May 14, 2018 “Laborers”

Laborers

Without laborers, a vineyard is useless.
One of the principle models Jesus used to explain the church is the vineyard. As beautiful as a vineyard may be to the eye, it is really a business. The vineyard succeeds when it produces a product—new wine. This model has many spiritual applications:

  • Jesus and the Believer as the True Vine and the branches,
  • Jesus as the Lord of the vineyard,
  • Believers as workers in the vineyard, and
  • New Wine—a fresh move of the Holy Spirit—as the product of the vineyard.

Although many lessons are drawn from this model, in this story Jesus emphasizes the laborers in the vineyard.

The Landowner
The Landowner went into the marketplace to find laborers to bring in the harvest in his vineyard. He made his first recruiting trip early in the morning and his final trip very late in the day—four trips in all. To each group he promised fair payment for their work. When he found an idle group standing in the marketplace very late in the day, he asked them why. Their answer is so important to the story.

“Because no one hired us.”

There was work to be done and people to do the work but the connection to make it happen had never been made. He hired them on the spot.

At the End of the Day
When the long work day was finally over, the Landowner instructed his steward to pay the workers from the last hired to the first. When the 11th hour group got their fair wage, the others assumed since they had worked longer, they would get more. They did not; they got the fair wage they signed on for. The longer term workers complained to the Landowner. He answered that he had done them no wrong; he paid the agreed upon the work. This answer did not silence their grumbling but it settled the issue. The Landowner was within his rights and had cheated no one.

The Lesson
What is Jesus saying to us? We have all come to the work of His vineyard at different times in our lives. We can trust God to do for us as He has promised. He does not lie and it is not in Him to cheat. We must not compare God’s blessings upon other laborers with what He is doing for us. This illegitimate calculation will only lead to discontent and strife. At the end of the day, all will be beyond question.

Kingdom Measurements
In the Vineyard of the Lord, things are measured by heavenly standards. Here, “the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” The important thing is the work. The Vineyard must be tended by skillful hands. The vines and their branches laden with fruit must be cared for in all weathers. When the time for the harvest comes, every laborer becomes a harvester. The crop must be brought in and processed. The Vineyard is the only source for the New Wine of the fresh move of the Spirit of God.

Scriptures:
Matthew 20:1-16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the owner of the Vineyard. Thank You for inviting me to be a laborer in Your work. I am not distracted by worries over my compensation; that is in Your capable hands. Lord, You said that You were the Vine and I am a branch. Holy Spirit, make my connection to the Vine secure so that His life flows through me. I want to be a fruitful branch! You promised me this happy, productive life in Your Vineyard. Move among us, O Holy Spirit so those who see us may see Jesus. For the Harvest, Lord! Amen.

Song:
The Wine of the Kingdom
Words and Music: Graham Kendrick

1. One shall tell another And He shall tell his friend
Husbands wives and children Shall come following on
From house to house in families Shall more be gathered in
And lights will shine in every street So warm and welcoming

Refrain:
Come on in and taste the new wine
The wine of the kingdom
The wine of the kingdom of God
Here is healing and forgiveness
The wine of the kingdom
The wine of the kingdom of God

2. Compassion of the Father Is ready now to flow
Through acts of love and mercy We must let it show
He turns now from His anger To show a smiling face
And longs that men should stand beneath
The fountain of His grace.

Refrain

3. He longs to do much more than Our faith has yet allowed
To thrill us and surprise us With His sovereign power
Where darkness has been darkest The brightest light will shine
His invitation comes to us It’s yours and it is mine

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 13, 2018 “Receiving”

Receiving

They had seen others refuse the call to follow Jesus.
They had also seen rich people humbled by an encounter with Jesus, but this case was disturbing. This was a good man, a diligent keeper of the law. He was obviously blessed by God for his righteousness. Why should God’s blessings be the price of eternal life?

Jesus saw into their hearts, hearing their questions as easily as if they had spoken them.

“…,it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man
to enter the kingdom of God.”

Tired by the Road
Perhaps it was the end of a long day, or the weariness of the many long walks and tense conversations with the rulers, but something about this encounter stole the energy of the twelve men following Jesus. They were not yet converted from the world where riches were counted as riches, not impediments. The values of Jesus, the heavenly measuring instruments, were still not theirs. If a righteous man, blessed by God with riches…

“Who then can be saved?”

The disciple who asked the question is not revealed but all of them were thinking it. Jesus looked at them and saw their despair. He reminded them that all things were possible with God.

It didn’t help.

What do we get?
Peter spoke for the group reminding Jesus that they had not turned away when He said, “Follow me.” They had answered His call. Was there no assurance for them of eternal reward?

“See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”

Peter’s question could have come from any of their mouths. Jesus assured them of special places in His Kingdom to come. They would see a new world, a regenerated earth and sky and they would be the rulers of the nation. Jesus paused to let His promises sink into their exhausted minds. What shall they have? Much. More than they gave up to follow Him and more than the rich young ruler held on to, and more than they could ever imagine.

In the Distance
Jesus looked beyond the setting of this conversation, beyond the road and the countryside flanking the road, to the far horizon. He even looked beyond that horizon to the future. He knew that for centuries to come people would hear Him say, “Follow Me.” They would leave all to do just that. They would abandon homes and families and easy lives to follow Him to strange lands and hard times and demanding vocations all because He asked them to. That many judged to the “first” in their small worlds would leave those promising futures to be “last” in the eyes of people to advance His Kingdom. He saw the weak and overlooked ones become the “first” in His Kingdom.

And there in the distance, He saw you and He saw me.

Scriptures:
Matthew 19:23-30
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, what I have given up to follow You is insignificant to what I have gained. You are my exceeding great reward! My heart beats for Your Kingdom. You have always met my needs and blessed me abundantly in so many ways. Help me keep my eyes on You and not on others. I rejoice in the way You bless my brothers and sisters. Help me measure my life by those heavenly instruments, not the false scales of this old world. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Traditional

1. I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

2. Though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

3. The world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 12, 2018 “Pride”

Pride

Some people came to Jesus with needs that could not be hidden: blindness, leprosy, a crutch or a withered hand. Others came with diseases hidden away.
He has come to be called the Rich Young Ruler. His clothes were new and they were well made. He carried with him an air of importance. People made way for him because it just seemed to the proper thing to do. It was as if people could read his impressive resume just by the way he moved.

Why was he following Jesus?
Perhaps he had seen the miracles but he did not need one. Surely he had heard the amazing things Jesus said for he had already made up his mind about Jesus—He was a good teacher, no, a great teacher. If he had been following Jesus from place to place, he may have seem Him bless the children.

Jesus and Children
The young man noted that children reacted to Jesus in a much different way than to him. He was puzzled by this. In the past he had filled his bag with treats and the children would take them and get away as soon as possible. Why? They were different with Jesus. All He gave them was a smile and gentle touch yet they were drawn to Him, laughing and playing as if they had known Him all their short lives. Why? When His disciples tried to shoo the children away, he saw Jesus put His hands on them and bless them.

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

It was like a knife to his heart. What? Children? Surely eternal life would be given to the important people of this world, not to children?

Puzzled, the young man kept on following Jesus. He wasn’t a leper and he wasn’t blind or deaf. He certainly wasn’t poor so what was this need in his heart? Why was he drawn to Jesus, a poor carpenter with no standing, no influence, with nothing to offer a rich young ruler, except perhaps an end to the secret ache in his heart. Without thinking the question popped from his mouth.

“Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

As impressed as he was with Jesus, he still could not call Him great. Jesus deflected his question with a question of His own and then a challenge to keep the commandments. The young man wanted details but he was confident he had overlooked nothing in this matter. Jesus gave him the list. There was nothing new there so the young man reported what everybody already knew.

“All these things I have kept from my youth.”

Jesus lowered His eyes at this report and studied the dust on the road. After an uncomfortable moment, the young man pressed the issue.

“What do I still lack?”

Jesus lifted His head and met the man’s eyes with a slight smile.

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

The gaze of Jesus into the man’s soul never wavered. Suddenly the man’s new clothes did not fit so well. He felt naked in front of the crowd. Children laughed at him and even as Jesus continued to look at him, the young man turned and walked away.

Pride is an unseen disease but it devastates the best of people.

Scriptures:
Matthew 19:13-22
Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And He laid His hands on them and departed from there. Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
James 4:6 NKJV
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

Prayer:
Jesus, You are a great Teacher. Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path. I have no righteousness of my own to offer You. Lord, save me from self-importance. Deliver me from pride. Clothe me with humility so that others may see You in me. Help me be like those children who were drawn to You, not in fear, but in joy. Lord Jesus, fill all the holes in my heart! Satisfy my hidden hungers. I am unworthy it is true, but as the song says, “a pauper, I walk with the King!” Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Unworthy
Words and Music: Vep Ellis

1. Unworthy am I of the grace that He gave,
Unworthy to hold to His hand;
Amazed that a King would reach down to a slave,
This love I cannot understand.

Refrain:
Unworthy, unworthy, a beggar;
In bondage and alone;
But He made me worthy and now by His grace,
His mercy has made me His own.

2. My sorrow and sickness laid stripes on His back,
My sins caused the blood that was shed;
My faults and my failures have woven a crown
Of thorns, that He wore on His head.

Refrain

3. Unworthy am I of the glory to come,
Unworthy with angels to sing;
I thrill just to know that He loved me so much,
A pauper, I walk with the King

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 11, 2018 “Loving”

Loving

Some things change with time. Some things do not.
Jesus and the Twelve left Galilee and traveled down to Judea. Great multitudes of folks with all kinds of sicknesses and needs followed Him and “He healed them there.” The Pharisees, ignoring the miracles and looking for a chance to catch Jesus in some sort of mistake, asked Him about divorce.

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

They were not concerned about the people; it was simply a test. Jesus answered them as if it were a serious inquiry. He referred them to things they already knew:

  • God created people as males and females.
  • Marriage between a man and woman was God’s plan.
  • This was a reason to grow up, leave home, and form your own home.
  • Legally and in the sight of God a married couple had ceased to be two people and were one in the Lord.
  • What God has joined together should not be separated by man.

But, times have changed. Haven’t they?
Moses faced the reality that marriage did not always mean love. He made a rule that a man who no longer loved his wife could simply give her a certificate and send her away. Times had changed and Moses changed with them. Implicit in their question was another question: “Do you agree?”

God has not changed.
Moses faced the hardness of men’s hearts and made his exception but this was never God’s plan. Hard-hearted men do not love. They look upon women as objects to satisfy their lusts and as servants to meet their needs. God intended for a man and woman to love each other; that means to live each for the other. The love of a man with a godly heart for a woman lifts her up; it never uses or abuses her. Hard-hearted men do that. The true-hearted man can no more intentionally hurt his wife than he could to drive a nail into his own hand. She is an extension of his very existence.

When Two Become One
When a man and a woman are joined together in holy matrimony, they become one in the eyes of God.

  • When He moves the man, the move is also good for the woman.
  • When He meets the needs of the woman, the man is also blest.
  • When God blesses their union with children, those children will need what the father supplies and what the mother has to give.

The children will learn about life from both a masculine and feminine viewpoint, preparing them for life in the real world. Little boys will love their mothers and want to be like their fathers. Little girls will love their fathers and learn how to be women like their mothers. When two become one and then they become several, the plan of God works wonderfully well.

Do not stop loving.
It may not always be easy to love one’s spouse, especially if the spouse is not a believer. As long as possible, the believing partner should keep on loving the unbelieving one. Paul does not claim that his advice is from God but it is good to consider his wisdom. Jesus also said that some individuals were called to a single life. These people are able to give all their love to the Kingdom of God and should be seen as true heroes.

Back to the Beginning
Regardless of changing times and mores, it is good to refer back to the beginning, to the original intentions of God. Let His plan guide us by loving the one He has given us.

Scriptures:
Matthew 19:1-12
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there. The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”
1 Corinthians 7:12-16 NKJV
But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

Prayer:
Lord, Jesus, I marvel at Your plan! You created us male and female and this is the fundamental organizational fact of human life. The joy of being one in marriage is one that grows with time. It gets sweeter as the years add up. Help those who are single to find the one You have for them and those who are called to the single life to find joy in their service to You. Help each of us to keep on loving! Amen and Amen.

Song:
O Love that Will Not Let Me Go
Words: George Matheson; Music: Albert L. Peace

1. O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

2. O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

3. O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

4. O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red
life that shall endless be.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 10, 2018 “Forgiveness”

Forgiveness

Peter thought he was doing fine when he volunteered to forgive an offending brother seven times.
He wasn’t even close! Jesus told him the limit was seventy times seven, an infinite amount! We don’t have to work hard to imagine the look on the fisherman’s face. How was that even possible? Who had that much grace? While Peter was trying to do the math, Jesus told a story to illustrate what He meant.

A King and His Servants
In the process of settling the accounts with his servants, the king called each one forward. One poor soul owed 10,000 talents and was unable to pay. This was the king’s money given to the servant to invest and bring a profit. Not only was there no profit, the king’s money had disappeared. The king demanded that the servant and his family be sold to replace his losses. At this decree the servant fell on his face at the feet of the king and begged for mercy.

‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’

His genuine sorrow broke the heart of the king. He was moved to forgive the debt and set the servant free. Wonderful. But the story takes a tragic turn.

When the Forgiven do not Forgive
The forgiven, unproductive servant was owed a small amount by another servant. The forgiven one went out and found the fellow who owed him money and demanded immediate payment. The fellow who owed the debt also pled for mercy but was given none. In fact the first servant laid hands on him and demanded payment. Servants could not keep a thing like this quiet. The injustice of all this grieved them deeply and they told the king about it. The king was also grieved.

You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?

He sent the wicked servant, at first slothful and finally cruel, to the prison to be tortured until all was repaid.

The crowd and the disciples with them waited in silence for Jesus to make application of this horrible story. Finally, it came:

“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Peter forgot about the math and began to calculate how much he had been forgiven.

Heavenly Measures
We cannot measure spiritual things with physical tools. Offences to not add up in the same way we count apples. One offence can outnumber a whole bushel. Acts of forgiveness are the same. We have to calculate spiritual things with spiritual tools. Whether we have been much offended or little, our forgiveness should be greater by a large measure. When we compare the forgiveness we have received from Christ, so lavish, so abundant, so readily granted, how can we measure out our forgiveness in lesser amounts?

It isn’t easy to do. The wounded heart wants to tend its wounds. The offended mind never wants to forget the hurtful words spoken. But we are more than mind and heart; we are also spirit—that part of us that knows God. His Spirit is there and He helps us forgive and forget and go on to real joy.

Scriptures:
Matthew 18:21-35
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have forgiven me! Help me be fast to forgive others. Keep me from sinful pride in my own spirituality; that is folly. Help me measure my life by heavenly instruments—grace, mercy, compassion. Don’t let me be hindered by grievances. Help me to let go of the bad things that have happened and to hold on to the good things. I want to press on for You, Lord Jesus, until I hear You say “Well done!” Amen and Amen.

Song:
When We See Christ
Words and Music: Ester Kerr Rusthoi

1. Oft times the day seems long, Our trials hard to bear.
We´re tempted to complain, to murmur and despair.
But Christ will soon appear to catch his bride away!
All tears forever over in God’s eternal day!

Refrain:
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus!
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ.
One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrow will erase.
So, bravely run the race till we see Christ.

2. At times the sky seems dark, with not a ray of light;
We’re tossed and driven on, no human help in sight.
But there is One in heaven, Who knows our deepest care;
Let Jesus solve your problems, just go to him in prayer.

Refrain

3. Life’s day will soon be o’re, all storms forever past;
We’ll cross the great divide to Glory, safe at last!
We’ll share the joys of heaven: a harp, a home, a crown;
The tempter will be banished, We’ll lay our burdens down.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 9, 2018 “Presence”

Presence

The presence of Jesus with those who follow Him is the determining factor.
In this passage. Jesus talks about the church, the “ekklesia”—“the called out ones.” To be a part of the church that Jesus is building means that we have been called out of the world and into fellowship with one another. When Jesus teaches about what to do when someone offends us, He is speaking about a brother or sister. The presence of Jesus rests on both the offender and the offended so the solution involves Him. He is the Peacemaker in the family.

When It’s Just the Two of You
It isn’t two—there are three. Jesus is there. A truth-session between the two parties must be presided over by the third party—Jesus. When His Spirit prevails, brotherhood is reestablished.

Take it to the Church
If one party in the conflict is wrong and will not repent, the matter must go before the family. In matters of congregational concern, this can be done publically. In more private conflicts, representatives of the church may stand in for the whole family. The point of the meeting is to avoid a “my word against his word” situation. The presence of Jesus is presiding over this process. A unrepentant person proven guilty proves also that he/she is not really one of the “called out ones” and must be treated as an outsider until repentance comes.

Power to the Church
One of the most intriguing statements of Jesus follows:

“…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

At first this seems to be an inordinate amount of power to be given to people. When we think of the incredible power of prayer given to Christ-followers and the multiplied effect of the church gathered in worship and witness, we can begin to understand what Jesus means.

  • When we worship God in Spirit and Truth, we are binding the powers of hell and loosing the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • When we teach little ones the Jesus Story, we are binding their hearts to Him and loosing the Spirit of God in their lives.
  • When we pray the prayer of faith for the sick, anointing them with oil as Pastor James commands, we are binding the force of the illness and loosing the healing virtue of the Lord.
  • When we tell the Jesus Story in worship and/or witness, we are binding the hindering forces of Hell and loosing a flood of grace.

Heaven takes account of what we bind and loose on earth as the work of the ministry continues in the lives of the “called out ones.”

The Power of Agreement
Agreement binds believers together. Agreement in Jesus’ name binds heaven and earth together. Anything in the will of God is possible. Knowing the will of God, we can ask for what God wants and it will be done. This is the power of the concerted prayer of the church. The record in the Book of Acts is impressive:

  • The coming of Spirit-baptism at Pentecost and Peter preached a sermon with thousands saved,
  • A lame man healed at the hour of prayer,
  • Prison doors shaking open when the church prayed, and
  • Direction for missions given when elders prayed and fasted, just to name a few instances.

Why? What is the source of this power of heaven flowing though the earth?

It is the presence of Jesus. He is with us and all things are possible.

Scriptures:
Matthew 18:15-20
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, save me from conflicts with my brothers and sisters. At best they serve only as distractions from the mission. When I am wrong, grant me the spirit of repentance. When the other one is wrong, grant me the grace of forgiveness and then help us both get back to work. Your presence binds us together and our agreement binds the forces of the enemy and looses the power of the Spirit. O Lord, send the power just now! Amen and amen.

Song:
Old Time Power
Words and Music: Charles D. Tillman

1. They were in an upper chamber,
They were all with one accord,
When the Holy Ghost descended
As was promised by the Lord.

Refrain:
O Lord, send the pow’r just now,
O Lord, send the pow’r just now;
O Lord, send the pow’r just now
And baptize every one.

2. Yes, the pow’r from Heav’n descended
With the sound of rushing wind;
Tongues of fire came down upon them,
As the Lord said He would send.

Refrain

3. Yes, this old-time pow’r was given
To our fathers who were true;
This is promised to believers,
And we all may have it too.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 8, 2018 “Lost”

Lost

Losses do not have to be permanent. Jesus deals in finding what is lost and saving it.
The book of Revelation indicates that Heaven keeps books. Things do not get lost in the cracks for there are none. No life is overlooked. Wrongs are noted as are deeds of mercy and kindness. Prayers are collected for all eternity.

Jesus was concerned about the children He saw every day. He saw parents who were too busy to care for their children. He saw children working in the fields and in the shops at too early an age. Life was hard for the little ones but it served to prepare the survivors for adult life. He pronounced a most solemn warning on anyone who harmed them and He held all adults responsible for their welfare. Far from despised, children should be cared for by adults. Each one has an angel in direct contact with God Almighty.

The Mission
In this context of love for children, Jesus articulated His mission:

“For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

The pronoun “that” is not specific. What was lost that Jesus came to seek and to save? The answer is a many-fold one.

  • People were lost. More than once, He was moved with compassion toward the people because they were leaderless, “like sheep without a shepherd,” He described them. He was the Good Shepherd who would seek people and save them.
  • The nation was lost. These were supposed to be the People of God yet their history was full of apostasy and idolatry. They had failed time and again to live up to their covenant with God. Now they sought to serve God in a Roman context, a hopeless endeavor.
  • The world was lost. Israel was supposed to be a witness to the world of a loving Creator God who had spoken His love to the World. The world paid little attention to this pale light and continued on in darkness.
  • Innocence was lost. It happened long before any of them or even the patriarchs were born. It happened in the Garden of Eden. Sin replaced fellowship with God. Pain supplanted pleasure. Work became a burden and joy was displaced by loneliness. An angel with a flaming sword blocked any hope of a return to innocence.

Jesus came to change all of this. To seek the lost one, the lonely one, the exhausted one, and give him/her hope again. A second Adam had come to undo what the first Adam did. A new Eve would emerge from those rescued by Jesus, the Church, the Mother of all Living in Christ and the beloved Bride of Christ.

There was much yet to be done to complete the Mission. Already, Jesus was searching for the lost sheep who were ready to return to the fold. He would leave the ninety and nine in the care of the under-shepherds and scour the mountain passages and deep valleys calling to the lost ones to come to Him.

And He finds us! He found you; perhaps as a lost adult or perhaps like He found me, as one of His precious children. When He found us, a party broke out in Heaven. Angels danced and sang, making the doorposts shake. Lighting the whole party was the broad smile on the Father’s face.

Scriptures:
Matthew 18:10-14
“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Romans 5:12-17 NKJV
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned — (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
Revelation 22:17 NKJV
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You came and found me! You saved me from a life of sin! Now I am a part of the Ninety and nine, the Church. Lead me Lord! Help me love the children of my church, my town, my nation, the world! Send Your workers, Lord, into dangerous places in this world where children are held in poverty, hunger, peril, and hopelessness. Speak to Your Church to support those whom You have called to go. Lord, help us join You in the search for that which is lost so we can soon join in the heavenly celebration. Amen.

Song:
A New Name in Glory
Words and Music: C. Austin Miles

1. I was once a sinner, but I came
Pardon to receive from my Lord.
This was freely given, and I found
That He always kept His word.

Refrain:
There’s a new name Written down in glory,
And it’s mine, oh yes, it’s mine!
And the white-robed Angels sing the story,
“A sinner has come home.”
For there’s a new name written down in glory,
And it’s mine, oh yes, it’s mine!
With my sins forgiven I am bound for heaven,
Nevermore to roam.

2. I was humbly kneeling at the cross,
Fearing naught but God’s angry frown,
When the heavens opened and I saw
That my name was written down.

Refrain

3 In the Book ’tis written, “Saved by grace.”
Oh the joy that came to my soul!
Now I am forgiven, and I know
By the blood I am made whole.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 7, 2018 “Offenses”

Offenses

Offenses: We all are subject to them. We are all capable of delivering them. It is the human condition.
Cruelty and injustice offends people who are the victims. Sin offends God. Revenge for offenses received only offends the offender more deeply. Nothing is solved. No issues are resolved. The inertia of offense continues to drive the train off the rails until a life is wasted. Who can stop this?

Only Jesus.

Children
A few days ago we sang, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” It is more than a song. It is a fact. Adults who swim in the sea of offenses bear the responsibility of their choices, but children are at the mercy of the adults in their lives. Jesus holds those who would offend them to the highest of standards of behavior.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

How do we offend children? By withholding the Gospel from them. Children have a marvelous capacity to believe. When they hear about Jesus, He comes to them. He is a friend and even a playmate to them. To withhold Jesus from them is an offense of the most dreadful kind.

We also offend children by abusing them, either with violence, with hateful words, or with neglect. The children may be voiceless, but Jesus feels their offense and wants to send someone to rescue them. These humble, Christ-honoring servants never seek headlines so the world takes little note of them. But Jesus knows.

Our Propensity to Offend
We can do it accidentally with an unkind word or a thoughtless opinion better left unspoken. It can happen to us in the same way. A large part of maturity is contained in how we handle offenses. Do we forgive and try to forget? Or do we hold on to them? If we do it is like giving them a mental hothouse in which to take root and grow into a foul smelling, poisonous growth that steals our energy.  It is much better to forgive and try to forget. In humility we must remember that we are likely to offend and will want to be forgiven. We must give what we want to receive.

Identify the Cause
An offense is a reaction; something causes us to offend others. Perhaps we are striking back at someone who has struck us a damaging blow. Jesus covered this in the Sermon on the Mount. We need to go deeper than the event to see the root cause. Jesus talked about the hands, the feet, and the eye as causes of offensive behavior. Looking carefully at our lives, are their habits in our hands, or felonies in our feet, or evil visions before our eyes that lead us to offensive words and deeds? Deal with those things while there is time! It is only wisdom.

Offending God
Our sins offend God and there is nothing we can do to undo what we have done. But there is something we can do starting from now—we can turn our lives over to Jesus. He bore the offense of God on the cross. By faith in Him we can be free from these sins. By His indwelling Spirit, we can be changed from an offender to one who pleases God.

Scriptures:
Matthew 18:6-9
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.
Romans 5:18-21
Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my sins were offensive to You, but You did not treat me as I deserved. You dealt with me according to Your mercy and grace. Thank You, Jesus! Help me to walk in the Spirit today. Prevent me from offending those who love You and serve You. They are my brothers and sisters and do not deserve anything but my love and encouragement. Help me to never offend those who are seeking for You. Even when they revile Your name or seek to offend me, help me to respond with grace. Lord Jesus, be with the abused children of this world. Send them loving hands and healing arms. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

Song:
Grace that Is Greater
Words: Julia H. Johnson; Music: D. B. Towner

1. Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,
yonder on Calvary’s mount out-poured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Refrain:
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin.

2. Dark is the stain that we cannot hide,
what can avail to wash it away!
Look! there is flowing a crimson tide;
whiter than snow you may be today.

Refrain

3. Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
freely bestowed on all who believe;
you that are longing to see his face,
will you this moment his grace receive

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 6, 2018 “Children”

Children

There was a question from the Tax Collectors and another from the Disciples. Children figured in both answers.
Arriving at Capernaum, tax collectors asked the Disciples if Jesus paid the Temple Tax. This was an attempt to find some minor infraction of Jewish law with which to attack Jesus.

When Peter came into a house to bring the question to Jesus, the Lord answered the question with a question before Peter had chance to speak.

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”

This question contained an inherent claim to a different relationship with the Temple. Jesus called the Temple, “My Father’s House.” He was not just another “son of man”—He was the Son of God!. As such, He owed no taxes—He was the heir!

When Peter correctly answered, “From strangers,” Jesus declared,

“Then the sons are free.”

Like the priests who served in the Temple, Jesus was free from tax obligations. Nevertheless, He instructed His men to go fishing and catch a fish. The tax money was in the fish’s mouth.

Who Is the Greatest?
Men are competitive; there is no secret in this revelation. The Disciples were no exception; they were following Jesus and competing with each other at the same time. Possibly feeling empowered by this new found tax exemption they asked Jesus for a job evaluation. Of the Twelve, three were known to be chosen for talks and field trips apart from the others. But the meaning of this was unclear. Peter was always the first to speak, but he was also prone to misspeak. They wanted to know who the “A” students in the class were so they asked Jesus:

“Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus called a little child to His side. He sat on a rock and made quick friends with the little one. With unerring discernment, the child responded to the friendship of Jesus with smiles and giggles. Finally, when everyone had taken in the familiar sight of a happy child safe in the arms of a loving adult, Jesus spoke. The child was His answer. The greatest among His followers must be like a child, simple, trusting, innocent.

Childlike, not Childish
Jesus was not promoting immaturity; He was encouraging childlike faith and obedience. An orderly child does not argue with authority. He or she trusts those who know more than a child knows. They offer purity and energy to every task as if it were a game to be played and enjoyed. Far from immature, to live this way before God and men is maturity at its greatest depth. This is no accident of temperament; it is a choice to humble ourselves to a level of childlike trust in Jesus. Observers of Christians through the ages repeatedly speak of truly great servants of God as humble and singular in focus; people who love God and love people.

Recovering Innocence
Perhaps the greatest miracle of redemption through the blood of Christ is that we can recover our innocence. The blood of Jesus covers sins—our sins—and we stand before God as if we had never sinned! The indwelling Holy Spirit regenerates our lives so that we no longer resemble the person we were before. As the great hymn says, the blood of Jesus is “of sin the double cure, saves from wrath and makes me pure.” Amen and Amen.

Scriptures:
Matthew 17:14-23; 18:1-5

When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.
Micah 7:19 NKJV
He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea.
Psalm 103:11-12 NKJV
For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Colossians 2:13-14 NKJV
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I choose to trust You as would a little child. Your Word is all I need. I can question, but just for the sake of understanding, not to question Your authority or wisdom. I don’t have to understand any more than child must understand things far beyond a child’s capacity to understand. Thank You, Lord, for forgiving my sins and casting them far away. You nailed the indictment against me to Your cross. Before You, my innocence is restored to that of a child. Help me stay that way! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
Rock of Ages
Words: Augustus Toplady; Music: Thomas Hastings

1. Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

2. Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

3. Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

4. While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 5, 2018 “Helpless”

Helpless

To feel helpless is to be hopeless. All hope of rescue or relief, of an answer or assistance, is gone.
The helpless one has exhausted all resources and the problem remains. All one can do is seek a higher power. This was the case for a man and his son and for the Lord’s disciples.

A Disrupted Home
A father came kneeling to Jesus, desperate for help and finding none to this point.

“Lord, have mercy on my son…”

He had gone through channels, asking the disciples to cast out the demon tormenting his son and disrupting their home. The foul spirit affected the boy’s mental processes giving him violent seizures. The boy was tossed about by the demon, even into the fire and into deep waters. The man was helpless before this hellish invasion. The disciples did their best but they, too, were helpless in dealing with this particular demon. It was in a class they had never before encountered.

Jesus responded in kindness to the man and with impatience toward His disciples. When would they learn?

“O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you?
How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.”

Jesus rebuked the demon and it left the boy immediately. Later, the disciples asked why the demon obeyed Jesus but not them. Why were they helpless in the face of this one demon? Jesus informed them that sometimes fasting is required in addition to prayer. This was that kind of demon.

Trading Helplessness for Hope
When we do not have the answers, we must remember that Jesus does have them. The answers may be beyond our capacity to understand but that does not make us hopeless—we remain hopeful because Jesus is our hope. He is never helpless so we are never hopeless. It may be that we need to turn up our spiritual thermostats a bit and pray more or pray better. It would be good to add fasting to our prayers. Find scriptures to memorize and act upon. The Christ-follower is never hopeless although we may feel helpless.

Mustard Seed and Mountains
The helplessness of the disciples came from inadequate faith. Jesus called it unbelief. Therefore the hope of the disciples and for us is in believing—faith! All it takes to move the mountain in our path that intimidates us and makes us feel helpless is faith the size of a mustard seed. With this faith, we can speak to mountains and watch the earth quake as the mountain moves out of our way.

Tough Times Ahead
Jesus knew what was coming for His men. They would indeed be helpless in the Garden when Jesus was arrested and taken from them. Without hope, they would scatter like frightened birds when He was tried in the courts of men. They would cower in the shadows of the darkened mid-day sun when Jesus died on the cross. They would huddle together in hopelessness while Jesus lingered in the tomb.

Finally, the message of what was to come started getting through to the men “…and they were exceedingly sorrowful.”

Scriptures:
Matthew 17:14-23

And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he (“has seizures” NIV)… and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my help and my hope. You have promised never to leave me or forsake me. Therefore, when I cannot feel Your presence, You are still with me. When I feel forsaken, it simply isn’t true—You are still with me. When I feel helpless, I will deliberately set my hopes on You in greater measure, disciplining the mind and the body. No demonic force that will ever attack me is stronger than You. Today I am neither helpless or hopeless. I am divinely assisted and my heart rests in great hope. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
O God Our Help in Ages Past
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: William Croft

1. Our God, our Help in ages past,
our Hope for years to come,
our Shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal Home.

2. Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is Thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

3. Before the hills in order stood
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting Thou art God,
to endless years the same.

4. A thousand ages in Thy sight
are like an ev’ning gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

5. Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the op’ning day.

6. Our God, our Help in ages past,
our Hope for years to come,
be Thou our Guide while life shall last,
and our eternal Home!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved