February 12: “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  • No commandments superseded these two.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 “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 “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 “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
Traditional

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

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

3. 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 “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 “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 Jesus had used as an object lesson sought Him out 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

January 26 “Greatest”

Greatest

Sometimes it seems all of life is a contest to determine who or what is the Greatest.
Jesus passed through Galilee in secret on His way to Capernaum. He explained this clandestine approach to the Twelve: a plot was forming against Him led by someone who wanted to betray Him. He told them the time would come for this but it was not then and not there. The men could not understand this at all. A dispute rose up among them concerning what Jesus meant. He assured them that when it eventually did happen that it would not be the end. He would rise on the third day.

Jesus in the Lead
Jesus walked ahead of the group, leading the way south. A group in the rear, safely out of earshot from Jesus, shifted the topic to a more pleasant one—who among them would be the greatest and take the lead in the new Kingdom. Knowing this, Jesus brought the subject out into the open.

“What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?”

It was useless to answer Him so they didn’t. Jesus stopped and found a place to sit by the road. Sheepishly the men gathered around for another lesson in leadership.

“If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

No long lecture. No puzzling parables. Just one simple hypothesis with no elaborate proofs offered in evidence.

A New Kingdom
The Kingdom of Heaven would be the direct opposite of the Kingdoms of men. Instead of leaders having servants, servants will lead! Power, which so often corrupts, will be seen as responsibility, which often leads to integrity. Humility will replace pride as the ruling sentiment. How could He illustrate this fundamental for them?

At that moment a family with children walked by the roadside classroom. Politely, Jesus asked the parents of a small child if He could hold the child. Perhaps they knew who He was, but at least they sensed He could be trusted.

Quickly, Jesus made a friend of the child bringing joy into all those who witnessed this object lesson. He looked at the crowd and with a big smile said this.

“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me;
and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Childlike faith will be the standard of the Kingdom to come. The least will be the greatest and the greatest will be the smiling servants of all. What a glorious Kingdom it will be!

He lifted the child and handed him/her back to the parents. They thanked Him as if He had blessed them with a valuable gift. Indeed, He had! The family went on their way as did Jesus and the Twelve. This time there was no dispute, in fact, no conversation at all. Nothing needed to be said but everything that had been said required deep thought.

Scriptures:
Mark 9:30-37
Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him. Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the greatest of all! Help me know that to strive to be the greatest in Your Kingdom is the opposite of my natural instincts. To be first with You is to take the lowest place. To lead is to serve. Help me welcome responsibility while I shun power. Lord, make me to become like You. You emptied Yourself of heavenly majesty to become a person of low estate. Help me have that same mind in me. All for Your glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
The Greatest Thing in All My Life
Words and Music: Mark Pendegrass

1. The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
I want to know You more
I want to know You more
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You

2. The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
I want to love You more
I want to love You more
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You

3. The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
I want to serve You more
I want to serve You more
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 14 “Unbelief”

Unbelief

Unbelief was an affliction more damaging to the soul than leprosy to the body.
It was more binding to the spirit than demon possession to the mind. Jesus could reverse the degeneration of disease with miraculous regeneration of tissue. With a word He could send demons away shrieking in terror. When he encountered unbelief, sicknesses remained and demons relaxed. His mighty words fell to the ground like spoiled fruit from a tree too late in the harvest. He walked this earth in the power of the Spirit but it was a divine power working through human agreement. Faith made all things possible. With unbelief impossibilities remained in power.

Two Sides of the Sea of Galilee
On one side of the sea, miracles abounded—lives were changed by His words and His touch. On the other side, after demonstrating His dominion over hell, the local leaders sent Him away. They saw no more miracles. Back on the faith side, miracles continued. The presence or the absence of faith was the difference—Jesus was the same.

Back to Nazareth
A delegation of “His own people” had made the crossing and tried in vain to get Him cease and desist. Surely the pain of this brought Him to the synagogue in His hometown. The details of this worship service are given in Luke’s gospel. Mark deals with the broad strokes of the story. He taught with unusual authority and the people were astonished. They could only see such behavior as pretentious and above His station in the community. As if by reflex, they tried to cut him down to the proper size.

“Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?”

“His own people” were offended by Him. They thought they knew Him but they were mistaken. They believed something that wasn’t true and this amounted to unbelief. We can hear the pain in Jesus’ voice.

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

There is much more to the story but we will leave that do Dr. Luke. The sad epitaph given by Mark is this:

Now He could do no mighty work there…because of their unbelief …

Traveling light, Jesus had few belongings so gathering them up took little time. On His way out of town a few people reached out to Him in faith and found in Him the healer they needed. On He went to preach His message to those who would believe.

Such a Strange Truth
It seems excessively strange that the God who can do absolutely anything would limit Himself to accomplish the things that require human beings to believe. Yet the words of Jesus affirm this fact time and again:

  • With faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains.
  • All things are possible to him who believes.
  • Impossible things for men are possible with God.
  • Without me you can do nothing.

This is a fact of life, a fact of faith. This is the secret behind the need for our prayers. With them we confess our agreement with God; we express our belief. Believing is health to our bones. Believing is safety to our lives. Believing sets the promises and power of God in motion.

Scriptures:
Mark 6: 1-6
Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.
Matthew 17:20-21 NKJV
I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.
Mark 9:23 NKJV
“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
Luke 18:27 NKJV
“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
John 15:5 NKJV
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

Prayer:
Lord, I believe in You! I believe in Your Word. I believe in Your Holy Covenant. I believe You hear and answer prayer. I believe that by Your stripes I am healed. I believe and my faith is bigger than a mustard seed so I will speak to the mountains in my path and watch You move them. I am a branch in You, the Vine, and I believe I will bear much fruit. With this confidence in You, I believe nothing is impossible when I am following You. Lord, I believe in You! Amen.

Song:
Have Faith in God
Traditional

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

God answers prayer.
God answers prayer.
God answers prayer in the morning,
Have faith in God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 11 “Parables”

Parables

There was so much to preach, so much truth to proclaim, Jesus used little picture stories—parables.
Jesus sat in the boat he had arranged for this purpose teaching His heart out. Even though these were the People of God who had been trained in the Scriptures since childhood there was still so much darkness in their minds. He saw Himself as the “Sower who went forth to sow.” He was graphic in His teaching, using little stories packed with meaning and tiny pictures drawn from real life to illustrate deeper things.

  • A lamp is obtained to shine in the darkness, not to be hidden in a basket. The secret things will be revealed in its light.
  • Secret words will be sounded for all to hear so be careful what you say. It is coming back to you in the same measure.
  • The Kingdom of Heaven is like the mystery of planting and harvesting. People do the work but forces beyond them really make things happen.
  • The Kingdom of God is like the tiny mustard seed, small at first, but expanding to fill the earth.

“…without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone,
He explained all things to His disciples.”

Time to Rest?
After a full day of this, Jesus was spent. He needed a break. He suggested that they take the boat to the other side of the water. Theirs wasn’t the only boat. Others followed Jesus and the twelve across the lake. A violent storm rose up to threaten them all. Their well-earned rest was in peril as were the occupants of all the boats. The boat Jesus was in began to fill with water. What was He doing in this storm? Resting. He was asleep on a pillow in the boat in spite of the storm. Everyone else panicked. They woke Jesus up.

“Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

They questioned the compassion of the Healer. They suspected the truth of the Teacher. They feared that the Deliverer would not deliver this time. Jesus woke up, stretched his back, yawned a big yawn and rebuked the storm.

“Peace, be still!”

It obeyed and the waters became still and the winds friendly once again. After all they had seen and heard, they still had trouble believing in Him.

“Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”

With these words, fear came on them, greater than their fear of the storm.

“Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Jesus sighed and returned to His pillow and to His rest. There was so much to preach, so much truth to proclaim.

Scripture
Mark 4:21-34
Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your truth is not some elevated thing beyond our understanding or use. Your truth is real, current, available, and applicable to our lives today. Help me be a light, not hidden, but shining for all to see. Help me be careful what I say and hear. Help me sow the good seed of Your Good News every day. And if a storm should arise today, help me rest in You in the midst of it, knowing that the storm must obey Your Word. Amen.

Song:
This Little Light of Mine
Traditional

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 9 “Together”

Together

The Jesus Story is about being together, no longer isolated, but connected to God and to each other.
The crowds seeking Jesus’s touch grew so large it was no longer possible to get time and space for meals. “His own people,” evidently a delegation of relatives from Nazareth, came to get Him to stop this nonsense. This was no way for a carpenter’s son to behave. “He is out of his mind,” some concluded, while others suggested a more sinister theory: “He is empowered by Satan, Himself.” They must have thought they could restrain Him by force.

A Hometown, Family Meeting
Jesus called “His own people” to His side for a conference. He reasoned with them:

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand…

Perhaps this quieted them for a while; it did make sense. He was in the process of plundering “Satan‘s house,” his systematic program of confusing people, leading them away from God and then binding them in sin. Some went so far in this deception as to become hosts for demons themselves. Jesus was dismantling this demonic oppression in front of their eyes. How could He do this if He was in league with Beelzebub?

He warned of a great danger—Blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
At the heart of all of Satan’s plans was an assault on the character of God. It was nothing new; it began in the Garden of Eden. Satan lied to Eve calling God a liar. His words were not to be believed, let alone trusted.  To counter this lie, the constant theme of Old Covenant worship confessed this truth:

“The Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!”

To confess that God is evil is the opposite of worship; it is blasphemy—a profanity. Sin is never more destructive to one’s soul than this blasphemy.

“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”

The Good News!
We need to understand the unique role of the Holy Spirit. He draws the sinner to Christ. Without this conviction of the Spirit, the sinner never seeks forgiveness and is thus “subject to eternal condemnation.” The good news for each of us is this: If we feel a tug toward the Lord, the Spirit is still wooing us to Christ.

Mary and the Family
The retrieval committee played their highest card—His mother and family—surely at their appeal Jesus would drop this Messiah business and get back to His shop in Nazareth. At this moment Jesus added a new dimension to the word, “Together.” Who would be His family? Not just Mary and her children, but everyone who hears the words of Jesus and obeys them would be His holy family.

Scriptures:
Mark 3: 20-35
Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house. “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” — because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for calling me into Your Holy Family—the church! You and I are together! I am not alone in this world. I have fellowship with You and with those who are Yours! Help me always to honor the Holy Spirit Who draws me to You. You are good and Your mercy does endure even to this generation. You have not placed me in Your family for my comfort only, but to serve You joyfully. This I will do with all my might! Lord Jesus, all for You! Amen.

Song:
Day by Day
Words: Carolina Sandell; Music: Oscar Ahnfelt

1. Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best–
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

2. Ev’ry day the Lord Himself is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me,
He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

3. Help me then in eve’ry tribulation
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved