June 28 “Swine”

Swine

This was not the kind of welcoming committee anyone would request.
The boat landed on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. As Jesus stepped ashore, He was greeted, not with flowers and accolades from an adoring crowd, but by a naked crazy man. The poor fellow was driven mad by a host of demons who had taken residence in his soul. He was the bane of the town. He could not be contained, either in a house or in chains. When he was not driven into the surrounding wilderness, he lived among the tombs, sleeping, when He slept at all, in vacant tombs. His tortured cries stabbed the darkness every night with terror. This had gone on, in Dr. Luke’s terse description, “for a long time.”

The Welcome
Possibly sensing in some demonic way that Jesus was coming, and certainly knowing who Jesus was, the demons in the man met Him at the shore,

“What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
I beg You, do not torment me!”

Jesus, the Man of Peace, did not bring peace to demons, or to Pharisees and their kin, for that matter. The demons knew their peace was about to be disturbed. Jesus addressed the tormentors directly.

“What is your name?”

There was no escape for Satan’s minions. They had to answer to a higher authority.

“Legion.”

This answer indicated that not one but many demons had found refuge in the life of the former friend and neighbor of the villagers. Speaking in a cacophony of hellish voices the demons begged for mercy.

A Herd of Swine,
At some distance, a large herd of hogs grazed, content and quite unaware and surely unimpressed by the doings of men. The demons asked to be transported to these convenient creatures. Jesus agreed and suddenly the peaceful pigs grew restless, then agitated, and finally, raving mad. With one mind, they ran down a steep place into the sea and were drowned. Their keepers panicked and ran into the village to report this destruction of property.

Brilliant Leaders
When the suddenly profitless owners came to investigate, they were in for another surprise—their local crazy man had been delivered! He sat peacefully at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.

Reason, however, escaped the community leaders. Instead of welcoming their fellow citizen home and rejoicing in his deliverance, they formed a quick huddle and devised this strategy for the betterment of their town—ask Jesus to leave and never come back. As did those ignorant pigs, these leaders rushed blindly into a sea of stupidity and drowned each other.

Invited to Leave
Thusly invited to leave, Jesus started back onboard the boat to cross back to the other side, where people wanted Him. The delivered man sought to make the journey with Him but Jesus told him to stay home and tell his story to all who would listen. Someone had to demonstrate more wisdom than demons and hogs.

That night, the village was quiet. At no point did the familiar screams from the cemetery disturb the peace. However, people could not sleep in this unfamiliar silence. The arthritic were still stiff and in pain. The blind remained in their darkness as the sick, lame, impaired, and demon-infested sweated through another night. Their leaders had sent Jesus away.

Scriptures:
Luke: 8:26-39

Then they sailed to the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee. And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time. And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!” For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness. Jesus asked him, saying, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” because many demons had entered him. And they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss. Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain. So they begged Him that He would permit them to enter them. And He permitted them. Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the lake and drowned. When those who fed them saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. They also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed. Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. And He got into the boat and returned. Now the man from whom the demons had departed begged Him that he might be with Him. But Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may I never send You away! How could I do this? I can do this when You give me a job to do and I don’t get around to it. I can do this when I know Your Word but choose to live by some other rule. I can do this when I neglect daily prayer and weekly worship. If I send You away, my needs will not be met. My pain will not ease. My confusion will multiply and my day will be lousy. Stay with me, Lord Jesus! I need You today! Amen and amen.

Song:
Reach Out and Touch the Lord

Traditional

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

June 27 “Light”

Light

Light changes things. The rising sun chases the night away. A lighted candle brings important details out of the shadows.
Jesus taught the importance of light. It must not be hidden. One day, the light of judgment will shine into every human heart. Anything hidden there will be revealed. Applying this truth to everyday life Jesus sounded a warning;

“…whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have,
even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”

A Family Visit
As the crowd sought to absorb this warning, Jesus’ family tried to gain entrance but could not. This was reported to Jesus and His response was strange indeed.

“My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”

Dr. Luke does not tell us what happened next. Surely the crowd, thus designated as His family—if they heard His Word and obeyed it—parted to grant entrance for His family. We are not told why they came but we can be sure that Jesus was respectful but unhindered in His mission.

A Stormy Trip
Days later, with the sun shining high and bright over the blue water, Jesus and the Twelve set out to cross the Sea of Galilee. Tired from constant ministry, Jesus made Himself comfortable in the boat and fell fast asleep. The fishermen in the group were happy to apply the skills of their former lives to the needs of Jesus. They knew all about boats and the Sea of Galilee.

As the bright sky began to darken, the four former fishing partners saw the storm coming. They started pulling hard to reach the other side. Perhaps the boat was overloaded—13 men—and soon the winds and waves began to overcome the craft. As the danger mounted, the disciples rowed with all their might keeping the bow pointed into the wind. All the while Jesus rested comfortably in the bottom of the boat.

The boat began to take on water, growing heavier and settling deeper into the sea. None of the men wanted to wake Jesus; they wanted Him to wake up on His own but that just wasn’t going to happen. They had to shake Him awake.

“Master, Master, we are perishing!”

Waking Jesus
Jesus shook His head to clear away the effects of deep sleep. He stood in the boat, keeping His balance, as He looked first at the dark skies, then the raging waves, and finally at His frightened followers. He smiled at their anxious faces, intending to comfort them in the midst of the storm. This didn’t help. They needed more.

His voice rang out over the storm loud enough for creation itself to hear the voice its Creator. He spoke to the wind and the water, telling them to stop. They did. Like an obedient child, the winds settled into a calm and the waves took a seat at the feet of their master. The dark of the storm retreated before the sun’s light. High, friendly clouds appeared as the storm clouds dissipated and, like a noon-day sunrise, the sun reappeared.

The disciples were stunned by the sudden calm and a greater fear came on them, a fear of such a Man of God in their midst. Jesus, seeing their fear, asked them where the faith had gone. With no roar of sea and wind, each man whispered to himself.

“Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!”

Scriptures:
Luke: 8:16-25

“No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.” Then His mother and brothers came to Him, and could not approach Him because of the crowd. And it was told Him by some, who said, “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You.” But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out. But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. But He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Master of every storm! I will never face wind that must not obey You. No turbulence in wind or water will ever overcome You. Give me the courage it takes to follow Your leadership whether there are storms or not on the path ahead. Though the clouds of circumstance may hide Your light, I know Your love is always shining my way. As John says, the darkness has never overcome Your amazing light! You always overcome darkness and keep me safe until the storm is past. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Peace! Be Still
Words: Mary Ann Baker; H.R. Palmer

Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o’ershadowed with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh:
“Carest Thou not that we perish?”
How canst Thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threat’ning
A grave in the angry deep?

The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will.
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea,
Or demons, or men, or whatever it be,
No water can swallow the ship where lies
the Master of ocean and earth and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will!
Peace! Peace! be still!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

June 26 “Seed”

Seed

A company of women is always a significant thing. It is today and it was then.
As Jesus continued His ministry tour, His entourage continued to expand. In addition to the Twelve men He had chosen, a group of women now followed Him, providing for the needs of the team from their own resources. A common bond was this: Jesus had miraculously delivered each of them from life-threatening circumstances. Dr. Luke gives us the names of three of them:

  1. Mary of Magdala,
  2. Joanna, the wife of a steward of Herod, and
  3. A woman named Susanna.

The story of Mary Magdalene is the most well-known. Before Jesus, she struck terror and excited evil impulses in the people she met for she was infested with seven powerful demons. Now, she moved among the multitude with feminine grace assuring listeners that Jesus could, indeed, help them, too.

A Public Parable
Perhaps Jesus was thinking about the many people who had heard Him speak and the mixed results He had observed when He told this parable:

A sower with excellent, life-giving seed, went about his business. The good seed fell onto different kinds of soil, some of it was lost on the road, trampled down by travelers. Some seeds were lost to enterprising birds. Others fell on stony ground and sprang up quickly, but also withered quickly. Some of the seeds fell onto overgrown soil with choking weeds and thorns. Some, just some, of the seed fell on good ground and produced an amazing harvest.

A Private Interpretation
Later, when the healings were over and the multitudes were gone, Jesus explained the meaning of the parable to His followers. We can imagine that as He explained, the women joyfully refreshed Jesus with their provisions, creating an atmosphere conducive to spiritual progress.

“To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God,
but to the rest it is given in parables…”

His explanation of the parable was especially tender and real to the Twelve and to the women for they represented the good ground and they knew it.

The seed was the Word of God. The wayside ones were those who never heard the Word because Satan stole it from them. The ones on the rocky soil started out but did not last because they had no roots beneath the rocky surface. Those who received the seed and grew into fine plants but did not produce fruit were those distracted by deceitful things: “cares, riches, and pleasures.” The productive ones were those who heard the Word, took it into their hearts and let it do its divine work. These were the ones who brought in the amazing harvest.

Moments of Reflection
As they pondered the meaning of this parable, the close followers of Jesus began to realize that He was talking about them. Of all the people who heard Him and received from His powerful hand, they represented the good soil for the good seed. They were His harvest! Each of them began to realize what he/she might mean to Jesus. He loved them. Their reception of Him and His Word was precious to Him. Each man and woman decided then and there to let the seed do its work. There in the shadow of Jesus, with His voice soft on their ears, it was the only choice that made sense.

Scriptures:
Luke: 8:1-15

Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities — Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance. And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’ “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the Good Seed of the Word sown in my heart! It has taken root there for Your glory. May my roots go ever deeper into Your heart. I long to bear fruit for You for in that fruit will be still more seed to sow, more truth to scatter to the winds of this desperate world. Help the seed I sow find the good ground. Help those who hear my message take it deep into their lives to become a fruit-bearing harvest of freedom and joy. For Your Kingdom, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Bringing in the Sheaves

Words: Knowles Shaw; Music: George A. Minor

1. Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain:
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

2. Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain

3. Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
Tho’ the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

June 25 “Sinner”

Sinner

Some people come to dinner when they are invited. Others come uninvited.
For some reason, a Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to his home for dinner. There is no record that the invitation extended to the Twelve. Perhaps Simon wanted some private time with Jesus. Maybe he had witnessed the miracles and heard the teaching. There is no way of knowing how many of Simon’s family or friends were in attendance. It is safe to assume Simon employed people to serve his guests but there is no way to know how many people were there. It could have a small gathering or something more like a feast.

A Tearful Intruder
Just as the dinner was getting underway, a woman, known in the city as a sinful woman, intruded. Perhaps it was her tears, or the alabaster jar she carried, or the shock of it all, but somehow she penetrated the security of Simon’s home and stood behind Jesus weeping. If Simon made an effort to remove her, Jesus must have stopped him. Still weeping, she knelt before Jesus and began washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her long, carefully prepared hair. A stunned silence enveloped the house as she took the alabaster jar and broke it open. The fragrance of the perfume filled the air as she anointed Jesus’ feet, still weeping with gratitude and adoration.

How to Treat a Savior
Whatever Simon’s motives were for arranging this dinner, the woman, known for her sins, was now in charge. Simon began to worry that people would connect him with her and assume his guilt. Quietly, he wondered aloud about Jesus. If He really were a prophet, surely He would know who and what this woman was and would put a stop to this outrage.

Jesus looked deep into the man’s eyes. If Simon really wanted to know more about Jesus, he was about to learn.

“Simon, I have something to say to you.”

When Simon agreed, Jesus told the story of a creditor who forgave those who owed him money but could not pay. One owed a small amount and the other a much larger sum.

“Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”

Simon had to give the obvious answer. Jesus replied.

“You have rightly judged.”

Jesus then made the application with devastating effect.

“…you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.

Simon was speechless. Since he knew he was righteous, gratitude for sins forgiven had never entered his mind. Jesus went on.

“…her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.

Jesus, smiling, gently brushed a tear away from the woman’s blushing cheek.

“Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”

She returned His smile and quietly gathered her broken alabaster jar, stood tall and straight and, taking a deep breath, left the Pharisee’s house without a trace of shame.

Scriptures:
Luke: 7:18-28

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may I never lose my grateful heart. You have forgiven me much so I will love You much. Help me to never forget that my thanksgiving is like anointing oil to You. My tears of gratitude are precious in Your sight. My love for You is like refreshing water to Your being. May I always remember how to minister to You with a grateful heart and words of love. Thank You, Jesus.

Song:
Oh How I Love Jesus

Words and Music: Verses, Frederick Whitfield; Refrain, Traditional

1. There is a name I love to hear,
I love to sing its worth;
it sounds like music in my ear,
the sweetest name on earth.

Refrain:
O how I love Jesus,
O how I love Jesus,
O how I love Jesus,
because he first loved me!

2. It tells me of a Savior’s love,
who died to set me free;
it tells me of his precious blood,
the sinner’s perfect plea.

Refrain

3. It tells of one whose loving heart
can feel my deepest woe;
who in each sorrow bears a part
that none can bear below.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

June 24 “Arise!”

Arise!

Sometimes on the saddest of days, we are sure of the grief the day will bring.
And sometimes we are wrong. After the healing of the Centurion’s beloved servant, Jesus traveled to a town called Nain. Just a few miles from Nazareth, this village was on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem. Nain means, “delightful.” Nain would have faded into the obscurity of most small towns except for the amazing thing that happened as Jesus entered the gates.

Total Loss
It is difficult to calculate the totality of the loss suffered by a woman of Nain. Sometime before Jesus came, she, like so many wives, she lost her husband. There was little a widow could do in that culture to support herself. Until her children could support her, she would live at the mercy of other family members.

By the time of Jesus, her only son—all she had left from her husband—was a grown man. There is no record of his having his own wife and children to support so he was probably one of those brave men who took on responsibilities as they came to him.

He was her life! Perhaps his mother could see reflections of his father in his eyes or hear notes of her husband’s voice when he sang. Maybe certain mannerisms reminded the man’s mother of his father. What we know for sure is that the love between them was great and the home, although a small one, was a functional one, creating a space for them in village society. How do we know this? Dr. Luke’s description of events gives us hints.

The unthinkable happened; the young man died. We are not told how he died, some sudden or lingering sickness, or a random, senseless accident, or perhaps a crime of violence, but with his death, this man’s mother lost everything.

Tears at the Town Gate
Jesus arrived at the entrance to the town at the same moment the man’s funeral procession was leaving. A large crowd followed the open coffin, surrounding his body with public grief far beyond anything professional mourners could have produced. This parade of tears speaks of the heart of the village for this widow. Perhaps other widows had mourned in a similar procession when their husbands died. Thoughtful, observant people took civic pride in the way the young man sacrificed to provide for his mother. Their sadness extended beyond the day’s events to the uncertain future of a woman who had lost so much.

Two Processions Meet
Jesus and the Twelve stood to the side of the road to let the funeral procession pass. When the open coffin approached Jesus, He halted the mourners. He focused on the grieving widow and spoke these impossible words,

“Do not weep.”

“Do not weep?” How was that even possible? Those in the crowd who knew who Jesus was and what He had done wondered what might happen next. Those who did not know Him were offended by His presumption. They all watched in wonder as Jesus spoke to the dead man in the open coffin:

“Young man, I say to you, arise.”

The divided crowd was silent but on the verge of protest when the man sat up in the coffin began to speak to them. Jesus helped him out of the coffin and presented him to his mother. In profound silence, with scarcely single breath among them, the people watched the most unlikely reunion. As if on cue, they broke into praise of God, proclaiming Jesus to be a prophet. From these town gates, this story spread throughout Judea.

Nain means, “delightful.”

Scriptures:
Luke: 7:11-17

Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.” And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You can turn a day from tears to rejoicing with the sound of Your voice! You called my soul from the grave, from death to life, and I came out rejoicing. Death does not have the final word—you do, Lord! And Your word is life and that everlasting! You break all kinds of chains that would bind me and set me free to love You with heart, soul, mind, and strength! This I will do, rejoicing all the while for tears become laughter at Your command! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Mourning into Dancing

Words and Music: Tommy Walker

He’s turned my mourning
Into dancing again. He’s lifted my sorrows.
And I can’t stay silent.
I must sing for His joy has come.

Where there once was only hurt
You gave Your healing hand.
Where there once was only pain
You brought comfort like a friend.
I feel the sweetness of Your love
Piercing my darkness.
I see the bright and morning sun
As it ushers in Your joyful gladness.

Your anger lasts For a moment in time
But Your favor is here
And will be on me for all my lifetime.

He’s turned my mourning
Into dancing again. He’s lifted my sorrows.
And I can’t stay silent
I must sing for His joy has come.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

June 23 “Centurion”

Centurion

All Roman soldiers were not barbarians. “A certain centurion” had both an open mind and an open heart.
To rise to the rank of Centurion meant he was bright and responsible and was in direct command of 100 Roman soldiers. Evidently, he had great respect for the Jews and their religion and had even built them a synagogue.

One God Rather than Many
For a man of such intelligence, it made sense to consider the monotheism of the Jews rather than the polytheism of the Romans. Their gods were not even original creations; they were Greek retreads! It is likely that his friends, the leaders of the synagogue, had shared their history and beliefs with him. In these histories the officer saw the authority of the leaders who represented Jehovah on earth:

  • Moses outmatched the heathen priests of Pharaoh and commanded the sea to part for the People of God.
  • Joshua’s procession, led by God’s holy priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, rolled the Jordan River back on one side for the People of God.
  • Joshua’s army marched around Jericho and made walls fall down at the sound of trumpets and the shouts of the soldiers. In another battle, the sun refused to set until Joshua had prevailed.
  • For Gideon and his tiny army, torches and trumpets won the day.
  • For David, the Name of the Lord and one rock from a sling defeated the giant.
  • King Jehoshaphat’s victorious army was led by musicians!

Stories like these made it easy for the Centurion to believe in the authority of Jesus.

A Favorite Servant Fallen Ill
This Roman officer valued human life, even the life of a servant. One of his personal staff, a man loved by the soldier, was ill to the point of death. Going through the leaders of the synagogue, the Centurion appealed to Jesus. When the leaders relayed his request to Jesus, the Lord started in that direction. When He was close to the soldier’s house, representatives met Him with these words of faith:

“Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. … say the word, and my servant will be healed…”

Jesus stopped to listen to the emissaries of the Centurion as they quoted the soldier:

“For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

The Word of Faith
Jesus always responded to the faith of those who called on Him, but this was the most unusual statement of faith He had yet to hear. He found this mixture of humility and faith irresistible. He said as much to the crowd following Him.

“I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

It was at once a commendation and a condemnation. Why should a pagan soldier see Jesus more clearly than the People of God or even their leaders?

Another Healing
When the representatives of the Centurion returned to him, they found the servant completely healed—another healing registered from the hand and in the authority of Jesus. And so it would be for the rest of the earthly ministry of Jesus. Jesus would respond to the faith of those who called upon Him and thus it remains unto this very day.

Scriptures:
Luke: 7:1-10

Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.” Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I believe in You! Give me a faith like that of the Centurion—absolute confidence in Your authority. Birth a deep humility in me to bear that faith to You in prayer. Then I will know that nothing is impossible for me that is Your will! Let others count me worthy, but never let me boast in their assessment—all is for Your glory and never mine! I know that my victory comes only through faith in You. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Faith Is the Victory

Words: John Henry Yates; Music: Ira D. Sankey

1. Encamped along the hills of light,
Ye Christian soldiers, rise
And press the battle ere the night
Shall veil the glowing skies.
Against the foe in vales below
Let all our strength be hurled;
Faith is the victory, we know,
That overcomes the world.

Refrain:
Faith is the victory! (Faith is the victory!)
Faith is the victory! (Faith is the victory!)
Oh, glorious victory
That overcomes the world.

2. His banner over us is love,
Our sword the Word of God;
We tread the road the saints above
With shouts of triumph trod.
By faith they, like a whirlwind’s breath,
Swept on o’er every field;
The faith by which they conquered death
Is still our shining shield.

Refrain

3. To him who overcomes the foe
White raiment shall be giv’n;
Before the angels he shall know
His name confessed in heav’n
Then onward from the hills of light,
Our hearts with love aflame;
We’ll vanquish all the hosts of night
In Jesus’ conquering name.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

June 22 “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

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

June 21 “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 You 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

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

June 20 “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

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

June 19 “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 coast lands 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

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.