December 6 “John”

John

Imagine for a moment Elizabeth sitting at the table with her husband Zacharias.
She is holding baby John. It is a quiet moment which Elizabeth appreciates. Her husband has regained his ability to speak and now he won’t stop. He is telling her, again, about that day at the Temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

“The angel—he said his name was Gabriel who stands in the presence of God, can you imagine?—told me that you would have a son and that we should name him John.”

“What did you say?”

“What could I say? I explained that we were both too old for such a thing to happen…” He stopped and patted her hand. She started to withdraw the hand, but then thought better of it—the man had seen an angel! She squeezed his warm hand. The baby wiggled a bit in her arms. He was a restless one!

“He told me such wonderful things! Just when I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t say anything! I went outside and the people were looking at me so strange, like I had seen a vision or something. Of course, I couldn’t explain so I gave up trying and left.

“Tell me again, what Gabriel said about our John.” Elizabeth had not grown tired of hearing these things.

“Oh, it was wonderful! He said John would be great in the sight of the Lord and he would never drink wine or strong drink.”

“Really?”

“Yes! And he would be filled with the Spirit from birth—we both know what that is like!—And, best of all, he will turn people to the Lord! Just what we have been praying for!”

“So, he will be a priest, like his father!”

“Perhaps, or a prophet. Gabriel said he would go in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

“He said something about fathers and children…”

“Yes, the words of Malachi, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.’ When you think about it, that is so important!”

John wiggled in her arms. “He’s hungry again! I never dreamed that we would have a family! At our age! We had better be filled with the Spirit!”

“Oh, I remember when it happened to me—right after I agreed to name him John when we had him dedicated. Then I suddenly knew what was happening to us. It was like I was a prophet myself!–and I could talk again!”

Elizabeth could see he was about to get lost in the story. She quietly got up to leave the table and find some privacy. Zacharias continued to relive his prophecy.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The old man shook his head in amazement that he had a son at all and that his son was to be the forerunner of Messiah.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:8-26
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 1:57-80
Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.” But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” So they made signs to his father — what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him. Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied…

Prayer of Praise:
The Prophecy of Zacharias
Luke 1:68-80
“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Song:
Prepare ye the Way of the Lord
Words and Music: Terry MacAlmon

Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way Of the Lord
For His judgments are true
And His mercies are new
So prepare ye the way Of the Lord

He that hath an ear
Let him hear what the Spirit says
To the churches

Make ready the pathway
Make straight the highway
Of the Lord

Behold I am coming
My Glory will be outpoured
Behold I am coming Says the Lord

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

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

December 4 “Zacharias”

Zacharias

The old priest looked forward to each time the Temple rotation of duties included him.
On this day, his role was to burn the incense on the altar in the Holy Place, the final chamber before the mysterious Holy of Holies. His ancient heart was strong as his pulse quickened with anticipation of this priestly privilege. A crowd was waiting in the antechamber for Zacharias to reappear, his duty done. Perhaps, like Moses coming down from Mt. Sanai, his face would glow with reflected glory. One could never tell when the repeated prayers of Israel would be answered in their time as in the days of old.

More than an Audience
Who were the people in the crowd? Perhaps there were a few tourists on their first trip to Herod’s new Temple but most of them were of the remnant, the remaining faithful who sought the face of God. They knew Jehovah was their only hope. True worship was their only counterplan to the evil structures of Roman rule: religious freedom wrapped in military force. “Pax Romana,” the Roman Peace, allowed ethnic religions as long as they did not threaten the Empire and its god, Caesar. Their religion called for a different King! Messiah was their only hope, the promises of Messiah their constant liturgy.

Meanwhile, in the Holy Place
Zacharias’ turn at burning the incense was anything but routine. From the outset of his duties, he felt a strange excitement, a deep anticipation that heightened all his senses. His heart was full of praise and petition. For some reason an old prayer of his, long ago abandoned as beyond hope, returned to his heart. He knew better than to refuse to pray a prayer brought to mind in this Holy Place so he repeated it, feeling a little foolish for the effort.

The Holy Place was an interior room lit only by oil lamps representing the Spirit of God. The shadows cast by the lamps began to flee before a new light source just the right of the Altar of Incense. Zacharias’ heart almost stopped as did his breathing. The light became a figure and then a man, no, larger than a man and more magnificent than any man. It was angel! Fear started the old man’s heart again and suddenly he couldn’t get enough air. The angel told him not to be afraid—they always say that! He told him his prayer was heard—Elizabeth will give Zacharias a son! That was the foolish prayer, long ago discarded but rediscovered today!

The old man protested the obvious facts of life; he shouldn’t have done that. The angel identified himself as Gabriel who stands in the presence of God. That should be enough credentials! He told Zacharias details about who his son would be and what he would do. In the process, Zacharias became voiceless.

When the old man tarried in the Temple, the restless crowd of the faithful outside wondered what it might mean. When he emerged, the people saw something that made them think he had seen a vision but he could not explain. When his duties were completed, Zacharias returned to his home and to his very surprised wife, Elizabeth.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:5-26 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.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am a member of the Holy, Royal Priesthood of New Covenant believers. Help me be faithful at the altar or prayer. Like incense burned in the Holy Place of the Old Covenant, the prayers of the saints are precious to You. They are collected before Your Holy Presence. Help my prayers never to be missing from that collection. Lord, if, like Zacharias, If I have given up praying for long-standing needs according to Your long-standing promises, resurrect them in my prayers today! You are not slack concerning Your promises. Your very name is “Faithful and True!” Help me be faithful and true in my prayers. For Your Glory and Your Kingdom! Amen.

Song:
God Answers Prayer
Traditional Chorus

God answers prayer in the morning.
God answers prayer at noon.
God answers prayer in the evening
So keep your heart in tune.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 28, 2018: “Commission”

Commission

Some things are so very real, they can only be seen with eyes of faith.
With repeated appearances to those who had loved and followed Him, Jesus convinced them all that He was, indeed, back from the dead. He gently rebuked those who failed to believe the good reports from the first witnesses. After all, He had told them this was going to happen!

From other sources we know that He did meet with the disciples in Galilee. On one occasion He met with the Eleven and those wonderful women and convinced even the skeptical Thomas that he was back and His power was greater than ever. He could appear and disappear at will and could pass through walls without effort.

We cannot imagine the joy of the followers of Jesus to have Him back. But this was not the end of surprises. There were always surprises with Jesus! It seemed He wasn’t planning on staying. Later they would realize that He had come to earth to complete a two-fold mission:

  1. To show people what their God was really like, and,
  2. To redeem the sins of the world so that we could walk with God in this life.

That two-fold mission had been accomplished and it was time for Him to return to the throne room of God in heaven.

There was one more thing that He had to do: Commission His followers to continue His work in the earth. His story had to be told to the whole world and they, and those who came to know Him through their ministry, were the ones to tell it. He condensed the mission into a single statement and a promise:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

“Gospel” means “Good News.”

  • In a world in the iron grip of Rome, Good News was needed.
  • In every epoch of time since the ancient world existed, Good News has been needed.
  • Any type of news rooted in man’s character will eventually be found to be corrupt.
  • Any message based on the intellect of man will present only partial solutions since the knowledge of mankind is inadequate.
  • Any hope of staving off disease that rests in man will itself be found infected with sin.

Death rules man as it always had until that day at the empty tomb. The only source of Good News is the Gospel of Christ.

The Power of the Holy Spirit
The Jesus story is not complete without the story of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not commission us to go out in our own power! He sends us the Holy Spirit to make us holy and empower us to be His witnesses. We should expect the demonstration of the Spirit when we tell His story. We will protected from harm as we go and signs will follow as we pass through this life preaching the Gospel. Demons cannot stop us for we can call on Jesus’ name. The sick will be healed as we pray in Jesus’ name. Wild animals and poison will not even slow us down.

Having spoken His final words to them until the Holy Spirit would come upon them and bring His words back to them as needed, He made His exit into the welcoming skies. Heaven took Him back and He resumed His rightful place at the right hand of Majesty on High.

What did they do then? They waited in Jerusalem until they received “power from on high” and they went out and preached His Story everywhere. The Lord was with them confirming the Word with miraculous signs. Amen.

Scripture:
Mark 16:14-20
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have heard Your call to follow You. I have obeyed that call. I hear Your call to tell Your story, to preach the Good News about You in every possible way. I will fear no demons or dangers, no sickness or setbacks, no opposition or lack of opportunity. I will follow and I will tell. I receive Your Holy Spirit to make me holy, Your power to make me mighty, and Your love to make me lovable. Use me, all of me, my gifts and my gaffs, my head and heart and hands to do your work. Thank You, Lord. Thank You.

Song:
We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations
Words and Music: H. Ernest Nichol

1. We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light, a story of peace and light.

Refrain:
For the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright,
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.

2. We’ve a song to be sung to the nations, that shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
a song that shall conquer evil and shatter the spear and sword, and shatter the spear and sword.

Refrain

3. We’ve a message to give to the nations, that the Lord who reigneth above
has sent us His Son to save us, and show us that God is love, and show us that God is love.

Refrain

4 We’ve a Savior to show to the nations, who the path of sorrow has trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples may come to the truth of God, may come to the truth of God.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 12, 2018: “Commandment”

Commandment

In a crowd, there is always at least one who is ready to hear.
It was so that day in the Temple. Team after team had gone to bat against Jesus and had struck out swinging. But on the bench was one scribe whose eyes, ears, and heart were open to Jesus. In the silence of the defeat of his peers, he spoke up.

The Silent Type
He was the silent type, known to avoid loud and useless arguments, rarely speaking but always with an audience. His friends knew his few words were worth hearing. At the sound of his voice, hope began to rise in the opponents of Jesus. The brightest and calmest among them was speaking. Surely he would put this interloper in His place.

“Which is the first commandment of all?”

Jesus immediately perceived the spirit of this man. This was no trick question, no debate strategy. Jesus sensed that the man, among all those who opposed him, had recognized the truth in His words. He was brave, too, brave enough to ask an honest and important question. Jesus smiled at the man, a loving smile, that disarmed His enemies and made everyone else smile, too. His words were as gentle as a mother’s touch.

  • The first commandment is to love God and
  • The second is to love people.
  • No commandments superseded these two.

First and Greatest
The words were familiar to all but when Jesus spoke them a new ring of truth sounded.

  • What to do about the Romans? Love God and love people.
  • How to bring revival to the land? Love God and love people.
  • How to help the hurting people all around? Love God and love people.
  • How to live a victorious life in the face of constant temptation and violent persecution? Love God and love people.

When something is first and greatest in the Kingdom of God, it is worthy of our embrace.

The Truth Spoken
The sincere man had been taken deeper into the heart of God by words he had always known. He replied to Jesus as if speaking to himself.

“Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth…”

He went on to elaborate in the same quiet voice of his original question. A new authority, much like that of Jesus, sounded in his voice. He realized the deep truth as he spoke it. Loving God and loving people,

“…is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

That gentle breeze that often visited the Temple courts came again as the soft words of the scribe began to impact his peers. What? He has gone too far! Offerings and sacrifices are the source of our power over the people! We cannot release these people, these mindless sheep, to just go out and love God and be good to one another! They wouldn’t need us! Before a voice could cry out in protest, Jesus’ soft voice, accompanied by that winning smile, finished the conversation. Looking deep into the eyes of the soft spoken young man, Jesus said,

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

After that, there were no more questions, just shuffling sandals as the scribes lowered their heads and exited to their other, self-empowering duties. One among them, however, one had a new heart glowing in his chest.

In a crowd, there is always at least one who is ready to hear.

Mark 12:28-34
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your ways with me are gentle. Help me be transformed today by words I have heard all my life. Help me obey You today out of love for You and for people. This is the greatest and this is the highest duty in life. And it is the solution to all the problems I face today. This is what I can do about the world. This is how I can serve you with gladness and singleness of heart. This is how You can move through me to make a difference. Open the eyes of my heart to see these first and greatest commands. For Your Glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Open the Eyes of My Heart
Words and Music: Paul Baloche

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.
Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You, I want to see You.
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.
Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You, I want to see You.

To see You high and lifted up,
Shining in the light of Your glory.
Pour out Your power and love
As we sing holy, holy, holy.

Holy, holy, holy! Holy, holy, holy!
Holy, holy, holy, I want to see You.

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

February 2, 2018: “Serving”

Serving

Witnessing miracles impresses the mind but does not change the heart.
Consider for a moment what the Twelve had seen: countless healings, confused opponents, conquered demons and two miraculously catered lunches in the wilderness. Think of the teachings of Jesus they had heard; lessons on greed and sharing, pride and humility, leadership and servanthood, punishment in hell and rewards in heaven, and still they didn’t get it. Their hearts remained unchanged, carnal not spiritual. Two of the fisherman brothers made the most amazing statement to Him.

“Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

We know from other accounts that their mother had great ambitions for them. She could not know that James would be the first of them killed for the sake of Christ and that John would outlive all the rest. She must have transferred her ambitions for her sons to the brothers. Jesus answered:

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

Pause for a moment to let the audacity of their request sink into your heart. We need to fall before the Lord seeking what He wants us to do for Him, not the other way around! There was no shame in their carnal hearts, not even enough class to cloak their conceit.

“Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

Amazing. But their conceit went even deeper in response to Jesus’ rebuke and challenge.

“You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

“We are able” was their astounding reply. Jesus assured them that they would indeed share His baptism of death in the service of Life and that their futures were in God’s capable hands. The other disciples heard all of this and were much displeased with their colleagues and secretly glad that they had not earned such a rebuke and prophecy. Jesus called them all together as He often did when their hearts drove them apart.

No Lordship Options
At this moment Jesus announced a binding rule of leadership for those who would follow Him. According to unredeemed human nature, Gentiles ruled by lordship—raw power, rank manipulation, and rancid self-serving.

“Yet it shall not be so among you.”

There is no wiggle room here, no plan B, no alternative in case of emergencies. Human-powered leadership is not the Jesus-way, not ever, not then, not now, not at all. We must not cry out to Jesus for help as we lead and then proceed in a manor abhorrent to Him. To ask God to bless ungodly leadership methods is as foolish and arrogant as the pride of James and John.

“…but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.”

Jesus, of course, was the supreme example of this kind of leadership. It cost Him His life and gave us ours.

Scriptures:
Mark 10:35-45
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am embarrassed for James and John yet I must confess that I am prone to similar conceits. Save me from pride and ambition for the glory of my own name. I reserve the depths of my heart for Your glory, my ambitions for Your service. Help me be a servant leader today. Reveal to me the disgust You have for leaders who would seek to advance Your Kingdom by their own power, politics, and personalities. These things are abhorrent to You. You treasure humility and servanthood. When I obey You not just in the ends sought but in the means You taught, then I can expect Your power to flow in my life. Lord, make me like You! Amen.

Song:
Oh, To Be Like Thee
Words: Thomas O. Chisholm; Music: William J. Kirkpatrick

1. Oh! to be like Thee, blessed Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Refrain:
Oh! to be like Thee, oh! to be like Thee,
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

2. Oh! to be like Thee, full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinner to find.

Refrain

3. Oh! to be like Thee, lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer, others to save.

Refrain

4. Oh! to be like Thee, Lord, I am coming,
Now to receive th’ anointing divine;
All that I am and have I am bringing,
Lord, from this moment all shall be Thine.

Refrain

5. Oh! to be like Thee, while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love,
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 31, 2018: “Following”

Following

Perhaps the Twelve had never thought about the consequences of not following Jesus.
Now they considered it. Walking along with Jesus involved long periods of silence during which the Twelve thought deeply about what Jesus had just said. These things were mysteries beyond their ability to explain, riddles they could not solve. Each of them had heard the same call the rich young ruler had heard—“Follow me!” They had abandoned fishing businesses, tax rolls and other means of security for life to follow Jesus into a future none of them could imagine. They had just seen a man refuse to follow. They had heard solemn and violent warnings against things that would hinder them in following Jesus. Lose a hand or an eye but do not lose the call! Heaven awaits those who follow and hell those who are hindered.

Remembering the Abandoned
In this silence, perhaps they each remembered what they used to have before Jesus called them to follow Him. The four fisherman abandoned more than nets and boats; they left a life of security and useful purpose. Levi, also known as Matthew, left a shady but lucrative life in league with the governments, that of a tax collector free to skim his prosperity from the loosely kept records. Nine other untold stories are unknown to us but were the real histories of these men. As usual, Peter spoke what they all were thinking.

“See, we have left all and followed You.”

Kingdom Assumptions
From our distance of 2000 years, we must remember the revolutionary message of Jesus. These men had never known of a kingdom that did not involve riches for those who led it. There was no way for them to conceive of a kingdom that would be led by servants. Now Jesus was telling them not to expect riches or power but to live a life of poverty and servanthood. Perhaps if Jesus had challenged them the way He did the rich young ruler, they would have also turned away. But they hadn’t turned away. They had answered His call, leaving all behind to follow Him. He just needed to be reminded of their obedience.

Promises without Limits
Jesus loved these men and truly appreciated their love for Him, their sense of destiny, adventure and purpose. He knew what was coming and though He tried to warn them, He knew there was no way they could know what was ahead for them. He made certain promises to them that have remained in force for 20 centuries to all who answer His call.

  • Those who follow Him, leaving their comfortable lives to embark on His adventure and mission will be cared for. Leaving their families, they will find new ones, spiritual ones. Leaving their ancestral homes and traveling to the next place of service, they will be provided homes of safety and rest. There will also be persecutions.
  • In the age to come there will be mansions of glory and reunions of magnificent magnitude and no more pain or parting ever again.

Choose to serve now and you will reign then.

These promises are still in effect as Christians have proved in every generation. Without them the Gospel would be locked into one time and place. With them, the Jesus Story goes out to the whole world.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 28- 31
Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have heard and answered Your call. I can testify that though I left my natural family to follow You, You have blessed me with a multitude of friends and family. Though I left my hometown and state, You have given me traveling mercies without number and new environs in which to serve You with gladness and singleness of heart. You have been faithful to these promises. Your Word is true and following You is the only way to live! Thank You, Jesus!

Song:
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Traditon

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

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

3. My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 29, 2018: “Possessions”

Possessions

Possessions can deceive us. Sometimes when we think we have them, they have us.
A running man gets everyone’s attention. Full of the energy of youth and the optimism of opportunity, a man ran up to Jesus and knelt before him. With such a dramatic entrance, this scene was guaranteed to play before a crowd. Only slightly out of breath, the young man hurled his question at Jesus.

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

Jesus smiled down at the man, instantly understanding that this was not a question rooted in humility. It was based in pride, self-righteousness, and false spirituality. Jesus played the man’s game. After a question and statement about the goodness of God, He cataloged the commandments. With each one, the young man smiled beneath his bow, mentally checking off each one. That Jesus could really pick up a cue! When the checklist was complete, the man stood to his feet and straightened his back and reported the good news.

“Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

Jesus’ smile never left His face. Here before Him was what we would call a “good man.” He was a credit to his family and his religion. He either was or would someday make a good husband and father. He was a master of the externals. The Bible says Jesus looked at him and loved him. He loved him so much, he could not let the man rattle along in this life when the externals were so right and internals were so wrong.

“One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

The smile never left Jesus’ face but the young man’s smile disappeared quickly along with his self-confidence. He hadn’t bargained on this. Weren’t his great possessions signs of God’s approval? Why would it be necessary to divest himself these blessings? God had given them, why would God then require them back? It made no sense.

He felt like running away but he didn’t. He could sense the crowd he had gathered looking at him in wonder. He kept his bearing and turned, walking away with all his great possessions intact and a troubling new poverty in his spirit. Jesus did not try to stop him or reason with him. He let him go. The time for repentance had not arrived for the young man. The words of Jesus would never be far from his mind.

Possessions can deceive us. Sometimes when we think we have them, they have us.

Scriptures:
Mark 10:17-22
Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may 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,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.'”And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, save me from the power of possessions to own me. Help me keep things in perspective. You have blessed me with possessions but I recognize that they are not really mine—they are Yours. Everything I have is Yours. I recognize You as the source of blessings. They have been given to me to please You with my management of them. Beginning with the tithe on my increase, all I have is potentially an offering to You. Help me hold to things with such a careful but loose grip that they never have an hold on me. In Your Name, Lord Jesus.

Song:
I’d Rather Have Jesus
Words: Rhea F. Miller; Music: George Beverly Shea

1. I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands.
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand

Chorus:
Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

2. I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame.
I’d rather be true to His holy name

Chorus

3 He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs.
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead

Chorus

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 27, 2018: “Offences”

Offences

Public life ensures that some will join while others reject, some will please and others will offend.
Continuing their journey south, the child sought out Jesus and was happy to be carried by Him. Soon the silence of the disciples lifted and they brought a matter of some concern to the Master’s attention. They had witnessed someone not of their group operating in the power of Jesus’ name. They wanted Jesus to shut him done. Weren’t they the exclusive holders of such power and privilege?

Jesus knew the facts of public life. He rejoiced when men like the Twelve answered His call and He grieved when others turned away from Him, even after receiving a miracle from His Hands. The disciples had not learned this lesson as of yet. There was a deep and flexible truth to be seen in this case. Jesus decided not to restrict the man.

“For he who is not against us is on our side.”

This seems much too flexible to be true. Jesus admitted the uncertainty of it though such a man would be unlikely to turn out to be an enemy.

“Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name
can soon afterward speak evil of Me.”

At best people were unpredictable; today’s behavior may not prophesy tomorrow’s attitudes and deeds. He instructed them to receive good deeds done to them in His name as blessings for which to be thankful. The perpetrator of such deeds will not lose his reward.

A Glimpse of Hell.
An unpleasant order drifted toward them from the road ahead—a garbage heap on fire. Ignoring this unpleasantness and covering the child’s nose, He told His men to be protective of the young and innocent. Severe punishment awaits those who harm them. He warned them to live a life of introspection, watching out for attitudes and deeds that would cause them to sin. It is better to live a restricted life even one as severe as that of a person with impaired senses or abilities if these things drag us into sin.

The child in His arms pulled His protecting hand away, laughing.  He went on, smiling with the child.

These temporary losses will win for them an eternal life of blessing. Inattention to the evil potential of the hands and feet or the ever-present temptation offered to the eyes can lead to eternal death and the horrors of hell where the

“…worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

At that moment the travelers passed a garbage dump some distance away. The sight of the never quenched fire and the unending decay reminded them of Gehenna, a similar dump south of Jerusalem. Its name came to be used for all such places. It is also a reference to hell. As they covered their noses, they thought that missing a hand or an eye or a foot was a small price to pay to avoid such a place.

The child in Jesus arms seemed oblivious to the smell and the spiritual danger of the lesson. He/she enjoyed the touch and the attention of the Master and that was enough. Some among the Twelve longed to live a life just like that.

Scriptures:
Mark:9:38-48
Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched — where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched — where’ Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire —where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me to love the way You love! You are not threatened by people. When someone not of my group operates in Your name and power, Help me to not be offended. Help me accept them as friends and not opponents. Help me honor those who speak well of You as Savior and King who may not agree with me on every point. Lord, help me to hold the children in my heart, the way You did. Help me never to offend them but to love and encourage them! There is always something I can learn from them that pleases You! For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Traditional

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved