June 22, 2018 “Future”

Future

Sometimes it isn’t difficult to predict the future. The outcomes of tomorrow are often seen in the details of today.
It isn’t difficult to predict that a healthy apple tree will produce apples in season. In fact, we depend on this predictability to produce our economy. In Bible terms, “We reap what we sow.”

Trees and People
Often in the imagery of the Bible people are compared to trees. Psalm 1 says the righteous person would be like a fruitful tree planted by rivers of water. Here, Jesus explains that like a tree is known by its fruit, a person is known by the results of the life he/she chooses to live. Good things in the heart produce good things in life. At the same time, evil in the heart produces evil in life.

A Question from the Lord Jesus
We can hear the pain in the question Jesus asked of those He was teaching,

“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?”

Perhaps He looked to the people in that crowd that day or perhaps He looked down through time to our day. Could it be that Jesus was puzzled by their behavior and by ours? Why would they—why do we?—call Him Lord and refuse to obey Him? It doesn’t make sense. We find a Savior, receive His grace, and then fail to follow through with obedience.

The Visible Future
To illustrate the predictable future, Jesus switched metaphors from people and trees to life and houses. To hear His words and obey them is like a man who builds his house on a deep foundation of solid rock. Storms come and water rises but the house is unmovable. In vivid contrast, the person who ignores the words of Jesus, even while calling Him Lord, builds a house with no foundation at all. The same storms bring this shaky structure down in short order.

Avoiding Ruin
The future is coming for each of us. The choices we make today determine what that future will be. Without Jesus each of us is headed for ruin. There is only one way to avoid that terrible future. Give your heart to Jesus and after you have done that—follow Him! Obey His Word!

The Fruitful Life
Returning to the metaphor of the tree, we see the opportunity before us to build a future that will last forever.

  • Fill your heart with good things!—The Word of God, the Will of God, the Love of God, the Plan of God, the Work of God!
  • Fill your days with good works done in His name!—deeds of mercy, acts of kindness, offerings of worship, words of witness, the Love of God!

The world needs good people. We must bear His name to the lost. We must touch them with His love. We must tell them His story. We will then have a future to enjoy.

Sometimes it isn’t difficult to predict the future. The outcomes of tomorrow are often seen in the details of today.

Scriptures:
Luke: 6:43-49

“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to call You Lord and do the things You say. I want my house to be built on the Rock Christ Jesus and be safe from all storms. I want to fill my heart with Your Word so that the fruit of my life will be good. I want to be a good person in this evil world, a blessing to all who know me. With Your blessing, today I will do the work that will ensure a fine future for me. In Your Name, Lord Jesus, Amen.

Song:
Make Me a Blessing

Words: Ira B. Wilson; Music: George S. Shuler

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 21, 2018 “Love”

Love

The life principles Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Plain, like those in the Sermon on the Mount, are contrary to human nature.
So why did He bother? Why did Jesus lay out a lifestyle that simply is not in us to do? These things go against human nature, so how can they be correct? Who can live this way, loving enemies, carelessly lending, turning stricken cheeks, forgiving those who wrong us, and loving those who hate us? This things fatally conflict with human nature, so what is the point?

Fallen from Grace
The truth is, we weren’t created this way. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, free from evil and full of love, selfless, not selfish, peaceful not violent, trustworthy not devious. As the old catechism says, “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.” We are fallen creatures, from the best of us who by nature are thoughtful and kind to the worst of us who have no sense of right and wrong whatsoever, we are all fallen from the primordial perfection of Eden.

Need evidence? Look at the world. Progress only comes when evil is restrained, not the evil in the atmosphere, or in the environment, but the evil our hearts. We need

  • laws and law enforcement,
  • governments and governors,
  • civility and civilization,
  • rules and regulations,
  • judges and justice, and we need
  • restricted licenses and regulated speed limits just to keep us from running over each other.

So, why these impossible Beatitudes?
Because Jesus came to change us, to restore us to a state of grace. Through His forgiveness and by the power of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in us, we can become new creatures, born again, buried with Christ in baptism and raised to newness of life.

  • Instead of laws forced on us from outside, we can have the Word of God written into our hearts.
  • Instead of external rulers leading through fear and intimidation, we have the King of Peace ruling in our hearts.
  • We have true holiness inside of us, the peace and order of the Kingdom of God.
  • Having been forgiven, we now walk in the forgiveness of others without thought of revenge or retribution—civility from within.
  • We have the wisdom of the Word inside us prompting us at every opportunity to do the right and beneficial thing.
  • Instead of running over each other, we can love one another.

We can only live this way with Christ in our hearts and that is what it means to walk the Path of Life.

The Golden Rule and Beyond
These famous commands of Jesus remain a lofty, unattainable goal until we give our hearts to Him and He takes up residence there. Then the Holy Spirit empowers us to live this amazing life of love. As we do, we live out the Jesus Story every minute of every day. We do this in the name of Jesus for we also are children of the Most High,

“For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.”

Therefore we can be merciful and loving refusing to judge others, but forgiving just as we have been forgiven.

Not for the Blind
No amount of human goodwill or superhuman discipline can create and sustain this life; it can only be done by the presence of the love of God within us. This gives spiritual vision to us and to those who follow to keep us all out of the ditch.

Scriptures:
Luke: 6:27-42

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank for my new life! I Thank You that old things are passing away and all is becoming new! Thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to abide in my heart. He makes You so real to me and so close. He empowers me to live the life You desire for me to live. Thank You for the restraint of the Spirit also, holding me back from any indulgence of my old nature. Thank You for writing Your Word into my heart and giving the vision to see things clearly. As I follow You today, may others follow me and find You! Amen.

Song:
Let the Peace of Christ Rule in Your Heart

Words and Music: Denny Cagle

Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.
And whatever you do in word or deed,
Do it all in the name of the Lord.

Giving thanks, giving thanks,
to God through Christ the Lord.
Giving thanks, giving thanks,
to God through Christ the Lord.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 20, 2018 “Blessed”

Blessed

A secular mindset would use the word “fortunate,” not “blessed.”
A synonym for “fortunate” would be “lucky.” Synonyms for “blessed” include, “happy” and “consecrated.” Luck assigns no guiding force to events and circumstances. Blessed insists there is One who does the blessing—a Divine source of happiness and holiness.

The Sermon on the Plain
Dr. Luke relates another instance where Jesus preaches a message similar to “The Sermon on the Mount.” This time, instead of preaching from an elevated, natural platform, Jesus selected “a level place” from which to speak. I see it as a sort of natural amphitheater with the people on the sloping hillside and Jesus on the flat “stage” below. As before, He told this multitude how their worlds will change when they commit to following Him. All the accepted rules of stimulus and response would be upended. A life of faith and optimism would replace their lives of doubt and despair.

Who Will be Blessed?
The list is most inclusive, gathering into one context the miseries of life and promising hope and health in their place.

  • The poor will be supported by the riches of the Kingdom of God.
  • The hungry will be well-supplied and nourished by this same Kingdom.
  • Those who weep with broken hearts will find a Savior who can bind up their broken hearts and give them the healing gift of laughter.
  • Following Christ excites hatred from those who do not believe. This will happen and when it does, those who are persecuted will rejoice, seeing this pain as a sign of greater joy to come.
  • Those whom the world casts out will be the ones included in heavenly things.

Jesus promises a blessed life to those who follow Him.

Turning Tables
In this version of the sermon, Jesus teaches about the other side—those who do not follow Him—what can they look for out of life? The answer is the antonym of “blessed,” “woe.” Dictionaries give definitions like this one:

“…grievous distress, affliction, or trouble…”

Jesus knew that many, if not most, of the people in the multitude, would turn away from Him when the healings were done and the miracles were just a memory. He sounded a set of warnings that rejecting Him would bring, “grievous distress, affliction, and trouble.”

  • Those whose riches rule their hearts will have no security in their wealth for it is truly only poverty in glittering disguise.
  • Those whose bellies are full every night will still crave things they cannot define, let along possess. True riches are from above and are secure in heaven.
  • Those who live for mirth, entertainment, or constant stimulation will see their laughter dissolve into tears making of each of them a sobbing soul that finds no comfort.
  • Those who achieve celebrity will find their reign of approval short. People soon forget one idol and turn to another.

Jesus Is the Key
As Jesus began preaching this amazing sermon, the whole multitude grew quiet. Even children settled down as if they were listening, too. These people did not see Calvary coming. They only saw this young man with the rough hands of a carpenter, the clear and convincing word of a prophet, and the healing touch of—whom? Messiah?

Scriptures:
Luke: 6:20-26

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples and said: “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets.

Prayer:
Lord, it would be an insult to You if I called myself “fortunate.” I am not lucky; I am blessed. All my accounts are backed up by “Your riches in glory!” All my deepest hunger is supplied by Your bountiful Kingdom. You have taken my tears and turned them to dancing. When my heart is bruised or broken, Your loving hands caress it, the pain subsides, and the healing begins. Though this world may cast me out, You have taken me in. You have grafted my life into Your life, a ruined branch now healthy and fruitful in the True Vine! I am Blessed! Thank You, Jesus!

Song:
I Am Blessed

Words and Music: C. Jerry Goff

1. Thru the sunshine and rain
Even sorrow and pain
Jesus is still my comfort and guide
And His love comforts me
And His grace has set me free
And someday I shall stand by His side

Refrain:
I am blessed (I am blessed)
I am blessed (I am blessed)
Ev’ry day that I live
I am blessed (I am blessed)
When I wake up in the morning
Till I lay my head to rest
I am blessed I am blessed (I am blessed)

2. I have shoes for my feet
I have plenty to eat
And a home in heaven by and by
Brothers and sisters on this earth
They are mine by my new birth
And we shall share in that home beyond the sky

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 19, 2018 “Apostles”

Apostles

There is an important difference between disciples and apostles: A Disciple is a student; An Apostle is a messenger.
It was time for Jesus to select from among the multitudes that followed Him those who would be His primary representatives. To prepare for this crucial decision, He went to a solitary place and prayed through the night.

To the men whom He called with the words, “Follow Me!,” this was another camping trip. They did not know that Jesus was about to select 12 of them, lifting their calling above that of disciples—students and followers of Jesus—to apostles—commissioned messengers, sent into the world with a specific job to do. They slept somewhere on the beach or in leafy glades as was their custom when Jesus went into solitary confinement. As evening shadows crept over the Galilean hills, each of them wondered what the issue might be that took Jesus away from them for the night. Had they known, they would not have slept.

Choosing the Twelve
Somehow in the Lord’s progress through a night of communion with His Father, Jesus settled on 12 men to receive this commission to go into the whole world to tell His story. He was impressed that each of them had abandoned a normal life to answer His call. He remembered how He never gave them the details of where they might go if they followed Him. It was not a blind faith, but a trusting one, like the faith of Abraham, a faith centered in God and therefore, a sure, if unrevealed, faith.

Disciples and Apostles
All the people in the multitude had chosen to follow Jesus. He knew this and it gave Him joy. Some followed Him because they were sick and needed healing, or were impaired in some way and needed deliverance. Others responded to the genuine truth of His preaching; His unprecedented authority made them want to follow Him. All had the opportunity to become His disciples—students of His teaching, practitioners of principles. After the wild events with lame men dancing and dumb people singing, and dead people walking around and demon-infested people at peace, they must go back to their everyday lives, just as miraculously transformed on the inside, to live exemplary lives. They could choose to be His disciples. The twelve He chose could not return to their homes and former lives. Each one had a new life before him, one of travel and adventure, faith and power, danger and risk, spiritual warfare and heavenly reward. He would send them into the world to tell His Story.

A Healing Service
He called the twelve by name and then descended to a level place from which He delivered a sermon similar to the Sermon on the Mount. Before He spoke the multitudes from Judea and Jerusalem arrived possibly as a large pilgrimage from the south as well as from the coastlands to the west. There were so many who needed His touch. Luke’s description is quite moving:

“And they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.”

The Story to Tell
This is the story that has to be told—a God who is “God with Us!”—a Savior and a Healer and a Deliverer. Pain, impairment, addiction, disease, depression, and deceit all are remedied in Jesus. He has called disciples to live this story at home and He has chosen apostles to travel the world with this Good News.

Scriptures:
Luke: 6:12-19

Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor. And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your divine calling rests upon each of us! We are all called to live holy lives for You and to tell Your story to all who will listen and even to those appear not to be listening. We are all Your disciples! Some of us have also been called to the vocational ministry—commissioned by You and ordained by the church to do a specific work for You. Help us all be faithful to Your call, “Follow Me!” Amen and Amen.

Song:
We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations

Words and Music: H. Ernest Nicol

1. We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy,
a story of peace and light,
a story of peace and light.

Refrain:
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright,
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.

2. We’ve a song to be sung to the nations,
that shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
a song that shall conquer evil
and shatter the spear and sword,
and shatter the spear and sword.

Refrain

3. We’ve a message to give to the nations,
that the Lord who reigneth above
has sent us His Son to save us,
and show us that God is love,
and show us that God is love.

Refrain

4. We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,
who the path of sorrow has trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples
may come to the truth of God,
may come to the truth of God.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 18, “Sabbath”

Sabbath

The most fundamental law of the Covenantal worship of Jehovah concerned honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy.
The critics of Jesus, scorekeepers every one, watched for the slightest violation of Sabbath principles. It never occurred to them that Jesus might be Lord of the Sabbath but they were about to discover this.

First Offence
His men were hungry. Regular meals were not a feature of following Jesus. They passed through some fields of grain just when the wheat was right for the picking. It was the Sabbath and harvesting grain was forbidden on the Sabbath. Score one for the Pharisees.

“Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”

Their frowns were deeper than rows plowed deep. The disciples stopped harvesting and rubbing out the wheat in their hands, but several of them had already filled their mouths. Trying not to chew, they waited to see how Jesus would respond. The smile on His face told them all they needed to know. When He started speaking they went back to munching. Jesus gave the guardians of the Law a Bible lesson.

“Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry…how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him…?”

The Pharisees had no answer. Was that really in the Bible? They exchanged glances until the most informed among confirmed the story Jesus told. It was just a warmup for the thing Jesus really wanted them to know.

“The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

The scorekeepers were stunned by this heresy. No one was Lord of the Sabbath, no one but God Himself! They could never have anticipated this statement and they had no answer for it except the noise of their ignorance.

Second Offence
Probably a week later, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. The Pharisees couldn’t stop Him but they could watch Him and take notes. A man with a withered hand was in attendance. It was his habit to hide his short arm within the sleeve of his robe. The last thing he wanted to do was attract attention. The scorekeepers saw their opportunity. They somehow drew the attention of the people to the unfortunate man. He tried to find a place to hide and tucked his unsightly arm out of sight.

Jesus called the man out.

“Arise and stand here.”

He smiled at the man to assure him that He was not being cruel. He turned to the Pharisees with a question:

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

To the man He said,

“Stretch out your hand.”

Suddenly, accompanied by the snap of bones and the surprised cry of the man, the withered hand filled out to its proper length. The man flexed the fingers and stared at the one hand now made whole and began to clap both hands together. Worshipers joined in and the clapping became a beat and then the beat became a song.

The Pharisees didn’t feel like singing. What were they supposed to do with a man with this kind of power who claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath?

Scriptures:
Luke: 6:1-11

Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. And some of the Pharisees said to them, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” But Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?” And He said to them, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood. Then Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I love Your holy day! This is the central organizational point of the week. It is Yours, not ours. It is a gift from You. I repent of the times when I felt like it was my day, to spend or waste or use as I pleased. Not true. It is Your day for all its 24 hours. I will join Your church to minister unto You giving You the glory due to Your name! I will worship and I will rest, for this, too, is the Sabbath. You are indeed the Lord of the Sabbath! Thank, You, Lord!

Song:
This Is the Day

Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Thomas Augustine Arne

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 17, 2018 “Wineskins”

Wineskins

Wine and wineskins, new and old: there are life lessons to be learned in these common things.
The critics, scribes and Pharisees, were determined to find some fault in Jesus and His men that would discredit them in the eyes of the people. It was a difficult job. Discrediting the One who gave a blind person back his/her sight was not easy. Former demon-possessed people, now in their right minds, had little time for theories about their deliverer being in league with the devil. Jesus had done so much profound good for so many people, that only His critics would entertain such nonsense.

What about John and his disciples?
Someone got the bright idea of comparing Jesus and His disciples with John the Baptist and his followers. There was a marked difference. John’s ministry was one of preparation for Messiah. This involved harsh warnings, profound condemnation of evil leaders, strict spiritual disciplines and soul-stirring repentance. Jesus and His men seemed immersed in joy. They laughed often and rejoiced at all the miracles and deliverances at Jesus’ hand. They even enjoyed parties and celebrations, eating their fill and tasting the fine new wine of life. Critics pointed this out.

“Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?”

Jesus tried to explain the difference to them, but explaining such fine points to those whose minds were closed to any explanation was pointless.

The Difference
The difference between Jesus and His men and John and his followers was one of mission.

  • John’s followers fasted to see a nation fall to its knees in repentance. They disciplined themselves toward a specific end—a revival of true spirituality in preparation for the coming of Messiah.
  • Jesus brought the revival for which John and his disciples fasted and prayed. Jesus knew what no one else knew—the time of rejoicing would be short, lasting as long as He was with them.

Hard times would come and then His men would fast and pray. They would also have the help of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Something John’s disciples did not have.

New Wine and Old
Some of the most famous sayings of Jesus followed:

  • Sewing new cloth onto an old one will tear the garment, and
  • Putting new wine put into old wineskins will burst them.

What did He mean? A New Covenant was coming.

  • There will be new garments of praise—prayer and worship in the Spirit—making the old methods themselves fresh and new again.
  • There will be New Wine of a fresh move of God like nothing ever seen. Both the Old and the New Wine will freely flow from heaven to refresh the saints of God.

This New Covenant move of the Spirit of God will require new thinking and new methods while at the same time making the old wine even more precious.

“But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.'”

Wine and wineskins, new and old: there are life lessons to be learned in these common things.

Scriptures:
Luke: 5:33-39

Then they said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?” And He said to them, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.” Then He spoke a parable to them: “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.'”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, save me from the fear of the new. You are constantly doing new things. The work of Creation continues today. Your new creations require new garments. The fresh move of Your Spirit requires new wineskins. We do not discard the old but maintain it. You said that both the new and the old wine must be preserved. The New Wine and wineskins compliment and carry forward the work of the old. Give me a taste for it all, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
New Wine

Words and Music: Brook Legertwood

In the crushing, In the pressing, You are making new wine
In the soil, I now surrender You are breaking new ground
So I yield to You and to Your careful hand
When I trust You I don’t need to understand.

Make me Your vessel. Make me an offering
Make me whatever You want me to be.
I came here with nothing But all You have given me.
Jesus bring new wine out of me

In the crushing, In the pressing, You are making new wine
In the soil, I now surrender You are breaking new ground
So I yield to You and to Your careful hand
When I trust You I don’t need to understand.

Where there is new wine, There is new power.
There is new freedom. The Kingdom is here.
I lay down my old flames To carry Your new fire today.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 16, 2018 “Matthew”

Matthew

It may be that in those days a tax collector would be a man of few words.
Jesus only used two words to call Levi, also called Matthew, to be a disciple.

“Follow Me.”

Matthew’s quick mind for sums added up the offer and the tax collector saw a way out of the wretched life he had been living. He could leave the crooked dealings, the hatred of the people he robbed, and the company of crooks and live a life that made a difference.

“So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.”

Before the news of his conversion was publicly known, Levi threw a party for all his old, crooked government collaborators and his new friend with His band of 12.

Why did the tax collector choose to follow Jesus?
Money used to mean everything to him; he had sold his soul to the procurement of wealth by any means. He had a great house but no true friends. He had riches concealed throughout the house but his heart was an empty grave waiting for him to occupy it. No doubt Matthew discovered what Jesus would later teach: “Life consists not of the abundance of things a man possesses.” He had “things” everywhere but there was no life in them, no life at all. Perhaps he grew up poor and set his heart on riches at an early age. Somewhere in his quest for wealth, the joy went out of it all. All the money and the things it bought were useless to him. He wondered if there were an alternative, some other pursuit that would not rot in his hands like old figs.

Plying his hated trade, Jesus came by. Their eyes met and Matthew felt the searchlight of the Holy Spirit penetrate his very soul. There was nothing there! His house was full of treasures but his heart was vacant. In that lingering examination, eye to eye and heart to heart with Jesus, Matthew saw new and exciting possibilities for life. Jesus wordlessly communicated promises to him of a different kind of abundance, one with no shame and with a full night’s sleep every night. It was enough and the tax collector became a disciple.

Back to the Feast
At some point in the feast, Matthew told the other collectors of his decision. Immediately they started calculating the benefits for them as they divided up his responsibilities among themselves. They could not understand their friend’s sudden affection for poverty but they were happy to profit from it. I imagine Jesus watched this festival of true repentance with a satisfied smile on His face. Here was a disciple indeed.

Scribes and Pharisees
Servants came and summoned several of the disciples out of the despised house of Matthew. They had a message for Jesus. As if He were an unsophisticated bumpkin, they explained that Jesus should not be seen with such evil men. Tax collectors were the sickest of the sick. They reported to Jesus and He sent back a reply.

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

The dinner continued. Matthew rejoiced in his newfound freedom, and the other tax collectors exulted in their potential profits, as the Lord and His disciples enjoyed a good meal.

Scriptures:
Luke: 5:27-32

After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him. Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Luke 12:15
And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, as You said, life does not consist in the abundance of things a person might possess. Life is found in You, the Giver of Life. Your will is the plan for life. Your power is the force of life. Your love is the context of life. Your presence is the reward of life. Protect me from the deceitfulness of the riches of this world. They may be pretty but they can also be poison. They may promise lasting joy and then deliver only loss. I will lay up treasures in heaven where they are safe for all eternity. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
I’d Rather Have Jesus

Words: Rhea F. Miller; Music: George Beverly Shea

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 15, 2018 “Forgiven”

Forgiven

In a simple house in Galilee, the powers to heal diseases and to forgive sins were finally seen as one power.
The official teachers of the Law and leaders of the people had to investigate this unofficial rabbi traveling in Galilee. They and the hosts of needy and curious people filled the Galilean house beyond capacity.

Something in the Air
As Jesus taught His unique vision of the Law and the prophets and the details of the Covenant with God, the keepers of the flame were busy trying to keep up. They had a vague sense that Jesus spelled trouble for them. They listened carefully to His every word, hoping to find some blasphemy with which to charge Him.

There was also the problem of the miracles. The people were convinced that whoever Jesus might be, He was at the very least a prophet. The power of the Lord flowed through Him, of this they were sure. The signs and wonders could not be questioned; this was no magic show. As Jesus continued to teach, the air took on an almost electric charge. Dr. Luke describes it thusly:

“…the power of the Lord was present to heal…”

Everyone felt this, even the critics and powerbrokers whose lives and livelihoods were threatened by this carpenter from Nazareth.

From the Outside to the Inside
Evidently, the charge radiated outside of the house. A group of men carried their paralyzed friend to the door and were turned away. There was no way to enter. They tried all the doors and windows with the same result. Exhausted, they put down the liter and sat around their friend, discouraged. One of them noticed the thatched roof on the house. It kept out the rain well enough, but it could also be easily dismantled. Somehow they gained the rooftop with their friend intact and began to un-thatch the thatch. Soon there was an opening large enough to lower their friend into the crowded room below. All of this commotion interrupted the Lord and He and the crowd watched as the faithful friends completed their compassionate demolition. The faith of these men boosted the charged in the air. When Jesus saw their faith, shining like a beacon against the darkness of the Pharisees’ doubt, He spoke:

“Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

Wait, thought the Pharisees. He did not speak to the paralysis but to the man’s sins. This was out of bounds. Miracles were wonderful and we can always praise God for them, but to forgive sins is only for God and not for any man. They had the blasphemy for which they were looking. Jesus knew their thoughts.

“Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk’?”

This was the question. The Pharisees felt that Jesus had taken the bait. Scheming smiles passed among these leaders of the People of God who could not see past their theological noses.

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”

He said to the man who was paralyzed,

“I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

The man did exactly that, rejoicing all the way home! Gleefully his faithful friends were joined by other men in the house to repair the damage to the roof.

The ecclesiastical rooftop of the powerhouse occupied by the Pharisees, would itself never be repaired.

Scriptures:
Luke: 5:17-26

Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them. Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him. And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” — He said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things today!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your power is Your power! It flows from You in power to heal and to forgive. All is within Your authority. The doubt of those who do not believe in You hinders You not! The unbelief of others never holds me back from believing in You, Your Word, Your Presence, and Your unbreakable promises. Oh, sometimes, I encounter hindrances like the men who brought their friend to You but, like them, I will demolish those hindrances with my faithfulness to Your commands. You are the one with the Power! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Rise and Be Healed

Words and Music: Milton Bourgeois

1. Have fear and doubt come against your mind
Has your faith been sorely tried
Lift up your eyes here cometh your help
It is Jesus for you He has died

Refrain:
Rise and be healed
In the name of Jesus
Let faith arise in your soul
Rise and be healed
In the name of Jesus
He will cleanse and make you whole

2. If by faith you reach out to Him
He will meet your ev’ry need
He will respond to the cry of your heart
He will touch you and set you free

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 14, 2018 “Willing”

Willing

To be willing to do good is one thing. To be able to do good is quite another.
Jesus, of course, was both. He did not withhold His blessings until some price was paid—He was the price to be paid. He did not make those seeking His touch jump through hoops to earn His attention—He walked among them freely, available to all who would reach out to Him in faith. Believing was the catalyst. Those who approached Him in cynicism went away unchanged. Others, threatened by His authority, who came to Him to discredit Him, went away with all their clever constructs crumbling before His simple message and powerful presence.

A Leper in the Crowd
While the willingness of Jesus to heal and deliver was obvious to most, His availability to social outcasts had yet to be seen. The poor man is described as “full of leprosy.” This was no minor case. According to the customs and cautions of the time, lepers had to announce their approach in the streets by yelling, “Unclean! Unclean,” providing ample warning and opportunity for people to find safety until the damaged and dangerous one passed.

The crowd pressing Jesus gave way at the sound of this leper’s cry. He came and fell on his ruined face at the feet of Jesus. His question was the same question on everyone’s mind. Did the mercy and authority of Jesus extend all the way to people like him?

“Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

This was not a challenge to Jesus. It was not the cry of a cynic or an enemy. It was the sincere statement of one who had nowhere else to turn.

The Healing Touch
As he often did, Jesus let the man’s words hang in the air. The crowd pulsed with silent anticipation. What would Jesus do? What would He say? Jesus raised His hand to the sky and left it there, heightening the wondering expectation of the people. Would He strike such an unworthy one?

No. He touched the man! Unprecedented. Unheard of. Unwise by all contemporary thinking.

“I am willing; be cleansed.”

Immediately the disease departed. The stunned crowd watched as fresh new flesh grew where unsightly horrors had been just seconds before. The man, still wearing the rotting rags of an outcast, obeyed the Lord and headed for the Temple to fulfill the law’s requirements for one healed of leprosy. Silently the crowd watched him until he was out of sight, swallowed by the streets and alleyways of the town.

The Lord Jesus is willing!
There are no “ifs” to be considered. If we come to Jesus in faith believing, He will meet us. If we call on Him in faith, He hears us! His Word gives us the details of His willingness, its qualities and conditions, in Covenantal form. When we ask according to His benevolent will, He hears us and is willing and able to supply our needs.

To be willing to do good is one thing. To be able to do good is quite another.

Scriptures:
Luke: 5:12-16

And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.” However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank for Your touch! Thank You for Your willingness to touch me, time and time again when I called on You in faith. I am sure there are other times when You touched me and I didn’t call on You! Your mercy extended, just as promised in the Word, to me and to my generation! I need another touch today. I know You are willing and I know You are able. The Word makes it clear: “The Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!” Thank You, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
He Touched Me

Words and Music: Bill and Gloria Gaither

1. Shackled by a heavy burden,
‘Neath a load of guilt and shame.
Then the hand of Jesus touched me,
And now I am no longer the same.

Refrain:
He touched me, Oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole.

2. Since I met this blessed Savior,
Since He cleansed and made me whole,
I will never cease to praise Him,
I’ll shout it while eternity rolls.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 13, 2018 “Fishermen”

Fishermen

When the sun comes up each day we are relatively sure it will go down again in the world that saw it rise.
That would be the normal expectation of a normal day. If that sunrise was the start of a day when Jesus walked by, the world could change before sundown. So it was for two sets of brothers in the fishing business in the region of Galilee. Andrew and Peter were one set; James and John were their partners.

Business was good.
The water was clean and the fish were plentiful. Sometimes there were not easy to find, but they were there for the eventual finding and taking. The four fishermen were impressed with Jesus. Perhaps they had witnessed the deliverance of the demon-possessed man in the synagogue. Simon Peter’s wife’s mother had been healed of a high fever at this command. They had witnessed the healing service late in the day. On this day Jesus would ask for their help teaching His authoritative message. Who knew what miracles the rising sun might witness on such a day?

The four partners had fished through the night, never locating the fish they sought and were cleaning their nets before finally getting some rest. Their two boats were safely ashore as a growing crowd followed Jesus to the water’s edge.

Simon Peter’s Boat
Jesus knew that He could use one of the boats as a sort of speaking platform. The water around the boat would reflect and amplify His voice. He asked Simon Peter if he could cast out a little ways from the shore. The fisherman was glad to help and felt honored that his boat was to be of use to this man who had healed his wife’s mother.

Just offshore, Jesus continued His teaching sitting in the boat. At first, the other three fishermen tried to continue working on their nets while Jesus spoke but this proved impossible. The authority of Jesus’ teaching, the depth of His insight, and the practicality of His instruction commanded their complete attention. The nets were forgotten.

“Launch out into the deep.”
When Jesus finished teaching, He asked Simon Peter and his partners to go out into the deep waters and use those nets, repaired or not. Simon protested that they had worked at it all night and there were no fish to be found in that area. As he spoke, Peter must have realized that with Jesus around things could change for the better in a hurry for he quickly agreed to give it a try.

Like they had done so many times before, the partners prepared their equipment and set out for deep waters. When Peter put down his net, a multitude of fish rushed to be captured! The hastily prepared net began to break and the boat was filled to overflowing with fish! Simon and Andrew called for their partners in the other boat. Soon both boats were filled and safely delivered back to port.

Simon fell to his knees confessing his sinfulness. We can be sure the other three did as well. Jesus seized the moment.

“Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”

It was more than a miraculous catch; it was a calling. That day on the Sea of Galilee, the sun did not set on the same world upon which it rose that morning. Two sets of brothers forsook all to answer the call of Jesus.

Scriptures:
Luke: 5:1-11

So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, long ago I sensed Your call and I decided to follow You. Though I have sometimes failed to follow You, You have never failed to bring me back. Give me the proper spiritual vision to see what is really important. It isn’t the “business” life put me in—it is the ministry You have called me to. You will use my stuff, just as You used Peter’s boat and nets, but You are the One who does the work,  the One who has the reward. “The world behind me, the Cross before me!” Thank You, Jesus!

Song:
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

Traditional

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. 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