January 25 “Believe!”

Believe!

Jesus said a remarkable thing—all things are possible to him who believes!
A mixed crowd gathered around the disciples. Many people believed in Jesus but the religious officials—scribes, experts in the Law—did not believe. In fact they disputed all the evidence in front of them. Perhaps they were hiding something.

A Desperate Father
When some in the crowd saw Jesus approaching they ran to meet Him, greeting Him warmly, much to the displeasure of the scribes. Jesus looked at the scribes:

“What are you discussing with them?”

Perhaps He was ready for the Twelve to go it alone with the enemy. Someone in the crowd answered, the man at the center of the dispute. He told Jesus that he had brought his son to be healed and delivered from satanic possession. The last thing the scribes needed was demonstration of the power of Jesus in their presence.

It was an extreme case. The boy was mute. The spirit within him was known to seize him and throw him to the ground foaming at the mouth, his teeth gnashing as his body grew rigid. We can only imagine the hell this was for this home. First, the boy’s father had taken his son to the disciples who were said to share in the power of Jesus but they were of no help. The scribes had seized upon this as evidence that Jesus and the Twelve had no real power at all.

Bring him to Me.
Jesus expressed His disappointment at the failure of the disciples and the faithlessness of the whole generation. It seemed He could command demons and diseases but not people’s hearts.

“Bring him to Me.”

When the boy approached Jesus, the spirit within him convulsed, throwing the boy to the ground where he wallowed with foam glistening at his lips. A sense of evil spread through the crowd like a deadly mist. Had Jesus, like the Twelve, met His match?

“How long has this been happening to him?”

The father’s answer was discouraging. Since childhood this happened regularly and he had even been cast into fires and deep waters. The man refused discouragement.

“…if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus answered him this way,

“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

The boy’s father’s answer has become the text of many sermons,

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

That was all Jesus needed. He commanded the demon to depart and it did with a cry, convulsing the boy one last time. The boy collapsed as if dead. Jesus took his hand and he rose up healed and delivered.

This Kind
Later when the disciples got of the nerve to ask why Jesus had succeeded when they had failed, he told them.

“This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

Hell has no defense against those who pray and fast and believe!

Scriptures:
Mark 9:14-29
And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. And He asked the scribes, “What are you discussing with them?” Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.” He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have all power. Help me to believe. Where unbelief lingers in my heart, root it out. I need to move in the realm of Your almightiness so help my unbelief. I will take Your holy name as a shield and Your holy Word a mighty sword. When temptation comes my way help me resist in Your Power. When hell opposes the work You have given me to do, I will call on Your name and proceed. Lord, I believe! Amen.

Song:
Only Believe
Traditional

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 19 “Well-done”

Well-done

With Jesus there were no half-measures. When He did something, it was something well-done.
Jesus and His team journeyed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He sought refuge from the crowd in a private residence and it was one of the few things at which He failed. Somehow a Greek woman found Him there. We are not told if she had converted to Judaism or remained a pagan but she sought Jesus and found Him. Her daughter was demon possessed. Whatever this meant to a person of polytheistic beliefs, to her it was certain that an evil presence had invaded her home and captured her daughter. She must have heard of this man who had power over such evil. Her single mission was to find Jesus and bring the case of her daughter before Him.

A Social Barrier
She entered the house, found Jesus and fell at His feet. She told Him about her daughter and asked Jesus to cast the demon out. She knew she was crossing a societal barrier—Jews did not mix with Greeks. In this context, Jesus spoke within this prejudicial system although He knew that His Kingdom would eventually break such barriers.

“Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread
and throw it to the little dogs.”

She was not deterred by this rebuff. Prejudiced or not, this man had the power required to rescue the woman’s daughter. Again, speaking within the societal conventions, she persisted; her faith would not let her be turned away.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus was so impressed with her faith, He sent the demons away without ever leaving the house. This was an exorcism well-done even by remote control.

Making Mud
His ministry tour of Galilee led them to Decapolis where a man who was deaf and speechless was brought to Him, his friends begging Jesus to intervene. Jesus took the man aside to deal with him. Before He touched the man’s ears and tongue He spat on the ground and made mud. He spoke to the afflicted man, saying,

“Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

Immediately the man heard and spoke clearly. Jesus told them to keep this to themselves but of course they did not. Their astonishment would not permit silence. Their testimony is classic:

“He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

What was the purpose of making mud to perform this miracle? The action is not explained in the text. It can be seen as an act of incarnation, Heaven’s power flowed through earthly substance when touched by the divine. This partnership of the divine with the human is an amazing characteristic of ministry well-done. With Jesus there were no half-measures. When He did something, it was something well-done.

Scriptures:
Mark 7:24-37
From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden. For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed. Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee. Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You do all things well. When I turn to You, You always turn to me. When I call on You, You answer me. I can count on Your covenantal promises to me. You will never leave me or forsake me. Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. My life is in Your capable hands. You send Your angels to stand guard over my life today. You have hemmed me in behind and before and laid Your hand upon me. Yes Lord, You do all things well. Amen.

Song:
God Is So Good
Traditional

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

For more on Making Mud as a metaphor for ministry, read:

https://stevephifer.com/making-mud-a-metaphor-for-ministry/

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 13 “Jairus”

Jairus

Not all of the religious leaders were hostile to Jesus.
Jesus took the boat and crossed back over to the side opposite the country of the Gadarenes who had rejected Him. When he landed a crowd was waiting for Him. In the crowd was a leader of the local synagogue named Jairus. He had watched with great interest the ministry of Jesus in his town. The healings were undeniable. The displacement of demons was remarkable. The teachings of Jesus rang true in Jairus’ deep understanding of the scriptures concerning Messiah.

His interest in Jesus went deeper than events and theology. His 12 year old daughter was ill and at the point of death. Jesus was her last hope. Despite his lofty position in the community, Jairus was desperate for what Jesus could do. Before that huge crowd, he fell at His feet crying,

“My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her,
that she may be healed, and she will live.”

The people knew Jairus. He was no extremist; he was a careful man. His desperation and his faith in Jesus became the focus of the multitude as Jesus went with toward his home.

An Interruption
On the way, a woman who was wasting away from a 12 year blood disease somehow pressed through the crowd and touched the hem of the robe Jesus wore. At that moment, healing virtue flowed from Jesus into her frail form and she was healed. She had summoned the strength to brave the crowd, saying,

“If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

She did and she was! Jesus stopped, asking who had touched Him. The disciples rebuked such foolish question—the whole crowd was jostling Him! When the woman stepped up, she too fell at His feet and worshiped Him, confessing that she was the guilty one. Gently, lifting her to her feet Jesus replied,

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”

While he was speaking, word came that Jairus’ little girl had died. The man’s broken heart broke again and he collapsed at Jesus’ feet. Lifting Jairus to his feet Jesus said,

“Do not be afraid; only believe.”

When they arrived a Jairus’ house, the mourners were there making the noise of grief.

“Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.”

The mourners ridiculed Jesus so He put them out of the house. Taking Peter, James, and John with Him, Jesus entered the house. He bent over the little girl and breathed a command to her,

“Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

She did exactly that.

12 Years in the Making
12 years before this moment a little girl was born and a woman contracted a blood disease. Their stories were not at all connected until Jesus, rejected by one community, came to their town. Now forever their stories share a page in the Jesus Story.

Who can say what miracles are in the making for us? No one knows what tomorrow may bring. Some of us may suffer from long-term, debilitating circumstance. What we must see is this: Jesus is here among us! Let us call out to Him again and press through the circumstances around us. He has the touch we need.

Scriptures:
Mark 5:21-43
Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea. And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him. Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?” But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?'” And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I call out to You today and I know You will respond. You are with me in my home in Your healing power. In the marketplace, I will press through this moment, the crowds, the spiritual opposition, anything that comes between us! I will touch the hem of Your garment and Your healing virtue will flow to me this day. Lord, I believe! Amen.

Song:
Only Believe
Traditional

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 21, 2017 “Laughter”

Laughter

Laughter comes so naturally to us that we never have to learn to do it.
Tiny babies will giggle, and chuckle, and even guffaw without ever being taught how. We laugh with them, not because we see the infantile humor they see—that always seems to mystify adults—but we laugh because laughter is contagious.

Everybody loves to laugh. It releases tension built up inside of us and it relieves fears and worries. We need to laugh some every day if we are to be healthy, whole human beings. We even justify unusual behavior by saying we are just “doing it for laughs.” Surely God smiles when we have a good laugh.

What is laughter? It is part of a human phenomenon called primal speech—sounds that express our feelings but not in words. Primal speech includes: wailing, sighing, groaning, and expressions of amazement like, “Oh!” or realization like, “Ah!” or a pleasant taste like, “Ummm!” One reason why music is so important to people is that musical sound operates in the soul like non-verbal speech saying things we feel deeply but things for which we have no words.

The Best Medicine
Laughter is perhaps the greatest form of primal speech ranging an internal laugh signified only by a smile, to a chuckle deep in our chests, to a chortle in our throat, to a loud, continuous howl.
According to the scripture, laughter is one of the best medicines God has given us. Not only is it healthy, laughing is fun! The relaxation that results from a good laugh is part of the Sabbath rest the Lord has given to us. Responding to something funny is refreshing. Even in times of great stress, the sense of humor of those who bear the burden with us serves to relieve the tension.

It is impossible for us to follow the command of the Lord to rest without engaging in pleasantries, laughter chief among them. The Bible has much to say about laughter and joy.

  • Remember Sarah’s incredulous laughter at the prospect of having a child and her astonished laughter when Abraham’s son came along? It was so important, she named the boy, Isaac, which means, ”laughter.”
  • In the Book of Psalms commands to be joyful abound.
  • Solomon’s writings declare there is a time to laugh and that cheerfulness is like a feast.
  • Jesus Himself said that those who mourn will soon be laughing. Surely He also laughed as children played at His feet and in His lap.

Good humor is more than an ice cream company—it is a requirement if we are to ride out the unsettling waves of life as time rolls them in.

Find something to do today that will bring joy to your heart, put a smile to your face, and coax a chuckle, chortle, giggle or guffaw out of you. As laughter escapes your soul, peace will come in to occupy the space where once was fear, or, sadness, or grief. This is the medicine each of us needs today.

Scriptures:
Genesis 21:6-7
Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
Psalm 126
When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
Ecclesiastes 3:4
…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
Luke 6:20-21
Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Proverbs 17:22
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 15:15
All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Prov 15:30
A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Romans 12:12
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Habakkuk 3:17-18
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Psalm 100:2
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Psalm 68:3
But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, when man was crafted by the Creator out of clay of Eden, one of the gifts You gave us is the gift of laughter. It is fun but it is not frivolous. A good laugh is like a good medicine, lightening a heavy moment, brightening a dark day, and soothing a withering soul. Part of this gift is the ability to see what is funny so we can laugh about it. From the absurd to the ironic to the silly, funny happens. Thank You, Lord! Help me take several doses of this medicine today! Amen!

Song:
Joy Unspeakable
Words and Music: Barney E. Warren

1 I have found His grace is all complete,
He supplieth every need;
While I sit and learn at Jesus’ feet,
I am free, yes, free indeed.

Refrain:
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Full of glory, full of glory;
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Oh, the half has never yet been told.

2 I have found the pleasure I once craved,
It is joy and peace within;
What a wondrous blessing, I am saved
From the awful gulf of sin.

Refrain

3 I have found that hope so bright and clear,
Living in the realm of grace;
Oh, the Savior’s presence is so near,
I can see His smiling face. [

Refrain

4 I have found the joy no tongue can tell,
How its waves of glory roll;
It is like a great o’erflowing well,
Springing up within my soul.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 17, 2017

 

Brokenhearted

Broken bones will mend if properly set.
Broken promises can be renegotiated. Broken lives can be repaired in the office of the Great Physician; we see this all the time.

Broken hearts are harder to reach than broken bones.
What splint or caste is there to bind up the brokenhearted? People whose hearts have been betrayed, may never trust another negotiator. Wounded hearts may never press through the crowds to touch the hem of His garment.

The Wounded Healer
The story we tell the world is that of the wounded Healer. The One with His own broken heart who is able to bind up the broken hearts that come to Him.

In these weeks we contemplate the brokenhearted Jesus:

  • abandoned by most of His family,
  • forcefully taken to the brow of a hill in His hometown only to disarm the crowd simply by walking through them,
  • assaulted by the religious establishment,
  • weeping over Jerusalem,
  • receiving the kiss of His betrayer, and
  • hearing the footsteps of His followers fleeing from the Garden.

The taunts and blows of the soldiers bruised His mind and body, but His great heart was not broken by these injuries. Neither the whip nor the nails could wound His heart; they could only pierce the body His Father had provided Him.

His heart kept on beating.
Pain enough, these wounds, but His strong heart did not break—it had work to do. His precious blood must be pumped through these wounds and spill to the earth—a crimson stream of blood. The whole world would need this redeeming flow. His life must be poured out for all who will believe in the ages to come, so His heart kept on beating.

When the full price was paid, with His face ashen and drained of color, Jesus lifted His eyes to the Father. He had taken the full measure of wickedness into a sinless heart. It was done. “It is finished.” He was barely able to pronounce the completion of his task.

In a way that we cannot understand, His Father could not look anymore upon Him. For this Abraham and Isaac there would be no angel to block the thrust of the knife.

The heart of Jesus broke and He released His spirit to God, quoting a psalm He had learned as a child.

In that moment of brokenness all wounds were healed.
Until we are made like Him when we see Him as He is, we have the power to endure broken bones, promises, and lives. The Wounded Healer is our Physician. Jesus is the One who is anointed to preach this good news—He will bind up the broken hearted.

Scriptures:
Psalm 69 NIV
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. … You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. … I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs. The poor will see and be glad — you who seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them, for God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will inherit it, and those who love his name will dwell there.
Jeremiah 8:22 NIV
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?
Isaiah 61:1 KJV
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
Matthew27:46 KJV
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
John 19:30 NIV
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
Luke 23:46
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my heart has been broken, but never like Yours was broken. I have felt Your warm hands holding my heart at those times, shielding me from further injury, sustaining me with Your strength. I thought I would die, but You kept me alive. You let my tears flow just as your tears did at the tomb of Lazarus and on that hill overlooking Jerusalem. When my tears stopped, Your healing hands cradled my broken heart in love. You warmed my wounded heart with the Balm of Gilead and the healing began. In this life some wounds never completely heal. They leave behind scar tissue to remind us of Your touch then, now, and someday, when we see You as You are, the touch that will finish the work. Amen

Song:
I Must Tell Jesus
Words and Music: Elisha A. Hoffman

1. I must tell Jesus all of my trials; I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me; He ever loves and cares for His own.

Refrain:
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.

2. I must tell Jesus all of my troubles; He is a kind, compassionate friend;
If I but ask Him, He will deliver, Make of my troubles quickly an end.

Refrain

3. Tempted and tried, I need a great Savior, One who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus; He all my cares and sorrows will share.

Refrain

4. O how the world to evil allures me! O how my heart is tempted to sin!
I must tell Jesus, and He will help me Over the world the vict’ry to win

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 5, 2017

Forgiven

There is a deep healing in forgiveness.
In His home region of Capernaum, a crowd filled a house to hear Him speak of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps there were as many motives for being there as there were people: curiosity, despair, pain, desperation, boredom. Any crowd is a gathering of such emotions as well as one of names, faces, and stories.

Friends of a paralyzed man brought him to the door but not through it; it was blocked by people in the crowd, each one focused on his own situational paralysis with no thought for the invalid and his friends.

So they came through the roof.

This gained them the full attention of the Lord Jesus. He saw men of compassion, ingenuity, and organized strength. He saw their faith. He looked at their paralyzed friend and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

That was nice but it wasn’t what they came for. They needed for Jesus to break the brokenness of their friend, to relieve him of his misery and them of their burden. The paralysis was real—it was present and unrelenting. Sins? Everybody had sins. Forgiven sins would not make their friend any lighter in their tiring arms.

He crossed a line.
Others in the crowd were surprised by the line this “son of Joseph and Mary” had crossed. Miracles were wonderful to see. They brought hope for more miracles and a faint confidence in the Jehovah they had heard about all their lives. But forgiving sins? That was a whole different issue. Miracles could be seen, like mental before-and-after-photos today. But sins, forgiven or otherwise, were spiritual things, blurry to the mind and invisible to the eye. Anyway, miracles were useful to people but sin forgiving was only God’s business and it was best left to Him.

“Which is easier,” Jesus asked, “To heal the body or to forgive sins?”

He had a way with questions that tended to silence the questioners.

“So that you may believe in me,” Jesus turned to the man on the mat and his friends still breathing hard from the work, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

He did exactly that, to the amazement of the crowd.

In this season of Lent, each of us tries to get to the real Jesus.  We need to touch Him, to see Him, and to be changed by Him.  We see His sufferings and beyond those we see His triumph–not just the crucifixion, but the empty cross and the forsaken tomb.

To look at the empty cross is like

  • Looking into the manger to see God in the flesh, or
  • reading the Gospels to see the Son of God at work, or
  • hearing the matchless music of His voice, or
  • beholding His glory in prayer and worship.

To do these things is to be changed. Not only are we forgiven—no longer guilty—but we are welcomed into His presence.

And we didn’t even have to come through the roof.

There is a deep healing in forgiveness.

Scriptures:
Mark 2:1-12 NIV
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
1 John 1:9-10 NIV
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, all I have to do is believe in You, to somehow touch the hem of Your garment with my faith and repentance and I will be forgiven of my sins. Paralyzed by disobedience no longer, I can rise, take up my life and walk. As I walk in this amazing forgiveness today, help me also be a forgiver of those who have struck at me. My freewill offering today is one of humility, repentance, and thanksgiving. I will know your deliverance in my heart and see it in my friends. Amen.

Song:
The Healing Waters
Words: H.H. Helmar; Music: L.L. Pickett

1. Oh, the joy of sins forgiv’n, Oh, the bliss the blood-washed know,
Oh, the peace akin to Heav’n, Where the healing waters flow.

Refrain:
Where the healing waters flow, Where the joys celestial glow,
Oh, there’s peace and rest and love, Where the healing waters flow!

2. Now with Jesus crucified, At His feet I’m resting low;
Let me evermore abide Where the healing waters flow.

Refrain

3. O, this precious, perfect love! How it keeps the heart aglow,
Streaming from the fount above, Where the healing waters flow.

Refrain

4. Oh, to lean on Jesus’ breast, While the tempests come and go!
Here is blessèd peace and rest, Where the healing waters flow.

Refrain

5. Cleansed from every sin and stain, Whiter than the driven snow,
Now I sing my sweet refrain, Where the healing waters flow.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 2, 2017

Deep

Beneath the glittering surface of our lives there is the deep of who we really are, who we were, and there are dark tidal forces taking us where it seems inevitable that that we will end up. Most people passing by us see only the glitter and never the deep.

We like it that way.

The deep is private stuff, like the ocean’s floor covered by tons of water, beyond the penetration of the sun’s light and effciently obscured by the silt and sand collected in our hearts.

So distant is the deep, that we seldom dare explore it ourselves.

Just a glimpse of the monsters that may lurk there or the mysteries that linger there is enough to send us searching for the shallows and the friendly splashes of air that welcome us back from the deep.

What Is the Truth?
How much energy do we spend in self-delusion pretending the surface is the true story? Concentric relationship circles radiate out from us with only a very few people in the closest ring and there are secrets we must never tell even them. There is no need. It is all under the blood of Christ, long ago forgiven and stricken from the heavenly ledger. We know this, of course, but even these forgotten and forgiven things erupt in strange images in our dreams setting little fear fires that burn in the night and leaping to mind at odd hours during the day.

The Deep Things of God
Who is there that we can trust to dive deep into the hidden, neglected caverns of our historical hurts and lingering fears? Is there a “Deep” that can speak to our “Deep?”

The good news is this: The Holy Spirit dives as deep into us as we go. At conversion, our sins were cast from us into a sea that is so much deeper than we are. Thank You, Jesus!

And the Spirit within us is an abiding Spirit. He does deep work. At the surface it may feel like an emotional tug, or we may feel nothing at all. But when we open our depths to the Lord whose dimensions are deeper still, He is faithful to do the deep work only He can do.

  • Hurts are healed.
  • Painful memories are managed, filed away someplace too deep to disrupt our joy.
  • Despair is dislodged and hope installed in the empty space left behind.

No matter how deeply we have been hurt, no matter how deep our shameful secrets are buried, no matter the terror that crouches deep in us, the Spirit of God goes deeper.

We are deep but the Spirit dives deeper. Trust Him with your deep places today

Scriptures:
Psalm 42:5-8
NIV
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. … Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.
1 Corinthians 2:10-16 NIV
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Prayer:
Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin and set me free.

I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word and make me pure (and whole) within;
Fill me with fire where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Your name.
from Cleanse Me J. Edwin Orr

Song:
Deeper, Deeper

Words and Music: C. P. Jones

1. Deeper, deeper in the love of Jesus Daily let me go;
Higher, higher in the school of wisdom, More of grace to know.

Refrain:
O deeper yet, I pray, And higher every day,
And wiser, blessed Lord, In Thy precious, holy Word.

2. Deeper, deeper! Blessed Holy Spirit, Take me deeper still,
Till my life is wholly lost in Jesus, And His perfect will.

Refrain

3. Deeper, deeper! Though it cost hard trials, Deeper let me go!
Rooted in the holy love of Jesus, Let me fruitful frow.

Refrain

4. Deeper, higher, every day with Jesus, Till all conflict past,
Finds me conqu’ror, and in His own image Perfected at last.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 30

Diversion

Just as we have been called to work for the Lord, we have been called to rest before Him, to rest and be refreshed in body, soul, and spirit. Refreshing the body requires a cessation of physical activity. To refresh the spirit is to drink deeply from the Word of God and to breathe deeply in the atmosphere of Heaven, the holy Presence of God.

How do we refresh the mind?
Often we do it with a pleasant diversion. A mental diversion is not the same as a distraction. A diversion is like a temporary detour on the road we are traveling. It will lead to pleasant or interesting surprises and will eventually bring us back to the road to our destination. A distraction is more like a wrong turn that takes us nowhere, shows us nothing, and leads us far from our destination. A diversion is time well spent. A distraction is time wasted.

Why? Because God made our minds to never stop running. Awake or asleep, our busy brains never stop processing information, (How else can an unfamiliar noise in the house wake us from a deep sleep?) dealing with our fears, and processing our plans. The only way to give the mind rest from all the heavy lifting it must constantly do is to divert it toward something that is equally fascinating but absolutely inconsequential.

Gone Fishing!
When someone goes fishing, the mind is diverted from crucial the daily tasks and is

  • occupied with the business of fishing,
  • absorbed in the beauty of the water and sky, and
  • fully engaged in the demands of landing the limit.

Whether we catch fish or not is not the point. The family will not starve if we return home empty handed. The same can be said for hunting, golf, tennis, hiking, camping, or vegging out in the recliner watching a sporting event or a great classic film. The mind is engaged so it is happy to

  • buzz along doing the math,
  • supervise the movement of hands and feet, legs and arms,
  • remember the lyrics of the songs,
  • measure and admire the ironies of the story,
  • hit that little white ball better than you did last time,
  • climb that next rise on the mountain path, or
  • contemplate the vastness of the sea stretching before us to the horizon.

This mental activity is untroubled by the life and death issues we face all week, so that part of the soul—the worry part, the obsessive part, the responsible part—gets a break, a much needed break.

Another Gift from God
Because we work hard all week, the Lord is pleased to give us interests that ease the emotional strain of the responsibility we carry while letting our ceaseless minds continue to chug along. In the process we are refreshed. When we follow this little detour back to the road God has given us, we bring our whole, refreshed humanity to the tasks before us. Rest is a part of the work He has called us to do. We pray for the anointing of His Spirit so that the work of the Kingdom, and our part in it, gets done.

Scriptures:
1 Thessalonians 5:23
KJV
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Psalm23:1-3
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
Isaiah 40:28-31
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your lovingkindness is, indeed, better than life. Thank You for making rest such a noble and necessary thing. Let Your call to rest drown out the fleshly call to busy-ness. Protect us from any hint of a Messiah complex that would lead us to believe that if we leave the frontlines even for a day, the war is lost. What nonsense! You and You alone, Lord Jesus, are Messiah. We are simply Your servants, called to work passionately and thoroughly but not tirelessly. Weariness of the flesh is not sin; it is simply a part of the ordained rhythm of life: work-rest; work-rest. As we rest before You today, letting our active minds explore paths of fun and amusement, we know that You are renewing our strength and soon we will soar again on eagle’s wings. Thank You, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Near to the Heart of God

Words and Music: Cleland B. McAfee

1. There is a place of quiet rest Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest, Neart to the heart of God.

Refrain:
O Jesus, blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before Thee Near to the heart of God.

2. There is a place of comfort sweet, Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet, Near to the heart of God.

Refrain

3. There is a place of full release Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace, Near to the heart of God.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 15

Pain

There is no escaping pain.
From annoying aches to agonizing ailments to the sharp arrows of antagonists, life hurts sometimes—often, in fact.

For many the morning requires an inventory of stiff muscles and joints, a rubbing of sore eyes, and a deep draw of air to resupply the blood with oxygen. All of this gaping and stretching and bending and flexing needs to be chased by a good cup of coffee to get us going.

It wasn’t that way in Eden.
Adam and Eve must have sprung from sleep to consciousness with ease. Surely there were no stiff joints, aching muscles, or wounded minds to hinder the beginning of their day. Then one day Adam and the Mrs. had the wrong breakfast and pain registered its enrollment in the human experience.

In the normal course of things, pain increases with age. We are blessed with pills and ointments to fight its effects as the years pile up. In other cases, the young suffer pain and it hurts us to watch them. We don’t understand why it must be so.

Sometimes

  • the strong are struck down to weakness,
  • the able are reduced to disability, and
  • the good are afflicted by evil in ways that defy logic.

Sometimes we can see the cause of the effect and other times there is no cause but the effect remains terrible.

As each day begins, we must do something about our pain.
Whether it is the pain of wear and weakness, the pain of disease and disability, or the pain of the human heart, we must deal with it.

  • Has Jehovah Jireh (“The Lord Who Provides”) provided a place for our pain?
  • Does Jehovah Rophe (“The Lord Who Heals”) send healing and help flowing in our direction?
  • Does the Great Physician still make house calls?

The Balm in Gilead
Better than pills or ointments—though God is not offended when use the healing power of His creation—is His lovingkindess. It is better than life, the Scripture says.

  • He entered this wounded world precisely to feel our pain.
  • Just as the suffering crowds moved Him when He walked this earth, He is compassionate toward us.
  • His wounded back, striped with the Roman whip, took our pain.

By those stripes we are healed. Oh, there is no doubt of this. The only details unknown to us are when and where.

  • Now and here? Many, many times—Praise the Lord!
  • In heaven for sure!

There is no cancer there, no festering wounds, no brokenness, no weakness, no debilitating disease of any sort. We leave the annoying aches and agonizing ailments behind when we cross that river.

But what of the sharp arrows of antagonists? Does he care about them?

It is most amazing to think that our undeserved pain is a point of relationship with Christ.

Completely innocent of all cause, He suffered the pain of the effects of all sin. If we follow Him, this will inevitably cause us pain. Unlike the affliction of the body, the pain of ministry is a strange privilege, a way of identifying with Christ.

So, stretch those sleepy muscles, sip that sumptuous air and swill that simmering coffee! Even with pain you will greet this day with the strength of Jesus. Remember those who suffer greater pain than yours. Pray for those who seek to hurt you and hide safe within the wounds of the Savior.

Scriptures:
Jeremiah 8:21-22 NKJV
For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt. I am mourning;
Astonishment has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead, Is there no physician there? Why then is there no recovery For the health of the daughter of my people?
1 Peter 4:12-17
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. … if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
Philippians 3:10-11
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, because of fall of mankind into sin, life is a painful experience. Sometimes the reasons for pain are clear and sometimes suffering is a mystery, adding to the pain. Whether I know the reason for the pain of the day or it is beyond my comprehension, I know I am not alone. You do not know pain from a distance or in theory only. Like us, You were born in pain. As a child you hurt Yourself like any other child. You worked until Your muscles ached like ours do. You identify with my pain. Thank You, Lord. It is good to know that You are with me when I hurt. I know Your tender touch. Someday You will dry all our tears. Until that day, Your nearness is comfort in times of pleasure or pain.

Song:
There Is a Balm in Gilead

Traditional

Refrain:
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

1. Sometimes I feel discouraged, And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.

Refrain

2. If you cannot preach like Peter, Ify you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus, and say, “He died for all.”
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved