July 29 “Blindness”

Blindness

Those who are impaired by the loss of one of the five senses often compensate by extreme sensitivity in the remaining ones.
A blind beggar by the side of the road seemed to have performed this compensation by developing acute senses of hearing and smell. In his position by the busy thoroughfare, he judged the profitability of each crowd of travelers as they proceeded past him. He knew the sounds of priests and Levites and he recognized the scent of Frankincense, the aroma of the Temple, on them as they talked of religious matters. Merchants were always in a hurry, speaking in short bursts of profits, potential and receipts. Families, of course, traveled with a semi-circus of laughing children and noisy pets. Herdsmen shouted short commands to their beasts in transit to or from the market, the odors of animals and men performing an auditory duet for the blind man. He didn’t need to see the parade to assess its potential.

One day, something was different.
Agitated voices of all kinds of people coalesced around a particular approaching excitement. The wordless expressions of wonder and expectation revved up to an unusual pitch. Someone special was coming. The blind man tuned his sensitive ears in the direction of the excitement, seeking for some word-clue as to who was approaching his way. Finally, emerging from the cacophony of the road, a single name became almost a chant of expectation, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!  Jesus is coming this way!”

He was ready.
In the company of the blind man’s life, those who cared for him, leading him to his place by the road and bringing him back home again at the end of the day, there had been frequent discussion of the prophet from Galilee. There were the usual theories about who He might be. Certain facts found agreement as true history.

  • He was of the house and line of King David.
  • There was healing in His touch, and authority in His voice.

This was enough for the blind man. Each day, he listened to the passing crowds in hopes that Jesus might come his way and now it was happening.

A Moment of Opportunity
When the moment finally came, a voice seldom used except for pitiful cries for alms sounded within the noise of the roadway.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Unthinking people, easily annoyed by the handicapped, tried to silence the man but he cried out all the more. Jesus stopped at his begging station asking,

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

The answer was obvious but it was spoken clearly, words of hope from a dark world.

“Lord, that I may receive my sight.”

It was that simple. Jesus spoke the word and sight returned to sightless eyes. The symphony of sound so familiar to the man now had a shining orchestra playing. Spinning once around a full circle, putting sight to sound, reorganizing his world, the man settled his eyes on Jesus smiling the biggest smile of his life. Jesus was smiling, too. The man began praising God and following Jesus. No longer stranded in darkness by a single road, he had a Savior to follow and a road to travel and wonders to see along the way. Suddenly the crowd was unified in its praise of God—miracles can do that!

Scriptures:
Luke: 18:35-43
NKJV
Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
John 10:7-10 NKJV
Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
Jeremiah 30:17a NIV
But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord…

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, when I have compensated for my various impairments and settled for a life restricted, help me call out to You for healing. You have come to give me, not an impaired life, but a life of freedom and full mobility. With Your healing touch, the darkness of my mind can be flooded with light. With Your song, my silent soul can find its voice. With Your strength, my weakened limbs can grow strong again. With the balm of Your presence my old wounds can finally heal. As the blind man called, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Amen.

Song:
Reach Out and Touch the Lord

Traditional

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 28 “Hidden”

Hidden

Although Jesus spoke clearly, there were some things the Twelve could not hear.
Though His imagery was perfectly clear, some things remained hidden from their eyes. Why? There are two possible answers:

  1. Their minds were closed to these things. Preconceived notions were strong and the truth could not break through to them.
  2. God had a purpose in hiding things from them until the time was right for them.

A third possibility would be a combination of the two.

Preconceived Ideas
Of all the provocative things about Jesus, the most revolutionary was the news that He might be Messiah. As the oppression of the world-dominating Romans increased in detail and scope, the hope within the hearts of Old Covenant believers for a deliverer grew stronger with each tax season. The ancient promise of Messiah sounded a hopeful counterpoint to the drum beat of Roman soldiers on the march. The faithful called upon God for deliverance and the radicals became insurrectionists in futile attempts at rebellion. Each self-appointed deliverer claimed to be Messiah but proved to be just another rebel pinned to a cross. Self-anointed prophets rose up proclaiming the words of the ancient prophesies as if they were original but there were no signs and wonders to validate their claims. Caught in the middle were the leaders of the people who longed for Messiah but also had to do business with Rome.

Then came John, a prophet, but not one with signs and wonders and then finally, Jesus. As Jesus spoke and moved in unprecedented power and authority, “Messiah” was now a hope with an object, a true candidate, not a noisy prophet or a posturing rebel, but a Healer, a Deliverer, a Savior—Messiah?

Try as He might to remind the people and His disciples of the prophesies they chose to neglect, the idea that Messiah must first be the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s book before He would reign as King of kings, Jesus did not dislodge their preconceived notions. These things were hidden from them.

God’s Doing
We must consider that there was a divine purpose in their blindness. In a classic case of first-things-first, the battle must be fought before the victory can be celebrated. Jesus walked this earth to do several things no one but Messiah could do:

  • He had to be the revelation of God to man, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us.
  • He had to demonstrate the spiritual life of the Kingdom of God, expressed most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • He had to be the sinless Lamb of God.
  • He had to pay the full price of sin, propitiation is the biblical term for it. (Hebrews 2:17)
  • He had to defeat the final enemy of man, death, to undo the work of Adam. (Romans 5:12-21)

The hidden thing was this: Messiah’s work must first be spiritual and personal to those who believed and later be political for the nation of promise. This was much more than Peter and his friends could handle at that time. Indeed, when the Holy Spirit opened their minds, they would spend the rest of their lives preaching it, writing it, and living it as they took the Jesus story to the world.

New Covenant Revelation
While hidden things remain—we will spend eternity enjoying their revelation!—we live in the age of revelation and we walk in increasing light.

Scriptures:
Luke: 18:31-34
NKJV
Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.
Ephesians 1:15-23 nKJV
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Psalm 34:8 NKJV
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, as a New Covenant believer, I ask, as Paul did, for the Spirit of revelation. I want to taste and see the goodness of Your Kingdom! I want to know You in the power of Your resurrection and also in the fellowship of Your suffering. Show me the majesty of Your throne so I can fix my affections there. Let me measure the height and depth and width of Your grace in my life so that I will always be grateful to You. When answers to questions remain hidden to me, let me trust in Your character and hope in Your grace. And, Lord, when You reveal some hidden thing to me, let me walk in its light and celebrate its power. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Open My Eyes that I May 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

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 27 “Possibilities”

Possibilities

When the “Rich Young Ruler” turned away from Jesus, it broke the Lord’s heart.
If the young man never reconsidered his decision, a lifetime of exciting possibilities was forfeited for the sake of money—a tragedy of unending ramifications. Like a pebble never tossed into a lake, there would be no ripples. Such a rejection is

  • a journey never begun,
  • a song never sung, and
  • a message never delivered.

All the things a life lived for Jesus might do remained undone. What is the accumulated cost of a wasted life? It is the price of a soul, no, of countless souls. Yes, the Master’s heart was broken.

“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!
For 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.”

The Eye of a Needle
Some have tried to soften the image Jesus used of a camel going through the eye of a needle by suggesting He meant a small gate near a large one but such is not the case. Jesus spoke of the eye of a sewing needle and a full-sized camel—an example of hyperbole—using an impossible image to describe an impossible idea. Realizing this, the question of the people made perfect sense:

“Who then can be saved?”

It was thought that money was the answer to every need. If the rich could not be saved, then what hope was there for anyone?

What then, is possible?
Impossibilities are the things of a created universe. The handiwork of God is expansive and is still expanding. Yet, there are rules, elements, and forces at work within God’s creation that define the universe. Man observes the unexplained things and calls them random, evidence that there is no Creator at all, a universe of accidents. This is the observation of the blind, the verdict of those without judgment. We simply cannot see the rule, the element, the force that God has wrought. If we can’t see it, it isn’t there, right? Wrong! God is there!

Miracles are impossibilities made possible.
Jesus said it this way:

“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

So, camels and needle’s eyes notwithstanding, the rich have equal access to the Kingdom of Heaven. When anyone makes it in, that is a miracle, an impossibility made possible only by grace. Anyone trusting in riches of any kind, money, power, influence, family, talent, knowledge, skill, anything at all, will fail to gain entrance. Trust in Jesus is the only way and that is always a miracle, another successful camel transit through another needle’s eye. Only the Blood of Jesus, repentance of sins, and confession of Jesus, only these things, open the New and Living Way.

Peter’s Confession
It was not a boast; it was a fact. Fishing boats and abandoned nets testified to the commitments of Peter, Andrew, James and John. The other eight disciples had their own tales of extreme commitment, their entrance points into the world of impossible possibilities.

Jesus smiled at His men. They looked at Him with wide eyes, awaiting His next Word whatever it might be, His next miracle, his next mission impossible. Yes, they loved Him. Yes, they were with Him and would remain so until…well…as long as they could. As He comforted them with His oft-repeated promise, His own spirits lifted. Like the sad opportunities missed, their lives would ripple through time to bless the multitudes to come.

Scriptures:
Luke: 18:24-30
NKJV
And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For 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.” And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.” So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I live in the universe You created. The possibilities within the rules of Creation are exciting and I revel in them: sunrises, sunsets, night skies, storms and the quiet times after them, causes and effects as dependable as the turning of the earth. But when I need a miracle from You, the rules You made can be suspended and the impossible happens just for me! You are the God of infinite space and the God of inches, the God of eternity and the God of my moments each day! Thank You for the miracle of Salvation and for the possibilities and impossibilities of following You! Amen.

Song:
Nothing Is Impossible

Words and Music: Eugene L. Clark

1. I read in the Bible the promise of God,
That nothing for Him is too hard;
Impossible things He has promised to do,
If we faithfully trust in His Word.

Refrain:
Nothing is impossible when you put your trust in God;
Nothing is impossible when you’re trusting in His Word.
Hearken to the voice of God to thee: “Is there anything too hard for Me?”
Then put your trust in God alone and rest upon His Word–
For ev’rything, O ev’rything, Yes, ev’rything is possible with God!

2. The word of the Lord is an anchor secure,
When winds of uncertainty blow:
Though man in his weakness may falter and fail,
His Word will not fail us we know.

Refrain

3. All things are possible, this is His Word,
Receive it ‘tis written for you,
Believe in His promises, God cannot fail,
For what He has said He will do.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 26, “Good”

Good

In life there is doing “good” and being good; these things are not always found together.
A songwriter can write a good song without being a good person. A good person may be totally unable to write a good song. Go figure. Good works and goodness are not always companions.

“What Must I Do?”
Tradition calls him, “The Rich Young Ruler.” He had it all (to his way of thinking) but somewhere inside there was a void possessions and position and power did not fill. So He came to Jesus with this question:

“Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

As was His practice, Jesus answered the young man’s question with a question:

“Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.”

This was the central question. Life was not so much about doing “good” as it was about being good and only ONE is GOOD, God Himself. The implication was that if Jesus was truly GOOD and not just a man doing “good,” He must be of God. From God? God? But this was never spoken; it remained a subtext in this conversation. We, however, will bring it to the surface shortly.

Doing Good vs. Doing Well
When we do something well it means our technique was effective; it does not mean that what was done was good. A really rotten tune can be played really well and a great tune may be poorly played. This is an important distinction.

The rich man was talking about good deeds, thinking that in some heavenly ledger they were recorded and accrued interest with time and repetition like money invested. However, this belief did not fill the empty place in his soul. Jesus answered him in that context:

“You know the commandments…”

He gave him a quick list. The man was prepared with his report, “Yes.” He had checked these things off his “to do” list regularly.” He folded his arms, smiled, and waited for an answer, thinking, “Impressive! No?”  Jesus did not answer right away so the man elaborated, locking eyes with Jesus,

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

Jesus returned the man’s gaze until the proud smirk on the man’s face melted and forced him to study the dust at his well-shod feet. When Jesus finally spoke, the man bravely looked up to see a smile on Jesus’ face. Perhaps the answer to the nagging, never spoken question in his heart was forthcoming.

“You still lack one thing.”

Excitement charged the man’s heart—an overlooked command? Some neglected good he could do? Some service to God and man…”

“Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

The smile never left Jesus’ face, but the hopes of the young man were crushed. He could afford any price for anything but he could not afford this. He disappeared into the crowd before they could see his tears.

More than Deeds
The song of the Old Covenant was “God is good and His mercy endures forever!” Jesus was God in the flesh, a mystery beyond all mysteries. He did “good” because He was GOOD. He still does and he still is. True riches stored in heaven accrue to our eternal reward not just because we do good things but because God is Good and He has promised to reward us.

Scriptures:
Luke: 18:18-23
NKJV
Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.'” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
Micah 6:8 NKJV
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?
Revelation 22:12-14 NKJV
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are good and Your mercy endures forever! You very name is Faithful and True. You have imparted Your earth-tested goodness to me, tried in the fires of satanic temptation and found true. I could never have earned such goodness but I can live in its power and victory. You have anointed me to do GOOD in Your name and for Your glory. This is what I will do today. I will do justly, walk humbly with You! Lord, You are Good and Your Mercy endures forever. Amen.

Song:
God Is so Good

Traditional

God is so good! God is so good!
God is so good, He’s so good to me.

God answers prayer. God answers prayer.
God answers prayer. He’s so good to me.

God loves me so! God loves me so!
God loves me so! He’s so good to me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 25 “Children”

Children

There is something about the Kingdom of God that is only seen in children.
Even with the explicit call to “grow up” directed at Christ-followers, (Eph 4:15) there is an element of childhood that believers must retain—a childlike faith. Children believe what they are told. The growth process is one of learning who to listen to who and who to ignore. Choose your image from the Trinity:

  1. Sit in Father’s lap and listen to Him.
  2. Walk with your Savior, Jesus, and listen to Him.
  3. Think deeply and powerfully with the Holy Spirit within your heart and listen to Him.

Listen like a child and believe what you hear. This infantile innocence, this toddler trust, this adolescent adoration is the pathway to maturity.

Two Contrasting Terms
We use two similar but distinct terms for qualities of youth: childish and childlike.

  • To be childish is to be annoying, noisy, and a trial to all who come near.
  • To be childlike is to be trusting, simple, innocent, wonder-struck, and a blessing to all.

When Jesus said we must become like children to enter the Kingdom of God, He was talking about being childlike, not childish.

Time with the Father
When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He placed the context of prayer in the father/child relationship. For those who came up fatherless, realizing this requires imagination. Put away memories of how it was back then and cultivate visions of how it should be right now. “Our Father” is kind and loving. He smiles at us, not based on our momentary performance, but based on His eternal love. He remembers how He made us out of dust; nothing we have done or failed to do reduces or increases His love for us. Our obedience to His Word pleases Him as does our focus on Him. The promise is that if we will draw closer to Him, He will draw closer to us! (James 4:8) When we spend time with the Father, He holds us closer to His heart.

Walking with the Son
Big brothers are something very special in this world. Many of us had one, and others were one, while all of us can imagine the benefit of having someone ahead of you in years and beside you in spirit. Yes, Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords on a Throne of Majesty in eternal glory surrounded by adoring angels and saints singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” But, He is also our travelling companion with a shepherd’s staff to keep us on the straight and narrow. Our songs are replete with references to our “Companion in the way,” as an ancient prayer puts it. I’ll choose just one:

Though sometimes He leads trough waters deep,
Trials fall across the way,
Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep,
See His footprints all the way.

The Abiding Spirit
Many children have imaginary friends, wonderful, safe, dependable, invisible playmates. We also have an invisible friend, The Blessed Holy Spirit of God, and He is not a product of our imagination; He is very real! He whispers truths to us and shows us spiritual things we would otherwise never see. He empowers our time with the Father and illumines our walk with the Son.

This childlike faith is sweet and constant and believable. Let us enjoy Father’s lap, Jesus’ companionship, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. What blessed children of God are we!

Scriptures:
Luke: 18:5-17 NKJV
Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
Ephesians 4:11-16NKJV
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Matthew 6:5-9 NKJV
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:
Jesus, Be Our Companion

Lord, Jesus, stay with us, for the evening is at hand and day is past; be our Companion in the Way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope that we may know You as Your are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant us this for the sake of Your love. Amen

Song:
He Keeps Me Singing

Words and Music: L. B. Bridges

1.There’s within my heart a melody, Jesus whispers sweet and low,
“Fear not I am with thee. Peace be still, In all of life’s ebb and flow.

Refrain:
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest name I know,
Fill my every longing, Keeps me singing as I go.

2. All my life was wrecked by sin and strife, Discord filled my heart with pain.
Jesus swept across the broken strings, Stirred the slumbering chords again.

Refrain

3. Feasting on the riches of His grace, Resting ‘neath His shelt’ring wing,
Always looking on His smiling face, That is why I shout and sing.

Refrain

4. Though sometimes He leads trough waters deep, Trials fall across the way,
Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep, See His footprints all the way.

Refrain

5. Soon He’s coming back to welcome me, Far beyond the starry sky.
I shall wing my flight to world’s unknown. I shall reign with Him on high.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 24 “Trust”

Trust

Where had this tax collector been?
What had he heard or seen than shook him from his lucrative vocation? Maybe he had been in the multitudes watching Jesus work wonders. Perhaps he had really listened when Jesus spoke about true riches in the Kingdom of God. Something somewhere, or somebody, got through his defenses and sent him to the Temple and drove him to his knees. I know he is a character in a story but let’s imagine that he was a real person.

Spiritual Pride
Like bad breath, the one who has spiritual pride is always the last to know. It is a deadly disease but it is hardly invisible. Spiritual pride parades itself in public and promotes itself in private. There is only one subject of conversation and only one hero to the story. All other topics are neglected and all other characters are supporting players, sidekicks in this serial adventure.

A Matter of Trust
Why is spiritual pride so deadly? It reveals the unworthy object of our trust. Jesus told a story about two men in prayer. One trusted in his own goodness and the other knew better than to try that.

The Pharisee went to the Temple to pray. No doubt his servants went with him. One blew a trumpet in the outer court when the Pharisee threw his noisy copper coins into the metal horn—a show of public charity, an offering to the poor. Entering the Temple and straightening his expensive robes, he knelt at a prominent place and began to broadcast his prayers. He was so thankful for his own goodness—he was a blessing from God to the community!

The Tax Collector went to the Temple to pray. He, too, was wealthy but no servants accompanied him. Somehow all his life’s props had been knocked down. He had no confidence in his money for he knew it was wickedly gained. He had no trust in his charity for he had hoarded his wealth. He had no hope in his popularity for he and his profession were despised as collaborators with Rome. The hollowness of his gains had become the horror of his losses. It was all worthless. Perhaps he had heard a man preaching in the wilderness, feeding multitudes and healing all manner of illnesses and impairments. Surely this was a Man from God. Was peace to be found in God Himself, in humble prayer, with no other sources of trust? The tax collector repented of his sins.

The Question
Which man went away justified? Those who trust in their own righteousness will be sadly, hopelessly turned away. Why? Because proud hearts cannot kneel at the cross. Instead, proud hands wield the hammers and hold the nails! Pride trusts in self as its own savior, leaving no room to trust in Jesus. Later, both Peter and the Lord’s brother, James, would declare the principle:

“God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”
(James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5)

The distance between God’s resistance and his grace is immense! Pride repulses the Holy Spirit while humility attracts Him. There is no de-militarized zone between the two.

Personal Action
Jesus finished the story by calling for action. If we persist in self-exaltation, there can be only one result—humiliation. It may be private or public but our prideful house of cards will topple in the winds of circumstance. On the other hand, there is opportunity—blessing from God. If we bow at the cross in repentance, if we remain at the altar in faith and humility, the Lord will lift us up to heights of true greatness we could never have imagined.

The grace is His; the choice is ours.

Scriptures:
Luke: 18:9-14

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
James 4:6 NKJV
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5-7 NKJV
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may I never come to you in foolish pride! You are Faithful and True so I will always boast of You and never of myself. All that I possess has come from You and exists for Your glory alone. I am Your servant, joyful and weeping, in the privilege of Your service. Today, You will lead me from task to task for You have laid this day out for me. I will sow in tears knowing that I will also reap in joy. I will humble myself under Your mighty hand. Lord, use me today to advance Your work, to extend Your Kingdom. This is my joy and my cause and it is all for Your glory and not for mine. Help me to disappear into Your wonderful grace so that others may see You in my life. Amen and amen

Song:
Unworthy

Words and Music: Ira Stanphill

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 23 “Persistence”

Persistence

When Jesus returns to this earth, what will He find?
This question leads us to consider current conditions in the light of eternity. What will Jesus find on earth when He returns to it? Indeed, what does He find in this present moment? Will He find faith then? Does He find faith now?

The Holy Counter-culture
Just as there was a faithful remnant in Jesus’ day, He will find and rescue His faithful ones on the His return. In the same manner, there are faithful ones serving Him today—the church Jesus is building. The Greek word for the church is ekklesia, meaning, “the called out ones.” (Strong’s NT: 1577) This term echoes the description given by Peter: the church has been “called out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Why? that we “may proclaim the praises of Him.” Thus called out of the contemporary culture, Christ-followers live in loving opposition to the norm, the present mores, and the popular spiritualities of vanity (see Ecclesiastes).

  • Where there is obscenity, we speak holiness.
  • Where there is lust, we offer love.
  • Where there is destructive falsehood, we preach the Good News.
  • Where there is selfishness, we live as servants.

We, the church, are a holy counter-culture. Our opposition to the world is a loving one. We wage spiritual warfare against powers and principalities in Jesus’ name while waging peace among people who oppose us. This is the church for which Jesus will return, not the one immersed in the things of the world, but the people who live by the laws and privileges of another Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Parable of the Persistent Widow
To illustrate this, Jesus told another strange story. Again, the “judge” in this story is not a man of God. He represents the current, fallen culture of self.

A widow had been done an injustice of some kind. (Remember the accusation of Jesus to the Pharisees, “You devour widow’s houses.”) She takes her case to the local judge who doesn’t care about her and has no time for or interest in her case. But she doesn’t give up. She keeps bringing her cause to the judge until she wears him down and receives justice from his office.

If a wicked judge can be worn down by persistence, how much more will our righteous God respond to our persistence in prayer? Faithfulness in prayer means never giving up. It calls for persistent asking, seeking, and knocking. It means exercising unflagging hope in the character of God: “God is good and His mercy endures forever!” Prayers are seldom answered immediately. Time and persistence in prayer are generally required by those who follow Christ. This is the kind of faith Jesus is looking for today and the kind He will rescue when He returns.

The God Who “bears long” with Us
We would prefer a God of instant gratification but such is not the case. For spiritual reasons beyond the detection of our five senses, answers to prayer most often take time and require repetition. That is why a particular type of prayer is called intercession. In faith, we intercede into the situations before us waging spiritual warfare with unseen forces and proclaiming peace for their victims and hapless allies. In the course of time, God’s own good time, He will act “speedily” in our behalf. Answers to persistent prayers are long in coming but when they come, they strike with speed of, not light, but faith!

Scriptures:
Luke: 18:1-8

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'” Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
1 Peter 2:9-11 NKJV
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, today I will bring before Your throne petitions I have carried many times before. In these issues, I live between the prayers and the answers to the prayers. Help me dwell in this land peacefully with full confidence in You. You are faithful in all things! I will exercise my mustard-seed faith toward these issues knowing that You will one day bring about the answers. Holy Spirit, convict my lost loved ones so that they may turn to You before it is too late. You are coming soon! Help us all to be ready. I pray You will find us persistently asking, seeking, and knocking! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
Only Believe

Traditional

Only believe. Only believe.
All things are possible, only believe.
Only believe. Only believe.
All things are possible, only believe.

God answers prayer. God answers prayer.
All things are possible, God answers prayer.
God answers prayer. God answers prayer.
All things are possible, God answers prayer.

Jesus is here. Jesus is here.
All things are possible. Jesus is here.
Jesus is here. Jesus is here.
All things are possible. Jesus is here.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 22 “Noah”

Noah

Many people, when they consider the stories of Noah and Lot, get distracted by details we cannot know and questions we can never answer.
If we take Jesus’ the words as He spoke them, we can avoid those dead-end discussions. Jesus is talking about the future, not the past. Moral and social conditions prevalent in those days will return in the last days. When we see these things, we can know that Jesus is coming soon.

The Days of Noah
Jesus said this:

“…as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man…”

What was the moral and social climate in those days and how will it be replicated in the Last Days? The desires of the flesh were the driving issues in life: eating, drinking, and sex. The spiritual realities of life were deemphasized to the point of exclusion.

We live at the end of what is called Modernity, the modern age. The term many use is Post-modern. This is the age of the physical and the mental with the issues of spirituality shunted to the periphery. Officially, that is according to science, secular education, and contemporary philosophies, man is not a spiritual being at all. He is an animal. This idea has so many expressions:

  • There is no such thing as an eternal spirit.
  • We and everything around us are the results of blind chance.
  • There is no God, no judgment, no afterlife.
  • The only reality is what we see and measure.
  • Truth and morality are what we want them to be.
  • Life has no meaning beyond the meaning we give it.
  • We are creatures of instinct. Our physical urges cannot be controlled.
  • Ends always justify any means necessary for self-fulfillment.

The results of such beliefs are everywhere. The Days of Noah have returned. It is more important for us to understand these things than to puzzle ourselves over how many animals there were in the ark, etc. Jesus is coming soon!

The Days of Lot
Instead of pouring out judgment on the whole sinful world, the Lord judged these two cities for their wickedness. Jesus said that these sins would also return in the Last Days, and they have. This is the age of pleasure.

  • Whatever the body craves is the order of the day.
  • Right and wrong do not enter into the consideration of celebrants today.
  • Lust is the driving force, lust in all its forms and expressions.
  • The creativity of man, which is a gift from God, has fallen so far that artists in all media compete to create the most vile entertainments. Corruption sells. Profanity pours from ruined hearts.
  • Laughter is no longer a medicine for the soul; it is a device for the derision of all that is holy.

In the words of Isaiah, “…he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.”

He came. He’ll come again.
We must consider these unpleasant things. They, too are His story for the story does not end with the four Gospels, or the Book of Acts. It continues into the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the last book in the Bible. His return will be a time of separation. Those who believe will be taken and those who do not will be left behind. Today we can see the extreme relevance of the ancient words of Jesus about the days of Noah and Lot. They have, indeed, returned. Let us be ready for we know that soon Jesus also will return as promised.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:26-37

And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. “In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.” And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?” So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
Isaiah 59:12-15 NKJV
For our transgressions are multiplied before You, And our sins testify against us; For our transgressions are with us, And as for our iniquities, we know them: In transgressing and lying against the Lord, And departing from our God, Speaking oppression and revolt, Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. Justice is turned back, And righteousness stands afar off; For truth is fallen in the street, And equity cannot enter. So truth fails, And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to be ready when You return. I want to be found faithful in the work You have given me to do. I see this world and its wickedness. Holy Spirit, help me to never be comfortable with the iniquity of this age. May profanity always wound my heart. May obscenities offend my spirit. May I weep over the moral state of the world around me, the injustice, the hate, and the pain and suffering they cause. May Your story always be on my lips. Your are the only hope, Lord Jesus! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Even So, Lord Jesus, Come

Words and Music: Terry MacAlmon

Even so, come Lord Jesus, come.
Even so, take Your Bride away;
How my soul longs to be with You my Lord.
Even so, even so, come Lord Jesus, come.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 21 “Rejected!”

Rejected!

In baseball, there is a play called the “sacrifice.”
With a bunt or a ground ball or a high fly ball to the outfield, a batter gives himself up as an out to advance a baserunner or to score a man from third base. One player suffers a loss to advance the winning cause of the whole team. Just so, in life there are sacrifices, temporary losses that eventually secure a larger win.

The Sacrifices of Jesus
In the earthly ministry of Jesus, there were many, many victories. He began in His home region of Galilee teaching and working miracles and multitudes followed Him. Of course, there were local rejections:

  • There was that awful day in Nazareth where the people in His own synagogue rioted and threatened to throw Him off a cliff, and there were
  • those foolish town elders in Capernaum who sent Him away after He delivered the town demoniac, but who’s counting, right?

For the most part, like the 5000+ plus multitude who filled their bellies in the wilderness, people went away healed and happy. The victories outnumbered the sacrifices.

We should not forget the constant rejection of Jesus by the leaders of the people; it was nearly unanimous, with only the occasional priest or Pharisee or lawyer who expressed interest in the Good News of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus said, He had come to divide those who believed from those who refused to believe.

The Road to Jerusalem
In Dr. Luke’s narrative, Jesus turned away from the adoring crowds and turned toward the Cross. This was His sacrifice play, a personal loss of great and terrible cost for the good of all people who would believe in Him. He tried to prepare His men for the horrors ahead. It was not an easy thing to do. For one thing, the “Day of the Lord” has many seemingly contradictory aspects. In this place, Jesus refers to His return with the image of a flash of lightning that illumines the whole world from horizon to horizon. In other places, He depicts His return as a “Thief in the night.” (Luke 12:39-40) Our job is not to choose one or the other but to believe both.

A line had been crossed.
With this turn in the journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus crossed a line; things were going to be different from there on to the conclusion. Rejection would increase and acceptance would retreat. For a while, Jesus would remain with them every day, teaching, healing, touching, loving them at close range. A time was coming when His presence with them would be spiritual, not physical. There were so many details about the New Covenant in His blood but they would have to wait until the extreme rejection did its work. He tried to warn them:

“The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man,
and you will not see it.”

In those days, it was crucial that Christ-followers know the facts and know them well. It was a day of revelation and deception: the Truth revealed by the Spirit and horrible lies marketed by the merchants of hell. It was up to believers to fill their hearts and brains with the truth about Jesus and to walk close in His steps.

Those days are these days. We celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus in the light of His ultimate victory.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:22-25

Then He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Do not go after them or follow them. For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are with me today! Not in the way that You were with the Twelve as You walked the dusty pathways of human existence, but in spiritual ways that are just as thrilling. You promised never to leave me or forsake me and it is so. Following You, I have a story to tell, Good News to share, and a healing touch to administer to the people in my path. Many will reject You and Your story but some will believe and come alongside me to share this journey to glory. I, too, will be a willing sacrifice to see the ultimate victory—the Thief in the Night and the heaven-to-earth stroke of lightning. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!

Song:
Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus

Traditional

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 20 “Within”

Within

Long before maps and GPS, the Kingdom of God could be located with ease.
It is not a continent or country. It is not an island or mountain range. Its borders do not change as armies march over them. The Kingdom of God has a native tongue—Truth! There is a national culture—Spirit!

When will the Kingdom come?
Everybody wanted to know—the disciples, the critics, the people, everybody. This, of course, was the direct result of all the “Messiah” talk. When Messiah comes, he will overthrow the Romans! It will be a restored Kingdom of Israel like David, like Solomon, the world bringing tribute to Jerusalem. The Temple would be restored to the center of the world as it should be. The Chosen People of God will rule the earth in benevolence and peace with Messiah on His rightful throne. The nation of Israel will be a kingdom of priests unto the whole world, bringing all the Gentiles to the knowledge of God, as promised at Mt. Sanai. (Exodus 19:6)

How do we find the Kingdom?
This Kingdom of God was in everyone’s best interest but there was a problem.

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation…”

Normal processes of inquiry do not reveal the time of the Kingdom. Friends and forbears may share anecdotes, inspiring us with their experiences but testimonies do not locate the Kingdom for us. The Bible is all about the Kingdom of God, providing us with its borders of truth so that we know when we have transgressed into error and exited the Kingdom. Awaiting the revelation, we must see into the spirit realm for this Kingdom is not of this world. It stands pristine, unblemished by sin, pure and centered on the Throne of God where angels declare in unceasing song, “Holy, holy, holy!”

The New and Living Way
When the Pharisees asked this of Jesus, the plan for its revelation was in progress. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, the courts of men, the cross, and to an empty tomb. He would open a “new and living way” to God, replacing the old and dying ways of types and shadows with present realities.

  • The Living Word would apply the truth of the written Word.
  • The one Final Spotless Lamb would take the place of the countless animal sacrifices.
  • The heavy veil in the Temple separating God from the People of God would be forever rent.

So where is this Kingdom?
It dwells within us, beyond the mountain ranges of faith, across the tossing seas of circumstances, over the River of the Spirit and into the realm of the Splendor of His Holiness! Without fail, we locate the Kingdom of God within our hearts. This is the unchanging truth.

  • The Kingdom of God is in the Church because Jesus reigns in the hearts of believers.
  • Until we draw our last breath on earth Jesus reigns in our hearts.
  • Until Jesus reigns for 1000 years of peace, He reigns in our hearts.

So, the Kingdom of God within us is “already, but not yet,” as theologians like to say. It is and will forever be a Kingdom of Peace. Here and now in our hearts and soon in the whole world.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:20-21

Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Hebrews 10:19-25
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
John 14:23
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.

Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today, our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the Kingdom and the power and the glory are Yours, now and forever. Amen!

Song:
King of Kings and Lord of Lords

Traditional

King of kings and Lord of lords,
Glory! Hallelujah!
King of kings and Lord of lords,
Glory! Hallelujah!
Jesus, Prince of Peace!
Glory! Hallelujah!
Jesus, Prince of Peace!
King of kings and Lord of lords,
Glory! Hallelujah!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.