December 5 “Elizabeth”

Elizabeth

The life of a priest’s wife was a quiet one and Elizabeth preferred it that way.
Especially now. For five months Elizabeth had hidden herself away. The last thing an old lady wanted to be was the center of attention. She and her husband Zacharias were deeply in love, now more than ever. All their peers we now parents and grandparents many times over. The absence of children in Elizabeth’s home formed a natural barrier to friendships. People were not unkind; they were just busy with their own lives and children and grandchildren.

She and Zacharias often sat quietly these days.
Since the day her husband had come home from his assignment in the Temple, he had been unable to speak so sitting quietly was the only option for them. He smiled a lot, though, especially as her body began to change. It was not unusual for a woman of her years to gain a little weight, but no one would ever guessed the cause. “But I know!” the old priest said to himself with a wry smile. Elizabeth turned her face away, still blushing because of this surprising turn of events.

Her name meant, “Oath of God,” and she had always believed the promises of God would come to them if they were faithful. Everyone who knew them, knew how faithful and full of hope they were. They were such a pleasure to be around. These five months of seclusion and silence stirred interest among their friends. They had all heard the story of Zacharias’ extended stay in the Temple and of his emergence having lost his ability to speak. Rumor was he saw a vision. The truth was an angel of the Lord had appeared to Zacharias and told him that his wife would bear him a son. When he protested that she was too old, he was struck dumb.

A Visitor from Nazareth
Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, her young cousin, Mary, came for a visit. Neighbors caught a glimpse of the older woman as Mary approached the house. “She’s put on weight!” the gossips whispered before she and her visitor hurried indoors.

In the house, away from prying eyes, Elizabeth explained that the child within her lept at the sound of Mary’s voice! As Mary marveled at this, a strange look came upon Elizabeth’s face. Mary recognized the look at once—the Holy Spirit! Mary had been overshadowed by the Spirit and she knew that now Elizabeth had been filled with the Spirit, too.

Two women, two miracles, two babies, God was at work. With the infilling of the Spirit, understanding flooded Elizabeth’s heart and she prophesied.

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Scriptures:
Luke 1:5-25 NKJV
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:34-45 NKJV
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like Sarah, wife of Abraham, Elizabeth received Your blessing, a promise fulfilled, long after the natural course of life would allow. Teach me this lesson, Lord. Help me never to give up, but cling to Your promises forever in this life. I will have faith in You not in circumstances. I will take joy in every sunrise as the dawn that brings Your promise closer. I will rest with each sunset, knowing that a night’s rest under Your watchful eye will bring the fullness of Your promise nearer. Fill me with Your Spirit so I can see clearly the promises Your supply. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Have Faith in God
Traditional Chorus

Have faith in God.
Have faith in God.
Have faith in God for the answer
Have faith in God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 25, 2018 “Family”

Family

It took courage for Jesus to claim to be Messiah.
It took even more courage for Him to make this claim in His hometown synagogue. There was trouble at home. When don’t know when Joseph died but he is no longer mentioned in the narrative. Mary and her other children seemed to be divided in their opinion of Jesus. There is no doubt that Mary believed in Jesus and everything He said and did. After all, she had been visited by angels. She knew that Joseph was not the father of Jesus; He had been a true miracle child. Some claim that Mary and Joseph never consummated their marriage. The evidence in this passage disputes that. Mary and Joseph had four sons and more than one daughter. We are not given the breakdown of who believed in Him and who did not but it seems Mary was in the minority.

Unbelieving Family
It was all very hard to believe. It is likely that the circumstances surrounding Jesus birth before their marriage was like a dark cloud over the family. Small towns have long memories. Mary’s other children had to live with suspicions and snide remarks their whole lives. Perhaps they thought it would be better when Jesus finally left home. It was not to be. He didn’t leave quietly and fade into obscurity in some other town. No, He was preaching heresy and performing magic tricks all the way to Jerusalem and back. Why didn’t He just go away and stay away?

In the synagogue at Nazareth, the leaders gave Jesus one more chance; they invited Him to speak. As He spoke the inherent authority in His voice, manner, and message was undeniable. People quizzed Him about the miracles rumored to accompany Him everywhere. Was it all true? Either Jesus or someone else assured them it was all true. The people were astonished.

“Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”

Obviously they were skeptical. They knew this man! He had always been on the strange side. He never disobeyed His parents. He never got in trouble as a child, unless some other boy lied about Him. He was always respectful and His carpentry work was without peer. Many of them had objects in their homes He had made for them. He had only one fault—He didn’t know His place. All of this notoriety was unseemly for a carpenter’s son.

Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary?
And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?
And His sisters, are they not all with us?
Where then did this Man get all these things?”

This embarrassed Mary and broke Jesus’ heart. Then it got worse. From Luke we learn that at that time, or perhaps at a similar time, the good people of Nazareth rose up and sought to throw Jesus off a nearby hill. Jesus stopped them with a look, exited through the middle of them and no one dared oppose Him. His conclusion?

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”

The Price of Unbelief
The sick people of Nazareth went to bed that night with no divine touch to relieve their pain. The blind people still could not see,  the deaf ones could not hear, nor did those infested with demons find release. Why? Because these people refused to believe. How foolish. How tragic.

Scripture:
Matthew 13:53-58
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there. When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
Luke 4:28-30
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I believe. You said the work of God is to believe. I believe all of your story: born of a virgin, a life without sin, an atoning death, a spectacular resurrection, and Your ascension to the Throne of Heaven. I believe it all. As the angel said to Mary, “with God nothing is impossible.” I believe in Your will for my life. I believe You will be with me throughout the day ahead. I believe. I believe. That makes us family! 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.

Lord, I believe. Lord, I believe.
All things are possible, Lord I believe.
Lord, I believe. Lord, I believe.
All things are possible, Lord I believe.

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.

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 22, 2018 “Weeds”

Weeds

When the seed is precious and the soil is rich, weeds will grow.
That’s just the way it is. This is a fallen world infested with fakes and frauds—human weeds. They take up space without adding anything to the garden. They use up resources without yielding any measurable results. They hinder the intended harvest by choking the healthy stalks of wheat. That’s just the way it is.

How did the weeds get into the wheat field? Jesus said the enemy crept in while the owners slept and sowed the weed seed in the field. Lesson? Everyone should never sleep at the same time—keep an around-the-clock watch. These were not just any weeds; they were tares, a plant that looks like wheat until it reaches maturity. The farmer is not surprised when workers reported the illicit, destructive plants standing next to the wheat, waving in the same breeze. He knew he had an enemy capable of this attack. When asked if the workers should pull the weeds, the owner declined; his primary goal was to protect the good plants. Each one was too important to risk just to spoil the enemy’s plot. At the time of the harvest the differences between the tares and the wheat will be so clearly seen the harvesters can actually mount two campaigns, one to remove the weeds and the other to harvest the wheat. They will bind the tares together in bundles to burn them. From the same field, wheat went into the owners’ barn and the tares went into the fire. The enemy’s plot did not destroy the harvest.

Lesson’s from Parables
These little stories from Jesus still ring with truth more than 2000 years later. They teach us truths for today:

  • “The Wheat and the Tares:” Until the Lord returns, the church will have deceivers and hypocrites in its ranks. At first they appear to be genuine believers but time tells the tale. Eventually, their true nature will be revealed and God will deal with them.
  • “Mustard Seed Faith:” Faith in God is so powerful, that an amount that seems small by society’s standards is actually a powerful force for good in the world. There are tall, healthy trees that shelter the land and host families of birds that grew from tiny seeds. So it is with the person of faith; insignificant in the eyes of the world but doing the work of God in the earth.
  • “The Leaven of Faith:” It doesn’t get the headlines like heroic deeds or horrific sins, but a life of faith in Christ changes the world. As leaven causes the dough to rise in the oven to become a nourishing loaf, so the person of faith is a blessing to everyone.

People of Faith
Putting these three parables together, we see that though there are hypocrites in the church, there are more genuine followers of Christ. These people are people of faith and they make all the difference in this world. They do the work of the Kingdom by the power of the Spirit. The world may measure their beliefs and behavior as small and insignificant, the truth is, their faith is a major force for good. Their faith in Christ is like a spiritual-chemical reaction in their heart, changing them even as the heat of life increases. They emerge from life’s oven, stronger, sweeter, and substantial enough to feed the world.

Scriptures:
Matthew 13:24-35
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘” Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to be a person of great faith. Teach me great truths to fuel my faith. Show me great prayers to pray so my faith can grow. I know that without faith it is impossible to please You. That means that with faith I can please You. That is my heart’s desire. May faith be the leaven in my life. Though the world may think my measure of faith is small, I know You will give me enough for the task. Lord Jesus, I want to be a person of great faith. Amen.

Song:
Faith Is the Victory
Words: John Henry Yates; Music: Ira David. Sankey

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

Refrain:
Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, That overcomes the world.

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

Refrain

3. On every hand the foe we find
Drawn up in dread array;
Let tents of ease be left behind,
Salvation’s helmet on each head,
With truth all girt about,
And onward to the fray
The earth shall tremble ’neath our tread,
And echo with our shout.

Refrain

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 11, 2018: “Resurrection?”

Resurrection?

Faith and reason do not have to be at war with one another.
There were those leaders in Jesus’ day who did not believe in the supernatural. They were bright people of reason who could not imagine a world beyond their own senses. If they could see something, or taste it, or measure it, or hear it, then it was a part of their acknowledged existence. If not then it really didn’t exist and was the province of fools. Intellectual superiority marked their company and they amused themselves with lesser beings who believed in things like the resurrection of the dead.

Missing Evidence
Life after death? The whole idea flew in the face of reason. Where was the evidence of such a thing? The evidence for the finality of death was all around, from the elaborate gardens of stone tombs in the city to the cemeteries in every humble village. Stories of ghosts and demons and angels were hardly evidence at all.

A group of these men approached Jesus. They pretended to accept the premise of a resurrection. They began with a quote from Moses about brothers marrying the wife of a dead sibling to raise up children in his name. They extended the hypothetical into seven such instances in one family. Now, in the “resurrection,” whose wife will she be?

Jesus did not reason with them. They were wrong from the onset.

“Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?

A Different Reality
These proud men were mistaken. Their logic was sound but wrong. Their reasoning fell short of reality. There is a world beyond the five senses! They quoted Moses assuming his writings were natural in their source. The Word of God reflects all of reality not just the natural world. The primary concern of Scripture is not an understanding of the natural world. His Word opens to us the world of invisible realities, those of –faith!

These sincere, brilliant men were mistaken because they took reason to be everything and ignored the crucial role of faith in life. This side of heaven, there will always be more questions than answers. Reason organizes the predictable; faith deals with the unpredictable.

The Sadducees projected the ways of the natural world onto the supernatural world—marrying and giving in marriage. Jesus opened the curtain on the spirit world. Gender exists but not for procreation! Life is eternal without deaths or births, an existence like that of angels. These mistaken men were hindered because they did not recognize and exercise the role of faith. Faith in God makes sense in both worlds because the power of God is at work in both worlds. Reason without faith will lead to pride and destruction.

Faith and Reason
Jesus said these men were “greatly mistaken.” Their miscalculation robbed them of life before and after death. The same is true today. To believe in the Word and power of God is not to deny the natural world, but to enjoy it as a witness to the works of God. Within the framework of each day’s sunrise and sunset, each night’s darkness and promise of light to come, we pray—a supernatural activity—and believe and worship and serve, all with the expectation of a real reward in the life to come. Faith and reason, working together, enables us to live life to the fullest.

Faith and reason do not have to be at war with one another.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:18-27
Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.” Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are Master of both the natural and supernatural worlds! You are the Creator of both. You gave me a human spirit to understand the supernatural world and a human soul and body to process the natural world. Help me walk by sight in the natural world and by faith in the unseen world. I will not fear the unpredictable in the world nor the powers of darkness because I am living in Your care. You are God of the living and not the dead! I know my loved ones are waiting for me over there in Your presence and I know You are with me today in this world. Help me live by faith and by reason. Amen.

Song:
Living by Faith
Words: James Wells and R.E. Winsett; Music: J.L. Heath

1. I care not today what the morrow may bring,
If shadow or sunshine or rain,
The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything,
And all of my worries are vain.

Refrain:
Living by faith in Jesus above,
Trusting, confiding in His great love;
From all harm safe in His sheltering arm,
I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.

2. Though tempests may blow and the storm clouds arise,
Obscuring the brightness of life,
I’m never alarmed at the overcast skies—
The Master looks on at the strife.

Refrain

3. I know that He safely will carry me through,
No matter what evils betide;
Why should I then care though the tempest may blow,
If Jesus walks close to my side.

Refrain

4. Our Lord will return to this earth some sweet day,
Our troubles will then all be o’er;
The Master so gently will lead us away,
Beyond that blest heavenly shore.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 7, 2018: “Whatever”

Whatever

To follow Jesus is to live with the expectation of the supernatural.
Oh, yes, we live in the natural world like everyone else, subject to winds and temperature, seemingly random events both good and bad, natural laws like sowing and reaping, and the force of gravity. In addition to these natural phenomena, we live in the world of the spirit. Our spirits are host to the Holy Spirit of God! Angels, unseen, but powerful, attend our every move. Wicked spiritual forces oppose us and sometimes threaten our peace but we overcome them in the name of Jesus. They have no defense for this. Temptation to sin and displease the Lord is an ever present danger but with every temptation Jesus provides a way of escape. He gives us power over the enemy at every level of attack.

Supernatural Expectations
Jesus walked this earth in the power of the Spirit. He demonstrated an absolute mastery of spiritual things. This seems to be the category into which we must place the incident of the fig tree. Jesus knew that according to the natural seasons of the year, the poor tree would only have leaves and not figs. Yet, He expected a ripe fig to eat. When it was not forthcoming, He cursed the tree.

The next day, after the cleansing of the Temple, Jesus and the men came by the tree again. To their surprise the fig tree had dried up from the roots. It stood there, drooping in the sun, its brown leaves, so green and full the day before, were falling like tears to the dusty earth. Never would it bear fruit again. The disciples expressed their amazement:

“Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”

He called them together positioning them so they could all learn a lesson from the fate of the fig tree.

“Have faith in God.”

Amused by their puzzled looks, Jesus continued:

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done,
he will have whatever he says.

Their puzzled looks did not diminish as they sneaked looks from one to other to see if anyone was understanding what Jesus was saying. It was unanimous; no one got it.

“Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

Whatever things. There is no more inclusive word than whatever. Rolled under its broad canopy is the natural world and the supernatural realm. In the days ahead each of them would learn that the Lord would expect fruit from them, in season or out. They would produce! Weakness would not weaken them. Sickness would not stop them. Enemies would assault them to no avail. The Gospel would be preached to the whole world through them and those who followed them. How will this be possible? Because they would live lives of prayer.

Beware of this Blight!
There was only one thing that could rob them of their fruitfulness— an unforgiving spirit. This would rob their prayers of results and blight them like the unfortunate tree. Baring this, their prayers would bring perennial fruitfulness.

To follow Jesus is to live with the expectation of the supernatural.

Scriptures:
Mark 11:20-26
Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” So Jesus answered and said to them, For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
2 Timothy 4:1-5 NKJV
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have called me to a supernatural life in this natural world. You are Lord of all, including all the elements and forces in the spirit world. Help me see myself in the fig tree. I know You have called me to a productive life in season and out of season. My only hope of success is the flow of Your supernatural power. When You call on me, help me to always have something to present to You—whatever You demand from me! For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Faith Is the Victory
Words: John Henry Yates; Music: Ira D. Sankey

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

Refrain:
Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, That overcomes the world.

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

Refrain

3. On every hand the foe we find Drawn up in dread array;
Let tents of ease be left behind, And onward to the fray.
Salvation’s helmet on each head, With truth all girt about,
The earth shall tremble ’neath our tread And echo with our shout.

Refrain

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 21, 2018: “Hard-hearted”

Hard-hearted

Following Jesus was many things—exciting, amazing, fun, even—but easy it was not.
The Twelve were normal people following an extraordinary man. They were physical and emotional and Jesus was spiritual. Beyond all the miracles, Jesus wanted to teach them higher truths and deeper concepts. This was long before Calvary, so their hearts were not made new. It was years before Pentecost so they did not have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within them. Like the disciples that night in the middle of the lake, Jesus was paddling against a strong wind.

Back across the Galilee
After another miraculous meal, Jesus and the disciples boarded the boat and headed across the water again. Whichever disciple was assigned to take provisions failed in his mission and they had no bread to eat on the boat. It must be that the dispersed crowd claimed the seven baskets of leftovers but the fact remained they were in a boat with nothing to eat.

The Leaven of the Pharisees
Unconcerned with provisions, Jesus wanted to take the men deeper into the truths before them. Bread was a metaphor as was the ingredient in bread that made it rise in the baking process. Jesus wanted His men to see that there was a corrupting factor beneath the behavior of the Pharisees.

“Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

With empty faces the disciples looked at each other. They didn’t get it. They thought He was complaining that they had nothing to eat on board. You can hear the frustration in Jesus’ response.

“Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?
And do you not remember?

He shook His head and started over.

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”

They knew this answer and the next one about the four thousand. They still didn’t get it

“How is it you do not understand?”

Us, too.
Before we come down too hard on these hard-hearted disciples, we need to take a look at our own hearts. We can be just as hard-headed and heart-hearted as the Twelve. How soon do we forget the faithfulness of God yesterday and begin to doubt His promises today? Truly we are without excuse. We are living under the New Covenant! Our sins were washed away when we repented of them and ask Jesus to be our Lord. The Disciples would not experience this until the resurrection. We have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within us to teach us and empower us. They would not experience this until the Day of Pentecost.

When our hearts are hard, we are without excuse. If we keep having to learn the same lesson over and over, perhaps we should ask the Lord to soften our hearts.

Scriptures:
Mark 8: 13-21
And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart. still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, soften my heart! Give me a teachable spirit. Help me remember Your faithfulness in the past as I face the challenges of this day. Help me hear what the Spirit is saying to me. Train me thoroughly in Your Word by principle and directive. Help me act in faith upon this base of knowledge in the questions I must answer today. Holy Spirit, cleanse my heart. Empower my life so that I might walk the Path of Life in Victory! Amen and amen.

Song:
Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated
Words: Frances Ridley Havergal; Music: Henri A. C. Milan

1. Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in endless praise,
let them flow in endless praise.

2. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

3. Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

4. Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

5. Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.

6. Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 5, 2018: “Rooftops”

Rooftops

Ceilings define the height of the interior of a house while rooftops protect its contents.
Both are metaphors for limitations; ceilings confine us and rooftops restrict our access. The ministry of Jesus would not be so contained.

He was ministering in a house in Capernaum. So many people came to Him there was no access through any door or window. This limited most of the crowd to second hand descriptions from friends on the inside. One set of men would not accept these limitations. Their friend was paralyzed. It was their expression of friendship to carry him where he needed to go. These friends were strong and resourceful. They found the tools needed to dismantle the roof. They had ropes tied to a pallet to let their disabled friend down through the hole in the roof.

A Sermon Interrupted

Imagine the surprise when, as Jesus was preaching, there were footsteps overhead and dust falling from the ceiling. Suddenly the roof and ceiling were lifted away. The pallet carrying the paralyzed man started easing its way down through the hole in the ceiling. The owner of the house immediately began to estimate the cost of the repairs that would be needed. Someone would pay for this! A few men tried to stop the intrusion but there was no stopping this resourceful wrecking crew. The ceiling and the rooftop meant nothing to them.

Jesus smiled at the whole enterprise. As the man’s friends returned His smile, Jesus spoke to the man himself.

“Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

The smiles turned to puzzled looks. That was really, really nice, but what they wanted was a healing. After a collective breath, others in the crowd questioned among themselves along the same lines, some going so far as to call it blasphemy—only God could forgive sins!

Jesus knew this before they spoke it. He sought to break through the ceiling of their logic with a higher truth.

“Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?

Before they could answer He made it plain to them:

But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” —
He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

It happened! The disabled man was suddenly quite able. He unhooked the portable bed. His friends sprang to help him but he waved them off with a smile. Unaided by his clever friends, the man unhooked the pallet, rolled it up, and walked out of the house. In his wake, the amazed crowd no longer contained any skeptics. They praised God saying:

“We never saw anything like this!”

When it comes to what Jesus can do, there are no ceilings and all rooftops must yield to those who come to Him in determined faith.

Scriptures:
Mark 2: 1-12
And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” — He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me the faith and resourcefulness of these friends! Let me capture their determination to be in Your presence today and to take my needs to You regardless of any hindrances. As I do, let me never forget the greatest miracle of all—my sins are forgiven in Your Name! Let today be a day without ceilings—unrestricted grace from above—and without rooftops—unhindered faith and obedience rising to Your throne. For You Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Nothing Is Impossible
Words and Music: Eugene L. Clark

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 everything, O everything,
Yes, everything is possible with God!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 14, 2017: “Believing”

Believing

There is an exercise for the spirit, soul, and body. 
No heavy weights will clank behind us.  Our breathing will not be affected.  No muscles will be flexed or stretched.  No calculations will spin in our brains.  No emotions are required but joy in the aftermath of the workout is assured.  What is this marvelous exercise?

Believing.

Believing the Word of God, the words of Jesus, and the covenantal promises of our Father in heaven rejuvenates the body, refreshes the soul, and revives the spirit.  It is a daily discipline.  Yesterday’s believing will not get us through today.  Tomorrow’s believing will have to wait until this day turns from test to testimony and goes into the record books.

In daily prayer we review the things we believe and we believe them again.  Systematically we read the Book, pray the psalms, see the story of Jesus and the disciples on the movie screen of the mind, and we check our inbox for letters from the Apostles.  As we read and pray, we believe—again.

  • Jesus speaks to us.
  • We travel with Peter and Paul and Silas and Luke throughout the world tell people about Jesus.
  • We weep with the prophets over a backslidden people of God.
  • We wonder with them at the bright Kingdom soon to come.
  • We are charged with the job of living the productive life in the Spirit and
  • we gaze with wonder at the revelation of Jesus we soon will see.

We are believing.

Our believing affects not only us, it affects the world we inhabit.
Though “deep darkness covers the peoples,” the Lord “shines on us” as we step into the day.  At the end of the day, the burning ball of the sun might set, but our central light keeps shining deep into the night.  Why? Because we are  continually believing.

In the shadows enemies may plot against us.  In the streets and offices of the marketplace foes may lie in wait to ambush us.  We do not fear what man can do to us for a squad of angels goes before us and goodness and mercy are following us. Why?  Because we go into the world believing.

We are saved, translated from darkness to light, because we confessed with our mouth and believed in our hearts.  We are fruitful in life because we feed on the eternal Word of God and drink deeply of the living water flowing freely from the well Jesus dug in our hearts when we first believed in Him.  We are fearless because we believe that if God is for us, it simply doesn’t matter who is against us.  We are at peace, our borders secured by armies of angels and our hearts guarded by the unsleeping eye of our Father in heaven.

Today, your assignment is this:  Keep believing!

Scriptures:
Psalm 119:65-66
Do good to your servant according to your word, O LORD. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.
Mark 5:36; 9:24 NKJV
Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
Mark 11: 24 NKJV
…I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.
Mark 16:15-18
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
John 20:26-31
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Romans 3:22; 6:8; 10:7-11
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believeNow if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
… “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Prayer:
The Apostles’ Creed
The Book of Common Prayer
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Song:
Because We Believe
Words and Music: Don Moen

1. We believe in God the Father.
We believe in Christ the Son.
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
We are the Church And we stand as one.

2. We believe in the Holy Bible.
We believe in the virgin birth.
We believe in the resurrection,
That Christ one day Will return to earth

Refrain:
Holy, holy, Holy is our God
Worthy, worthy, Worthy is our King
All glory and honor Are His to receive.
To Jesus we sing Because we believe.

3. We believe in the blood of Jesus.
We believe in eternal life.
We believe in His love that frees us
To become the bride of Christ.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 13, 2017: “Anticipation”

Anticipation

Anticipation is hope harnessed to a particular outcome.
It is faith focused on a deep desire, and charity channeled in a chosen direction. Delay creates anticipation; we must wait for the outcome, the desire, and the direction. Anticipation keeps our waiting time from being a waste of time. As we preview the anticipated outcome our faith grows and the direction we have chosen is confirmed.

We do not wait for things in a spiritual void; we have promises to hold on to, prophesies to believe, and a covenant to cling to. Quietly, deep in our spirit where His Spirit abides, a voice speaks, “Hold on! It’s coming! God has promised!” The voice comforts and encourages us, building a stronger anticipation. Further delays are processed through this three-fold filter of faith, hope, and love so that setbacks are never seen as final.

As another week begins, let us anticipate God’s faithfulness.
Fresh from our Lord’s Day expressions of thanksgiving, praise, and adoration, we are confident that God will continue to be true to His Word this week. There may be sleepless nights this week, even tear-filled nights, but in the morning we will dry our eyes in confidence that the tears of the night will soon be only a memory as the faithful sun rises in the east and the Faithful and True Son rises in our hearts.

We will sow good seed this week, precious seed. Plowing the fallow ground of our own hearts is not easy work for the rocks are plentiful and they lie in surprising places. As a descendent of Adam, this sweat of our brow is necessary if we are to ever have a harvest. We will also water the seed others have sown in relationships and Kingdom work this week. This relational work is as important to the anticipated harvest as is the sowing of the seed. When the harvest comes, those who have sown in tears and those who have gone forth weeping, bearing precious seed shall doubtless join those who have faithfully watered the seed and tended the field and all shall come rejoicing bringing their sheaves with them.

The farmer plows and plants his field in anticipation of the harvest.
The harvest is his hope, his field of faith, and his labor of love. We also,

  • sow the good seed of the Word of God in our own hearts,
  • sow good deeds of mercy into the lives of others,
  • abundantly water the work of the Lord in the lives of our brothers and sisters, and
  • scatter the good seed of the Gospel in every field we enter and upon every path we walk.

We joyfully anticipate the harvest, not because we are great farmers, but because the field is the Lord’s and the seed is precious, powerful, and perennial.

Scriptures:
1 Corinthians 13:13 KJV
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Psalms 30:5 NKJV; 126:5-6 KJV
Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning. Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
1 Corinthians 3:6-8 NKJV
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
Galatians 6:7-10 NKJV
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
2 Corinthians 9:6
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my confidence is in You and Your faithfulness. The only sure thing the world can offer me is pain. You, Father, offer me much more—abundant life—guaranteed by Your character. Let me echo the theme song of the Old Covenant, “Lord, You are good and mercy endures even to my generation!” I enter this day full of anticipation of good and perfect gifts from above. I anticipate victory in every conflict, endurance in every trial, wisdom in every dilemma, and joy in every circumstance. Your Word will light my path. Your voice will sound in my spirit and Your peace will be my song. In short, I anticipate Grace today! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand
Words: Jennie Wilson; Music: Frankin L. Eiland

1. Time is filled with swift transition,
Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Refrain:
Hold to God’s unchanging hand,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand;
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

2. Trust in Him who will not leave you,
Whatsoever years may bring,
If by earthly friends forsaken
Still more closely to Him cling.

Refrain

3. Covet not this world’s vain riches
That so rapidly decay,
Seek to gain the heav’nly treasures,
They will never pass away.

Refrain

4. When your journey is completed,
If to God you have been true,
Fair and bright the home in glory
Your enraptured soul will view.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved