January 9 “Together”

Together

The Jesus Story is about being together, no longer isolated, but connected to God and to each other.
The crowds seeking Jesus’s touch grew so large it was no longer possible to get time and space for meals. “His own people,” evidently a delegation of relatives from Nazareth, came to get Him to stop this nonsense. This was no way for a carpenter’s son to behave. “He is out of his mind,” some concluded, while others suggested a more sinister theory: “He is empowered by Satan, Himself.” They must have thought they could restrain Him by force.

A Hometown, Family Meeting
Jesus called “His own people” to His side for a conference. He reasoned with them:

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand…

Perhaps this quieted them for a while; it did make sense. He was in the process of plundering “Satan‘s house,” his systematic program of confusing people, leading them away from God and then binding them in sin. Some went so far in this deception as to become hosts for demons themselves. Jesus was dismantling this demonic oppression in front of their eyes. How could He do this if He was in league with Beelzebub?

He warned of a great danger—Blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
At the heart of all of Satan’s plans was an assault on the character of God. It was nothing new; it began in the Garden of Eden. Satan lied to Eve calling God a liar. His words were not to be believed, let alone trusted.  To counter this lie, the constant theme of Old Covenant worship confessed this truth:

“The Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!”

To confess that God is evil is the opposite of worship; it is blasphemy—a profanity. Sin is never more destructive to one’s soul than this blasphemy.

“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”

The Good News!
We need to understand the unique role of the Holy Spirit. He draws the sinner to Christ. Without this conviction of the Spirit, the sinner never seeks forgiveness and is thus “subject to eternal condemnation.” The good news for each of us is this: If we feel a tug toward the Lord, the Spirit is still wooing us to Christ.

Mary and the Family
The retrieval committee played their highest card—His mother and family—surely at their appeal Jesus would drop this Messiah business and get back to His shop in Nazareth. At this moment Jesus added a new dimension to the word, “Together.” Who would be His family? Not just Mary and her children, but everyone who hears the words of Jesus and obeys them would be His holy family.

Scriptures:
Mark 3: 20-35
Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house. “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” — because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for calling me into Your Holy Family—the church! You and I are together! I am not alone in this world. I have fellowship with You and with those who are Yours! Help me always to honor the Holy Spirit Who draws me to You. You are good and Your mercy does endure even to this generation. You have not placed me in Your family for my comfort only, but to serve You joyfully. This I will do with all my might! Lord Jesus, all for You! Amen.

Song:
Day by Day
Words: Carolina Sandell; Music: Oscar Ahnfelt

1. Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best–
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

2. Ev’ry day the Lord Himself is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me,
He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

3. Help me then in eve’ry tribulation
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 8 “Power”

Power

Without purity, power consumes the one who holds it.
Nothing like this had ever happened before. There had always been sick folk but never a healer. Demons had plagued people since the beginning but never had there been a man with a greater power who defeated them. There had been teachers before, but such words of truth and authority had never echoed from these Galilean hills. The multitudes grew to unmanageable numbers.

New Strategies
The constant flow of divine power through the human frame of Jesus was exhausting. Some creative thinking was in order. There was always the beautiful Sea of Galilee; an escape route to provide Jesus some distance from the crowds. He told His men to find a boat and have it ready. The boat gave him space but it did nothing to stem the flow of the sick ones who called out for His touch. Using the voices of their hosts, demons screamed even at the approach of Jesus crying out—“You are the Son of God!”—even as the poor invaded ones lay helpless on the ground. Jesus delivered them of their possession and sent the devils away commanding them to keep their mouths shut. But the toll taken on the humanity of Jesus was great. New strategies were needed if the pressing needs of the pressing crowds were to be met.

  • This amazing power must be shared. Thus, New Wine required some New Wineskins.
  • Jesus called His closest followers to the top of a hill and chose 12 of them to share the work and the power.

Mark’s description is crucial to our understanding of the Call of Christ today:

Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons

The names of the 12 men Jesus chose would be remembered forever. He shared His power with them, His truth with them, and His compassion with them. Strangely enough, one of them was named Judas.

Called to be with Him
The call to ministry for Christ must be preceded by the call into fellowship with Christ. “To be with Him” is not a calling reserved for preachers; it is the call of Christ to each of us! If we are to step into this stricken world in His name, we must first answer the call to be with Him.

How do we do this?

  • Through consistent prayer and consumption of the Word of God,
  • Through the knowledge of the general and specific things He has called us to do,
  • Through consistent obedience to His call, and
  • Through vital connections to His church in worship, discipleship, fellowship and service.

In these ways Jesus shares His power with those who obey His call to be with Him.

Scriptures:
Mark 3: 7-19
But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him. So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him. For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him. And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known. And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. And they went into a house.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, it is beyond amazing that You have called me to be with You! I must order my life around this call. The power to touch others in Your name flows from Your nearness, even Your residence in me. The wisdom to walk this earth in peace is in the sound of Your voice in my heart. Help me preach Your word with the work of my hands and the holiness of my life and the gentleness of my manor. As I preach Your word, signs will follow! Hallelujah! Amen!

Song:
Close to Thee
Words: Fanny Crosby; Music:S. J. Vail

1. Thou my everlasting portion, more than friend or life to me,
all along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with thee.

Refrain:
Close to thee, close to thee, close to thee, close to thee,
all along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with thee.

2. Not for ease or worldly pleasure, nor for fame my prayer shall be;
gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with thee.

Refrain

3. Lead me through the vale of shadows, bear me o’er life’s fitful sea;
then the gate of life eternal may I enter, Lord, with thee.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 7 “Sabbath”

Sabbath

Though intended for rest and worship, men misuse the Sabbath for their own evil purposes.
On another Sabbath Jesus entered another synagogue to preach the Kingdom of God and to relieve the suffering of people who were sick or bound by demons. The Rules People had a unit there “to watch Him closely” to see if they could catch Him healing on the Sabbath (as if they could miss such a thing!) Jesus was up to their game and would prove more than a match for these small-minded Rules People.

Withered
In the crowd there was a man with one hand that was shrunken and useless. Jesus called him out and the man stepped forward. The Pharisees could not miss this! He challenged the opposition.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

They had no answer. Some of them knew they were in trouble but there was no stopping this contest now. Jesus was angry, the first record of this emotion for Him in Mark’s Gospel. These people had withered souls. They knew the rules but missed the point! The Sabbath was meant for the benefit of people, not for oppression! Jesus’ anger was based in grief. The hardness of their hearts broke His. Kindness overruled His anger and grief as He turned to the man, saying simply,

“Stretch out your hand.”

When the man obeyed, his withered hand began to inflate. Finger bones crackled and stretched to the proper length. He swiveled the hand back and forth; the stiff wrist was limber. He opened and closed the hand, fully able to grip anything he desired. The first thing he touched was his face, feeling for the first time with the hand that had never known feeling. It was warm, not cold as before. He clasped his two hands together. He had never done that before either! With the deepest smile he had ever known he extended both hands over his head. In the process he saw Jesus smiling, framed by his two matching hands. He lifted them higher in praise and thanksgiving!

Everyone laughed, everyone except the Rules People. The smartest of these were looking for an exit but most of them actually thought they had won the match! They had caught Jesus healing on the Sabbath. They had Him now! Indignation at this “travesty” propelled them out the door. They allied themselves the Herodians, Jewish leaders who sought to reform their religion through Greek and Roman thought—the more rules, the merrier.

The Sabbath Today
Each person has some part of life that is useless. It is numb and lifeless like the hand of the man in the synagogue. To worship God is to lift our withered souls up to Him. When something about us makes us feel unworthy to worship, we must hear His words, “Stretch it out to me.”

Scriptures:
Mark: 3:1-6
NKJV
And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.
Reference Passages:
Mark 12:29-31
Psalm 29:1-2
Hebrews 10:19-25

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I hear Your call to worship. At the same time I know that my personal record does not qualify me to worship. Because of Calvary, Your record has been applied to my name. You have made me worthy to enter Your holy presence. Lord, sometimes I feel dry and useless. Help me remember that at these times I must stretch out my wounded heart to You in worship. I know Your healing will come! Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Come into the Holy of Holies
Words and Music: John Sellers

Come into the Holy of Holies,
Enter by the blood of the Lamb.
Come into His presence with singing.
Worship at the Throne of God.

(Repeat)

Lifting holy hands, to the King of kings!
Worship Jesus! Worship Jesus!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 6 “Rules”

Rules

Rules are the delight of small minds. Principles are the strength of the wise.
Just as so many suffering folk were ready for His healing touch, many humble minds were open to the teachings of Jesus. Other minds were locked tight, threatened by anything from outside of their limited experience be it message or messenger. These were the “people of the rules.” To keep the rules required no thought and certainly no creativity. Since rules were at the surface of things, there was never any need to dive into matters. To alter the scriptures for them, “Deep did not call to shallow.” (Ps 42:7)

Rule Number One: Call the Right People
Beyond shallow rules, Jesus brought the truths of Kingdom of God to the regions of Galilee. He encountered the Rules People time and again. Passing through the multitude of hungry, humble souls, He spied one Levi, also called Matthew, a tax collector, and called to him just as he had the four fisherman, “Follow me.” Like those fishermen who left their businesses to follow Jesus, Levi abandoned his tax rolls to take up with the least political public figure he had ever seen.

The results of Levi’s obedience to the call were immediate. He invited his associates, an unseemly if prosperous lot of crooks, to dine with Jesus and His disciples in his own home, surely a sizable one acquired in the usual manner of those in his profession.

When the news of this dinner became known to the Rules People, the scribes and Pharisees, they had the evidence they needed to discredit Jesus. They approached His disciples with the 1st century equivalence of a smoking gun.

“How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”

When Jesus heard about it, His answer went beyond surface rules to deep principles:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Rules by Comparison
Certain Rules People who followed both John and the Pharisees noticed that the four fisherman were not joining them in fasting. They wanted to know why their rules were not everyone’s rules. The answer lay in the identity of Jesus Himself. He was Messiah, not forerunner. This was a day for feasting not fasting. Those times would come when He was gone from them. Here was the principle: Something new required new preparations:

…new wine must be put into new wineskins.”

Grainfields and the Sabbath
Jesus and the five disciples walked through a field of grain. Hungry, the men ate some of the ripened grain. No problem; except that it was the Sabbath. The score-keepers marked their cards and complained. The rules were more important than the hunger of the men. Jesus answered them with a story from the Scriptures. David and his men ate bread dedicated to the priests when they were pursued by King Saul. In their hunger this was an approved action, not a sin. In this case, the Rules People called it reaping and condemned Jesus and His men.

To answer their charges, Jesus introduced one of the most important facts about the Kingdom of God: Jesus is Lord of all—including the Sabbath! He is the ruling principle!

Rules are the delight of small minds. Principles are the strength of the wise.

Scriptures:
Mark: 2:13-28
Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me a hunger for You today. Bless me with a thirst for Your Living Water, truth direct from the Throne of God, a River of Life. As my spirit feasts on Your Word and as my soul deeply drinks of Your Spirit, impress upon me the principles behind the rules. You, Lord Jesus, are Rule Number One! Your life-giving principles demand much of me, but they supply so much more! Give me that hunger and thirst for righteousness that results in a full heart. Amen and Amen.

Song:
As the Deer
Words and Music: Martin Nystrom

1. As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after Thee
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship Thee

Refrain:
You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship Thee

2. You’re my friend and You are my brother
Even though You are a king
I love You more than any other
So much more than anything

Refrain

3. I want You more than gold or silver
Only You can satisfy
You alone are the real joy giver
And the apple of my eye

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 5 “Rooftops”

Rooftops

Ceilings define the height of the interior of a house while rooftops protect its contents.
Both are metaphors for limitations; ceilings confine us and rooftops restrict our access. The ministry of Jesus would not be so contained.

He was ministering in a house in Capernaum. So many people came to Him there was no access through any door or window. This limited most of the crowd to second hand descriptions from friends on the inside. One set of men would not accept these limitations. Their friend was paralyzed. It was their expression of friendship to carry him where he needed to go. These friends were strong and resourceful. They found the tools needed to dismantle the roof. They had ropes tied to a pallet to let their disabled friend down through the hole in the roof.

A Sermon Interrupted

Imagine the surprise when, as Jesus was preaching, there were footsteps overhead and dust falling from the ceiling. Suddenly the roof and ceiling were lifted away. The pallet carrying the paralyzed man started easing its way down through the hole in the ceiling. The owner of the house immediately began to estimate the cost of the repairs that would be needed. Someone would pay for this! A few men tried to stop the intrusion but there was no stopping this resourceful wrecking crew. The ceiling and the rooftop meant nothing to them.

Jesus smiled at the whole enterprise. As the man’s friends returned His smile, Jesus spoke to the man himself.

“Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

The smiles turned to puzzled looks. That was really, really nice, but what they wanted was a healing. After a collective breath, others in the crowd questioned among themselves along the same lines, some going so far as to call it blasphemy—only God could forgive sins!

Jesus knew this before they spoke it. He sought to break through the ceiling of their logic with a higher truth.

“Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?

Before they could answer He made it plain to them:

But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” —
He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

It happened! The disabled man was suddenly quite able. He unhooked the portable bed. His friends sprang to help him but he waved them off with a smile. Unaided by his clever friends, the man unhooked the pallet, rolled it up, and walked out of the house. In his wake, the amazed crowd no longer contained any skeptics. They praised God saying:

“We never saw anything like this!”

When it comes to what Jesus can do, there are no ceilings and all rooftops must yield to those who come to Him in determined faith.

Scriptures:
Mark 2: 1-12
And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” — He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me the faith and resourcefulness of these friends! Let me capture their determination to be in Your presence today and to take my needs to You regardless of any hindrances. As I do, let me never forget the greatest miracle of all—my sins are forgiven in Your Name! Let today be a day without ceilings—unrestricted grace from above—and without rooftops—unhindered faith and obedience rising to Your throne. For You Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Nothing Is Impossible
Words and Music: Eugene L. Clark

Nothing is impossible when you put your trust in God;
Nothing is impossible when you’re trusting in His Word.
Hearken to the voice of God to thee:
“Is there anything too hard for Me?”
Then put your trust in God alone and rest upon His Word–
For everything, O everything,
Yes, everything is possible with God!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 4 “If…”

If…

Having the power to heal the sick is one thing. It’s availability to others is another.
While recognizing His power, the leper doubted the character of Jesus. Why shouldn’t he? As a leper he was an outcast never welcomed in any circumstance and never invited into any circles of friendship except those of other lepers. Thus his call to Jesus, “If you are willing…”

The Morning After
The day before had begun in the synagogue with teaching, continued in a house for healing, and concluded past sundown in a city-wide healing and deliverance meeting. Early the next morning Jesus arose before all the others and went out to a solitary place to pray. When the others finally woke up, so many of them pain free for the first time in recent memory, no one could find Jesus. The people turned to the four men who seemed to be His followers to locate Him. The search was on until Peter found Him hidden away in the wilderness. Peter was not one to hesitate before speaking. He rebuked the Lord for being so unavailable.

“Everyone is looking for You.”

Jesus paid no attention to the rebuke. He had been praying about what to do next. Would He set up shop in Capernaum and operate from there, inviting needy people in? Or should they move on? Now He was sure of what do.

“Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also,
because for this purpose I have come forth.”

That settled it. They would move on to as many of the towns and villages in the region as possible. Every village had a synagogue where Jesus preached. Every town had sick folks who received a healing touch. Those infested with demons were everywhere to be found. Jesus exhibited mastery over them, commanding them not even to speak to Him.

At some point in these journeys the leper braved the rejection of the crowd and called out to Jesus:

“If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Jesus stopped to locate the unfortunate man. The crowd cleared the way making it possible for Jesus to see the pitiful sight: rags for clothes, bandages old and putrid, and a face covered to hide the wounds. Jesus could see into the leper’s soul. There He saw the deeper wounds of the outcast. Words had pierced his heart. Rejection had bruised his mind. Abuse had crippled his dreams.

Compassion and power rose up in Jesus, a compassion deeper than the wounds within the man and a power greater than the wounds on the surface.

“I am willing; be cleansed.”

From a safe distance the crowd watched without breathing as the leper began to shake his head as if shaking off a chill. His eyes opened as wide as possible as bandaged hands began to claw at the rags around his face. A great gasp came from the people as his face emerged without a scar. The man stripped the rags from his hands and they, too were clean and whole. The man began to dance as rags flew off in vile circles into the amazed and disgusted crowd. Someone brought him a robe and he danced in it for a while. His breath gone, he stood before Jesus. Jesus instructed him to not tell anyone before going to the priests for the requirements of the law.

Of course the man didn’t do that. He told everyone and the crowd became a multitude.

Such a miracle! And it began with the word, “If.”

Scriptures:
Mark 1: 32-45 NKJV
At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him. Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.” And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons. Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, sometimes we can recognize on one level that You are powerful and good and still doubt at another level that Your grace is available to us. We introduce the word “if” into our prayers. While we must never presume upon Your grace, let us always have faith in Your Word. The Bible says Your promises are sure. They are based in Your character, Your goodness. Let us confess with the Old Covenant saints that “the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!” Help us to hear, deep in our wounded spirits, Your sure word, “I am willing…” In Your Name, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Reach Out and Touch the Lord
Traditional

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 3 “Kingdom”

Kingdom

Jesus emerged from the wilderness with great power and purpose.
He had a Kingdom to declare. “The time is fulfilled.” The way to keep up was to repent—“The Kingdom of God is at hand!” It was no longer a theme of history; it was the present reality. It was no longer the stuff of metaphor and imagination; the kingdom was now in flesh, to be seen and heard, touched and handled. This Kingdom had a King.

The bad news was that John had been arrested by Herod.
Now Jesus was alone in declaring the Kingdom and the need for repentance. He was in Galilee preaching the gospel when he saw two brothers attending to their family business—fishing. With a simple invitation they dropped their nets to follow Him. The invitation contained a promise. From now on Andrew and Peter would be fishers of men. Two more brothers, James and John, partners in their father Zebedee’s fishing business, were only steps away mending their nets. Another call and another set of abandoned nets and their father with his hired servants would have to carry on without them.

To Capernaum
His team now five in number, Jesus was no longer alone. He marveled at the ease of this calling process. It was as if the men He needed were planted in this path. Things like that happen in a Kingdom such as this. On the Sabbath at Capernaum they went to synagogue together. The two sets of brothers heard Jesus teach and were amazed. His authority stood in stark contrast to the normal mumblings of a village Rabbi or the theatrical monologues of the Jerusalem scribes. The ancient words came alive in His mouth. People were moved, impressed, intrigued.

Among them was a demon-possessed man. The demons residing in the man were more than intrigued; they panicked and screamed in protest. They knew who Jesus was and whatever His mission might be they knew it would be bad for them. Jesus shackled them and sent them away. In the ensuing silence people began to whisper to themselves and to each other what kind of man this might be. His authority went beyond the oratory of men to the hidden world of demons. These synagogue worshipers would be the ones to initiate the fame of Jesus throughout Galilee.

A Healing at Home
Seeing this display of authority prompted Peter to invite Jesus into the home of his wife’s mother. She was terribly ill with a fever. When He entered the home, Jesus could see that no one had taken up the woman’s work. He was sure the cluttered, dusty house was the result of her disabling illness. Embarrassed, people rushed to explain about her. Jesus and his four helpers went to her. Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her to her feet. Immediately the fever left her and strength returned. She looked for a long time into Jesus’ eyes. So this was the man her son-in-law would follow. She had been against the whole idea but now she could see that it must be done and would be a great honor. She shooed the people out of her house and starting cleaning the place.

Scriptures:
Mark 1: 14-31 NKJV
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him. Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God!” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee. Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once. So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her. And she served them.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like those four fishermen I have heard Your call. I have ordered my life around it and still today seek to hear Your call and obey. Make me a fisher of men. In Your name, I am healed. By Your authority demons cannot take up residence in my redeemed heart. I can sense Your authoritative voice when I read Your Word. Indeed, the Kingdom of Heaven is here! The time is fulfilled. I will rejoice in Your joyous Kingdom, here and now, and there in heaven to come. Rejoice the Lord is King! Amen.

Song:
Rejoice the Lord Is King!
Words: Charles Wesley; Music: John Darwall

1. Rejoice, the Lord is King: Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks and sing, And triumph evermore.
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

2. Jesus, the Savior, reigns, The God of truth and love;
When He has purged our stains, He took his seat above;
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

3. His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell Are to our Jesus giv’n:
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

4. Rejoice in glorious hope! Our Lord and judge shall come
And take His servants up To their eternal home:
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 2 “Wilderness”

Wilderness

In wild places, powerful things come about.
Far from the safety of home and the comfort of the routine, Jesus sought His Father’s heart in the desert. For 40 days he prayed and waited before God and did not eat or drink. Why? He was without sin. Surely He could “ascend the Hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place.” His hands were clean and His heart was pure.

The Spirit
No longer acting as a gentle dove, the Holy Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness. This was no gentle prompting, no sweet wooing of the soul. It was a demand to seek the solitary place, to flee from the distractions of everyday life and commerce, to retreat from normal interaction with people, even those He dearly loved. There was work to be done in this wilderness.

The Flesh
Years later in a garden, green and lush, Jesus revealed a mismatched contest within Himself: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Now in this desert, the spirit must subdue the flesh. The risk of the incarnation was that the flesh might win the contest. With fasting and deprivation the flesh was disciplined. Jesus’ body was strong and lean, that of a man who did hard work with his hands and the strength of his back and legs. There was no storehouse of calories packed anywhere on His frame. Fasting soon weakened these strong limbs and drained His stamina. Thirst stiffened his joints making the slightest move a painful ordeal.

The Beasts
Mark adds a dangerous detail. He “was with the wild beasts.” Desert predators can sense the weakness of a prey. They found him long before the 40 days were up. Perhaps like Daniel before Him, angels stopped the beasts and shut their mouths. Imagine that every night was filled with the hungry red eyes of wild beasts and every day the sky was patrolled by winged scavengers. This desert was no place of ease.

The Temptation
Mark gives no record of Satan’s temptations leaving those details to other evangelists. He reports only that Jesus was “tempted by Satan.” Jesus endured temptation as none of us ever have or will and He did not yield to sin. Therefore He can help us in our times of testing. The New Testament gives us details of how this happens but it is because of this victory in the wilderness. The same Jesus who went without food and water is with us in our privations. This same Jesus who turned away from pride, position, and false worship resides in us by the Spirit to enable our humility, servanthood, and true worship.

The Angels
How long the 40 days seemed for the guardian angels of Jesus! We marvel at their restraint. Jesus would not need their assistance. When the testing was done and Jesus proved victor, we can imagine the angelic rush to His aid. Wild beasts scattered before them. Perhaps manna, the bread of angels, was brought to Him, as well as the living waters He would promise to others. Strength for the tasks ahead returned to Him—God in the flesh, tested in the wilderness, ready to touch and heal, teach and deliver.

In wild places, powerful things come about.

Scriptures:
Mark 1:12-13 NKJV
Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
Hebrews 4:14-16 NKJV
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 2:14-18 NKJV
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 NKJV
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I cannot not imagine Your agony in the desert. You explored the depths of physical weakness to make me strong. You endured the extremes of loneliness in the wilderness to have fellowship with those who would come to love You. Help me enter into and flourish within that fellowship today. You went face to face with the devil and defeated him on his own ground. Let me share that victory today in my thoughts, my words, my actions, and in compassion to those around me. Help me feed on manna and drink deeply of living water so I can be strong this day and meet its demands. For Your Glory! Amen.

Song:
Yield Not to Temptation
Words and Music: Harold R. Palmer

1. Yield not to temptation, For yielding is sin;
Each vict’ry will help you, Some other to win;
Fight valiantly onward, Evil passions subdue;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain:
Ask the Savior to help you,
Comfort, strengthen and keep you;
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.

2. Shun evil companions, Bad language disdain;
God’s name hold in rev’rence, Nor take it in vain;
Be thoughtful and earnest, Kindhearted and true;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain

3. To him that o’ercometh, God giveth a crown;
Through faith we will conquer,Though o ften cast down;
He who is our Savior, Our strength will renew;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 1 “Dove”

Dove

The Dove never flew away from Jesus’ shoulders.
When Jesus and John exchanged smiles and the great rush to repentance began, Jesus slipped away unnoticed. The Dove, always a visible manifestation of something invisible, faded from view. The inner reality of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit did not fade. In fact, the voice within Jesus was sounding louder than it ever had, insisting on one thing, “The Desert.”

Just as Mary pondered things in her heart, Jesus had much about which to think and pray. The booming voice from heaven that everyone heard served to signal to the repentant crowd and the doubting skeptics that events beyond their imagination were about to unfold and this Jesus would be at the center of them. Long after the sound had echoed through the farthest hill, the truth still sounded in Jesus’ heart:

“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

The strong compulsion to leave Nazareth and the carpenter shop to Mary and her other children and seek out His cousin, John, was justified by this surprising declaration. Jesus had made it! He had emerged from childhood unharmed, from the teen years unscathed, and from young adulthood unmarked by sin. His Father in Heaven was pleased. Whatever lay ahead, Jesus would be surrounded by the love of the Father. Angels would always be standing by if needed. The hosts of heaven so accustomed to worshiping Him were now assigned to guard Him from earthly harm or hellish device. The dangers of His Mission will be many and ominous.

The Dove Within
Though the lovely white Dove was gone, the Holy Spirit abided within Jesus. The Spirit could do this because Jesus had never sinned. The Holy Spirit will not dwell in an unholy place. This was to be the chief difference between the Old and New Covenants—this abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the clean vessel. In the Old days, the Spirit would come upon a person for a specific task and then depart. The New Covenant Jesus would establish changed all of that. Sins, confessed and repented of, will be forgiven and cast away! The Holy Spirit, the beautiful Dove of Heaven, would come to dwell in each believer making us victorious witnesses to the Jesus Story.

The Call of the Dove
Gently but with great insistence, the Spirit whispered one word to Jesus, “Desert.” There was important work to be done there. The crowds would come later in the villages, the countryside, on the highways and in Jerusalem but now isolation was required. This was to be a new level of testing, of temptation, of proof of the calling. The flesh, already mastered in the routines of life, must now be disciplined at a new depth. Fasting, prayer, isolation and communion with the Father as the Spirit led, were now in order for the One who had come so far to do so much for so many.

Scriptures:
Mark 1:1-13 NKJV
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.” ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'” John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.
Scriptures on the New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit:
John 14:15-18; 25-26
John 15:26-27
John 16:5-15

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank for the Abiding Dove of the Spirit within me! This Spirit Baptism, so long ago promised by the prophets and recorded by the New Testament witnesses is a current reality. Cleanse me, O Lord! Refiner’s Fire purify this son of Levi that I might offer acceptable worship to You. O Launderer’s Soap, clean away even the particles of leftover wickedness that may linger in the fibers of my heart so that Your likeness can go as deep as possible into me. Empower me, O Holy Spirit to be a witness to this world of hope and love and peace and redemption flowing from You to all who will respond in faith. O sweet Dove of Heaven, abide in me! Amen.

Song:
O Holy Spirit
Words: Michael Schirmer; Music: Philipp Nicolai

1. O Holy Spirit, enter in,
And in our hearts Your work begin,
Your dwelling place now make us.
Sun of the soul, O Light divine,
Around and in us brightly shine,
To joy and gladness wake us
That we may be Truly living,
To You giving Prayer unceasing,
And in love be still increasing.

2. Give to Your Word impressive pow’r,
That in our hearts from this good hour
As fire it may be glowing,
That in true Christian unity
We faithful witnesses may be
Your glory ever showing.
Hear us, cheer us By Your teaching;
Let our preaching And our labor
Praise You, Lord, and serve our neighbor.

3. O mighty Rock, O Source of Life,
Let Your dear Word, in doubt and strife,
In us be strongly burning,
That we be faithful unto death
And live in love and holy faith,
From You true wisdom learning.
Your grace and peace  On us shower;
By Your power  Christ confessing,
Let us see our Savior’s blessing.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

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