April 16 “Divided”

Divided

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.
The words of Jesus and they remain true to this day. Be it house or kingdom, anything that is intended to be a whole, functioning unit, when it is divided, is headed for failure.

Jesus, seeking anonymity, encountered a demon-possessed man. He was blind and mute but he was also someone’s son or brother, someone loved enough by others to be brought to Jesus. A unity of purpose had served to get the man to Jesus. Jesus drove out the evil spirit, restored the man’s vision and loosed his powers of speech—a three-fold miracle! This was not a step toward anonymity;

“…all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

Hearing of this spectacular event, the Pharisees went into high gear, grinding out the usual accusation—Jesus casts out demons because he is in league with Satan! Jesus knew these men to their core. His response dealt with the concept of division. The legions of hell had long ago learned the destructive power of division within their ranks. They were the fallen one-third of the heavenly angels who had rebelled against their Creator. They occupied hell and not heaven because of division. They were capable of all sorts of evil but not division. They formed an undivided kingdom of darkness.

The Kingdom of God
Tucked into a forgotten corner of the world’s greatest empire, the nation of Israel was just one of many conquered kingdoms. Perhaps at one time they were a great kingdom, in the time of David and Solomon, but that was history long-since assigned to the record books. Any thoughts of Israel as the Kingdom of God was for dreamers, half-wits, and zealots. That was why the leaders of Israel had to stamp out any hint of Messiah. There was now a balance between Jerusalem and Rome. They could keep their one-god religion if they just kept the peace. Messiah would certainly spoil that—He would divide the people and bring destruction.

Enter the Stronger Man

“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God,
surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

He said the Kingdom of God, not Israel. Jesus was threatening more than the power structure in the Temple or in Jerusalem; He was threatening Rome itself. He was seeking to divide the Empire in order to bring in down. To do this He would prove Himself the master of all empires, of all kingdoms. If we are to follow Him, we must never be divided from Him or from each other. The home should be an undivided kingdom and certainly the church should be as well. This why any attack of the enemy will be divisive, any strategy will be one of division.

Society is defined by division in every possible way: youth from age, race from race, party from party. These divisions seek entrance into the church. We must be wiser than the world. We must allow the Strong Man to rule our lives. Only Jesus can bind the enemy form harming and bind us together as the undivided Kingdom of God.

Scripture:
Matthew 12:22-30
Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
John 17:9-12
“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.
1 Corinthians 1:10-11
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Strongman! Overrule the enemy of my soul and bind him! Overrule my own selfish heart and bind me to You. Help me be a unifying one in Your marvelous Kingdom. Let me speak against unhealthy divisions in the Body of Christ. Help me encourage unity among my brothers and sisters. Let us love one another as You have loved us. Let us be the answer to Your prayer that those who follow You would be One just as You and the Father are One. In Your name, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Bind Us Together
Words and Music: Bob Gillman

BIND US TOGETHER, Lord, Bind us together
With cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord, Bind us together,
Bind us together with love.

There is only one God,
There is only one King;
There is only one Body,
That is why we sing:

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 15 “Anonymity”

Anonymity

The challenge was one of timing.
Jesus was traveling the nation of Israel preaching the Good News and performing miracles. It was hard to keep this sort of thing quiet. His fame spread with every healing, every deliverance, and every joust with the leaders who opposed Him. Still, the climax of the growing conflict with the powers of men must wait until the right moment. To this end, Jesus sought anonymity.

When He realized the healing of the man with the withered hand had prompted a plot among the Pharisees, He withdrew from that village. Multitudes followed Him and Matthew makes a most sweeping statement:

“He healed them all.”

He also asked them to keep quiet about it. Matthew states that a prophecy of Isaiah was at work here. The Messiah would be the Lord’s Servant and God would be pleased with Him. The Holy Spirit would rest upon toward an unusual end—“justice to the Gentiles.”

The Gentiles
Every Jew was taught that Gentiles were the enemy. There was much well-rehearsed history to validate this view. Forgotten in their daily struggles to be the People of God, was God’s original intention that the nation of Israel was to be a kingdom of priests to the rest of mankind. It was only after the shameful worship of the golden calf at the foot of a stormy Mt. Zion that God assigned the priesthood to the Levites. Jesus, the promised Messiah, was bringing the Kingdom of God to the whole world, not just to Israel. The New Covenant would make this clear.

Gentle Power
Isaiah is one of the great poets of the Old Testament. Listen to his description of the ministry of Messiah—power clothed in gentleness.

  • “He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.”
  • “A bruised reed He will not break…”
  • A “smoking flax He will not quench;”
  • “He will bring forth justice for truth.”

Matthew, perhaps using a different translation, adds:

  • “He sends forth justice to victory,”
  • “and in His name Gentiles will trust.”

Now we can see why Jesus dealt so gently with people, even those who accused Him or sought to discredit Him. The time would come when He confront His enemies but the order of this day was to preach the word, heal the sick, deliver the possessed, and do this with anonymity.

What do we learn from this?
We learn to let the Spirit of God do the work! Jesus was the Christ—the Anointed One! The power of the Holy Spirit was at work. Publicity was not needed. Promotion was never even a thought, let alone a priority.

We also, following in the footsteps of the Gentle Jesus, rest in the power of the Holy Spirit—our Anointing! If we are for real, people will know without having to be told. Our deeds of mercy—our cups of cold water—will make room for us in the hearts of those we meet. They may make fun of us, but our lack of reprisal will disarm them and they will know that they have met a real disciple of Christ. The offered cheek, the surrendered cloak, the second mile will testify of Jesus and by them we will tell His Story.

Scriptures:
Matthew 12:15-21
But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory; and in His name Gentiles will trust.”
Isaiah 42:1-4
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me the gift of gentleness. May Your astounding grace mark my life. Help me turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and give more than was demanded as a witness to You. May my life reflect Your life. Give me the words to speak into the lives of those You put into my life. Show me every day the deeds of mercy I can perform to ease the pain of those in my pathway. When the time comes to speak of You as the source of my life, my words and deeds will be in perfect harmony. Like You, Lord Jesus, let me fade into Your glory; let me become anonymous! All for You, Lord Jesus, all for You. Amen.

Song:
To Be Like Jesus
Traditional

To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus,
All I ask is to be like Him.
All through life’s journey
From earth to glory,
All I ask is to be like Him

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 14 “Lawful”

Lawful

Like the man with the withered hand, each of us is hampered in some way.
Our impairment may not be as obvious as a shrunken, malformed hand, but it is there nonetheless. Our close friends are kind not to mention it. Others may not see it all but we know that part of us that ought to work doesn’t.

Jesus and the Twelve went to worship at a local synagogue. The service order was just like in all the other meeting places in all the towns and villages they had visited. A worship leader would lead the worshipers in the chanting of the psalms chosen for the day. Extensive readings of Scripture would be performed by the best readers in the group. The Rabbi would comment on the readings before dismissing the meeting. Somewhere in this service, some Pharisees thrust an unfortunate man into the center of attention. One sleeve of his outer garment was full with a powerful arm inside functioning at full use and dexterity. The other sleeve, however, was empty. At first one would think the man had only one arm but then, on closer inspection, one could see the useless, shrunken arm, no bigger than that of a child. The last thing the man wanted was to have all eyes on him. His daily allotment of courage needed to ignore all the stares and whispered comments was strained by the unthinking Pharisees. Pushing him forward, they challenged Jesus:

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

Jesus looked into the eyes of the man and smiled, reassuring him that He would handle the matter. He looked into the eyes of the Pharisees, burning through to their withered souls and making them squirm.  Lawful?  They had no interest in what is lawful except to control people and retain power over them. He used the familiar analogy of a lost sheep fallen into a ditch. What would they do? Leave it there?

“Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?
Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

He told the man to stretch out his withered hand. The crowd took an audible breath as the hidden appendage was revealed, each one unconsciously, touched each of his arms in gratitude. As the man did his best to present his affliction to the Lord, something strange began to happen. The shortened arm began to lengthen. Bones started snapping. Beneath the surface of the skin, muscles grew right before their eyes. In a matter of seconds, the withered arm had grown to match the other one. Beaming, the man lifted both his hands to praise the Lord. The crowd joined him as Jesus and the Twelve smiled.

“Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.”

Stretch It Out!
Whatever has become withered in your life, stretch it out to the Lord Jesus! His command will restore it. His power will heal it. His love will make it useful again. This more than lawful–this is full of grace! You may ask, “How do I do this?” We offer to the Lord who we are and what we have—nothing more does He expect. When we present ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice, He responds. He breaks the world’s hold on us. The Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Jesus. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. There is no need to live with shrunken hopes and abilities. Like the man in the synagogue, stretch these things out to Jesus!

Scriptures:
Matthew 12:9-14
Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” — that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.
Romans 12:1-2
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You see my hidden weaknesses. I have no garments that can hide them from You. You long to relieve me of my pain, my inadequacies. Lord Jesus, at this moment, with this prayer, I stretch out ____________________to You! Make me whole, Lord Jesus, as You did that man in the synagogue that day. He did not come to You for healing. He had accepted his disability. But at Your command, he stretched forth his weakness and You made him strong. Touch me, today, Lord Jesus. I am reaching out to You. 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

April 13 “Sabbath”

Sabbath

Knowing it would be grist for the mill of opposition, Jesus claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath.
It was about more than some hungry disciples; this claim was about staking out His rightful place as the Son of God. Jesus and the twelve passed through some grain fields on a Sabbath day. His men were hungry and the food was right there, so they each had a personal little harvest and ate some of the grain. The watching Pharisees saw their opportunity.

“Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”

Jesus knew more about the Sabbath than these experts in the Law. He knew that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. He reminded the legalists of times in the history of the nation when to stave off hunger holy men had violated the laws of the Sabbath to feed themselves.

“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

There was no response from the Pharisees. They had conveniently forgotten scripture stories that did not suit their purposes. Jesus went on;

“Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?”

There is no record of their response to Jesus so they probably had none. Jesus seized the moment to begin to try to tell them the meaning behind all the wonderful things He was doing right before their eyes. He was not just a gifted Rabbi. He was more even than a great prophet, teacher and healer. He was greater than all of those marvelous offices. He told them this:

“Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.”

He was not only visiting in the Temple—it was His Father’s House! The Temple was temporary but He was eternal. He was the Messenger of the New Covenant prophesied by Malachi. He asked them what they thought of mercy—was it also a part God’s plan for them? Had not the Lord said, mercy was more desirable to God than sacrifice? The Sabbath was about rest, merciful rest, not just about rituals and laws. Jesus told the people He was the Lord of the Sabbath!

The Sabbath Today
After the resurrection of Jesus on the first Day of the week, the church combined the seventh day of rest and worship with the first day of the week celebration of the Resurrection into what is now called the Lord’s Day. In this way Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Old Covenant Sabbath and the New Covenant of new life in Christ. Indeed, all things are fulfilled in Christ. The Lord’s day is both a day for the sacrifices of worship and the merciful act of preaching the Gospel to the world. It is also a day of rest! In our culture, based on Judeo-Christian principles, the weekend combination of rest and worship orders the rest of the week for us.

Scriptures:
Matthew 12:1-8
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 28:1-2
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
Acts 20:7-8
Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
1 Corinthians 16:2-3
On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for Your day! The Lord’s Day is the central organizing point of our schedules. Thank You for rest and thank You for helping us prioritize worship. Help me to always be faithful to gather with Your Church to worship You on Your day! This is Your calendar, so I will honor it. You are faithful to be enthroned upon and to inhabit the praises of Your people; help us be faithful to give You praise to be Your throne and Your holy habitation. All for Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
This Is the Day the Lord Has Made
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

April 12 “Yoke”

Yoke

The words “yoke” and “rest” do not often appear together.
The surprising invitation of Jesus is this: “Take My yoke upon you and I will give you rest.” Usually yokes involve work, hard work that requires teams of workers bound together. When American pioneers moved west, they used 3 to 4 yokes of oxen to pull their Conestoga wagons. While one set worked, another set rested, only pulling their own weight across the plains, deserts, and mountains.

Jesus brings work and rest together.
This is one of the most amazing things about following Jesus—His burden is light and His yoke is easy. Just the other day, we were talking about the high cost of following Christ and it was all true. The outside forces of opposition are dangerous and we do serve the Lord at considerable human risk. The work of the Lord sometimes involves long hours or tedious work or even hard labor. So can it be, at the same time, easy and light?

The Easy Yoke
To follow Christ is to take up His yoke which He promises to be “easy” or literally, “useful.” In other words His yoke is easy because it works—it fits us perfectly, matching our gifts, skills, and interests. I love to conduct choirs, orchestras, and concert bands. I am trained to do this and it is an easy yoke for me to bear. When we find God’s will for our lives, we discover the easy yoke He designed for us. The other factor that makes the yoke easy even when the work is hard is the factor that the yoke-fellow relationship is a coupling, a joint venture. We do not pull the load in our own strength but in His strength, step by step along the way.

The Light Burden
Make no mistake, there are burdens to be born for the Christ-follower. The Lord often grants us the privilege of taking on heavy responsibilities in His Kingdom. Brothers and sisters in the faith depend on us to show up and follow through on these responsibilities. As we bear these burdens, they are made lighter because we have a power assist from the Holy Spirit. The Apostle tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” We do not serve at the limit of our human strength but with the power His might. We are encouraged to cast our burden upon the Lord to receive his sustaining strength. We learn that we can do more than we can do!

Rest for Your Souls
As we enter into this yoke-fellow relationship with the Lord Jesus, we will work hard and fulfill great responsibilities and our bodies will tire and require rest. We will also see a miracle. To do the work God has called and anointed us to do actually contains rest within the work! Rest for our souls—our inner person. There is rest within the work we do for God.

These are the mysteries revealed to those who would take up the yoke of Christ and bear His glorious burden. Jesus is saying, “Come do my work with me and you will find rest for your souls!”

Scriptures:
Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Ephesians 6:10-11
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Psalm 55:22
Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
Hebrews 4:9-11
There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest…

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have called me to work for and with You! I will labor to enter into that rest. As I answer that call every day, I feel Your strength beside me pulling the load. We are a team! The willingness is mine but the power is Yours. Help me keep my mind on the work and not any weariness I may encounter. In the traces with You, I am stronger than my strength, wiser than my wisdom, more sure-footed than my human sense of balance. Together, we will not stumble and the work will be done! Amen and amen.

Song:
Come unto Me
Words and Music: Charles P. Jones

1. Hear the blessed Savior calling the oppressed,
“Oh, ye heavy-laden, come to Me and rest;
Come, no longer tarry, I your load will bear,
Bring Me every burden, bring Me every care.”

Refrain:
Come unto Me, I will give you rest;
Take My yoke upon you, hear Me and be blest;
I am meek and lowly, come and trust My might;
Come, My yoke is easy, and My burden’s light.

2. Are you disappointed, wand’ring here and there,
Dragging chains of doubt and loaded down with care?
Do unholy feelings struggle in your breast?
Bring your case to Jesus—He will give you rest.

Refrain

3. Stumbling on the mountains dark with sin and shame,
Stumbling toward the pit of hell’s consuming flame;
By the pow’rs of sin deluded and oppressed,
Hear the tender Shepherd, “Come to Me and rest.”

Refrain

4. Have you by temptation often conquered been,
Has a sense of weakness brought distress within?
Christ will sanctify you, if you’ll claim His best;
In the Holy Spirit, He will give you rest.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 11 “Unrepentant”

Unrepentant

Is there anything more personally destructive than an unrepentant heart?
The answer is no. According to the dictionary to be unrepentant is “having or exhibiting no remorse.” Despite the knowledge of personal sins, the unrepentant heart feels no remorse and is busy planning the next wickedness. This heart holds on to grievances, clings to wickedness, revels in the memories of vengeance in the past, and searches for cruel advantage over others. No amount of preaching gets through to the unrepentant heart for it does not hear. Suspicion rules the mind; everyone is evil, all plans are schemes, all words are lies, and all laws are meant to be broken.

Jesus Pronounces Woe
“Woe” is a term no longer in popular use but it is the right word for the pronouncements of Jesus here. It means, “grievous distress, affliction, or trouble.” At first glance, we may see anger in Jesus’ words. If anger is there, there is also something else in greater measure—grief. Jesus speaks from a broken heart. He did not pass through these cities to bring them woe, but to bring them blessing. Jesus and His men had walked through the marketplaces of Chorazin, Bethasaida, and Capernaum. He had preached the Good News and performed healing miracles without number. Demons fled at the sound of His voice, leaving clean but exhausted souls in their wake. Many people repented of their sins and started new lives.

Times have not changed.
Today the unrepentant heart retains its destructive power. God gave man a conscience, an innate knowledge of right and wrong. When Adam and Eve sinned, humankind lost its innocence and began to violate this conscience. God gave the Law to make the matter clear and He raised up the priesthood to teach the people the difference between the holy and the profane. With a repentant heart, the Old Covenant worshiper could get forgiveness and a brand new start each year. Those who refused to repent continued to accumulate sin and eventually brought woe on themselves. When unrepentant souls gained enough power to corrupt the nation, God lifted His protective Covenant and enemies conquered them. The only solution was spiritual renewal—a call to repentance and a renewal of true Worship. This happened time and again.

Under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of his/her guilt and need for a Savior. The Spirit then points the guilty one to Jesus, the Sin Bearer. Repentance of sin and faith in Christ starts the repentant one on a brand new life, a life full of blessing not woe. We are now in the Marketplaces to tell the Jesus Story. Through He is calling for repentance. Many will not listen but some will.

Is there anything more life changing than a repentant heart? No.

Scriptures:
Matthew 11:20-24
Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
1 Timohty 4:1-3
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…
1 John 1:8-10
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
2 Corinthians 7:10
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

Prayers of Repentance:
From The Book of Common Prayer (adapted SRP)
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Almighty God has mercy on me. He forgives me all my sins through our Lord Jesus Christ. He strengthens me in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keeps me in eternal life. Amen.

Song:
Just As I am
Words: Charlotte Elliot; Music: William B. Bradbury

1. Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2. Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3. Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4. Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 10 “Marketplaces”

Marketplaces

There is no record that any of the twelve disciples was a public relations man.
Yet Jesus spoke to the various marketplaces of His day. He and His men travelled through the marketplaces meeting people and changing many of their lives forever. Marketplaces were human mixing bowls: merchants and customers, lawyers and clients, beggars and rich men, thieves and their victims, leaders and followers, and of course, children. There were infants strapped to their mother’s strong backs, toddlers holding the hands of older siblings, and teens ever on the lookout for the lovely girl or handsome young man. These children were not there on business like their parents; they were there under compulsion or with their own motives depending on their age. They were in the marketplace to play, not to do business.

Musicians were a magnet to them. They gathered around the tambourine shakers and pipers to listen to the music they made. The musicians hoped that if they pleased the children, keeping them out of trouble, the parents might flip a coin or two into the basket. Making music that pleased the children and , by extension, their parents was the occupation of the musician in the marketplace.

Some of the children, their lower lips protruding in a perpetual pout, would not be pleased. When the musicians played happy songs they refused to dance. When they played funeral songs, perhaps to match the sadness of the childish faces, neither would the children join in. There was no pleasing them. Their complaints to their parents meant no clinking of coins in the baskets.

This Generation
Jesus compared the fickle generation of adults to children in the marketplaces—they would not be pleased no matter what was said or done. John the Baptizer came with a solemn message of repentance and they scoffed at him, saying he had a demon. Jesus and His Twelve men came into the marketplace joyfully, sharing healing smiles and restorative laughter, a foretaste of the New Wine of the New Covenant. Surely they were pleased with the contrast? No. They didn’t like this approach either. They said Jesus and His men were gluttons and drunks. Like children who did not know why they were unhappy or what they wanted or needed, they could not be pleased.

Wisdom’s Children
Jesus knew the source of the disgruntled spirit of the crowd. They were not right with God. Nothing they could purchase or sell in the marketplace would ever make them right with God. Being cut off from God spoiled every other relationship in their lives; there was no joy in marriage or adultery, in status or power, in riches or even good health. Something was always missing. No tune ever played could make them dance and they dare not lower their well-worn masks and mourn in public. The vacant center of each life, the place designed for God’s dwelling place, was a sinkhole drawing the details of their lives ever toward the abyss. Their “wisdom” produced nothing but pain.

Others, there in the marketplaces, heard the words of Jesus. They brought their pain to Him and He relieved it. His words filled the empty places in their hearts, giving them inner strength. Here was a joyful song, not a dirge—a tune to dance to! In the coming days and years, the wisdom of following Jesus would prove its value in the marketplaces of the world.

Scriptures:
Matthew 11:16-19
“But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: ‘We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, save me from childish ways. I will be careful to fill the empty spaces in my life with You! You are my solid Rock foundation. No storm or winds or waves can move You. I am secure in Your grace. Lord, this marketplace of mine is a place bent on dissatisfaction. Help me live differently from the world. When the music of life is joyful, I will dance for You. When the pipes call me to weep for the plight of others, I will weep with You. Every moment of every day is a moment to be seized. May the sum total of my life be goodness—the justification of a wise life. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Satisfied in Jesus
Words: Barney E. Warren; Music: Clarence E. Hunter

1. I am satisfied in Jesus, What a sweet soul rest I feel;
When life’s greatest burdens press me, He doth all my sorrows heal.

Refrain:
I am satisfied, I am satisfied;
If by simple faith in Jesus I abide,
Then my soul is fully satisfied.

2. I can sing redemption’s story, Peace within my bosom reigns;
I am satisfied, oh, glory! In my heart, His grace remains.

Refrain

3. I am satisfied completely, In His love supremely blest;
Since His arms are underneath me, Soul and body are at rest.

Refrain

4. Satisfied in Jesus’ keeping, He’s my choice forevermore;
Fade, life’s joys, so short and fleeting, Mine are over on that shore.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 9 “Evidence”

Evidence

In prison, it must be difficult to maintain one’s perspective.
When Jesus left Galilee heading south to preach in the cities of Israel, the news of His ministry spread before Him like waves of hope on a troubled sea. John, wasting away it seemed in Herod’s prison, heard through his disciples who came to visit him about the wonderful things Jesus was doing and saying.

We are not told why, but something about all of this troubled John, the once prominent forerunner of Messiah. Perhaps he expected a political revolution in addition to the spiritual one taking place. Somehow a shadow of doubt came into his mind about the One he had baptized in the Jordan, the One he had proclaimed to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He sent two of his disciples to investigate. They found Jesus and spoke for John,

“Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”

We can sense the despair of the dungeon in this inquiry. Jesus understood John’s fears; it seems Messiah was a surprise even to His forerunner! His answer was one of evidence. Tell John,

“The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

These ministries were the true evidence of the true Messiah: healing, deliverance, new life, and the sound of the Good News in the ears of the downtrodden. This was the promised revolution of Isaiah. Jesus continued with a blessing for John,

“And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

In other words, “Do not be offended, John! Your work is done. All is going according to the plan of the Father.”

No Greater Prophet
Jesus went on to testify to the multitude about John, asking the people what they went out to the wilderness to see—a show? A freak of nature? A man in funny clothes? A prophet? Yes, a prophet—a man in your time, speaking the words of God Himself! John was the Messenger going before Messiah calling for a time of preparation. There had been no greater prophet than John for his message was the final one before the time of Messiah.

John the Baptizer marked a turning point in history—the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New. Prior to this, God’s blessings were passed through the nation of Israel, but the New Covenant would be one of opportunity for all. All who wished to violently cut personal ties to pagan religions will be able to seize the Kingdom of God. All who would claim Christ as King, even at the great cost of discipleship, must divorce themselves from the old ways and drink deeply of this New Wine. In this Kingdom, the least will be the greatest, even greater than John because the New Covenant will be one of power to the meek.

Back in the Cell
We are not told of the return of John’s two disciples and their report to their leader. I imagine the evidence they brought, relieved his mind. He had fulfilled his calling. The glory of the Lord spoken of by Isaiah was beginning to shine in the path of Jesus. The dark skies of history were beginning to glow with a new dawning of hope. Perhaps there was one little window with bars too far over John’s head to offer escape but close enough to allow a haft of hazy light to penetrate John’s confinement. As the sun moved across the sky and the shaft of light moved through the cell, when it illumined John’s face, it found there a deep smile.

Scriptures:
Matthew 11:1-42
Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.'”Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
Isaiah 61:1-3
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Lord of those who are discouraged! You do not upbraid us or scold us when we lose hope for a while. You remember our frame, that we are only human. When these times come, help me pause to consider the evidence: You are faithful. You are good. You are merciful. You have called me. You empower me. You watch over me and protect me from evil. My hope is in Your strength, not mine. The story is not over! I have a job to do to please You and I can do it in Your name! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
We Declare the Kingdom of God Is Here
Words and Music: Graham Kendrick

We declare that the Kingdom of God is here.
We declare that the Kingdom of God is here.
Among you, Among you!

The blind see! The deaf hear!
The lame men are walking!
Sicknesses flee at His voice!
The dead live again And the poor hear
The good news. Jesus is King so rejoice.

We declare that the Kingdom of God is here.
We declare that the Kingdom of God is here.
Among you, Among you!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 8 “Reward”

Reward

God’s creation is one of cause and effect, sowing and reaping, and work and reward.
The Christ-follower does not follow Jesus without the promise of substantial reward. This is not selfishness or a less noble motivation; it is a natural desire deep within the heart God gave each of us. Jesus spoke to this eloquently. Let us hear His words today.

“…he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.”

We do not follow Christ in order to be rewarded for it; we follow Him because:

  • He loves us.
  • He has called us.
  • He is worthy.

Along with these marvelous motivations, there is the promise of a rich reward, not just in the world to come, but in this life also.

Heavenly Rewards
Paul writes of life as a race. Each runner disciplines the flesh and prepares to finish the race. Unlike earthly competition where only one person gets the prize, in this race all may win a crown! He advises us to order our lives around what it takes to run the race and get the crown. New Testament writers like John the Beloved admit that the rewards of heaven are so great they cannot not be adequately described in earthly language.

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be…”

We anticipate our rewards by faith in the words of the Bible:

  • I go to prepare a place for you…
  • Lay up treasures in heaven…
  • A Crown of Righteousness…
  • A Crown of Life…

We do not labor in this world for our Savior without hope of eternal reward. The promise of rewards is not our primary motivation, but these promises encourage us along the way.

Earthly Rewards
The Christ-follower does not have to wait for heaven to receive substantial rewards. Jesus mentions some ways of serving Him that are well within our reach.

  • Accepting God’s Anointed Ones. The church is built on teamwork. That means there are leaders and followers. Everyone knows that before one can be an effective leader, one has to excel at following! When we “receive” those whom God has sent to us, not only do we share their work, we share their reward. In the church all the glory goes to the Lord Jesus, the power of the work is that of the Holy Spirit, and the house itself, meaning the people of God, is the Father’s House! Work and rewards for all!
  • Cups of Cold Water. To quote from Frank Capra’s amazing film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “just a little of everyday human kindness.” That’s what Jesus meant by sharing cups of cold water to the “little ones” we meet. No trumpet fanfares, no flashing lights, no publicity, just “everyday human kindness”—that’s what Jesus was talking about. This is within ready reach of all of us. We do these things because the need is there. We have no thought of reward but in heaven’s books, these simple deeds are recorded and never forgotten.

Receiving and Giving
In God’s economy the laws of sowing and reaping are still at work. If we sow sparingly, that is how we shall reap. If we sow bountifully, a bountiful harvest will be ours. To sow good things by working together and by unseen acts of kindness, is to reap a harvest of rewards, some here and now and others in the life to come.

Scriptures:
Matthew 10:40-42
“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
1 John 3:1-3
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
2 Timothy 4:6-8
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
James 1:12-13
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
2 Corinthians 9:6
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my heart races when I think of the heavenly rewards You have promised: seeing You, reunion with my loved ones, a life free of pain! Best of all is the thought of hearing You say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter in to the joys of the Lord.” May I not become weary in this work for I know that if I do not faint, I shall someday reap a harvest of reward. Move me, Lord, to faithfulness in these matters. Let me feel the needs of those around me and respond as I am able. Help me to never grow weary in this. For Your glory, Lord. Thank You for putting me on Your team! 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

April 7 “Confession”

Confession

It is a powerful thing to believe something; to confess what we believe is more powerful still.
In this way we are made in the image of God: our speech brings things into existence. Not to the extent of God’s confessions, to be sure. He confessed a universe and suddenly there was a universe. We certainly cannot create physical realities by simply saying, “Let there be…” but God can and did and does. Our confessions of belief create the internal universe of our interpretation of events and objects and people. We cannot confess “rain” and see it fall but we can sing a song like “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down” and see it come true.

Confessing Christ
Jesus was instructing His listeners and followers in the Father’s confession over us—He loves us more than many sparrows! He is committed to us, offering eternal life as well as meaningful life while we remain earthbound. We must respond to these astounding confessions with confessions of our own. We must confess Christ. It is one thing to believe in our hearts—it is an essential thing—and quite another to confess with our mouths, to go public with what we believe. It takes courage. Once spoken, a new life begins. A bridge is crossed over a wide chasm; it would be foolhardy to turn back, to turn away from life and return to death. Confession of Christ is the crossing of that bridge.

Confession and Denial
Confession brings the contents of the heart to the surface for all to see. If a person is quietly considering the Jesus Story, pondering its status as truth or legend, history or myth, it is a private matter. No one sees. No one hears. Life is not altered in any way. When that careful consideration becomes a confession before men, everything changes. Life is fundamentally altered. A contract with the Almighty has been enacted, the New Covenant. God’s promises to His People go into effect. These blessings are the ones Jesus told us about in the Sermon on the Mount:

  • A new way of living,
  • A personal candle burning in each of us,
  • A house built on the Rock, impervious to storms, and
  • A privilege of prayer in the Secret Place with the Father every day.

When we confess Christ before men, the contract, the Covenant, goes into force.

Some will consider Christ in their hearts and decide that it is all a myth, a hopeful spasm of dull minds, a dead end dream that simply cannot be true. They will call Jesus a good man, a great teacher—though they do not believe what He taught—another fine person cut down by hate before he could reach his potential. Nonsense. These confessions of Jesus are worthless and deceiving, no matter how popular they are. They are an attempt to file The Jesus Story away in some safe place, lock it in a drawer, and erase it from the mind. Who needs it?

What is the response to such denial? With sadness deeper than we can ever imagine, Jesus denies the unbeliever before the Father.

Count the Cost
Confessing Christ is not for cowards. Some lose their families to gain Christ. Some lose their earthly lives to gain eternal ones. The irony of confessing Christ is expressed in the words of Jesus:

“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”

The life you possess came from God. Sin stole it from you. To believe in your heart and confess with your mouth is to lose it in Jesus and find it again.

Scriptures:
Matthew 10:32-39
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Romans 10:8-13
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I confess that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God! I join my voice to Peter and to countless saints through the ages who have made this confession. I confess that You are my Savior, my Lord and Master, and my soon-coming King! You have a plan for my life and You show it to me one step at a time by the power of Your Holy Spirit. I confess that today will be a day of faithfulness to that plan and a day peace in the process. I confess that my life is hidden in Yours and that my life is solidly built on the Rock! Amen and Amen.

Songs:
Life Giver / You Are the Christ
Words and Music: Jimmy and Carol Owes (from The Witness)

Who is this who has life to give?
Who is this who tells the dead to live?
Not an ordinary man with some words of truth to say
Who has His moment in the sun and one day fades away.

Who is this who has life to give?
Who is this who tells the dead to live?
Not an ordinary man but one who dares to say
He is the resurrection and the life,
And then offers it to you and me.

Come to the Life Giver, come to the Life Giver,
And let Him pour His life on You,
Let Him pour His life on You.
Let Him pour His life on You.

Who am I? What are they saying?
Do they know the truth or are they blind?
Who am I? What do you call me?
Tell me, what is my name?

You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
I say You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
You are the Christ—You are the Lord!

You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
I say You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
You are the Christ—You are my Lord!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved