January 21 “Hard-hearted”

Hard-hearted

Following Jesus was many things—exciting, amazing, fun, even—but easy it was not.
The Twelve were normal people following an extraordinary man. They were physical and emotional and Jesus was spiritual. Beyond all the miracles, Jesus wanted to teach them higher truths and deeper concepts. This was long before Calvary, so their hearts were not made new. It was years before Pentecost so they did not have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within them. Like the disciples that night in the middle of the lake, Jesus was paddling against a strong wind.

Back across the Galilee
After another miraculous meal, Jesus and the disciples boarded the boat and headed across the water again. Whichever disciple was assigned to take provisions failed in his mission and they had no bread to eat on the boat. It must be that the dispersed crowd claimed the seven baskets of leftovers but the fact remained they were in a boat with nothing to eat.

The Leaven of the Pharisees
Unconcerned with provisions, Jesus wanted to take the men deeper into the truths before them. Bread was a metaphor as was the ingredient in bread that made it rise in the baking process. Jesus wanted His men to see that there was a corrupting factor beneath the behavior of the Pharisees.

“Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

With empty faces the disciples looked at each other. They didn’t get it. They thought He was complaining that they had nothing to eat on board. You can hear the frustration in Jesus’ response.

“Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?
And do you not remember?

He shook His head and started over.

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”

They knew this answer and the next one about the four thousand. They still didn’t get it

“How is it you do not understand?”

Us, too.
Before we come down too hard on these hard-hearted disciples, we need to take a look at our own hearts. We can be just as hard-headed and heart-hearted as the Twelve. How soon do we forget the faithfulness of God yesterday and begin to doubt His promises today? Truly we are without excuse. We are living under the New Covenant! Our sins were washed away when we repented of them and asked Jesus to be our Lord. The Disciples would not experience this until the resurrection. We have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within us to teach us and empower us. They would not experience this until the Day of Pentecost. When our hearts are hard, we are without excuse. If we keep having to learn the same lesson over and over, perhaps we should ask the Lord to soften our hearts.

Scriptures:
Mark 8: 13-21
And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart. still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, soften my heart! Give me a teachable spirit. Help me remember Your faithfulness in the past as I face the challenges of this day. Help me hear what the Spirit is saying to me. Train me thoroughly in Your Word by principle and directive. Help me act in faith upon this base of knowledge in the questions I must answer today. Holy Spirit, cleanse my heart. Empower my life so that I might walk the Path of Life in Victory! Amen and amen.

Song:
Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated
Words: Frances Ridley Havergal; Music: Henri A. C. Milan

1. Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in endless praise,
let them flow in endless praise.

2. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

3. Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

4. Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

5. Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.

6. Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 20 “Signs”

Signs

What is it about people who witness the hand of God at work right in front of them who still ask for a sign?
For three days the multitude followed Jesus. They were so fascinated with Him they forgot about eating. So many of them, or their friends, were so desperate for His touch they paid no attention to the passing of time or their distance from home. Their portable supplies were long gone but they seem to have had no desire to break off their pursuit of Jesus. They had heard about the 5000 men and their miraculous meal at the hands of Jesus. Why go home? It could happen again.

4000 This Time
When Jesus expressed compassion for the people, His disciples seemed to have forgotten about the feeding of the 5000+.

“How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”

Jesus must have sighed at this question. So he started the who process over again.

“How many loaves do you have?”

“Seven,” was the bleak answer. Jesus commanded the preparations, again. He took the bread and fish in His hands, again. He blessed it, again. He gave it to the men and they in turn set it before the people. Again, the blest food supply would not deplete. It multiplied, again. They people got their wish and ate their fill. Jesus sent them away, healed, delivered, informed, inspired and with their bellies full for the journey home.

Back in the Boat

He sent them away, immediately got into the boat with His disciples,
and came to the region of Dalmanutha.

When they arrived the Rules People were waiting for them. They argued with Him and asked Him for a sign. Two miraculous meals to two vast multitudes, countless physical healings and emotional releases, and a host of previously possessed people now clothed in their right minds were not enough for the Rules People; they wanted a sign. What, beyond these amazing signs, could possibly serve these hard-hearted, hard-headed people?

When the mind is made up, signs don’t matter.
It is the same today. Signs of the validity of the Christian Life are everywhere:

  • Lives transformed when people repent of sins and confess Christ as Savior,
  • Sicknesses healed when the prayer of faith is prayed and anointing is made,
  • Powers of Hell broken in the Name of Jesus,
  • Wickedness in men’s hearts replaced by righteousness, and,
  • Communities transformed by Spirit-led revival.

And still people need a sign.

There is a sign—two pieces of wood in the shape of a cross—a sign that changes worlds and hearts. See this sign and know that God is loving. See this sign and know that God is just. See this sign and believe that there is hope for you.

Scriptures:
Mark 8:1-12
In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.” Then His disciples answered Him, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away, immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha. Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the only sign I need from You is the cross. It tells me everything I need to know. It shows me everything I need to see. It points me in the way, the only way, I should go. This symbol of guilt and execution is now more than a symbol; it is a means of forgiveness and pardon. I see my guilt in the cross and I see Your innocent blood flowing down to cover my guilt and wash it away. I see my victory in the power of the cross for there is no other power to save and deliver me. Thank You, Lord, for the one sign I need—The Cross! Amen.

Song:
The Old Rugged Cross
Words and Music: George Bennard

1. On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.

Refrain:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.

2. O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
has a wondrous attraction for me;
for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary.

Refrain

3. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.

Refrain

4. To that old rugged cross I will ever be true,
its shame and reproach gladly bear;
then he’ll call me some day to my home far away,
where his glory forever I’ll share.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 19 “Well-done”

Well-done

With Jesus there were no half-measures. When He did something, it was something well-done.
Jesus and His team journeyed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He sought refuge from the crowd in a private residence and it was one of the few things at which He failed. Somehow a Greek woman found Him there. We are not told if she had converted to Judaism or remained a pagan but she sought Jesus and found Him. Her daughter was demon possessed. Whatever this meant to a person of polytheistic beliefs, to her it was certain that an evil presence had invaded her home and captured her daughter. She must have heard of this man who had power over such evil. Her single mission was to find Jesus and bring the case of her daughter before Him.

A Social Barrier
She entered the house, found Jesus and fell at His feet. She told Him about her daughter and asked Jesus to cast the demon out. She knew she was crossing a societal barrier—Jews did not mix with Greeks. In this context, Jesus spoke within this prejudicial system although He knew that His Kingdom would eventually break such barriers.

“Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread
and throw it to the little dogs.”

She was not deterred by this rebuff. Prejudiced or not, this man had the power required to rescue the woman’s daughter. Again, speaking within the societal conventions, she persisted; her faith would not let her be turned away.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus was so impressed with her faith, He sent the demons away without ever leaving the house. This was an exorcism well-done even by remote control.

Making Mud
His ministry tour of Galilee led them to Decapolis where a man who was deaf and speechless was brought to Him, his friends begging Jesus to intervene. Jesus took the man aside to deal with him. Before He touched the man’s ears and tongue He spat on the ground and made mud. He spoke to the afflicted man, saying,

“Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

Immediately the man heard and spoke clearly. Jesus told them to keep this to themselves but of course they did not. Their astonishment would not permit silence. Their testimony is classic:

“He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

What was the purpose of making mud to perform this miracle? The action is not explained in the text. It can be seen as an act of incarnation, Heaven’s power flowed through earthly substance when touched by the divine. This partnership of the divine with the human is an amazing characteristic of ministry well-done. With Jesus there were no half-measures. When He did something, it was something well-done.

Scriptures:
Mark 7:24-37
From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden. For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed. Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee. Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You do all things well. When I turn to You, You always turn to me. When I call on You, You answer me. I can count on Your covenantal promises to me. You will never leave me or forsake me. Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. My life is in Your capable hands. You send Your angels to stand guard over my life today. You have hemmed me in behind and before and laid Your hand upon me. Yes Lord, You do all things well. Amen.

Song:
God Is So Good
Traditional

God is so good. God is so good.
God is so good, He’s so good to me.

God answers prayer. God answers prayer.
God answers prayer, He’s so good to me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

For more on Making Mud as a metaphor for ministry, read:

https://stevephifer.com/making-mud-a-metaphor-for-ministry/

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 18 “Hearts”

Hearts

While the physical heart remains unseen, the emotional heart cannot be hidden for long.
The news about Jesus reached south to Jerusalem. A squad of higher ranking Rules People came to Galilee to investigate Jesus. The Galileans were impressed. They saw the extravagant display of finery in their appearance, the regalia of power in the religious leaders and the army of servants it took to care for such important men. Jesus saw their hearts. There was no finery there, only rags of self-righteousness. Their hearts wore no robes of power; they were naked with ambition. The hearts of these men were not attended to by servants, they were themselves slaves to Satan.

What the Rules People Saw
It didn’t take long for the Rules People to catch the disciples in an infraction of their law—they were actually eating bread without washing their hands! Horror of horrors! Such wickedness!

“Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders,
but eat bread with unwashed hands?”

Jesus did not take the bait. He cut straight, shall we say, to the heart of the matter. These hypocritical power people were not concerned with health and safety—their concern was power. They were of the ruling class and their rules kept them in power over the ordinary people. They were not happy about a new level of health in the community because so many people had been healed. They were not impressed that the power of evil had been dealt a heavy blow and there suddenly was a shortage of demons in people. They were upset that here were men they could not control. Jesus and the twelves threatened their power structure.

He called them Out.
He quoted the prophet Isaiah speaking for God Himself:

‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.”

He accused them of setting aside the commands of God and replacing them with their own rules. Their hearts were far from God—their actions proved it. In detail He pointed out their guilt. Far from unwashed hands holding bread, their tainted hearts spoiled everything they did “in the name of God.”

He called the multitude together and publicly shamed the Rules People. He explained the truth to everyone. Wickedness is in us all. It is folly to blame it on some outside force. What comes out of the heart defiles us!

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Later, in a nearby Home.
Away from the crowd Jesus explained things more deeply to the disciples. The truth was illustrated in the normal process of eating food. But when the evil that is in the heart erupts to the surface it is clearly seen by all. What lies hidden in the heart? He gave them a terrifying list beginning with evil thoughts and finishing with crimes, pride, and foolishness.

Do we have ears to hear? Unlike that Galilean crowd, we live in a day when the evil abiding in our hearts can be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. We are on the right side of Calvary. When we give our hearts to Jesus, He moves in to take up residence. The evil has to go. And it does! From our newly repaired hearts come praise and obedience and blessing to others.

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Scriptures:
Mark 7:1-10:1
Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. ‘For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men — the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban” — ‘ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You know my heart! You live their because I have repented of my sins and asked You to move in. Keep my heart clean, Lord. Let no wicked thoughts abide there. Let no selfish ambition take root. Give me a heart for You and for the people I meet today. Holy Spirit, fill my heart with the Word of God so that I might not sin against God. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and the deeds of my life be acceptable in Your sight O Lord, my Redeemer! Amen.

Song:
Search Me, O God
Words: J. Edwin Orr; Music: Maori Melody

1. Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

2. I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

3. Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

4. O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 17 “Winds”

Winds

Jesus commanded the winds and they obeyed. The hearts of men were a different matter.
That boat really came in handy. At Jesus’ command, the disciples took the boat toward another town on the other side, Bethsaida. Then Jesus sent the multitude away—happy I’m sure. When all the good-byes were finished, Jesus climbed a nearby mountain to be alone with the Father to pray.

Along about evening, the disciples were still only half way across the lake because the winds were against them. He saw His men struggling against the wind and the heavy seas. This went on for several hours. In the middle of the night, Jesus went to help them—walking on the tumultuous waters. The waves never shook Him. The winds never disturbed His balance. It was like a pleasant walk on the beach rather than on the surface of a raging sea.

Frightened Sailors
After hours of rowing against the wind and getting nowhere the exhausted disciples were losing all the faith they had gained on the ministry tour. It seems yesterday’s victories did little for the crisis that night. Some of them were rowing, others were bailing out the onboard water, while others were draped over the side losing what was left of the loaves and the fishes. All they needed was a ghost walking up to them on the top of the unforgiving waves. That was what they thought Jesus was—a ghost! Fear of more than a capsized boat now added to their misery. Sensing their fear, Jesus called to them:

“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

When they helped Him into the boat, the winds calmed down to normal. In a little while, the waves followed suit.

Hard Hearts
The men looked at Jesus as if they were seeing Him for the first time. Who was He? How did He do these things? Why had He chosen them? Sheepish looks passed from man to man while no one wanted to look Jesus in the eyes. When each of them worked up the nerve to look at Him, Jesus was smiling. He knew their hearts had a long way to go. He knew that one day the Holy Spirit would reside in their hearts as He did in His own. He knew that the inward ministry of the Spirit, not the outward work of the ministry, was the change agent. Power over demons and sickness, even food multiplying in their hands, did not prepare them for the storm. Their time was coming and coming soon, but first must come the cross.

The Land of Gennesaret
By sunrise they landed in the land of Gennesaret—so much for a night of rest—and the crowds were even bigger at the landing and the healing winds were blowing in force. Wherever they went in towns of all sizes people pressed Him seeking just to touch the hem of His garment.

“And as many as touched Him were made well.”

Scriptures:
Mark 6:45-56
Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is healing in Your touch. Help me to never forget the answers to yesterday’s prayers in the midst of today’s challenge. Every day Your promises are true. You will not leave me alone in the storm; You will come to me in my distress. If my heart has hardened in recent days, soften it, O Holy Spirit. Let the restoring winds of Your spirit brace my faith. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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

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

You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 16 “Filled”

Filled

Sometimes a careful accounting does not tell the whole story.
The six teams of two disciples each returned from their ministry tour full of exciting accounts of what they had seen God do through them. Jesus smiled at each story and at the joy the men He had chosen were experiencing. What more can a man ask of life? To see lives liberated, suffering suspended, and demons dispensed of at their command was an unexpected thrill. It was one thing to be called to be with Jesus; it was quite another to do the works He did.

Jesus could also see the toll such ministry had taken on the twelve. These were strong men in the prime of life, hardworking men who were used to long hours and the normal fatigue of labor. This exhaustion, however, was one they had never known. To minister the way they had was a drain on the complete human being, body, soul, and spirit. Jesus knew well what they were feeling. He also knew that in the days ahead there would be no letup in the needs before them.

A Deserted Place

“Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

The boat Jesus had ordered days before in this ministry in Galilee came in handy. They departed to find a restful, deserted spot along the shore. Their escape was unsuccessful. The multitude, growing all the time as people came from the surrounding towns, followed them. They must have figured out the destination for many of them ran to the deserted place and got there before Jesus and the disciples. The Master saw their desperation and had compassion on them. As He began to teach them, the weariness of His men grew deeper and the day grew older. With night approaching, the multitude would be cut off from provisions in this deserted place. The weary disciples asked Jesus to send the people away.

“…that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread;
for they have nothing to eat.”

His answer surprised them.

“You give them something to eat.”

One of them did the math of what it would take to feed the multitude. There was no way it could be done.

“How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”

The answer was even more discouraging:

“Five, and two fish.”

He told them to help the crowd get ready to eat. They organized the people into well-ordered rows. Every gesture in the proceedings was a promise the men knew they could not keep.

In His Hands
Jesus took the food in His hands—the same ones that healed sick bodies and man-handled demons—He looked to heaven. blessed the food and gave it to the twelve for distribution. As they broke the fish and the bread they saw it multiply in their hands not diminish. They hurried from person to person just to see the recurring miracle. Their former weariness was not even a memory now. Somehow everyone in the crowd ate his/her fill.

With their stomachs as full as their hearts, someone estimated the crowd at 5000 men and their families. There were even 12 baskets of food left over. There in that deserted place those who came to Jesus empty were filled.

Sometimes a careful accounting does not tell the whole story.

Scriptures:
Mark 6:30-44
Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.” But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?” But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.
Matthew 5:6 NKJV
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, sometimes I feel so empty! At other times I am so weary. You are the answer to each of these needs. Like that multitude, let me pursue You. Let me feast at Your table, consuming the words of life and drinking long and deep from the waters of life. I will be filled. I will not go away empty. I have Your promise that if I hunger and thirst after You and Your righteousness, I shall be filled. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Come and Dine
Words and Music: C.B. Widmeyer

1. Jesus has a table spread
Where the saints of God are fed,
He invites His chosen people, “Come and dine”;
With His manna He doth feed
And supplies our every need:
Oh, ’tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time!

Refrain:
“Come and dine,” the Master calleth, “Come and dine”;
You may feast at Jesus’ table all the time;
He Who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now,

2. “Come and dine.” The disciples came to land,
Thus obeying Christ’s command,
For the Master called unto them, “Come and dine”;
There they found their heart’s desire,
Bread and fish upon the fire;
Thus He satisfies the hungry every time.

Refrain

3. Soon the Lamb will take His bride
To be ever at His side,
All the host of heaven will assembled be;
Oh, ’twill be a glorious sight,
All the saints in spotless white;
And with Jesus they will feast eternally.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

“January 15 “Sent”

Sent

It is one thing to go. It is quite another to be sent.
Jesus knew deep in His heart that He was sent by God on a mission of redemption in the earth. In turn, Jesus sent others to share in His mission. The act of sending changed the lives of the ones who were sent. Their lives were divided by the call. Before the call their lives were their own; after the call, their lives were not their own—they were under a prior commitment. Before the call, their lives radiated the power of their personalities. After the call, another personality eclipsed their own—Jesus Himself moved in them, spoke through them, healed with their touch, and delivered with His authority sounding in their voices.

The Twelve
Jesus divided the twelve into six teams of two each. So there was an organizational plan. We are not given the rationale Jesus used in pairing up these men but we can be sure it made sense. Perhaps each team had a spokesman and a silent prayer partner. Whatever the plan was, Jesus knew how to put a team together. He still does!

He gave them power over unclean spirits. This means more than the exorcisms people would need. The powers of hell were focused on Jesus and His ministry. There was an ongoing spiritual warfare all around Jesus. Those in league with Satan, whether possessed by demons or merely evil people operating by their own sinful passions, were always set on edge by the presence of Jesus. When the six teams went out, they, too, would need power over all of hell’s devices and over the wickedness of powerful people whose petty little kingdoms were threatened by this Man from Galilee.

Traveling Light
Jesus shared His methodology with them—travel light. Have no concerns for what might happen. Trust God in every detail of life. The One who sends, always provides. Keep your traveling gear in order at all times. Stay with the people; join their households and families. You will be a blessing to them. But, when it is time to go, go! Someone in the next town must be similarly blest. If someone turns you away, that is their problem not yours. God will deal with them. From His instructions, the phrase, “shake the dust off your feet,” entered the languages of civilization. The rejecters will have to get in line with the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah to receive their reward.

Now He could do no mighty work there…because of their unbelief …

The Tour
The six 2-man teams made their tour and the results were fantastic. They did the same works in Jesus’ name that He had done: preaching repentance, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Their successful tour got the attention of Herod, one of those evil people in un-knowing league with Satan.

John, “a Man Sent From God.”
Herod thought he had disposed of John the Baptist. He was tricked into giving His word to a sensuous woman who danced for Him. She demanded the head of John. She got it. When the paranoid king got word of all the healing going on, he thought John was back from the grave.  It was actually a reasonable conclusion. When a person has been sent by God, a little thing like death may not stop him!

And so it is with us. Jesus has called us out. He has sent us into this world to continue His work. In His name we have power over the enemy. In His name we can preach repentance and see the sick raised to new health. Our lives are not our own. We have been bought with a price and we have been sent.

It is one thing to go. It is quite another to be sent.

Scriptures:
Mark 6:7-29
And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff — no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts — but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics. Also He said to them, “In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place. And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them. Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known. And he said, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” Others said, “It is Elijah. And others said, “It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets.” But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!” For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!” Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my life is divided by the call You placed on my life. Now I am under orders—Your orders. You have sent me into this place to do these things. Thank You for not sending me here in my own power. You share Your power with me. You send me forth in Your powerful name. Help me be patient with those who oppose me for many do not realize they are fighting against You. Help be firm and uncompromising with opposition from evil spirits. They know what they are doing. Send Your angels to go before me and watch behind me for they too have been sent. For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Go Forth (Rise Up O Champions of God)
Words and Music: Mark Altrogge

1. Rise up, you champions of God.
Rise up, you royal nation.
Rise up, and bear His light abroad.
We’ll reach this generation.
We’ve got our marching orders.
We’ve got our marching orders.
Now is the time to carry them forth.

Refrain:
Go forth! Jesus loves them.
Go forth! Take the gospel.
Go forth! The time is now.
The harvest is ripening.
Go forth!

2. Feel now the burden of the Lord.
Feel how He longs to save them.
Feel now for those who never heard
About the Son He gave them.
We’ve got our marching orders.
We’ve got our marching orders.
Now is the time to carry them forth.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 14 “Unbelief”

Unbelief

Unbelief was an affliction more damaging to the soul than leprosy to the body.
It was more binding to the spirit than demon possession to the mind. Jesus could reverse the degeneration of disease with miraculous regeneration of tissue. With a word He could send demons away shrieking in terror. When he encountered unbelief, sicknesses remained and demons relaxed. His mighty words fell to the ground like spoiled fruit from a tree too late in the harvest. He walked this earth in the power of the Spirit but it was a divine power working through human agreement. Faith made all things possible. With unbelief impossibilities remained in power.

Two Sides of the Sea of Galilee
On one side of the sea, miracles abounded—lives were changed by His words and His touch. On the other side, after demonstrating His dominion over hell, the local leaders sent Him away. They saw no more miracles. Back on the faith side, miracles continued. The presence or the absence of faith was the difference—Jesus was the same.

Back to Nazareth
A delegation of “His own people” had made the crossing and tried in vain to get Him cease and desist. Surely the pain of this brought Him to the synagogue in His hometown. The details of this worship service are given in Luke’s gospel. Mark deals with the broad strokes of the story. He taught with unusual authority and the people were astonished. They could only see such behavior as pretentious and above His station in the community. As if by reflex, they tried to cut him down to the proper size.

“Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?”

“His own people” were offended by Him. They thought they knew Him but they were mistaken. They believed something that wasn’t true and this amounted to unbelief. We can hear the pain in Jesus’ voice.

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

There is much more to the story but we will leave that do Dr. Luke. The sad epitaph given by Mark is this:

Now He could do no mighty work there…because of their unbelief …

Traveling light, Jesus had few belongings so gathering them up took little time. On His way out of town a few people reached out to Him in faith and found in Him the healer they needed. On He went to preach His message to those who would believe.

Such a Strange Truth
It seems excessively strange that the God who can do absolutely anything would limit Himself to accomplish the things that require human beings to believe. Yet the words of Jesus affirm this fact time and again:

  • With faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains.
  • All things are possible to him who believes.
  • Impossible things for men are possible with God.
  • Without me you can do nothing.

This is a fact of life, a fact of faith. This is the secret behind the need for our prayers. With them we confess our agreement with God; we express our belief. Believing is health to our bones. Believing is safety to our lives. Believing sets the promises and power of God in motion.

Scriptures:
Mark 6: 1-6
Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.
Matthew 17:20-21 NKJV
I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.
Mark 9:23 NKJV
“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
Luke 18:27 NKJV
“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
John 15:5 NKJV
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

Prayer:
Lord, I believe in You! I believe in Your Word. I believe in Your Holy Covenant. I believe You hear and answer prayer. I believe that by Your stripes I am healed. I believe and my faith is bigger than a mustard seed so I will speak to the mountains in my path and watch You move them. I am a branch in You, the Vine, and I believe I will bear much fruit. With this confidence in You, I believe nothing is impossible when I am following You. Lord, I believe in You! Amen.

Song:
Have Faith in God
Traditional

Have faith in God.
Have faith in God.
Have faith in God for the answer,
Have faith in God.

God answers prayer.
God answers prayer.
God answers prayer in the morning,
Have faith in God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 13 “Jairus”

Jairus

Not all of the religious leaders were hostile to Jesus.
Jesus took the boat and crossed back over to the side opposite the country of the Gadarenes who had rejected Him. When he landed a crowd was waiting for Him. In the crowd was a leader of the local synagogue named Jairus. He had watched with great interest the ministry of Jesus in his town. The healings were undeniable. The displacement of demons was remarkable. The teachings of Jesus rang true in Jairus’ deep understanding of the scriptures concerning Messiah.

His interest in Jesus went deeper than events and theology. His 12 year old daughter was ill and at the point of death. Jesus was her last hope. Despite his lofty position in the community, Jairus was desperate for what Jesus could do. Before that huge crowd, he fell at His feet crying,

“My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her,
that she may be healed, and she will live.”

The people knew Jairus. He was no extremist; he was a careful man. His desperation and his faith in Jesus became the focus of the multitude as Jesus went with toward his home.

An Interruption
On the way, a woman who was wasting away from a 12 year blood disease somehow pressed through the crowd and touched the hem of the robe Jesus wore. At that moment, healing virtue flowed from Jesus into her frail form and she was healed. She had summoned the strength to brave the crowd, saying,

“If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

She did and she was! Jesus stopped, asking who had touched Him. The disciples rebuked such foolish question—the whole crowd was jostling Him! When the woman stepped up, she too fell at His feet and worshiped Him, confessing that she was the guilty one. Gently, lifting her to her feet Jesus replied,

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”

While he was speaking, word came that Jairus’ little girl had died. The man’s broken heart broke again and he collapsed at Jesus’ feet. Lifting Jairus to his feet Jesus said,

“Do not be afraid; only believe.”

When they arrived a Jairus’ house, the mourners were there making the noise of grief.

“Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.”

The mourners ridiculed Jesus so He put them out of the house. Taking Peter, James, and John with Him, Jesus entered the house. He bent over the little girl and breathed a command to her,

“Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

She did exactly that.

12 Years in the Making
12 years before this moment a little girl was born and a woman contracted a blood disease. Their stories were not at all connected until Jesus, rejected by one community, came to their town. Now forever their stories share a page in the Jesus Story.

Who can say what miracles are in the making for us? No one knows what tomorrow may bring. Some of us may suffer from long-term, debilitating circumstance. What we must see is this: Jesus is here among us! Let us call out to Him again and press through the circumstances around us. He has the touch we need.

Scriptures:
Mark 5:21-43
Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea. And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him. Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?” But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?'” And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I call out to You today and I know You will respond. You are with me in my home in Your healing power. In the marketplace, I will press through this moment, the crowds, the spiritual opposition, anything that comes between us! I will touch the hem of Your garment and Your healing virtue will flow to me this day. 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!

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

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 12 “Chains”

Chains

Sometimes chains aren’t strong enough.
Nothing could control the demon-possessed man in the country of the Gadarenes. He lived among the tombs for no place else could afford him rest. His torment spread from the host of demons inside to the whole village. Community efforts were made to silence him; nothing worked. He was bound with chains and they couldn’t hold him; he snapped them like threads. Iron shackles were useless; he broke them in pieces. His tormented cries echoed from the hills in daylight and haunted the long sleepless nights. He could not even take his own life although he tried cutting himself with stones.

Then Jesus Came
Without announcement or promotion, Jesus crossed to the Gadareneside of Galilee to continue His work there. Through a demonic haze the poor man saw Jesus coming across the sea. Somehow He knew that Jesus was not just any man. When the Lord stepped out of the boat, the demonized man met Him. e fell at Jesus’ feet, not with tormented cries of pain but with worship.

How could this be? The Bible says that demons believe and tremble, but the demons inside the man did not worship; this afflicted man worshiped. As far down as he had fallen, he still had something left of his spirit, that God-conscious part of him. Jesus spoke to the darkness inside the man:

“Come out of the man, unclean spirit!”

With a loud voice one of them cried out:

“What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”

Jesus was quick with a reply:

“What is your name?”

“My name is Legion; for we are many.”

The demons begged Jesus not to send them to hell. 2000 pigs were minding their own business, feeding in the nearby hills. At the request of the demons, Jesus sent the legion into the hapless hogs. Although they were ignorant beasts, they knew better than to host demon spirits. They went mad, rushed off a cliff and drowned themselves in the sea.

What do we do about this?
The herdsmen of the swine told the people of the town what had happened. There was nothing in their leadership manuals about what to do about something like this. They saw the man who was their biggest problem now clothed, quiet, and in his right mind. A quick meeting of the brightest of these pillars of the community was convened. Their solution was to ask Jesus to go away and not come back.

To conform to their wishes, Jesus got back into the boat. The delivered man started to climb in the boat with Him. Who could blame him? Jesus asked him to stay as His representative to the town that had just sent their Healer away.

“Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you,
and how He has had compassion on you.”

With those words Jesus returned to the other side of the lake. In the country of the Gadarenes sick folks were not healed. People in bondage were not delivered from their spiritual chains. Their days and nights were quieter now without the noise of the man who lived among the tombs but they had missed their time of God’s visitation. The chains of their unbelief were strong and binding.

Sometimes chains are strong enough.

Scriptures:
Mark 5: 1-20
Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” Then He asked him, “What is your name?” And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.” And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea. So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I marvel at the power of Your name, the glory of Your Presence. Help me seize the opportunities You afford me each day. There are chains in this life than seek to bind me; break them by Your power! You have defeated all my enemies! You have given me Your Holy Name as a weapon. I know demons tremble at the sound of it! Help me never to turn from You but always toward You. I will call out to You in my pain and You will always hear and deliver. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Jesus Breaks Every Fetter
Traditional

Jesus breaks every fetter.
Jesus breaks every fetter.
Jesus breaks every fetter.
And He sets me free.

I am now on the altar.
I am now on the altar.
I am now on the altar.
And He sets me free.

I will shout Hallelujah!
I will shout Hallelujah!
I will shout Hallelujah!
For He sets me free!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved