May 16 “Hosanna!”

Hosanna!

Two of the disciples brought the donkey and her colt to Jesus just as He had instructed them.
Also as predicted, the owner of the two animals asked the two disciples what they were doing with his livestock. They answered as Jesus told them to answer,

“The Lord has need of them.”

The owner of the donkeys did not question the disciples. He simply sent his animals into the care of the followers of Jesus. It is unlikely, or at least unknown, whether the man was aware of the ancient prophecy:

Behold , your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,
a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The moment for the fulfillment of this prophecy had come. The Disciples saddled the colt of the donkey as best they could using their own cloaks and robes. Something about the sight of Jesus mounting to ride the donkey signaled to the crowd that a procession was about to begin. A sort of fever ran through the assembling celebrants. Perhaps this miracle worker was about to claim the title many were already using for Him—Messiah!—Anointed One! Someone removed his cloak and spread it on the street in front of the donkey and the idea caught on. Soon the street was paved with cloths of varying colors, some bright and some dull. Another man with a long knife cut a branch from one of the trees lining the route and began to wave it in the air. This gesture too, was copied so that soon palm branches beat the morning air in celebration.

A woman produced a timbrel from the large bag she carried and suddenly the procession had rhythm. From nowhere other portable instruments came into use as the crowd began to sing. At first the song was wordless, just a melody of joy and hope spilling from the hearts of people with a long tradition who were suffering from painful oppression. The children could not resist a game so delightful that even adults could play. The words, memorized since childhood, were added to the songs:

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”

This was not chaotic. There was an order to this impromptu parade:

  • First came a large group of celebrants chanting psalms and dancing.
  • They introduced Jesus on the donkey attended by the Twelve.
  • Last came more dancers and singers, celebrating with all their might this moment of hope in their otherwise hopeless lives.

Jesus moved along at the center of the procession.

Into Jerusalem
Long before they entered the gates of the city the crowd had grown too large to be ignored. The music had grown in intensity and even in excellence since they had rehearsed their songs on the march. The people who had come to the city on ordinary business got more than they shopped for that day. Someone, probably a leader or a soldier who was responsible for keeping order, asked,

“Who is this?”

The crowd answered as one, never breaking the rhythm of their song and dance:

“This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”

With Jesus at the center their worship, the message of hope was clear to all—when will we learn this?

Scriptures:
Matthew 21:1-11
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion,’ Behold , your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.'” So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord !’ Hosanna in the highest!” And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I too, will sing the ancient songs of praise. I will sing “Hosanna!” which means “Save us, O Lord!” I will sing “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” I will declare You to be Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of David and the Son of God. I will sing from my heart. My heart will dance to the rhythms of Your processions through this day. I will lift my voice in testimony to those who observe my march—Jesus is King! He is Lord! He is Your only Salvation! Help them hear me, O Lord, help them all to hear me. Amen.

Song:
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
Words: Jennette Threlfall; Music: Traditonal

1. Hosanna, loud hosanna the little children sang;
through pillared court and temple the lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them, close folded to his breast,
the children sang their praises, the simplest and the best.

2 From Olivet they followed mid an exultant crowd,
the victory palm branch waving, and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of earth and heaven rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children should on his bidding wait.

3 “Hosanna in the highest!” That ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven, our King.
O may we ever praise him with heart and life and voice,
and in his blissful presence eternally rejoice.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 15 “Blindness”

Blindness

A shameful scene by the side of the road demonstrated spiritual blindness.
Needing a break before they began the trek to Jerusalem, Jesus led the men to a resting place on the side of the road near Jericho. While they were resting, He tried once more to warn them of what awaited them in the capitol city: betrayal, arrest, trial, condemnation, execution and resurrection. Once more, they were blind to the impending events.

A Mother’s Ambition
We are not told how the mother of James and John and the wife of Zebedee joined the group but she is suddenly there asking embarrassing questions. She had given her sons to follow Jesus and she wanted to know about His plans for them. It was not the first or the last time sons were embarrassed by ambitious mothers. These two strong fishermen could not stop her and besides, they were interested in what Jesus might say.

Travelers on the road stopped to stare at Jesus and the Twelve and the agitated old woman. Losing interest, they continued on their way. Nearby on the other side of the road two blind men were begging from the travelers headed to and from Jerusalem.

Taking the plunge, the mother of the two Disciples knelt at the feet of Jesus. She was not ill nor was she in trouble. Jesus asked her what she wanted. Her request was sincere but she was totally blind to the shame of it.

“Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.”

John and James wanted to hide but there was no place. The other men laughed to themselves. After a moment of silence Jesus answered the woman’s question with a question. Could her sons really follow Him? Were they strong enough to face the future with Him and share in His challenges? She rose to her feet and dragged her sons forward to stand in front of Jesus. She urged them to speak up. They swallowed hard and mumbled that they were up to whatever was coming.

Jesus shook His head and agreed with them but her request was out of bounds.

“…to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give…”

Leadership in the Kingdom
The other 10 men stopped laughing and started rebuking the two, leaving their mother lost in a fog of ambition. Jesus seized the moment to teach them about leadership in the Kingdom of God. It was the opposite of leadership in the world. It was not about power; it was about responsibility. Leaders were servants not slave drivers.

As He continued to teach, they regained the road. Before long a multitude started following. As they walked past the two blind beggars, Jesus stopped when He heard their voices:

“Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!”

He called back to them asking what they wanted. They were quick to answer:

“Lord, that our eyes may be opened.”

In their blindness they saw great possibilities in the nearness of Jesus. They could not see what the Disciples saw: the look of compassion mixed with joy that stole across the face of Jesus. It always happened just before a miracle. Suddenly the two men could see. They performed the now-I-can-see dance so many others had danced. Jesus smiled at the two men.

At least somebody could see!

Scriptures:
Matthew 20:17-34
Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.” Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Now as they went out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him. And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened.” So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, spiritual blindness is so embarrassing. The mother of James and John was blind to the blazing pride in her request. But she was only thinking the way people in the world think. Her ambition may also lurk in my heart—show it to me, O Holy Ghost! Turn the searchlight of Your love on my heart. Help me see things the way they really are! You have promised me that I could walk in the light so give me spiritual eyes to see it. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Open My Eyes that I Might See
Words and Music: Clara H. Scott

1. Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth you have for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unlock and set me free.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

2. Open my ears, that I may hear
voices of truth you send so clear;
and while the message sounds in my ear,
everything false will disappear.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my ears, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

3. Open my mouth, and let me bear
gladly the warm truth everywhere;
open my heart, and let me prepare
love with your children thus to share.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my heart, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 14 “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 “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 not 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 “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 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 “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 “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 “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 men 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 publicly. 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

For a detailed article on this topic go to https://stevephifer.com/the-power-of-reconciliation/ 

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 8 “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 “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