January 31, 2018: “Following”

Following

Perhaps the Twelve had never thought about the consequences of not following Jesus.
Now they considered it. Walking along with Jesus involved long periods of silence during which the Twelve thought deeply about what Jesus had just said. These things were mysteries beyond their ability to explain, riddles they could not solve. Each of them had heard the same call the rich young ruler had heard—“Follow me!” They had abandoned fishing businesses, tax rolls and other means of security for life to follow Jesus into a future none of them could imagine. They had just seen a man refuse to follow. They had heard solemn and violent warnings against things that would hinder them in following Jesus. Lose a hand or an eye but do not lose the call! Heaven awaits those who follow and hell those who are hindered.

Remembering the Abandoned
In this silence, perhaps they each remembered what they used to have before Jesus called them to follow Him. The four fisherman abandoned more than nets and boats; they left a life of security and useful purpose. Levi, also known as Matthew, left a shady but lucrative life in league with the governments, that of a tax collector free to skim his prosperity from the loosely kept records. Nine other untold stories are unknown to us but were the real histories of these men. As usual, Peter spoke what they all were thinking.

“See, we have left all and followed You.”

Kingdom Assumptions
From our distance of 2000 years, we must remember the revolutionary message of Jesus. These men had never known of a kingdom that did not involve riches for those who led it. There was no way for them to conceive of a kingdom that would be led by servants. Now Jesus was telling them not to expect riches or power but to live a life of poverty and servanthood. Perhaps if Jesus had challenged them the way He did the rich young ruler, they would have also turned away. But they hadn’t turned away. They had answered His call, leaving all behind to follow Him. He just needed to be reminded of their obedience.

Promises without Limits
Jesus loved these men and truly appreciated their love for Him, their sense of destiny, adventure and purpose. He knew what was coming and though He tried to warn them, He knew there was no way they could know what was ahead for them. He made certain promises to them that have remained in force for 20 centuries to all who answer His call.

  • Those who follow Him, leaving their comfortable lives to embark on His adventure and mission will be cared for. Leaving their families, they will find new ones, spiritual ones. Leaving their ancestral homes and traveling to the next place of service, they will be provided homes of safety and rest. There will also be persecutions.
  • In the age to come there will be mansions of glory and reunions of magnificent magnitude and no more pain or parting ever again.

Choose to serve now and you will reign then.

These promises are still in effect as Christians have proved in every generation. Without them the Gospel would be locked into one time and place. With them, the Jesus Story goes out to the whole world.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 28- 31
Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have heard and answered Your call. I can testify that though I left my natural family to follow You, You have blessed me with a multitude of friends and family. Though I left my hometown and state, You have given me traveling mercies without number and new environs in which to serve You with gladness and singleness of heart. You have been faithful to these promises. Your Word is true and following You is the only way to live! Thank You, Jesus!

Song:
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Traditon

1. I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

2. Though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

3. My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

4. The world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 30, 2018: “Riches”

Riches

Wealth and the Kingdom of God are vitally related. It is a mistake to say they are in opposition to each other.
The Bible makes it clear that it is the love of money that is a root that brings forth only evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) Money is an essential to this life we live. It is also a window into the soul of the one who has it in great quantities. For those who love the Kingdom of God more than money, their wealth is a source of blessing, of advancing the Kingdom. More than impressive totals, ministry accrues.

Defining Riches
A simple definition would be this: having much more than you need to get along. Those who exist from paycheck to paycheck may handle lots of money but they are not rich. Those whose lives are a constant stream of blessing to the needs of others may often nearly deplete their accounts in the process but they are rich in heaven’s eyes. So it isn’t so much an issue of numbers, but of the heart.

The Rich Young Ruler
After boasting of his faithfulness to the commandments, he walked away in shame when Jesus revealed what was lacking in his life. He had great possessions, or to put it more accurately, his possessions had him. He was not ready to sell everything and follow Jesus. Wishing to make the point clear, Jesus said:

“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”

This surprising statement caught the Twelve off guard. Like everyone else, they knew that money, not just gravity, made the world go round. Won’t the Kingdom need rich people? Jesus made a second attempt to explain. It was a matter of having riches or trusting in them.

“Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!

At that moment a string of camels took the right-of-way, lumbering along, interrupting the conversation. Jesus seized the moment.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Each of them tried to imagine such a ridiculous event. Their astonishment grew like they wished their riches would grow.

“Who then can be saved?”

A Different Kind of Kingdom
Now they were getting somewhere. Jesus was bringing a different kind of Kingdom to earth, one based on the love of God, not the power of men. Money is time. Money is power—we know the clichés because they are true—in the Kingdom of men. In the Kingdom of God, riches are a means to an end, not an end—a tool for the work of the Kingdom, not the work itself. God uses money like He uses our talents and skills, our very lives.

“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

What is unlikely with men is routine with God. What is impossible in the Kingdom of Men is possible in this strange new Kingdom of God. A person can possess great possessions without being possessed by them. A person can have riches without being had by them. The secret is the first and second commandments: Love God and love people! When these loves are greater than the love for riches, blessings flow through the believer to the betterment of the world.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 23-28
Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Matthew 6:19-21
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have promised that if I followed You, putting Your Kingdom first in my life, that my life’s needs would be met. You have proven faithful in this! Lord, when abundance comes my way, help be a blessing to others. Help me lay up treasures in heaven and not just here below. Lord, as I am faithful to You in my giving, flow through me to the healing of my world and beyond. Keep me from the love of riches. In Jesus’s Name. Amen.

Song:
Give of Your Best to the Master
Words: Howard B. Groce; Music: Claribel

1. Give of your best to the Master;
Give of the strength of your youth;
Throw your soul’s fresh, glowing ardor
Into the battle for truth.
Jesus has set the example,
Dauntless was He, young and brave;
Give Him your loyal devotion;
Give Him the best that you have.

Refrain:
Give of your best to the Master;
Give of the strength of your youth;
Clad in salvation’s full armor,
Join in the battle for truth.

2. Give of your best to the Master;
Give Him first place in your heart;
Give Him first place in your service;
Consecrate every part.
Give, and to you will be given;
God His beloved Son gave;
Gratefully seeking to serve Him,
Give Him the best that you have.

Refrain

3. Give of your best to the Master;
Naught else is worthy His love;
He gave Himself for your ransom,
Gave up His glory above.
Laid down His life without murmur,
You from sin’s ruin to save;
Give Him your heart’s adoration;
Give Him the best that you have.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 29, 2018: “Possessions”

Possessions

Possessions can deceive us. Sometimes when we think we have them, they have us.
A running man gets everyone’s attention. Full of the energy of youth and the optimism of opportunity, a man ran up to Jesus and knelt before him. With such a dramatic entrance, this scene was guaranteed to play before a crowd. Only slightly out of breath, the young man hurled his question at Jesus.

“Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

Jesus smiled down at the man, instantly understanding that this was not a question rooted in humility. It was based in pride, self-righteousness, and false spirituality. Jesus played the man’s game. After a question and statement about the goodness of God, He cataloged the commandments. With each one, the young man smiled beneath his bow, mentally checking off each one. That Jesus could really pick up a cue! When the checklist was complete, the man stood to his feet and straightened his back and reported the good news.

“Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

Jesus’ smile never left His face. Here before Him was what we would call a “good man.” He was a credit to his family and his religion. He either was or would someday make a good husband and father. He was a master of the externals. The Bible says Jesus looked at him and loved him. He loved him so much, he could not let the man rattle along in this life when the externals were so right and internals were so wrong.

“One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

The smile never left Jesus’ face but the young man’s smile disappeared quickly along with his self-confidence. He hadn’t bargained on this. Weren’t his great possessions signs of God’s approval? Why would it be necessary to divest himself these blessings? God had given them, why would God then require them back? It made no sense.

He felt like running away but he didn’t. He could sense the crowd he had gathered looking at him in wonder. He kept his bearing and turned, walking away with all his great possessions intact and a troubling new poverty in his spirit. Jesus did not try to stop him or reason with him. He let him go. The time for repentance had not arrived for the young man. The words of Jesus would never be far from his mind.

Possessions can deceive us. Sometimes when we think we have them, they have us.

Scriptures:
Mark 10:17-22
Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.'”And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, save me from the power of possessions to own me. Help me keep things in perspective. You have blessed me with possessions but I recognize that they are not really mine—they are Yours. Everything I have is Yours. I recognize You as the source of blessings. They have been given to me to please You with my management of them. Beginning with the tithe on my increase, all I have is potentially an offering to You. Help me hold to things with such a careful but loose grip that they never have an hold on me. In Your Name, Lord Jesus.

Song:
I’d Rather Have Jesus
Words: Rhea F. Miller; Music: George Beverly Shea

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

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

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 28, 2018: “Salt”

Salt


A life without seasoning is bland and unsatisfying. Jesus commands us to be salt to a tasteless world.

The stench of the trash heap faded as they continued their journey south. Soon, even as they conversed, they would arrive in Judea. With the improved atmosphere the subject shifted from warnings about a poorly lived life and its aftermath to the keys to living an enjoyable life. We must be salt in a bland world. In so doing we will be blessing to others, secure our marriages, and bless our children.

The Salty Life
Jesus said our personalities season our lives, making them pleasant for others to taste. A lack of salt in our lives blends us into the blur of godless living and we are best left alone.

“Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”

God has given each of us a distinct personality and it colors everything we say and do.

  • In a home full of love and encouragement, we develop that personality from the earliest age and as we do our parents smile when we smile and laugh when we laugh. Their hearts are stirred when we hurt and cry out. They are moved to action on our behalf.
  • In a different kind of home where parents are cruel or absent, the personality of the child is stunted and the “salt” does not develop its power to bless. There is no trust of others and life is lived in pain and selfishness.

Salt in Marriage
When two people with “salt”—properly developed inner lives—marry the results can be wonderful—a happy home and happy children. When a marriage includes one or both parties who are without “salt”—that is, self-centered and untrusting—the marriage is doomed to failure. When solace is sought by one or both parties outside the marriage, sin destroys the home. The children in such a home will continue the salt-less life into another generation.

Salt can be obtained.
If Jesus were merely pointing out a fact of life that is without remedy, His words would be of little interest to us. That was not and is not the case. Jesus came to change things! Inevitabilities are dismantled when we give our lives to Him! When He said, “Have salt in yourselves.” He was telling us that the way we are is not the way we have to be. We can change and we can be changed.

  • We can change by actions of our will—repentance, reversal, renewal, revival—we can decide we want something else than what we have always had. We can decide to follow Jesus and be someone we have never been before.
  • We can be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would later say, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” If it was true for Him, it is certainly true for us. The power of our personal decisions can only take us so far. The Holy Spirit resides within the believer to carry us across the finish line, to make the change complete, to conform us to the image of Christ, and to provide the salt in our personalities needed to make us a blessing to all.

Add some salt.
To become the “you” you were intended to be, to save your marriage, and to bless the next generation, let the Holy Spirit add some “salt” to your life.

Scriptures
Mark 9: 49-50; 10:1-16
“For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”
Chapter Ten
Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again. The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You create mankind male and female, each gender with a delightful salt all its own. Help me be the person You made me to be. Season my life with salt, with the uniqueness and distinct function You intended. This salt will flavor my worship of You. It will bless my impact on others, making me a blessing, starting and continuing in my home. Above all, I want to be a blessing to You, Lord, a pleasant servant of Yours. Give me the salt it takes for this, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Make Me a Blessing
Words: Ira B. Wilson; Music: George S. Schuler

1. Out in the highways and byways of life,
many are weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
making the sorrowing glad.

Refrain:
Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,
Out of my life May Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

2. Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;
Tell of His pow’r to forgive;
Others will trust Him if only you prove
true ev’ry moment you live.

Refrain

3. Give as ’twas given to you in your need;
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed;
Unto your mission be true.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 27, 2018: “Offences”

Offences

Public life ensures that some will join while others reject, some will please and others will offend.
Continuing their journey south, the child sought out Jesus and was happy to be carried by Him. Soon the silence of the disciples lifted and they brought a matter of some concern to the Master’s attention. They had witnessed someone not of their group operating in the power of Jesus’ name. They wanted Jesus to shut him done. Weren’t they the exclusive holders of such power and privilege?

Jesus knew the facts of public life. He rejoiced when men like the Twelve answered His call and He grieved when others turned away from Him, even after receiving a miracle from His Hands. The disciples had not learned this lesson as of yet. There was a deep and flexible truth to be seen in this case. Jesus decided not to restrict the man.

“For he who is not against us is on our side.”

This seems much too flexible to be true. Jesus admitted the uncertainty of it though such a man would be unlikely to turn out to be an enemy.

“Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name
can soon afterward speak evil of Me.”

At best people were unpredictable; today’s behavior may not prophesy tomorrow’s attitudes and deeds. He instructed them to receive good deeds done to them in His name as blessings for which to be thankful. The perpetrator of such deeds will not lose his reward.

A Glimpse of Hell.
An unpleasant order drifted toward them from the road ahead—a garbage heap on fire. Ignoring this unpleasantness and covering the child’s nose, He told His men to be protective of the young and innocent. Severe punishment awaits those who harm them. He warned them to live a life of introspection, watching out for attitudes and deeds that would cause them to sin. It is better to live a restricted life even one as severe as that of a person with impaired senses or abilities if these things drag us into sin.

The child in His arms pulled His protecting hand away, laughing.  He went on, smiling with the child.

These temporary losses will win for them an eternal life of blessing. Inattention to the evil potential of the hands and feet or the ever-present temptation offered to the eyes can lead to eternal death and the horrors of hell where the

“…worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

At that moment the travelers passed a garbage dump some distance away. The sight of the never quenched fire and the unending decay reminded them of Gehenna, a similar dump south of Jerusalem. Its name came to be used for all such places. It is also a reference to hell. As they covered their noses, they thought that missing a hand or an eye or a foot was a small price to pay to avoid such a place.

The child in Jesus arms seemed oblivious to the smell and the spiritual danger of the lesson. He/she enjoyed the touch and the attention of the Master and that was enough. Some among the Twelve longed to live a life just like that.

Scriptures:
Mark:9:38-48
Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched — where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched — where’ Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire —where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me to love the way You love! You are not threatened by people. When someone not of my group operates in Your name and power, Help me to not be offended. Help me accept them as friends and not opponents. Help me honor those who speak well of You as Savior and King who may not agree with me on every point. Lord, help me to hold the children in my heart, the way You did. Help me never to offend them but to love and encourage them! There is always something I can learn from them that pleases You! For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Traditional

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 26, 2018: “Greatest”

Greatest

Sometimes it seems all of life is a contest to determine who or what is the Greatest.
Jesus passed through Galilee in secret on His way to Capernaum. He explained this clandestine approach to the Twelve: a plot was forming against Him led by someone who wanted to betray Him. He told them the time would come for this but it was not then and not there. The men could not understand this at all. A dispute rose up among them concerning what Jesus meant. He assured them that when it eventually did happen that it would not be the end. He would rise on the third day.

Jesus in the Lead
Jesus walked ahead of the group, leading the way south. A group in the rear, safely out of earshot from Jesus, shifted the topic to a more pleasant one—who among them would be the greatest and take the lead in the new Kingdom. Knowing this, Jesus brought the subject out into the open.

“What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?”

It was useless to answer Him so they didn’t. Jesus stopped and found a place to sit by the road. Sheepishly the men gathered around for another lesson in leadership.

“If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

No long lecture. No puzzling parables. Just one simple hypothesis with no elaborate proofs offered in evidence.

A New Kingdom
The Kingdom of Heaven would be the direct opposite of the Kingdoms of men. Instead of leaders having servants, servants will lead! Power, which so often corrupts, will be seen as responsibility, which often leads to integrity. Humility will replace pride as the ruling sentiment. How could He illustrate this fundamental for them?

At that moment a family with children walked by the roadside classroom. Politely, Jesus asked the parents of a small child if He could hold the child. Perhaps they knew who He was, but at least they sensed He could be trusted.

Quickly, Jesus made a friend of the child bringing joy into all those who witnessed this object lesson. He looked at the crowd and with a big smile said this.

“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me;
and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Childlike faith will be the standard of the Kingdom to come. The least will be the greatest and the greatest will be the smiling servants of all. What a glorious Kingdom it will be!

He lifted the child and handed him/her back to the parents. They thanked Him as if He had blessed them with a valuable gift. Indeed, He had! The family went on their way as did Jesus and the Twelve. This time there was no dispute, in fact, no conversation at all. Nothing needed to be said but everything that had been said required deep thought.

Scriptures:
Mark 9:30-37
Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him. Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the greatest of all! Help me know that to strive to be the greatest in Your Kingdom is the opposite of my natural instincts. To be first with You is to take the lowest place. To lead is to serve. Help me welcome responsibility while I shun power. Lord, make me to become like You. You emptied Yourself of heavenly majesty to become a person of low estate. Help me have that same mind in me. All for Your glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
The Greatest Thing in All My Life
Words and Music: Mark Pendegrass

1. The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
I want to know You more
I want to know You more
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You

2. The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
I want to love You more
I want to love You more
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You

3. The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
I want to serve You more
I want to serve You more
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 25, 2018: “Believe!”

Believe!

Jesus said a remarkable thing—all things are possible to him who believes!
A mixed crowd gathered around the disciples. Many people believed in Jesus but the religious officials—scribes, experts in the Law—did not believe. In fact they disputed all the evidence in front of them. Perhaps they were hiding something.

A Desperate Father
When some in the crowd saw Jesus approaching they ran to meet Him, greeting Him warmly, much to the displeasure of the scribes. Jesus looked at the scribes:

“What are you discussing with them?”

Perhaps He was ready for the Twelve to go it alone with the enemy. Someone in the crowd answered, the man at the center of the dispute. He told Jesus that he had brought his son to be healed and delivered from satanic possession. The last thing the scribes needed was demonstration of the power of Jesus in their presence.

It was an extreme case. The boy was mute. The spirit within him was known to seize him and throw him to the ground foaming at the mouth, his teeth gnashing as his body grew rigid. We can only imagine the hell this was for this home. First, the boy’s father had taken his son to the disciples who were said to share in the power of Jesus but they were of no help. The scribes had seized upon this as evidence that Jesus and the Twelve had no real power at all.

Bring him to Me.
Jesus expressed His disappointment at the failure of the disciples and the faithlessness of the whole generation. It seemed He could command demons and diseases but not people’s hearts.

“Bring him to Me.”

When the boy approached Jesus, the spirit within him convulsed, throwing the boy to the ground where he wallowed foam glistening at his lips. A sense of evil spread through the crowd like a deadly mist. Had Jesus, like the Twelve, met His match?

“How long has this been happening to him?”

The father’s answer was discouraging. Since childhood this happened regularly and he had even been cast into fires and deep waters. The man refused discouragement.

“…if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus answered him this way,

“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

The boy’s father’s answer has become the text of many sermons,

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

That was all Jesus needed. He commanded the demon to depart and it did with a cry, convulsing the boy one last time. The boy collapsed as if dead. Jesus took his hand and he rose up healed and delivered.

This Kind
Later when the disciples got of the nerve to ask why Jesus had succeeded when they had failed, he told them.

“This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

Hell has no defense against those who pray and fast and believe!

Scriptures:
Mark 9:14-29
And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. And He asked the scribes, “What are you discussing with them?” Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.” He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have all power. Help me to believe. Where unbelief lingers in my heart, root it out. I need to move in the realm of Your almightiness so help my unbelief. I will take Your holy name as a shield and Your holy Word a mighty sword. When temptation comes my way help me resist in Your Power. When hell opposes the work You have given me to do, I will call on Your name and proceed. Lord, I believe! Amen.

Song:
Only Believe
Traditional

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 24, 2018: “Glimpse”

Glimpse

Glory—the full weight of the magnificence of God—is so powerful, just a glimpse of it will change a life.
Jesus sensed in His spirit that the Father wanted to take the disciples deeper. He told the men that some of them would not taste death until they had seen the Kingdom of God coming in power. Six days later, it began to happen for three of them.

Every day with Jesus was unpredictable. It was at once the greatest adventure of their lives and the greatest mystery they could imagine. Jesus’ words about some of them living to see the Kingdom come were thrilling and frightening all at once. Would this be the day? This question rose in their minds with every sunrise.

Transfiguration
Shortly after one of these hopeful sunrises, Jesus selected Peter, James and John to go with Him up a high mountain. It was His practice to pray in such places, so it is likely that the three men thought this was the purpose of the climb. To their profound surprise there was another purpose—a revelation of the Glory of the Man they were following.

In the clear morning sunlight a greater light appeared, not from the sky but from Jesus Himself. His clothes glowed white, whiter than any white the men had ever seen. The light emanated from Jesus and soon lit the whole mountaintop with beams of glory. Out of the beams of light stepped two figures, similarly clothed in garments made white but of lesser magnitude than the robes Jesus wore. Without being told, Peter, James, and John knew who these two men were:

  • Elijah, representing the prophets of old, and,
  • Moses, representing the Covenantal Law of God.

These two beings of light were alive and well and were deep in conversation with Jesus. They were talking like old friends at a reunion.

Tabernacles
Fear seized Peter, James, and John. The language the other three were speaking was unknown to them but the holiness of the meeting was clearly understood. They could add nothing to the communion enjoyed by Jesus, Moses, and Elijah but each of the disciples wanted to join in somehow. Eventually Peter timidly offered a suggestion—they should memorize this moment with booths to each of these heavenly figures.

The Voice
As if in response to Peter’s idea, a voice like thunder sounded in a language they could not misunderstand,

“This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

They fell face forward to the ground—the shining light, the three mystical beings, and the booming voice—were all too much for them. In the silence that followed, each regained the courage to open his eyes and regain his feet. The light was gone. The voice that echoed from the hills  sounded no more. Only Jesus stood before them. He took them back down the mountain commanding them to keep the glory they had experienced to themselves for now. When He rose from the dead, they would understand.

A Question
One of them ask what was meant when the Scriptures said that Elijah must come before the Messiah. Jesus made it clear that John the Baptizer came in the power of Elijah, fulfilling his ministry.

A Glimpse of Glory
The three of the Twelve who witnessed the Transfiguration did indeed see the Glory of the Lord Jesus before their deaths. This glimpse of Glory was a foretaste of their witness to the resurrected Christ and, for John, to his witness of heaven recording in the Revelation. We are invited to behold His glory in worship and we do we also, are changed!

Scriptures:
Mark 9: 1-13
And He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid. And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves. Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant. And they asked Him, saying, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Then He answered and told them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him.”
2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me a new vision of Your glory. Reveal Your glory to me at my private altar and in my public worship. Let me see as Isaiah did the majesty of Your Throne. May the revelation of Your glory shake the foundations of my life as worship did the doorpost of heaven in Isaiah’s vision. Take a coal of fire from the altar before You and touch me lips with it. Help me hear the Father’s voice—“This is my beloved Son!” Let me hear Your voice, “Who will go for me?” I will go. I am going!–in the power of the revelation of who You are now, resurrected, enthroned in Heaven and in my heart, and soon to return. O, the Glory of Your Presence! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Oh, the Glory of Your Presence
Words and Music: Steve Frye

Refrain:
O, the glory of Your presence.
We, Your Temple, give You reverence.
Come and rise to Your rest and be blest by our praise
As we glory in Your embrace.
As Your presence now fills this place.

Verse:
Jesus, all glorious, create in us a Temple
Called as living stones where You’re enthroned.
As You rose from death in power
So rise within our worship.
Rise upon our praise
And let the hand that saw You raised
Clothe us in Your glory,
Draw us by Your grace.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 23, 2018: “Denial”

Denial

Just as we are called to confess Christ, we are also called to deny ourselves to follow Him.
The crowds were huge. The miracles were many. His fame had spread beyond Galilee to Jerusalem. Pilgrims seeking God were coming to Galilee rather than traveling to the Temple. When they came to Jesus they saw the power of God at work, undeniable miracles, signs, and wonders. In Jerusalem they saw politics as usual dressed in the finery of hypocrisy. They were tired of mumbling rabbis so they came to Jesus to hear the Word of God proclaimed in power and authority.

A Change of Subject
Jesus knew it was time to take His teaching deeper. Yes, He had come to touch and heal a hurting humanity but He had also come to die a redeeming death. Yes, He was the Word of God made flesh, but He was also the Sin Bearer prophesied by Isaiah. This hard message must be delivered. If not, His death would be seen as tragedy rather than triumph.

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…

His disciples were not ready for this class. Peter took Jesus aside and tried to get Him back on topic. Jesus’ rebuke was sharp:

“Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Peter’s face burned red and none of the others dared even to look at him for they knew they were just as guilty.

The Things of God
It is not surprising that men would be primarily concerned about “the things of men:” food, clothing, shelter, power, position, wealth, influence. The surprising thing was that their eyes could be elevated to a higher vision, their passions could flow to others and not to self only, their minds could conceive of eternal truth, not just matters of the here and now. Yet, this surprising transformation in men was precisely what Jesus had come to bring about. He called all the people nearer, including his embarrassed disciples, and taught them this new and very ancient truth. To follow Him, there would be a heavy cost.

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

Jesus turned life upside down. Personal success was found in self-denial. To lose one’s life in Jesus was to find it. If someone gained the whole world there would be no profit in it if he lost his own soul in the process.

Crosses
For the first time Jesus spoke of His cross. An implement of death, it provides eternal life for all who believe. He spoke of other crosses, one for each person who could follow Him. Although demanding the denial of self, this cross would be a thing of life—a life’s work we do for Him. If we would follow Him, we must deny ourselves, find our cross—God’s will for us—and do it.

This is the life we were created to live. We dare not bargain it away on “the things of men.”

“…what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Scriptures:
Mark 8:31-38
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for taking up Your cross, for denying Your humanity and submitting to the plan of the Father for Your earthly life. It was not plan B. It was so for the beginning, that You would create human life, see it fall into sin, and then enter it through the virgin’s womb, live it to perfection and then die unworthily for those of us so worthy of death. Your cross, an instrument of torture, has become an implement of life. Help me today to be faithful in bearing my cross—Your plan for me—that I might bring someone closer to You. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Take Up Thy Cross and Follow Me
Words and Music: Alfred H. Ackley

1. I walked one day along a country road,
And there a stranger journeyed too,
Bent low beneath the burden of His load:
It was a cross, a cross I knew.

Refrain:
“Take up thy cross and follow Me,”
I hear the blessed Savior call;
How can I make a lesser sacrifice,
When Jesus gave His all?

2. I cried, “Lord Jesus,” and He spoke my name;
I saw His hands all bruised and torn;
I stooped to kiss away the marks of shame,
The shame for me that He had borne.

Refrain

3. “Oh, let me bear Thy cross, dear Lord,” I cried,
And, lo, a cross for me appeared,
The one, forgotten, I had cast aside,
The one, so long, that I had feared.

Refrain

4. My cross I’ll carry till the crown appears—
The way I journey soon will end—
Where God Himself shall wipe away all tears,
And friend hold fellowship with friend.
Refrain

<em>Semper Reformanda!</em>
<em>Stephen Phifer</em>
</div>
<em> © 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved</em>

January 22, 2018: “Confession”

Confession

Words have power. When they are spoken that power is called into action.
Jesus grew up confessing the psalms. It was part of the training of every boy in Nazareth. Since He was—Jesus!—we can be sure that He had a deeper understanding than others of these normal processes. The Holy Spirit inside of Him told Him things, gave Him a perspective on normal events and practices that others could not see. Thus, when as a young man, He began this teaching and miracle tour of the regions around Galilee, He had lots to say, many observations to share and many parables and metaphors to employ. Among these was the power of confession.

Jesus knew that beliefs privately held possessed an innate power and when those beliefs were publicly spoken, that innate power externalized; it entered into life itself. The crowds coming to Him were enormous and they did not depart from Him disappointed. He knew there would be many theories as to who He was. If the general confession was that He was Messiah, it could bring about the end too soon. Perhaps for this reason He implored those who benefitted from His healing, delivering touch to remain quiet about it. It was a hopeless cause, of course. Who, once blind but now seeing, could not confess it? What deaf person now hearing, lame person now walking, dead person now alive, could refrain from telling people about Jesus? What sane person, once possessed by emissaries from hell, now clothed and in his right mind could keep from telling people how it happened as by whose hand?

Bethsaida
So they came to a fishing village called Bethsaida. A blind man was led to Jesus by friends. He and his friends begged Jesus to touch him. Jesus did some strange things:

  • He took the man by the hand and led him out of town.
  • He spat in the man’s eyes and laid His hands on him.
  • He interviewed the man. He asked if he could see anything.

“I see men like trees, walking.”

The job wasn’t finished. The man’s true confession revealed that there was more healing needed. Jesus touched his eyes again and made the man look up, beyond the level of men or trees. The blind man’s vision was completely restored. Then Jesus sent him home, commanding him not to confess his miracle to the town. He left the outskirts of the village and made his way unassisted home avoiding the townspeople.

Caesarea Philippi
By foot Jesus and the Twelve went north to Caesarea Philippi on the slopes of Mount Hermon, the northernmost point of Jesus’ ministry. On the road, Jesus asked His disciples about the various confessions of His identity. As they discussed various ideas expressed by the wondering crowds, Jesus asked them personally who they were confessing Him to be. Peter’s answer continues to ring all these centuries later.

“You are the Christ.”

It was too soon for this explosive confession, so Jesus asked them to keep this to themselves for a little while.

Confessing Christ
It is great to believe in Jesus, but we must confess Him publicly. When we do this with repentance, we become a follower of Him. When we do this every day we are a witness to Him. The innate power of our believe goes out into the world with our confession and someone’s life gets changed.

Scriptures
Mark 8:22-30
Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.” Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?” So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.

Prayer:
Confession of Faith

The Apostles’ Creed
From the Book of Common Payer
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Song:
Because We Believe
Words and Music: Don Moen

1. We believe in God the Father.
We believe in Christ the Son.
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
We are the Church and we stand as one.

2. We believe in the Holy Bible.
We believe in the virgin birth.
We believe in the resurrection
That Christ one day will return to earth

Refrain:
Holy, holy, holy is our God!
Worthy, worthy, worthy is our King!
All glory and honor are His to receive.
To Jesus we sing because we believe.

3. We believe in the blood of Jesus.
We believe in eternal life.
We believe in His love that frees us
To become the bride of Christ.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved