February 7 “Whatever”

Whatever

To follow Jesus is to live with the expectation of the supernatural.
Oh, yes, we live in the natural world like everyone else, subject to winds and temperature, seemingly random events both good and bad, natural laws like sowing and reaping, and the force of gravity. In addition to these natural phenomena, we live in the world of the spirit. Our spirits are host to the Holy Spirit of God! Angels, unseen, but powerful, attend our every move. Wicked spiritual forces oppose us and sometimes threaten our peace but we overcome them in the name of Jesus. They have no defense for this. Temptation to sin and displease the Lord is an ever present danger but with every temptation Jesus provides a way of escape. He gives us power over the enemy at every level of attack.

Supernatural Expectations
Jesus walked this earth in the power of the Spirit. He demonstrated an absolute mastery of spiritual things. This seems to be the category into which we must place the incident of the fig tree. Jesus knew that according to the natural seasons of the year, the poor tree would only have leaves and not figs. Yet, He expected a ripe fig to eat. When it was not forthcoming, He cursed the tree.

The next day, after the cleansing of the Temple, Jesus and the men came by the tree again. To their surprise the fig tree had dried up from the roots. It stood there, drooping in the sun, its brown leaves, so green and full the day before, were falling like tears to the dusty earth. Never would it bear fruit again. The disciples expressed their amazement:

“Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”

He called them together positioning them so they could all learn a lesson from the fate of the fig tree.

“Have faith in God.”

Amused by their puzzled looks, Jesus continued:

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done,
he will have whatever he says.

Their puzzled looks did not diminish as they sneaked looks from one to other to see if anyone was understanding what Jesus was saying. It was unanimous; no one got it.

“Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

Whatever things. There is no more inclusive word than whatever. Rolled under its broad canopy is the natural world and the supernatural realm. In the days ahead each of them would learn that the Lord would expect fruit from them, in season or out. They would produce! Weakness would not weaken them. Sickness would not stop them. Enemies would assault them to no avail. The Gospel would be preached to the whole world through them and those who followed them. How will this be possible? Because they would live lives of prayer.

Beware of this Blight!
There was only one thing that could rob them of their fruitfulness— an unforgiving spirit. This would rob their prayers of results and blight them like the unfortunate tree. Baring this, their prayers would bring perennial fruitfulness.

To follow Jesus is to live with the expectation of the supernatural.

Scriptures:
Mark 11:20-26
Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” So Jesus answered and said to them, For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
2 Timothy 4:1-5 NKJV
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have called me to a supernatural life in this natural world. You are Lord of all, including all the elements and forces in the spirit world. Help me see myself in the fig tree. I know You have called me to a productive life in season and out of season. My only hope of success is the flow of Your supernatural power. When You call on me, help me to always have something to present to You—whatever You demand from me! For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Faith Is the Victory
Words: John Henry Yates; Music: Ira D. Sankey

1. Encamped along the hills of light, Ye Christian soldiers rise,
And press the battle ere the night Shall veil the glowing skies;
Against the foe in vales below Let all our strength be hurled;
Faith is the victory, we know, That overcomes the world.

Refrain:
Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, That overcomes the world.

2. His banner over us is love, Our sword the Word of God;
We tread the road the saints before With shouts of triumph trod.
By faith, they like a whirlwind’s breath, Swept on o’er every field;
The faith by which they conquered death Is still our shining shield.

Refrain

3. On every hand the foe we find Drawn up in dread array;
Let tents of ease be left behind, And onward to the fray.
Salvation’s helmet on each head, With truth all girt about,
The earth shall tremble ’neath our tread And echo with our shout.

Refrain

4. To him that overcomes the foe White raiment shall be giv’n;
Before the angels he shall know His name confessed in heav’n;
Then onward from the hills of light, Our hearts with love aflame,
We’ll vanquish all the hosts of night, In Jesus’ conqu’ring name.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 1, 2017 “Vines”

Vines

June 1975.
I had just moved into my first pastoral office as Youth Pastor and Minister of Music at First Assembly of God in Camden, AR. The room was a converted Sunday School classroom in a creaky old wooden building. Across from my desk was a patio-type couch. I knelt there with my Bible open praying from John 15. The chapter begins with the good news that Jesus is the True Vine and we are the branches. This was the part that I wanted to claim.

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you,
that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain…

We find Two Vines in the Scripture: Israel and Jesus.

Israel

The Nation of Israel is depicted as a vine planted by the Lord in the earth for two specific purposes—

  1. to Worship the One True God in the midst of pagan cultures, and
  2.  to bring Messiah into the world to make salvation possible for all people.

The nation stands today, countless generations removed from Abraham, as a strong people group even after being conquered and scattered time again—a geographical and political miracle and a testimony to the God Who Keeps Covenant.

The Poet pens a lament at a season when it seemed God had abandoned the Vine He had planted. They were overrun:

Jerusalem besieged,

  • The Walls of Jerusalem broken down,
  • The Gates burned with fire,
  • The Temple violated and destroyed, and
  • The craftsmen, musicians, priests and Levites lead away to Babylon as captives

The psalm is a plea for God not to abandon His Vine forever.

Pagan, like the World
This terrible calamity blighted the Vine of Israel because they had themselves become as pagan as the world they lived in. They had violated their part of the Covenant with Jehovah in the most serious way possible—to worship other gods.

While it felt as if God had abandoned the Vine of Israel this proved not to be the case. There was a remnant of true worshipers left in Israel, both among the people left behind and those carried away to Babylon. The remnant prayed. God heard. The Vine was restored. Jesus came into the world.

Jesus

In the New Testament Jesus refers to Himself as the True Vine. He explained that we were the branches. What does that mean? It means God is still at work in the world!

When we turned to Him in repentance, faith, and confession of His Lordship, we become a branch in the True Vine—vitally and functionally connected to Him. We have the same two-fold mission as the nation of Israel—to worship God in spirit and truth and to go into all the world to tell others about Him. In addition to these two points of mission we have a third—to make disciples.

We are meant to bear much fruit and fruit that remains. How can we succeed in this?

  • With disciplined prayer in the Secret Place,
  • With dynamic worship in the Sanctuary and
  • With determined, holy, obedient, and productive lives of service to God and man.

We will be a well-tended branch in the Vine, “safe and secure from all alarms” and free to produce much fruit.

He is the Vine, we are the branches. Without Him we can do nothing. With Him we can do what He calls upon us to do.

Scriptures:
Psalm 80
Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim. … stir up your strength and come to help us. Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angered despite the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have given them bowls of tears to drink. You have made us the derision of our neighbors, and our enemies laugh us to scorn. Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. You have brought a vine out of Egypt; you cast out the nations and planted it. You prepared the ground for it; it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered by its shadow and the towering cedar trees by its boughs. You stretched out its tendrils to the Sea and its branches to the River… Why have you broken down its wall, so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes? … Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine; preserve what your right hand has planted…And so will we never turn away from you; give us life, that we may call upon your Name. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
John 15:1-17 NIV
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, True Vine of my life! Thank You for grafting me into Your heart! I look back over my life since that 25 year old man knelt at that patio couch in that office and prayed for a fruitful life and I see that You have answered that prayer abundantly. I want to keep bearing the fruit You and I produce! Keep my creativity flowing. Guard my days and nights so that I am healthy and productive. May those who know me but not You sense that the fruit of my life is You. There is no secret of success—You are the reason! You are the True Vine and I am a branch firmly connected to You! All for Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Freely, Freely
Words and Music: Jimmy and Carol Owens

1. God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name,
I’ve been born again in Jesu’s name.
And in Jesus’ name I come to you
To share His love as He told me to. He said

Refrain:
Freely, freely you have received;
Freely, freely give.
Go in my name and because you believe,
Others will know that I live.

2. All power is giv’n in Jesus’ name,
In heaven and earth in Jesus’ name.
And in Jesus’ name I come to you
To share His love as He told me to. He said

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved