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 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 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

January 8 “Power”

Power

Without purity, power consumes the one who holds it.
Nothing like this had ever happened before. There had always been sick folk but never a healer. Demons had plagued people since the beginning but never had there been a man with a greater power who defeated them. There had been teachers before, but such words of truth and authority had never echoed from these Galilean hills. The multitudes grew to unmanageable numbers.

New Strategies
The constant flow of divine power through the human frame of Jesus was exhausting. Some creative thinking was in order. There was always the beautiful Sea of Galilee; an escape route to provide Jesus some distance from the crowds. He told His men to find a boat and have it ready. The boat gave him space but it did nothing to stem the flow of the sick ones who called out for His touch. Using the voices of their hosts, demons screamed even at the approach of Jesus crying out—“You are the Son of God!”—even as the poor invaded ones lay helpless on the ground. Jesus delivered them of their possession and sent the devils away commanding them to keep their mouths shut. But the toll taken on the humanity of Jesus was great. New strategies were needed if the pressing needs of the pressing crowds were to be met.

  • This amazing power must be shared. Thus, New Wine required some New Wineskins.
  • Jesus called His closest followers to the top of a hill and chose 12 of them to share the work and the power.

Mark’s description is crucial to our understanding of the Call of Christ today:

Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons

The names of the 12 men Jesus chose would be remembered forever. He shared His power with them, His truth with them, and His compassion with them. Strangely enough, one of them was named Judas.

Called to be with Him
The call to ministry for Christ must be preceded by the call into fellowship with Christ. “To be with Him” is not a calling reserved for preachers; it is the call of Christ to each of us! If we are to step into this stricken world in His name, we must first answer the call to be with Him.

How do we do this?

  • Through consistent prayer and consumption of the Word of God,
  • Through the knowledge of the general and specific things He has called us to do,
  • Through consistent obedience to His call, and
  • Through vital connections to His church in worship, discipleship, fellowship and service.

In these ways Jesus shares His power with those who obey His call to be with Him.

Scriptures:
Mark 3: 7-19
But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him. So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him. For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him. And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known. And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. And they went into a house.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, it is beyond amazing that You have called me to be with You! I must order my life around this call. The power to touch others in Your name flows from Your nearness, even Your residence in me. The wisdom to walk this earth in peace is in the sound of Your voice in my heart. Help me preach Your word with the work of my hands and the holiness of my life and the gentleness of my manor. As I preach Your word, signs will follow! Hallelujah! Amen!

Song:
Close to Thee
Words: Fanny Crosby; Music:S. J. Vail

1. Thou my everlasting portion, more than friend or life to me,
all along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with thee.

Refrain:
Close to thee, close to thee, close to thee, close to thee,
all along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with thee.

2. Not for ease or worldly pleasure, nor for fame my prayer shall be;
gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with thee.

Refrain

3. Lead me through the vale of shadows, bear me o’er life’s fitful sea;
then the gate of life eternal may I enter, Lord, with thee.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 7 “Sabbath”

Sabbath

Though intended for rest and worship, men misuse the Sabbath for their own evil purposes.
On another Sabbath Jesus entered another synagogue to preach the Kingdom of God and to relieve the suffering of people who were sick or bound by demons. The Rules People had a unit there “to watch Him closely” to see if they could catch Him healing on the Sabbath (as if they could miss such a thing!) Jesus was up to their game and would prove more than a match for these small-minded Rules People.

Withered
In the crowd there was a man with one hand that was shrunken and useless. Jesus called him out and the man stepped forward. The Pharisees could not miss this! He challenged the opposition.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

They had no answer. Some of them knew they were in trouble but there was no stopping this contest now. Jesus was angry, the first record of this emotion for Him in Mark’s Gospel. These people had withered souls. They knew the rules but missed the point! The Sabbath was meant for the benefit of people, not for oppression! Jesus’ anger was based in grief. The hardness of their hearts broke His. Kindness overruled His anger and grief as He turned to the man, saying simply,

“Stretch out your hand.”

When the man obeyed, his withered hand began to inflate. Finger bones crackled and stretched to the proper length. He swiveled the hand back and forth; the stiff wrist was limber. He opened and closed the hand, fully able to grip anything he desired. The first thing he touched was his face, feeling for the first time with the hand that had never known feeling. It was warm, not cold as before. He clasped his two hands together. He had never done that before either! With the deepest smile he had ever known he extended both hands over his head. In the process he saw Jesus smiling, framed by his two matching hands. He lifted them higher in praise and thanksgiving!

Everyone laughed, everyone except the Rules People. The smartest of these were looking for an exit but most of them actually thought they had won the match! They had caught Jesus healing on the Sabbath. They had Him now! Indignation at this “travesty” propelled them out the door. They allied themselves the Herodians, Jewish leaders who sought to reform their religion through Greek and Roman thought—the more rules, the merrier.

The Sabbath Today
Each person has some part of life that is useless. It is numb and lifeless like the hand of the man in the synagogue. To worship God is to lift our withered souls up to Him. When something about us makes us feel unworthy to worship, we must hear His words, “Stretch it out to me.”

Scriptures:
Mark: 3:1-6
NKJV
And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.
Reference Passages:
Mark 12:29-31
Psalm 29:1-2
Hebrews 10:19-25

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I hear Your call to worship. At the same time I know that my personal record does not qualify me to worship. Because of Calvary, Your record has been applied to my name. You have made me worthy to enter Your holy presence. Lord, sometimes I feel dry and useless. Help me remember that at these times I must stretch out my wounded heart to You in worship. I know Your healing will come! Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Come into the Holy of Holies
Words and Music: John Sellers

Come into the Holy of Holies,
Enter by the blood of the Lamb.
Come into His presence with singing.
Worship at the Throne of God.

(Repeat)

Lifting holy hands, to the King of kings!
Worship Jesus! Worship Jesus!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 5 “Rooftops”

Rooftops

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

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

A Sermon Interrupted

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

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

“Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

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

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

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

Before they could answer He made it plain to them:

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

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

“We never saw anything like this!”

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

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

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

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

Nothing is impossible when you put your trust in God;
Nothing is impossible when you’re trusting in His Word.
Hearken to the voice of God to thee:
“Is there anything too hard for Me?”
Then put your trust in God alone and rest upon His Word–
For everything, O everything,
Yes, everything is possible with God!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 4 “If…”

If…

Having the power to heal the sick is one thing. It’s availability to others is another.
While recognizing His power, the leper doubted the character of Jesus. Why shouldn’t he? As a leper he was an outcast never welcomed in any circumstance and never invited into any circles of friendship except those of other lepers. Thus his call to Jesus, “If you are willing…”

The Morning After
The day before had begun in the synagogue with teaching, continued in a house for healing, and concluded past sundown in a city-wide healing and deliverance meeting. Early the next morning Jesus arose before all the others and went out to a solitary place to pray. When the others finally woke up, so many of them pain free for the first time in recent memory, no one could find Jesus. The people turned to the four men who seemed to be His followers to locate Him. The search was on until Peter found Him hidden away in the wilderness. Peter was not one to hesitate before speaking. He rebuked the Lord for being so unavailable.

“Everyone is looking for You.”

Jesus paid no attention to the rebuke. He had been praying about what to do next. Would He set up shop in Capernaum and operate from there, inviting needy people in? Or should they move on? Now He was sure of what do.

“Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also,
because for this purpose I have come forth.”

That settled it. They would move on to as many of the towns and villages in the region as possible. Every village had a synagogue where Jesus preached. Every town had sick folks who received a healing touch. Those infested with demons were everywhere to be found. Jesus exhibited mastery over them, commanding them not even to speak to Him.

At some point in these journeys the leper braved the rejection of the crowd and called out to Jesus:

“If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Jesus stopped to locate the unfortunate man. The crowd cleared the way making it possible for Jesus to see the pitiful sight: rags for clothes, bandages old and putrid, and a face covered to hide the wounds. Jesus could see into the leper’s soul. There He saw the deeper wounds of the outcast. Words had pierced his heart. Rejection had bruised his mind. Abuse had crippled his dreams.

Compassion and power rose up in Jesus, a compassion deeper than the wounds within the man and a power greater than the wounds on the surface.

“I am willing; be cleansed.”

From a safe distance the crowd watched without breathing as the leper began to shake his head as if shaking off a chill. His eyes opened as wide as possible as bandaged hands began to claw at the rags around his face. A great gasp came from the people as his face emerged without a scar. The man stripped the rags from his hands and they, too were clean and whole. The man began to dance as rags flew off in vile circles into the amazed and disgusted crowd. Someone brought him a robe and he danced in it for a while. His breath gone, he stood before Jesus. Jesus instructed him to not tell anyone before going to the priests for the requirements of the law.

Of course the man didn’t do that. He told everyone and the crowd became a multitude.

Such a miracle! And it began with the word, “If.”

Scriptures:
Mark 1: 32-45 NKJV
At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him. Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.” And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons. Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, sometimes we can recognize on one level that You are powerful and good and still doubt at another level that Your grace is available to us. We introduce the word “if” into our prayers. While we must never presume upon Your grace, let us always have faith in Your Word. The Bible says Your promises are sure. They are based in Your character, Your goodness. Let us confess with the Old Covenant saints that “the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!” Help us to hear, deep in our wounded spirits, Your sure word, “I am willing…” In Your Name, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Reach Out and Touch the Lord
Traditional

Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.
You’ll find He’s not too busy to answer your cry.
He’s passing by the moment, you needs to supply.
Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 1 “Dove”

Dove

The Dove never flew away from Jesus’ shoulders.
When Jesus and John exchanged smiles and the great rush to repentance began, Jesus slipped away unnoticed. The Dove, always a visible manifestation of something invisible, faded from view. The inner reality of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit did not fade. In fact, the voice within Jesus was sounding louder than it ever had, insisting on one thing, “The Desert.”

Just as Mary pondered things in her heart, Jesus had much about which to think and pray. The booming voice from heaven that everyone heard served to signal to the repentant crowd and the doubting skeptics that events beyond their imagination were about to unfold and this Jesus would be at the center of them. Long after the sound had echoed through the farthest hill, the truth still sounded in Jesus’ heart:

“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

The strong compulsion to leave Nazareth and the carpenter shop to Mary and her other children and seek out His cousin, John, was justified by this surprising declaration. Jesus had made it! He had emerged from childhood unharmed, from the teen years unscathed, and from young adulthood unmarked by sin. His Father in Heaven was pleased. Whatever lay ahead, Jesus would be surrounded by the love of the Father. Angels would always be standing by if needed. The hosts of heaven so accustomed to worshiping Him were now assigned to guard Him from earthly harm or hellish device. The dangers of His Mission will be many and ominous.

The Dove Within
Though the lovely white Dove was gone, the Holy Spirit abided within Jesus. The Spirit could do this because Jesus had never sinned. The Holy Spirit will not dwell in an unholy place. This was to be the chief difference between the Old and New Covenants—this abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the clean vessel. In the Old days, the Spirit would come upon a person for a specific task and then depart. The New Covenant Jesus would establish changed all of that. Sins, confessed and repented of, will be forgiven and cast away! The Holy Spirit, the beautiful Dove of Heaven, would come to dwell in each believer making us victorious witnesses to the Jesus Story.

The Call of the Dove
Gently but with great insistence, the Spirit whispered one word to Jesus, “Desert.” There was important work to be done there. The crowds would come later in the villages, the countryside, on the highways and in Jerusalem but now isolation was required. This was to be a new level of testing, of temptation, of proof of the calling. The flesh, already mastered in the routines of life, must now be disciplined at a new depth. Fasting, prayer, isolation and communion with the Father as the Spirit led, were now in order for the One who had come so far to do so much for so many.

Scriptures:
Mark 1:1-13 NKJV
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.” ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'” John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.
Scriptures on the New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit:
John 14:15-18; 25-26
John 15:26-27
John 16:5-15

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank for the Abiding Dove of the Spirit within me! This Spirit Baptism, so long ago promised by the prophets and recorded by the New Testament witnesses is a current reality. Cleanse me, O Lord! Refiner’s Fire purify this son of Levi that I might offer acceptable worship to You. O Launderer’s Soap, clean away even the particles of leftover wickedness that may linger in the fibers of my heart so that Your likeness can go as deep as possible into me. Empower me, O Holy Spirit to be a witness to this world of hope and love and peace and redemption flowing from You to all who will respond in faith. O sweet Dove of Heaven, abide in me! Amen.

Song:
O Holy Spirit
Words: Michael Schirmer; Music: Philipp Nicolai

1. O Holy Spirit, enter in,
And in our hearts Your work begin,
Your dwelling place now make us.
Sun of the soul, O Light divine,
Around and in us brightly shine,
To joy and gladness wake us
That we may be Truly living,
To You giving Prayer unceasing,
And in love be still increasing.

2. Give to Your Word impressive pow’r,
That in our hearts from this good hour
As fire it may be glowing,
That in true Christian unity
We faithful witnesses may be
Your glory ever showing.
Hear us, cheer us By Your teaching;
Let our preaching And our labor
Praise You, Lord, and serve our neighbor.

3. O mighty Rock, O Source of Life,
Let Your dear Word, in doubt and strife,
In us be strongly burning,
That we be faithful unto death
And live in love and holy faith,
From You true wisdom learning.
Your grace and peace  On us shower;
By Your power  Christ confessing,
Let us see our Savior’s blessing.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 30 “Savior”

Savior

In my imagination, I see a hill near Nazareth high enough to endanger the life of one who fell from its heights.
It commanded a peaceful view of the countryside below where fields of sheep and goats grazed in contentment. Well-traveled roads, footpaths really, could be seen approaching and crossing and diverging in different directions. People and their animals loaded with the burdens of the day occupied the roads. It was wonderful place to sit and think and pray.

Joseph and Mary met here often while they were waiting for Jesus to be born. The boy Jesus soon discovered this hill and, like all boys do, delighted in ascending its heights to sit and think and pray. As a carpenter’s apprentice, when the work was done in the late afternoon or in the early morning before the work day began, Jesus would climb this hill to meet with God.

A Heavenly Father
As boy He could sense the presence of God in this place, a presence that was very much like the nearness of Joseph whom He loved dearly. In the presence of God there was something more somehow, as if He were the Heavenly Father. By His teen years, Jesus regularly considered God to be His Father in Heaven. He once spoke of this to Joseph who was not at all offended. He felt that way, too. Joseph and Jesus enjoyed long talks late at night about prophesies concerning Messiah. Jesus considered Joseph an expert in these matters.

Unavoidable Questions
When Joseph was gone, Jesus began to ask questions of Mary, questions about His birth. Mary prayed deeply about this before deciding that the time had come for Jesus to know the truth. On a Sabbath, they climbed the hill even though this was a questionable thing to do on the Sabbath. She told Him the whole story, the story we have told in this document. As she proceeded she watched His face to see how He was reacting. To her relief, He didn’t seem surprised at all. It answered so many questions that had lingered in His mind for as long as He could remember. For Mary, it was a burden lifted from her shoulders.

The Prophecies
After this, Jesus would often steal away to the hill to pray and consider the prophesies of the Redeemer. They were not comforting. Both angels in their declarations to Mary and Joseph had insisted that He be named Jesus, meaning Savior. “For He shall save the people from their sins.” He did not have to search for prophesies describing how this would be done. He knew that He must suffer for the sins of the whole world. He must have no sins of His own—he must go to the slaughter innocent, a helpless and pure lamb, the Lamb of God.

He could not foresee the circumstances of how it would come about, but from the beginning, He knew how it must end. He knew of other prophesies of great healing and restoration.

  • There would be forerunner who would prepare the remnant—God always had a remnant—to receive Him.
  • There would be a great joy set before Him enabling Him to endure the shame.

His entire humanity cried out against such suffering. He possessed the same will to survive that we possess. He knew that He would have to serve against this nature to do what must be done. The will of the Father must be done.

Scripture:
Luke 22:41-44 NKJV
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
1 Timothy 2:5-7 NKJV
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle — I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying — a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Philippians 2:5-11
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, You are the Savior of the world—of my soul! I can never know the suffering You endured to accomplish this redemption but I can know some of Your joy in its accomplishment. The smile my worship can bring to Your face is part of that joy. The deep satisfaction of working for You to see good things happen here and now is also a part of it. Help me surrender my will to Yours every day—on this day, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
He’s the Savior of My Soul
Traditional Chorus

He’s the Savior of my soul. Jesus, my Jesus.
He’s the Savior of my soul. Jesus, my Jesus.

Your sins He’ll wash away.
Your night He’ll turn to day.
Your life, He’ll make it over anew.

He’s the Savior of my soul. Jesus, my Jesus.
He’s the Savior of my soul.
He’s the Savior of my soul.
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 29, 2018: “Possessions”

Possessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptures:
Mark 10:17-22
Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.'”And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

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

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

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

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

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved