized the moment to begin to try to tell them the meaning behind all the wonderful things He was doing right before their eyes. He was not just a gifted Rabbi. He was more even than a great prophet, teacher and healer. He was greater than all of those marvelous offices. He told them this:

“Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.”

He was not only visiting in the Temple—it was His Father’s House! The Temple was temporary but He was eternal. He was the Messenger of the New Covenant prophesied by Malachi. He asked them what they thought of mercy—was it also a part God’s plan for them? Had not the Lord said, mercy was more desirable to God than sacrifice? The Sabbath was about rest, merciful rest, not just about rituals and laws. Jesus told the people He was the Lord of the Sabbath!

The Sabbath Today
After the resurrection of Jesus on the first Day of the week, the church combined the seventh day of rest and worship with the first day of the week celebration of the Resurrection into what is now called the Lord’s Day. In this way Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Old Covenant Sabbath and the New Covenant of new life in Christ. Indeed, all things are fulfilled in Christ. The Lord’s day is both a day for the sacrifices of worship and the merciful act of preaching the Gospel to the world. It is also a day of rest! In our culture, based on Judeo-Christian principles, the weekend combination of rest and worship orders the rest of the week for us.

Scriptures:
Matthew 12:1-8
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 28:1-2
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
Acts 20:7-8
Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
1 Corinthians 16:2-3
On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for Your day! The Lord’s Day is the central organizing point of our schedules. Thank You for rest and thank You for helping us prioritize worship. Help me to always be faithful to gather with Your Church to worship You on Your day! This is Your calendar, so I will honor it. You are faithful to be enthroned upon and to inhabit the praises of Your people; help us be faithful to give You praise to be Your throne and Your holy habitation. All for Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
This Is the Day the Lord Has Made
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Thomas Augustine Arne

1. This is the day the Lord has made; He calls the hours His own;
Let heav’n rejoice, let earth be glad, And praise surround the throne.

2. Today he rose and left the dead, And Satan’s empire fell;
Today the saints His triumphs spread, And all His wonders tell.

3. Hosanna to th’anointed King, to David’s holy Son.
help us, O LORD, descend and bring salvation from Your throne.

4. Blest be the Lord, who comes to us with messages of grace;
who comes, in God His Father’s name, to save our sinful race.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 12 “Yoke”

Yoke

The words “yoke” and “rest” do not often appear together.
The surprising invitation of Jesus is this: “Take My yoke upon you and I will give you rest.” Usually yokes involve work, hard work that requires teams of workers bound together. When American pioneers moved west, they used 3 to 4 yokes of oxen to pull their Conestoga wagons. While one set worked, another set rested, only pulling their own weight across the plains, deserts, and mountains.

Jesus brings work and rest together.
This is one of the most amazing things about following Jesus—His burden is light and His yoke is easy. Just the other day, we were talking about the high cost of following Christ and it was all true. The outside forces of opposition are dangerous and we do serve the Lord at considerable human risk. The work of the Lord sometimes involves long hours or tedious work or even hard labor. So can it be, at the same time, easy and light?

The Easy Yoke
To follow Christ is to take up His yoke which He promises to be “easy” or literally, “useful.” In other words His yoke is easy because it works—it fits us perfectly, matching our gifts, skills, and interests. I love to conduct choirs, orchestras, and concert bands. I am trained to do this and it is an easy yoke for me to bear. When we find God’s will for our lives, we discover the easy yoke He designed for us. The other factor that makes the yoke easy even when the work is hard is the factor that the yoke-fellow relationship is a coupling, a joint venture. We do not pull the load in our own strength but in His strength, step by step along the way.

The Light Burden
Make no mistake, there are burdens to be born for the Christ-follower. The Lord often grants us the privilege of taking on heavy responsibilities in His Kingdom. Brothers and sisters in the faith depend on us to show up and follow through on these responsibilities. As we bear these burdens, they are made lighter because we have a power assist from the Holy Spirit. The Apostle tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” We do not serve at the limit of our human strength but with the power His might. We are encouraged to cast our burden upon the Lord to receive his sustaining strength. We learn that we can do more than we can do!

Rest for Your Souls
As we enter into this yoke-fellow relationship with the Lord Jesus, we will work hard and fulfill great responsibilities and our bodies will tire and require rest. We will also see a miracle. To do the work God has called and anointed us to do actually contains rest within the work! Rest for our souls—our inner person. There is rest within the work we do for God.

These are the mysteries revealed to those who would take up the yoke of Christ and bear His glorious burden. Jesus is saying, “Come do my work with me and you will find rest for your souls!”

Scriptures:
Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Ephesians 6:10-11
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Psalm 55:22
Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
Hebrews 4:9-11
There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest…

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have called me to work for and with You! I will labor to enter into that rest. As I answer that call every day, I feel Your strength beside me pulling the load. We are a team! The willingness is mine but the power is Yours. Help me keep my mind on the work and not any weariness I may encounter. In the traces with You, I am stronger than my strength, wiser than my wisdom, more sure-footed than my human sense of balance. Together, we will not stumble and the work will be done! Amen and amen.

Song:
Come unto Me
Words and Music: Charles P. Jones

1. Hear the blessed Savior calling the oppressed,
“Oh, ye heavy-laden, come to Me and rest;
Come, no longer tarry, I your load will bear,
Bring Me every burden, bring Me every care.”

Refrain:
Come unto Me, I will give you rest;
Take My yoke upon you, hear Me and be blest;
I am meek and lowly, come and trust My might;
Come, My yoke is easy, and My burden’s light.

2. Are you disappointed, wand’ring here and there,
Dragging chains of doubt and loaded down with care?
Do unholy feelings struggle in your breast?
Bring your case to Jesus—He will give you rest.

Refrain

3. Stumbling on the mountains dark with sin and shame,
Stumbling toward the pit of hell’s consuming flame;
By the pow’rs of sin deluded and oppressed,
Hear the tender Shepherd, “Come to Me and rest.”

Refrain

4. Have you by temptation often conquered been,
Has a sense of weakness brought distress within?
Christ will sanctify you, if you’ll claim His best;
In the Holy Spirit, He will give you rest.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 11 “Unrepentant”

Unrepentant

Is there anything more personally destructive than an unrepentant heart?
The answer is no. According to the dictionary to be unrepentant is “having or exhibiting no remorse.” Despite the knowledge of personal sins, the unrepentant heart feels no remorse and is busy planning the next wickedness. This heart holds on to grievances, clings to wickedness, revels in the memories of vengeance in the past, and searches for cruel advantage over others. No amount of preaching gets through to the unrepentant heart for it does not hear. Suspicion rules the mind; everyone is evil, all plans are schemes, all words are lies, and all laws are meant to be broken.

Jesus Pronounces Woe
“Woe” is a term no longer in popular use but it is the right word for the pronouncements of Jesus here. It means, “grievous distress, affliction, or trouble.” At first glance, we may see anger in Jesus’ words. If anger is there, there is also something else in greater measure—grief. Jesus speaks from a broken heart. He did not pass through these cities to bring them woe, but to bring them blessing. Jesus and His men had walked through the marketplaces of Chorazin, Bethasaida, and Capernaum. He had preached the Good News and performed healing miracles without number. Demons fled at the sound of His voice, leaving clean but exhausted souls in their wake. Many people repented of their sins and started new lives.

Times have not changed.
Today the unrepentant heart retains its destructive power. God gave man a conscience, an innate knowledge of right and wrong. When Adam and Eve sinned, humankind lost its innocence and began to violate this conscience. God gave the Law to make the matter clear and He raised up the priesthood to teach the people the difference between the holy and the profane. With a repentant heart, the Old Covenant worshiper could get forgiveness and a brand new start each year. Those who refused to repent continued to accumulate sin and eventually brought woe on themselves. When unrepentant souls gained enough power to corrupt the nation, God lifted His protective Covenant and enemies conquered them. The only solution was spiritual renewal—a call to repentance and a renewal of true Worship. This happened time and again.

Under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of his/her guilt and need for a Savior. The Spirit then points the guilty one to Jesus, the Sin Bearer. Repentance of sin and faith in Christ starts the repentant one on a brand new life, a life full of blessing not woe. We are now in the Marketplaces to tell the Jesus Story. Through He is calling for repentance. Many will not listen but some will.

Is there anything more life changing than a repentant heart? No.

Scriptures:
Matthew 11:20-24
Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
1 Timohty 4:1-3
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…
1 John 1:8-10
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
2 Corinthians 7:10
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

Prayers of Repentance:
From The Book of Common Prayer (adapted SRP)
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Almighty God has mercy on me. He forgives me all my sins through our Lord Jesus Christ. He strengthens me in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keeps me in eternal life. Amen.

Song:
Just As I am
Words: Charlotte Elliot; Music: William B. Bradbury

1. Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2. Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3. Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4. Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved