January 29 “Possessions”

Possessions

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

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

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

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

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

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 28 “Salt”

Salt


A life without seasoning is bland and unsatisfying. Jesus commands us to be salt to a tasteless world.

The stench of the trash heap faded as they continued their journey south. Soon, even as they conversed, they would arrive in Judea. With the improved atmosphere the subject shifted from warnings about a poorly lived life and its aftermath to the keys to living an enjoyable life. We must be salt in a bland world. In so doing we will be a blessing to others, secure our marriages, and bless our children.

The Salty Life
Jesus said our personalities season our lives, making them pleasant for others to taste. A lack of salt in our lives blends us into the blur of godless living and we are best left alone.

“Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”

God has given each of us a distinct personality and it colors everything we say and do.

  • In a home full of love and encouragement, we develop that personality from the earliest age and as we do our parents smile when we smile and laugh when we laugh. Their hearts are stirred when we hurt and cry out. They are moved to action on our behalf.
  • In a different kind of home where parents are cruel or absent, the personality of the child is stunted and the “salt” does not develop its power to bless. There is no trust of others and life is lived in pain and selfishness.

Salt in Marriage
When two people with “salt”—properly developed inner lives—marry, the results can be wonderful—a happy home and happy children. When a marriage includes one or both parties who are without “salt”—that is, self-centered and untrusting—the marriage is doomed to failure. When solace is sought by one or both parties outside the marriage, sin destroys the home. The children in such a home will continue the salt-less life into another generation.

Salt can be obtained.
If Jesus were merely pointing out a fact of life that is without remedy, His words would be of little interest to us. That was not and is not the case. Jesus came to change things! Inevitabilities are dismantled when we give our lives to Him! When He said, “Have salt in yourselves.” He was telling us that the way we are is not the way we have to be. We can change and we can be changed.

  • We can change by actions of our will—repentance, reversal, renewal, revival—we can decide we want something else than what we have always had. We can decide to follow Jesus and be someone we have never been before.
  • We can be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would later say, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” If it was true for Him, it is certainly true for us. The power of our personal decisions can only take us so far. The Holy Spirit resides within the believer to carry us across the finish line, to make the change complete, to conform us to the image of Christ, and to provide the salt in our personalities needed to make us a blessing to all.

Add some salt.
To become the “you” you were intended to be, to save your marriage, and to bless the next generation, let the Holy Spirit add some “salt” to your life.

Scriptures
Mark 9: 49-50; 10:1-16
“For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”
Chapter Ten
Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again. The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You created mankind male and female, each gender with a delightful salt all its own. Help me be the person You made me to be. Season my life with salt, with the uniqueness and distinct function You intended. This salt will flavor my worship of You. It will bless my impact on others, making me a blessing, starting and continuing in my home. Above all, I want to be a blessing to You, Lord, a pleasant servant of Yours. Give me the salt it takes for this, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Make Me a Blessing
Words: Ira B. Wilson; Music: George S. Schuler

1. Out in the highways and byways of life,
many are weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
making the sorrowing glad.

Refrain:
Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,
Out of my life May Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

2. Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;
Tell of His pow’r to forgive;
Others will trust Him if only you prove
true ev’ry moment you live.

Refrain

3. Give as ’twas given to you in your need;
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed;
Unto your mission be true.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 27 “Offences”

Offences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song:
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Traditional

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 24 “Glimpse”

Glimpse

Glory—the full weight of the magnificence of God—is so powerful, just a glimpse of it will change a life.
Jesus sensed in His spirit that the Father wanted to take the disciples deeper. He told the men that some of them would not taste death until they had seen the Kingdom of God coming in power. Six days later, it began to happen for three of them.

Every day with Jesus was unpredictable. It was at once the greatest adventure of their lives and the greatest mystery they could imagine. Jesus’ words about some of them living to see the Kingdom come were thrilling and frightening all at once. Would this be the day? This question rose in their minds with every sunrise.

Transfiguration
Shortly after one of these hopeful sunrises, Jesus selected Peter, James and John to go with Him up a high mountain. It was His practice to pray in such places, so it is likely that the three men thought this was the purpose of the climb. To their profound surprise there was another purpose—a revelation of the Glory of the Man they were following.

In the clear morning sunlight a greater light appeared, not from the sky but from Jesus Himself. His clothes glowed white, whiter than any white the men had ever seen. The light emanated from Jesus and soon lit the whole mountaintop with beams of glory. Out of the beams of light stepped two figures, similarly clothed in garments made white but of lesser magnitude than the robes Jesus wore. Without being told, Peter, James, and John knew who these two men were:

  • Elijah, representing the prophets of old, and,
  • Moses, representing the Covenantal Law of God.

These two beings of light were alive and well and were deep in conversation with Jesus. They were talking like old friends at a reunion.

Tabernacles
Fear seized Peter, James, and John. The language the other three were speaking was unknown to them but the holiness of the meeting was clearly understood. They could add nothing to the communion enjoyed by Jesus, Moses, and Elijah but each of the disciples wanted to join in somehow. Eventually Peter timidly offered a suggestion—they should memorialize this moment with booths to each of these heavenly figures.

The Voice
As if in response to Peter’s idea, a voice like thunder sounded in a language they could not misunderstand,

“This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

They fell face forward to the ground—the shining light, the three mystical beings, and the booming voice—were all too much for them. In the silence that followed, each regained the courage to open his eyes and regain his feet. The light was gone. The voice that echoed from the hills  sounded no more. Only Jesus stood before them. He took them back down the mountain commanding them to keep the glory they had experienced to themselves for now. When He rose from the dead, they would understand.

A Question
One of them asked what was meant when the Scriptures said that Elijah must come before the Messiah. Jesus made it clear that John the Baptizer came in the power of Elijah, fulfilling his ministry.

A Glimpse of Glory
The three of the Twelve who witnessed the Transfiguration did indeed see the Glory of the Lord Jesus before their deaths. This glimpse of Glory was a foretaste of their witness to the resurrected Christ and, for John, to his witness of heaven recorded in the Revelation. We are invited to behold His glory in worship and as we do we also, are changed!

Scriptures:
Mark 9: 1-13
And He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid. And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves. Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant. And they asked Him, saying, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Then He answered and told them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him.”
2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me a new vision of Your glory. Reveal Your glory to me at my private altar and in my public worship. Let me see as Isaiah did the majesty of Your Throne. May the revelation of Your glory shake the foundations of my life as worship did the doorpost of heaven in Isaiah’s vision. Take a coal of fire from the altar before You and touch my lips with it. Help me hear the Father’s voice—“This is my beloved Son!” Let me hear Your voice, “Who will go for me?” I will go. I am going!–in the power of the revelation of who You are now, resurrected, enthroned in Heaven and in my heart, and soon to return. O, the Glory of Your Presence! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Oh, the Glory of Your Presence
Words and Music: Steve Frye

Refrain:
O, the glory of Your presence.
We, Your Temple, give You reverence.
Come and rise to Your rest and be blest by our praise
As we glory in Your embrace.
As Your presence now fills this place.

Verse:
Jesus, all glorious, create in us a Temple
Called as living stones where You’re enthroned.
As You rose from death in power
So rise within our worship.
Rise upon our praise
And let the hand that saw You raised
Clothe us in Your glory,
Draw us by Your grace.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 21 “Hard-hearted”

Hard-hearted

Following Jesus was many things—exciting, amazing, fun even—but easy it was not.
The Twelve were normal people following an extraordinary man. They were physical and emotional and Jesus was spiritual. Beyond all the miracles, Jesus wanted to teach them higher truths and deeper concepts. This was long before Calvary, so their hearts were not made new. It was years before Pentecost so they did not have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within them. Like the disciples that night in the middle of the lake, Jesus was paddling against a strong wind.

Back across the Galilee
After another miraculous meal, Jesus and the disciples boarded the boat and headed across the water again. Whichever disciple was assigned to take provisions failed in his mission and they had no bread to eat on the boat. It must be that the dispersed crowd claimed the seven baskets of leftovers but the fact remained they were in a boat with nothing to eat.

The Leaven of the Pharisees
Unconcerned with provisions, Jesus wanted to take the men deeper into the truths before them. Bread was a metaphor as was the ingredient in bread that made it rise in the baking process. Jesus wanted His men to see that there was a corrupting factor beneath the behavior of the Pharisees.

“Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

With empty faces the disciples looked at each other. They didn’t get it. They thought He was complaining that they had nothing to eat on board. You can hear the frustration in Jesus’ response.

“Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?

He shook His head and started over.

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”

They knew this answer and the next one about the four thousand. They still didn’t get it

“How is it you do not understand?”

Us, too.
Before we come down too hard on these hard-hearted disciples, we need to take a look at our own hearts. We can be just as hard-headed and hard-hearted as the Twelve. How soon do we forget the faithfulness of God yesterday and begin to doubt His promises today? Truly we are without excuse. We are living under the New Covenant! Our sins were washed away when we repented of them and asked Jesus to be our Lord. The Disciples would not experience this until the resurrection. We have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within us to teach us and empower us. They would not experience this until the Day of Pentecost. When our hearts are hard, we are without excuse. If we keep having to learn the same lesson over and over, perhaps we should ask the Lord to soften our hearts.

Scriptures:
Mark 8: 13-21
And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart. still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, soften my heart! Give me a teachable spirit. Help me remember Your faithfulness in the past as I face the challenges of this day. Help me hear what the Spirit is saying to me. Train me thoroughly in Your Word by principle and directive. Help me act in faith upon this base of knowledge in the questions I must answer today. Holy Spirit, cleanse my heart. Empower my life so that I might walk the Path of Life in Victory! Amen and amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 18 “Hearts”

Hearts

While the physical heart remains unseen, the emotional heart cannot be hidden for long.
The news about Jesus reached south to Jerusalem. A squad of higher ranking Rules People came to Galilee to investigate Jesus. The Galileans were impressed. They saw the extravagant display of finery in their appearance, the regalia of power in the religious leaders and the army of servants it took to care for such important men. Jesus saw their hearts. There was no finery there, only rags of self-righteousness. Their hearts wore no robes of power; they were naked with ambition. The hearts of these men were not attended to by servants, they were themselves slaves to Satan.

What the Rules People Saw
It didn’t take long for the Rules People to catch the disciples in an infraction of their law—they were actually eating bread without washing their hands! Horror of horrors! Such wickedness!

“Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders,
but eat bread with unwashed hands?”

Jesus did not take the bait. He cut straight, shall we say, to the heart of the matter. These hypocritical power people were not concerned with health and safety—their concern was power. They were of the ruling class and their rules kept them in power over the ordinary people. They were not happy about a new level of health in the community because so many people had been healed. They were not impressed that the power of evil had been dealt a heavy blow and there suddenly was a shortage of demons in people. They were upset that here were men they could not control. Jesus and the twelve threatened their power structure.

He called them Out.
He quoted the prophet Isaiah speaking for God Himself:

‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.”

He accused them of setting aside the commands of God and replacing them with their own rules. Their hearts were far from God—their actions proved it. In detail He pointed out their guilt. Far from unwashed hands holding bread, their tainted hearts spoiled everything they did “in the name of God.”

He called the multitude together and publicly shamed the Rules People. He explained the truth to everyone. Wickedness is in us all. It is folly to blame it on some outside force. What comes out of the heart defiles us!

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Later, in a nearby Home.
Away from the crowd, Jesus explained things more deeply to the disciples. The truth was illustrated in the normal process of eating food. But when the evil that is in the heart erupts to the surface it is clearly seen by all. What lies hidden in the heart? He gave them a terrifying list beginning with evil thoughts and finishing with crimes, pride, and foolishness.

Do we have ears to hear? Unlike that Galilean crowd, we live in a day when the evil abiding in our hearts can be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. We are on the right side of Calvary. When we give our hearts to Jesus, He moves in to take up residence. The evil has to go. And it does! From our newly repaired hearts come praise and obedience and blessing to others.

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Scriptures:
Mark 7:1-10:1
Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. ‘For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men — the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban” — ‘ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You know my heart! You live their because I have repented of my sins and asked You to move in. Keep my heart clean, Lord. Let no wicked thoughts abide there. Let no selfish ambition take root. Give me a heart for You and for the people I meet today. Holy Spirit, fill my heart with the Word of God so that I might not sin against God. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and the deeds of my life be acceptable in Your sight O Lord, my Redeemer! Amen.

Song:
Search Me, O God
Words: J. Edwin Orr; Music: Maori Melody

1. 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.

2. I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

3. Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

4. O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 17 “Winds”

Winds

Jesus commanded the winds and they obeyed. The hearts of men were a different matter.
That boat really came in handy. At Jesus’ command, the disciples took the boat toward another town on the other side, Bethsaida. Then Jesus sent the multitude away—happy I’m sure. When all the good-byes were finished, Jesus climbed a nearby mountain to be alone with the Father to pray.

Along about evening, the disciples were still only half way across the lake because the winds were against them. He saw His men struggling against the wind and the heavy seas. This went on for several hours. In the middle of the night, Jesus went to help them—walking on the tumultuous waters. The waves never shook Him. The winds never disturbed His balance. It was like a pleasant walk on the beach rather than on the surface of a raging sea.

Frightened Sailors
After hours of rowing against the wind and getting nowhere the exhausted disciples were losing all the faith they had gained on the ministry tour. It seems yesterday’s victories did little for the crisis that night. Some of them were rowing, others were bailing out the onboard water, while others were draped over the side losing what was left of the loaves and the fishes. All they needed was a ghost walking up to them on the top of the unforgiving waves. That was what they thought Jesus was—a ghost! Fear of more than a capsized boat now added to their misery. Sensing their fear, Jesus called to them:

“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

When they helped Him into the boat, the winds calmed down to normal. In a little while, the waves followed suit.

Hard Hearts
The men looked at Jesus as if they were seeing Him for the first time. Who was He? How did He do these things? Why had He chosen them? Sheepish looks passed from man to man while no one wanted to look Jesus in the eyes. When each of them worked up the nerve to look at Him, Jesus was smiling. He knew their hearts had a long way to go. He knew that one day the Holy Spirit would reside in their hearts as He did in His own. He knew that the inward ministry of the Spirit, not the outward work of the ministry, was the change agent. Power over demons and sickness, even food multiplying in their hands, did not prepare them for the storm. Their time was coming and coming soon, but first must come the cross.

The Land of Gennesaret
By sunrise they landed in the land of Gennesaret—so much for a night of rest—and the crowds were even bigger at the landing and the healing winds were blowing in force. Wherever they went in towns of all sizes people pressed Him seeking just to touch the hem of His garment.

“And as many as touched Him were made well.”

Scriptures:
Mark 6:45-56
Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is healing in Your touch. Help me to never forget the answers to yesterday’s prayers in the midst of today’s challenge. Every day Your promises are true. You will not leave me alone in the storm; You will come to me in my distress. If my heart has hardened in recent days, soften it, O Holy Spirit. Let the restoring winds of Your spirit brace my faith. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Change My Heart, O God
Words and Music: Eddie Espinosa

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You

You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 14 “Unbelief”

Unbelief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song:
Have Faith in God
Traditional

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 12 “Chains”

Chains

Sometimes chains aren’t strong enough.
Nothing could control the demon-possessed man in the country of the Gadarenes. He lived among the tombs for no place else could afford him rest. His torment spread from the host of demons inside to the whole village. Community efforts were made to silence him; nothing worked. He was bound with chains and they couldn’t hold him; he snapped them like threads. Iron shackles were useless; he broke them in pieces. His tormented cries echoed from the hills in daylight and haunted the long sleepless nights. He could not even take his own life although he tried cutting himself with stones.

Then Jesus Came. 
Without announcement or promotion, Jesus crossed to the Gadarene side of Galilee to continue His work there. Through a demonic haze the poor man saw Jesus coming across the sea. Somehow He knew that Jesus was not just any man. When the Lord stepped out of the boat, the demonized man met Him.  He fell at Jesus’ feet, not with tormented cries of pain but with worship.

How could this be? The Bible says that demons believe and tremble, but the demons inside the man did not worship; this afflicted man worshiped. As far down as he had fallen, he still had something left of his spirit, that God-conscious part of him. Jesus spoke to the darkness inside the man:

“Come out of the man, unclean spirit!”

With a loud voice one of them cried out:

“What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”

Jesus was quick with a reply:

“What is your name?”

“My name is Legion; for we are many.”

The demons begged Jesus not to send them to hell. 2000 pigs were minding their own business, feeding in the nearby hills. At the request of the demons, Jesus sent the legion into the hapless hogs. Although they were ignorant beasts, they knew better than to host demon spirits. They went mad, rushed off a cliff and drowned themselves in the sea.

What do we do about this?
The herdsmen of the swine told the people of the town what had happened. There was nothing in their leadership manuals about what to do about something like this. They saw the man who was their biggest problem now clothed, quiet, and in his right mind. A quick meeting of the brightest of these pillars of the community was convened. Their solution was to ask Jesus to go away and not come back.

To conform to their wishes, Jesus got back into the boat. The delivered man started to climb in the boat with Him. Who could blame him? Jesus asked him to stay as His representative to the town that had just sent their Healer away.

“Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.”

With those words Jesus returned to the other side of the lake. In the country of the Gadarenes sick folks were not healed. People in bondage were not delivered from their spiritual chains. Their days and nights were quieter now without the noise of the man who lived among the tombs but they had missed their time of God’s visitation. The chains of their unbelief were strong and binding.

Sometimes chains are strong enough.

Scriptures:
Mark 5: 1-20
Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” Then He asked him, “What is your name?” And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.” And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea. So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I marvel at the power of Your name, the glory of Your Presence. Help me seize the opportunities You afford me each day. There are chains in this life than seek to bind me; break them by Your power! You have defeated all my enemies! You have given me Your Holy Name as a weapon. I know demons tremble at the sound of it! Help me never to turn from You but always toward You. I will call out to You in my pain and You will always hear and deliver. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Jesus Breaks Every Fetter
Traditional

Jesus breaks every fetter.
Jesus breaks every fetter.
Jesus breaks every fetter.
And He sets me free.

I am now on the altar.
I am now on the altar.
I am now on the altar.
And He sets me free.

I will shout Hallelujah!
I will shout Hallelujah!
I will shout Hallelujah!
For He sets me free!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 2 “Wilderness”

Wilderness

In wild places, powerful things come about.
Far from the safety of home and the comfort of the routine, Jesus sought His Father’s heart in the desert. For 40 days he prayed and waited before God and did not eat or drink. Why? He was without sin. Surely He could “ascend the Hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place.” His hands were clean and His heart was pure.

The Spirit
No longer acting as a gentle dove, the Holy Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness. This was no gentle prompting, no sweet wooing of the soul. It was a demand to seek the solitary place, to flee from the distractions of everyday life and commerce, to retreat from normal interaction with people, even those He dearly loved. There was work to be done in this wilderness.

The Flesh
Years later in a garden, green and lush, Jesus revealed a mismatched contest within Himself: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Now in this desert, the spirit must subdue the flesh. The risk of the incarnation was that the flesh might win the contest. With fasting and deprivation the flesh was disciplined. Jesus’ body was strong and lean, that of a man who did hard work with his hands and the strength of his back and legs. There was no storehouse of calories packed anywhere on His frame. Fasting soon weakened these strong limbs and drained His stamina. Thirst stiffened his joints making the slightest move a painful ordeal.

The Beasts
Mark adds a dangerous detail. He “was with the wild beasts.” Desert predators can sense the weakness of a prey. They found him long before the 40 days were up. Perhaps like Daniel before Him, angels stopped the beasts and shut their mouths. Imagine that every night was filled with the hungry red eyes of wild beasts and every day the sky was patrolled by winged scavengers. This desert was no place of ease.

The Temptation
Mark gives no record of Satan’s temptations leaving those details to other evangelists. He reports only that Jesus was “tempted by Satan.” Jesus endured temptation as none of us ever have or will and He did not yield to sin. Therefore He can help us in our times of testing. The New Testament gives us few details of how this happens but it is because of this victory in the wilderness. The same Jesus who went without food and water is with us in our privations. This same Jesus who turned away from pride, position, and false worship resides in us by the Spirit to enable our humility, servanthood, and true worship.

The Angels
How long the 40 days seemed for the guardian angels of Jesus! We marvel at their restraint. Jesus would not need their assistance. When the testing was done and Jesus proved victor, we can imagine the angelic rush to His aid. Wild beasts scattered before them. Perhaps manna, the bread of angels, was brought to Him, as well as the living waters He would promise to others. Strength for the tasks ahead returned to Him—God in the flesh, tested in the wilderness, ready to touch and heal, teach and deliver.

In wild places, powerful things come about.

Scriptures:
Mark 1:12-13 NKJV
Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
Hebrews 4:14-16 NKJV
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 2:14-18 NKJV
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 NKJV
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I cannot not imagine Your agony in the desert. You explored the depths of physical weakness to make me strong. You endured the extremes of loneliness in the wilderness to have fellowship with those who would come to love You. Help me enter into and flourish within that fellowship today. You went face to face with the devil and defeated him on his own ground. Let me share that victory today in my thoughts, my words, my actions, and in compassion to those around me. Help me feed on manna and drink deeply of living water so I can be strong this day and meet its demands. For Your Glory! Amen.

Song:
Yield Not to Temptation
Words and Music: Harold R. Palmer

1. Yield not to temptation, For yielding is sin;
Each vict’ry will help you, Some other to win;
Fight valiantly onward, Evil passions subdue;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain:
Ask the Savior to help you,
Comfort, strengthen and keep you;
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.

2. Shun evil companions, Bad language disdain;
God’s name hold in rev’rence, Nor take it in vain;
Be thoughtful and earnest, Kindhearted and true;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain

3. To him that o’ercometh, God giveth a crown;
Through faith we will conquer,Though o ften cast down;
He who is our Savior, Our strength will renew;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.