February 24 “Peter”

Peter

Peter wanted to run away, but the sounds of torture from the Chief Priests’ court  but his heart would not let him.
Every blow from the open palm of a guard brought shouts of approval from the blood thirsty crowd. Every taunt from bold individuals in the mob brought laughter and derision. Peter listened for some sort of sound from the voice he knew so well, the voice that had said, “Follow me.” Would he indeed follow Jesus, even in this? Of all the chosen men, only he was close enough to hear the terrible sounds coming from inside.

The fire did little to warm Peter in this cold pre-dawn drama. He was careful not to stand close enough for his face to be clearly seen. Suddenly, a brand in the fire fell creating a shower of sparks, illuminating Peter’s face. He quickly jumped back, out of the light, but not before a servant girl belonging to one of the priests caught a good look at his face. Her voice brought the action out of the inner chamber into the servant’s court.

“You also were with Jesus of Nazareth.”

First, Peter panicked and then, gathering his thoughts, he shifted farther into the shadows and denied what the girl had said. This brought more unwanted attention to him. He moved away from the fire completely; better the cold than to be recognized. In his mind, he could see the servants calling inside to their masters, “Here he is! Here is one of his men!” Peter could see himself bound and beaten too. “Follow me.”

Just then a loud noise came from the trial and all the attention shifted back to the other chamber. Peter took a deep breath, the first, it seemed, in quite a while. He climbed to an elevated porch, seeking anonymity. It was not to be. A rooster crowed, signally the coming of the day. Peter was so startled by the sound he froze in the light of a nearby torch. The same servant girl was there and called him out again. Again he denied her charge.

Things settled down for a while. People had more interesting things to think about than this one man hiding in the fleeting shadows. The sun, unhindered by the clouds that would later that day hide its face, began softly lighting the eastern sky. There was no place to hide. This time, several onlookers recognized Peter. They put the accent together with the face and remembered that Jesus and His men were from Galilee.

“Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it.”

Trapped, there was only one course of action for Peter to prove he was not a follower of Jesus, the man known for eloquent speech and powerful blessings; he began to curse. Language he had seldom used at sea came flooding out of his mouth. With obscene vows he swore that he did not know this man, Jesus.

At that moment a second rooster called to the rising sun. The raucous sound of the bird and the sounds of torture a few feet away were all drowned in Peter’s hearing by the memory of the sad words of Jesus:

“Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”

There was nothing Peter could do now. He too, abandoned Jesus to the authorities. He ran from the servant’s court hiding tears that he could not control.

Scriptures:
Mark 14:66-72
Now as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came. And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with Jesus of Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are saying.” And he went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him again, and began to say to those who stood by, “This is one of them.” But he denied it again. And a little later those who stood by said to Peter again, “Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this Man of whom you speak!” A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And when he thought about it, he wept.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the shame of Peter’s denial has touched believers since that terrible night in the servant’s court. Why? Because He was so bold! He declared that You were Messiah. He walked on water! He saw Your glory on the mountain of transfiguration. If he could fail You so miserably, what hope is there for us? Yet there is hope for us. You are that hope. Your Spirit now dwells within us to give us strength. We know about the resurrection! You will make us strong in the time of trial. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Keep Me True
Traditional

Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true.
Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true.
There’s a race that I must run.
There are victories to be won.
Every hour, by Thy power,
Keep me true.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 8 “Authority”

Authority

True Authority is something a leader either has or does not have.
If it is missing from the life of the leader, there is little he or she can do to acquire it. It doesn’t come with education because we have all seen educated idiots. It does not reside in ignorance for this results in noise and chaos. Authority may appear to abide in personality but time will reveal its absence or presence. Authority can come with position when a leader climbs some sort of ladder making friends along the way who are obligated to him or her. These leaders may even exhibit public careers for decades within the corrupt system that props them up in a cruel theatre of public relations. Beneath the facade, there is cover up after cover up and good people lose their careers to the evil powers of those who get the headlines and the riches but whose authority is disingenuous. Another source of false authority is inherited, not earned. It also rings hollow and must be maintained with power and manipulation.

Chief Priests, Scribes, and Elders
When Jesus and the Twelve returned to the Temple area, an assortment of leaders like those described above, were ready for them. They grouped together for safety when they saw Him coming. Seeing He had no whip and did not seem to be angry, they bravely approached Him, calling Him out. They asked the question each of them wanted answered. What was the source of His authority?

“By what authority are You doing these things?
And who gave You this authority to do these things?”

He was not a priest and, though it was said He was in David’ royal line. He was not a scribe or an elder. What ladder did He climb to this position of authority? Sickness fled at His touch. Demons jumped and screamed at His command. Miracles were within His purview. Where did He get such authority?

What was their purpose? Surely to stop Him; perhaps to enlist Him; and perhaps, for a few of them, to investigate the possibility that He was sent from God. Regardless of the motive, the question was asked and He had to answer.

Answering a Question with a Question
Jesus read them like a scroll. He posed a question to them He knew they would not answer.

“I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John — was it from heaven or from men?

Not to be deterred by their show of force, He followed the question with a command.

“Answer Me.”

The leaders stepped back, affronted both by the question and the command. They improvised a huddle, whispering among themselves how to give an answer. Slowly, they realized that Jesus had beaten them at their own game. There was no answer that wouldn’t get them into deeper trouble. If they said John was a prophet, He will challenge them for not believing and if they said he was not, the people would lose faith in them. They simply must avoid the question.

“We do not know.”

Jesus smiled. This was better than the whip He used the day before!

“Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

The Real Authority
They had the robes; Jesus had the power. They had the position; Jesus had standing with God. They had the tradition; Jesus had the moment. They had the questions; Jesus had the answers.

True Authority is something a leader either has or does not have.

Scriptures:
Mark 11:27-33
Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?” But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John — was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men'” — they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Philippians 2:5-11 NKJV
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is no authority higher than Yours! No name is higher. No power greater. The forces of hell and earth may oppose You but they never will overcome You. You rule and overrule. Yours is the finale word. Someday every tongue will confess that You are Lord of all. Until that day, this will be my confession. I willingly submit to Your matchless authority and Oh the peace and joy that is mine today! Amen and Amen.

Song:
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
Words: Edward Perronet; Music: (Coronation) Oliver Holden

1. All hail the power of Jesus’ name! Let angels prostrate fall.
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of all.
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of all!

2. O seed of Israel’s chosen race now ransomed from the fall,
hail him who saves you by his grace, and crown him Lord of all.
Hail him who saves you by his grace, and crown him Lord of all!

3. Let every tongue and every tribe on this terrestrial ball,
to him all majesty ascribe, and crown him Lord of all.
To him all majesty ascribe, and crown him Lord of all!

4. Oh, that with all the sacred throng we at his feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song and crown him Lord of all.
We’ll join the everlasting song and crown him Lord of all.

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 16 “Filled”

Filled

Sometimes a careful accounting does not tell the whole story.
The six teams of two disciples each returned from their ministry tour full of exciting accounts of what they had seen God do through them. Jesus smiled at each story and at the joy the men He had chosen were experiencing. What more can a man ask of life? To see lives liberated, suffering suspended, and demons dispensed of at their command was an unexpected thrill. It was one thing to be called to be with Jesus; it was quite another to do the works He did.

Jesus could also see the toll such ministry had taken on the twelve. These were strong men in the prime of life, hardworking men who were used to long hours and the normal fatigue of labor. This exhaustion, however, was one they had never known. To minister the way they had was a drain on the complete human being, body, soul, and spirit. Jesus knew well what they were feeling. He also knew that in the days ahead there would be no letup in the needs before them.

A Deserted Place

“Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

The boat Jesus had ordered days before in this ministry in Galilee came in handy. They departed to find a restful, deserted spot along the shore. Their escape was unsuccessful. The multitude, growing all the time as people came from the surrounding towns, followed them. They must have figured out the destination for many of them ran to the deserted place and got there before Jesus and the disciples. The Master saw their desperation and had compassion on them. As He began to teach them, the weariness of His men grew deeper and the day grew older. With night approaching, the multitude would be cut off from provisions in this deserted place. The weary disciples asked Jesus to send the people away.

“…that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread;
for they have nothing to eat.”

His answer surprised them.

“You give them something to eat.”

One of them did the math of what it would take to feed the multitude. There was no way it could be done.

“How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”

The answer was even more discouraging:

“Five, and two fish.”

He told them to help the crowd get ready to eat. They organized the people into well-ordered rows. Every gesture in the proceedings was a promise the men knew they could not keep.

In His Hands
Jesus took the food in His hands—the same ones that healed sick bodies and man-handled demons—He looked to heaven. blessed the food and gave it to the twelve for distribution. As they broke the fish and the bread they saw it multiply in their hands not diminish. They hurried from person to person just to see the recurring miracle. Their former weariness was not even a memory now. Somehow everyone in the crowd ate his/her fill.

With their stomachs as full as their hearts, someone estimated the crowd at 5000 men and their families. There were even 12 baskets of food left over. There in that deserted place those who came to Jesus empty were filled.

Sometimes a careful accounting does not tell the whole story.

Scriptures:
Mark 6:30-44
Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.” But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?” But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.
Matthew 5:6 NKJV
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, sometimes I feel so empty! At other times I am so weary. You are the answer to each of these needs. Like that multitude, let me pursue You. Let me feast at Your table, consuming the words of life and drinking long and deep from the waters of life. I will be filled. I will not go away empty. I have Your promise that if I hunger and thirst after You and Your righteousness, I shall be filled. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Come and Dine
Words and Music: C.B. Widmeyer

1. Jesus has a table spread
Where the saints of God are fed,
He invites His chosen people, “Come and dine”;
With His manna He doth feed
And supplies our every need:
Oh, ’tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time!

Refrain:
“Come and dine,” the Master calleth, “Come and dine”;
You may feast at Jesus’ table all the time;
He Who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now,

2. “Come and dine.” The disciples came to land,
Thus obeying Christ’s command,
For the Master called unto them, “Come and dine”;
There they found their heart’s desire,
Bread and fish upon the fire;
Thus He satisfies the hungry every time.

Refrain

3. Soon the Lamb will take His bride
To be ever at His side,
All the host of heaven will assembled be;
Oh, ’twill be a glorious sight,
All the saints in spotless white;
And with Jesus they will feast eternally.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

“January 15 “Sent”

Sent

It is one thing to go. It is quite another to be sent.
Jesus knew deep in His heart that He was sent by God on a mission of redemption in the earth. In turn, Jesus sent others to share in His mission. The act of sending changed the lives of the ones who were sent. Their lives were divided by the call. Before the call their lives were their own; after the call, their lives were not their own—they were under a prior commitment. Before the call, their lives radiated the power of their personalities. After the call, another personality eclipsed their own—Jesus Himself moved in them, spoke through them, healed with their touch, and delivered with His authority sounding in their voices.

The Twelve
Jesus divided the twelve into six teams of two each. So there was an organizational plan. We are not given the rationale Jesus used in pairing up these men but we can be sure it made sense. Perhaps each team had a spokesman and a silent prayer partner. Whatever the plan was, Jesus knew how to put a team together. He still does!

He gave them power over unclean spirits. This means more than the exorcisms people would need. The powers of hell were focused on Jesus and His ministry. There was an ongoing spiritual warfare all around Jesus. Those in league with Satan, whether possessed by demons or merely evil people operating by their own sinful passions, were always set on edge by the presence of Jesus. When the six teams went out, they, too, would need power over all of hell’s devices and over the wickedness of powerful people whose petty little kingdoms were threatened by this Man from Galilee.

Traveling Light
Jesus shared His methodology with them—travel light. Have no concerns for what might happen. Trust God in every detail of life. The One who sends, always provides. Keep your traveling gear in order at all times. Stay with the people; join their households and families. You will be a blessing to them. But, when it is time to go, go! Someone in the next town must be similarly blest. If someone turns you away, that is their problem not yours. God will deal with them. From His instructions, the phrase, “shake the dust off your feet,” entered the languages of civilization. The rejecters will have to get in line with the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah to receive their reward.

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

The Tour
The six 2-man teams made their tour and the results were fantastic. They did the same works in Jesus’ name that He had done: preaching repentance, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Their successful tour got the attention of Herod, one of those evil people in un-knowing league with Satan.

John, “a Man Sent From God.”
Herod thought he had disposed of John the Baptist. He was tricked into giving His word to a sensuous woman who danced for Him. She demanded the head of John. She got it. When the paranoid king got word of all the healing going on, he thought John was back from the grave.  It was actually a reasonable conclusion. When a person has been sent by God, a little thing like death may not stop him!

And so it is with us. Jesus has called us out. He has sent us into this world to continue His work. In His name we have power over the enemy. In His name we can preach repentance and see the sick raised to new health. Our lives are not our own. We have been bought with a price and we have been sent.

It is one thing to go. It is quite another to be sent.

Scriptures:
Mark 6:7-29
And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff — no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts — but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics. Also He said to them, “In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place. And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them. Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known. And he said, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” Others said, “It is Elijah. And others said, “It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets.” But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!” For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!” Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my life is divided by the call You placed on my life. Now I am under orders—Your orders. You have sent me into this place to do these things. Thank You for not sending me here in my own power. You share Your power with me. You send me forth in Your powerful name. Help me be patient with those who oppose me for many do not realize they are fighting against You. Help be firm and uncompromising with opposition from evil spirits. They know what they are doing. Send Your angels to go before me and watch behind me for they too have been sent. For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Go Forth (Rise Up O Champions of God)
Words and Music: Mark Altrogge

1. Rise up, you champions of God.
Rise up, you royal nation.
Rise up, and bear His light abroad.
We’ll reach this generation.
We’ve got our marching orders.
We’ve got our marching orders.
Now is the time to carry them forth.

Refrain:
Go forth! Jesus loves them.
Go forth! Take the gospel.
Go forth! The time is now.
The harvest is ripening.
Go forth!

2. Feel now the burden of the Lord.
Feel how He longs to save them.
Feel now for those who never heard
About the Son He gave them.
We’ve got our marching orders.
We’ve got our marching orders.
Now is the time to carry them forth.

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 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

December 29 “Craftsman”

Craftsman

The Incarnation—God appearing in the flesh—has many facets of meaning.
One of these is the fact that Jesus was a craftsman, a tradesman doing business in the real world of commerce. Just as He learned His faith in the synagogue, He learned His trade as an apprentice to Joseph. He developed the necessary skills to make a living in this world. In every culture of the world where people love and follow Him, this factor draws Him closer to both the worker and the business owner, the men and women who make that culture function. He learned how to design and build things, to choose materials, to fulfill a contract, and to make a sale. He knew the long hours required to do the job right. He understood the cost of doing business and importance of a job well done. He flourished in the competitive world of commerce where the customer was always right even when he wasn’t. Best of all, he learned the joy of craftsmanship, of doing good work, of making something. It was a joy He had known before, this joy of creation. Jesus learned all of these at Joseph’s side.

The Death of Joseph
Sometime between the Lord’s 12-year old visit to the Temple and His baptism in the Jordan at about age thirty, Joseph disappears from the biblical narrative. We can only imagine the grief in the home when the man of faith, the one who dreamed of angels and obeyed their commands, was suddenly absent. What a comfort Jesus must have been to Mary and to her children. As her first born son, Jesus became the head of the family. He was no longer the promising apprentice; He was the proprietor of the carpenter shop. He had to become the mentor to James, his half-brother, as Joseph had been to Him. After long days in the shop there must have been long discussions by lamplight about family and business details that only He and Mary could handle.

Mary grew to depend on Jesus as she had Joseph. His amazing mind was of great assistance in solving problems, both in the family business and in the family itself. As much as He loved them, Jesus recognized the challenge his brothers and sisters, and Mary for that matter, faced in having Him in their lives. He was wonderful but He was different. Mary knew, if the others didn’t, that He had other work to do. His calling was to be about “His Father’s business,” that of being Savior, Redeemer, King. What did that mean? When would it begin?

A Different Craft
As Jesus dealt with the people in His life, family, friends, customers, citizens of Nazareth, and even the ever-present Roman soldiers, He was learning a different craft. He was learning to be the Carpenter of Souls. He studied people, sensing who was worthy of selection and who was not, like selecting wood for a project. He listened to people, understanding that the contents of their hearts poured forth in their speech. He studied the normal conflicts between friends and the battles between enemies. He made note of the weaknesses that brought people to ruin and the strengths that carried them through crises.

When the time came, He would leave the shop to James and the home to Mary and begin attending to His Father’s business. He would be the Carpenter of Souls, the Redeemer, the Savior. He continues that ministry today with skillful craftsman’s hands, now scarred by nails, as He makes all things new for those of us who love and follow Him.

Scriptures:
Colossians 3:17; 23-25 NKJV
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.
2 Timothy 2:20-26 NKJV
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 NKJV
But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like You, I have a set of useful skills, a life business to which I must attend daily. I have many crafts to master. Direct my mind, guide my hands, and focus my heart so that I might do Your work well in this earth. Let my work be a work of integrity, done well for the right reasons. May the work of my hands be praise to You. Thank You, Lord for Your gentle, skillful hands molding and shaping my life in Your very likeness. You are indeed the Carpenter of Souls. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 28: “Answers”

Answers

As a child Jesus possessed no divine powers. He performed no miracles or signs or wonders.
Yet, the mind of Christ was like no other, even in the formative stages. All children ask questions but we can only imagine the kinds of questions the boy Jesus asked. He was an excellent playmate as other children loved to participate in the childhood adventures He could dream up. He was easily and deeply touched by the pain of the other children and would rush to comfort them. Even adults would receive his solace. A community within the community grew around Him as the parents of His friends welcomed Him into their homes. He was a good influence on their children. The rumors of His illegitimate birth were almost forgotten in the presence of His excellent nature. Mary and Joseph had other children, each one special in his or her own way.

Each year this community within the community would make the journey south to Jerusalem for the annual feast of Passover. The ceremonies had special significance for Joseph and Mary since they, too, had been called out of Egypt.

The pilgrimage was a joyful one, a moving celebration of the first order. They sang the songs of ascent, from the Psalms:

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”
“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.”
Our feet have been standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem!”
“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing.”

In the journey the children from these close-knit families often mixed with the families of their friends. The safe assumption was that they were all present and accounted for.

The ceremonies at the Temple were impressive and instructive.
Perhaps no one noticed that the lad Jesus lingered in the outer court of the temple. He had caught the attention of a small cadre of priests. His questions were not those of an ordinary boy. The number of priests grew as each priest was challenged by Jesus’ mind.

The boy was sincere. He really wanted to know and to understand the mysteries that plagued them all. This went on for three days. The priests took care of Him, sure that soon His parents would come looking for Him. This had become a conversation none of them would ever forget. Some of these very priests, in a matter of two decades, would have to decide about this young man as he stood before them on trial for His life, a threat to all their power.

Finally, Joseph and Mary found Jesus safe in the Temple entertaining the leaders of the land. In her maternal frustration, Mary rebuked her son. Didn’t she realize what He realized? He had a work to do for His Father in heaven. Quickly with deep embarrassment, Joseph and Mary collected Jesus and shepherded Him back home, back to the normal routine. But it would not be so. A corner had been turned for all of them. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:41-52 NKJV
His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Songs of Ascent
Psalm 121: 1-3
I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Psalm 122:1-2
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Our feet have been standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Psalm 125:1
Those who trust in the Lord Are like Mount Zion, Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to march in the procession to Your House! I want to ascend the Hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place. Give me clean hands and a pure heart. I remove any idols from my life and fill my mouth with truth! You are worthy of all my praise. Let me think deeply about You, not just now on Your holy throne, but then—in Your earthly life—Your childhood, Your teen years, Your young adulthood. Thank You for entering this life to show us how it should be lived. Help me to grow as You did “in favor with God and men.” Amen.

Song:
Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming
Traditional German Carol

1. Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming As men of old have sung.
It came, a flower bright, Amid the cold of winter
When half-gone was the night.

2. Isaiah ’twas foretold it, The Rose I have in mind:
With Mary we behold it, The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright She bore to men a Savior
When half-gone was the night.

3. This Flower, whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God, From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 25 “Simeon”

Simeon

At his advanced age, Simeon saw every day as a gift from God.
He needed little sleep so he was well-rested even though he had prayed most of the night. In the darkness of his cell, he sometimes lost track of time, mixing early morning with early evening yet he paid special attention to the mornings.

Through those long nights Simeon rehearsed a promise from God. The Lord had told him that he would not taste of death until he had seen Messiah in the flesh. He was convinced that some morning a young couple would appear at the Temple to dedicate their son and not just any son—the Promised One!—and he would be there to see Him! Dedications were a common occurrence but Simeon never wondered how he would recognize the One he sought. With such a promise, he left the details to God.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus
On the eighth day after that unforgettable night in the stable at Bethlehem Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple for consecration to God. With the gold presented to them by the kings, they had paid their taxes and moved to rooms in Jerusalem. A benefit of the taxation was their proximity to the Temple for the dedication of Jesus.

As they entered the outer court, they had to stand in line with other parents of other boys waiting for the attention of the priests. Mary’s heart was racing just as it had the night the angel came to visit. She felt they were on the verge of something wonderful. Joseph felt it, too.

While they waited, Simeon, elderly and a stranger to them, obviously a priest but not one on duty, approached them. They could see the excitement in his pale eyes. His approach had the feel of an angel drawing near. An older lady was a few steps behind him, fully capturing the scene.

Simeon whispered to Joseph. He and Mary exchanged glances and, by instinct, allowed it. They watched the old man stare into the eyes of the child as tears began to flow down his ancient cheeks. He lifted his eyes to heaven and thanked God for this day. His worn voice vibrated with conviction:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation…”

Reluctantly, Simeon handed the child back to Mary. He looked into her eyes for the longest time as if judging whether to say what was in his heart. Mary returned his look and nodded the slightest bit, letting him know that she wanted to hear whatever it was he had to say. He prophesied more about Jesus;:

“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign which will be spoken against

And he added this, just to Mary:

“…yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also…”

She returned his gaze as if she needed to hear more.

“…that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Yes, thought Mary, we must know the hearts of people. Some will be trustworthy but others… Her thoughts broke off. There was no way to see what was ahead.

His mission completed, Simeon sighed and turned to look at his friend, Anna. As if on cue, she joined their little group.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:25-35 NKJV
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I, like Simeon, have promises from You. Some of them I enjoy every day; others seem long in coming. Grow my faith through the hearing of Your Word. Encourage my heart through my relationships with my brothers and sisters in You. I will rehearse Your promises in worship. I will keep constant my remembrance of Your blessings in thanksgiving. Tune my heart to each day’s music and train me eyes to see each day’s potential. In these ways, I will walk in Your steps and be ready when my promise comes to me. In Your Name, Lord Jesus.

Song:
Break forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light
Words: Johann von Rist (trans. John Troutbeck) Music: Johann Schop

1. Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light,and usher in the morning;
O shepherds, shrink not with affright,but hear the angel’s warning.
This Child, now weak in infancy, our confidence and joy shall be;
the pow’r of Satan breaking, our peace eternal making.

2. Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light, to herald our salvation;
He stoops to earth–the God of might, our hope and expectation.
He comes in human flesh to dwell, our God with us, Immanuel;
the night of darkness ending, our fallen race befriending.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved