February 15 “Endtimes”

Endtimes

Next to the Temple area was the Mount of Olives. From such a height, one longs to see the future.
Jesus and the Twelve left the Temple, the quarreling leaders, and the blushing widow with the deep smile on her face and climbed to an observation point on the Mount of Olives. Without turning the head, the city could be seen in its completeness and the Temple rising to heaven as its centerpiece. A vision like this prompted pride in the past and hope for the future. One of the disciples commented on the solid construction of Herod’s Temple projecting permanence and a future of hope. Jesus let the comment rest on their minds as they completed the climb. When they reached the observation point, He directed their vision to the impressive sight below, but with a dire prophecy.

“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another,
that shall not be thrown down.”

What Will the Future Hold?
This was not at all what the men expected to hear. They expected Jesus to restore the spirituality of the Temple not bring down its buildings. None of them knew what to say so they let the matter drop. Later in a private setting with just Peter, James, and John, the inner circle, Jesus gave more details in response to their questions. They wanted to know when this would happen and what signs to look for.

Jesus told them such important things:

  • Deceivers would could claiming to be from Him or to actually be Him. Do not believe them.
  • The nations of the world will wage war after war against each other.

As terrible as these things will be the end will be yet to come.

  • Natural disasters, earthquakes and famines and troubles of all kinds. Even these things will be just the beginning of sorrows.
  • His followers will be counted as outlaws to be tried and beaten before rulers as a testimony to Him.
  • Through all of these horrors, His people will continue to preach His story until all nations have heard.

The Ministry of the Spirit
Even in these terrible Endtimes, the Holy Spirit will be at work. He will fill the mouths of Christ-followers when they are on trial. To the end, they will speak as a witness that cannot be denied by courts or councils, kings or commoners. Families will be torn asunder by those who will not believe the truth. Believers will be hated and hunted, captured and killed for the sake of the Gospel.

Through it all, believers will have supernatural strength, strength to endure whatever may be hurled at them by a sinful, angry world. This strength of Spirit will carry the faithful through the trials, the torture, even the bloody tide of death to the other side of eternal life and peace.

The disciples were silent. There was nothing they could say. Some, perhaps thought of turning back. Maybe following Jesus was all a mistake. Sitting there in the presence of the Lord as the shadow of the Mount of Olives crept over the city walls toward the Temple, the words of Jesus seemed unreal, impossible, unbelievable. Yet, if they were learning anything, they were learning to believe what Jesus said. Deeper than their thoughts and fears was a stirring in each man’s heart—Jesus had called them, selected them, to follow Him. That calling gripped each man and would not let Him go.

Scriptures:
Mark 13:1-13
Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows. “But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
Luke 21:28
Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your return is near! All the signs You gave Your men are happening now in some part of the world. Be with my brothers and sisters in other lands who do not enjoy religious freedom. They serve You at the risk of their lives. Holy Spirit, give them the words to say that tell the Gospel story even as they go down to suffering and death, just as Jesus promised. We will not be distressed at the signs of the time for we see in them our final hope! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Redemption Draweth Nigh
Words and Music: Gordon Jenson

1. Years of time have come and gone
Since I first heard it told
How Jesus would come again someday
If back then it seemed so real
Then I just can’t help but feel
How much closer His coming is today

Refrain:
Signs of the times are everywhere
There’s a brand new feeling in the air
Keep your eyes upon the eastern sky
Lift up your head redemption draweth nigh

2. Wars and strife on every hand
And violence fills the land
Still some people doubt He’ll ever come again
But the Word of God is true
He’ll redeem His chosen few
Don’t lose hope soon Christ Jesus will descend.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

February 12: “Commandment”

Commandment

In a crowd, there is always at least one who is ready to hear.
It was so that day in the Temple. Team after team had gone to bat against Jesus and had struck out swinging. But on the bench was one scribe whose eyes, ears, and heart were open to Jesus. In the silence of the defeat of his peers, he spoke up.

The Silent Type
He was the silent type, known to avoid loud and useless arguments, rarely speaking but always with an audience. His friends knew his few words were worth hearing. At the sound of his voice, hope began to rise in the opponents of Jesus. The brightest and calmest among them was speaking. Surely he would put this interloper in His place.

“Which is the first commandment of all?”

Jesus immediately perceived the spirit of this man. This was no trick question, no debate strategy. Jesus sensed that the man, among all those who opposed him, had recognized the truth in His words. He was brave, too, brave enough to ask an honest and important question. Jesus smiled at the man, a loving smile, that disarmed His enemies and made everyone else smile, too. His words were as gentle as a mother’s touch.

  • The first commandment is to love God and
  • The second is to love people.
  • No commandments superseded these two.

First and Greatest
The words were familiar to all but when Jesus spoke them a new ring of truth sounded.

  • What to do about the Romans? Love God and love people.
  • How to bring revival to the land? Love God and love people.
  • How to help the hurting people all around? Love God and love people.
  • How to live a victorious life in the face of constant temptation and violent persecution? Love God and love people.

When something is first and greatest in the Kingdom of God, it is worthy of our embrace.

The Truth Spoken
The sincere man had been taken deeper into the heart of God by words he had always known. He replied to Jesus as if speaking to himself.

“Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth…”

He went on to elaborate in the same quiet voice of his original question. A new authority, much like that of Jesus, sounded in his voice. He realized the deep truth as he spoke it. Loving God and loving people,

“…is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

That gentle breeze that often visited the Temple courts came again as the soft words of the scribe began to impact his peers. What? He has gone too far! Offerings and sacrifices are the source of our power over the people! We cannot release these people, these mindless sheep, to just go out and love God and be good to one another! They wouldn’t need us! Before a voice could cry out in protest, Jesus’ soft voice, accompanied by that winning smile, finished the conversation. Looking deep into the eyes of the soft spoken young man, Jesus said,

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

After that, there were no more questions, just shuffling sandals as the scribes lowered their heads and exited to their other, self-empowering duties. One among them, however, one had a new heart glowing in his chest.

In a crowd, there is always at least one who is ready to hear.

Mark 12:28-34
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your ways with me are gentle. Help me be transformed today by words I have heard all my life. Help me obey You today out of love for You and for people. This is the greatest and this is the highest duty in life. And it is the solution to all the problems I face today. This is what I can do about the world. This is how I can serve you with gladness and singleness of heart. This is how You can move through me to make a difference. Open the eyes of my heart to see these first and greatest commands. For Your Glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Open the Eyes of My Heart
Words and Music: Paul Baloche

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.
Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You, I want to see You.
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.
Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You, I want to see You.

To see You high and lifted up,
Shining in the light of Your glory.
Pour out Your power and love
As we sing holy, holy, holy.

Holy, holy, holy! Holy, holy, holy!
Holy, holy, holy, I want to see You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

February 10 “Inscription”

Inscription

There is power in an inscription. It is a deep mark of ownership on something, a coin, a nation, a life.
The first wave of attack had failed. Scribes, elders, and priests proved unable to impugn the authority of Jesus. They called in a more vaunted team: Pharisees and Herodians. This was an uneasy alliance of authorities on the Law of Moses and those who supported the Roman influence of the Herodian kings. They agreed that the nation should submit to Rome since the Empire had supplied them with rulers. The mark of the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, was deeply imprinted on their minds. Flattery would be their opening gambit.

“Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth.”

The oil of flattery oozed from every word they spoke. Most men were subject to it and would slide right into the trap. But not this Man. Jesus stopped and looked at them, waiting for the next play in their game. Into this uncomfortable silence, they had to continue, the leader clearing his suddenly very dry throat.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?

It was a brilliant move! There was no correct answer. To say yes was tantamount to blasphemy. To say no was potential treason. When Jesus did not answer right away, their confidence in their scheme began to grow. The spokesman grew bold, feigning impatience:

Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”

Jesus was not shaken by their tactics. He knew their hearts, always an advantage in these contests.

“Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.”

A coin? A Roman coin? What was this Man up to now? Any confidence the Pharisees and Herodians had gained was now shaken. None of them wished to admit he carried money, of course, so it took a little time for a servant to produce the coin and hand it to Jesus. Jesus took it and turned it over a few times, held it up to the sun as if to see it better, laughed and tossed it back to the smiling servant. At least someone was enjoying this!

“Whose image and inscription is this?”

Everyone knew the answer but Jesus let the silence hang in the air. They had to say the name.

“Caesar’s.”

Jesus made His point:

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

And that was it. Game over. The Pharisees and Herodians had been bested by a carpenter known to ride donkeys.

Empires and Kingdoms
The Empires of men are one thing. The Kingdom of God is an altogether different thing. In the public arena, believers have a civic duty to perform. In the spiritual arena, the followers of Christ have a spiritual duty which goes deeper and higher than our duty to the government. We must live for our King, serving Him in holiness and with prayer, fulfilling His call on our lives. In the process, the nation who is thus served by the Kingdom is a blessed one. God has deeply inscribed His image on His people; we are His!

There is power in an inscription. It is a deep mark of ownership on something, a coin, a nation, a life.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:13-17
Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.
Psalm 33:10-12 NKJV
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your image is stamped on me! Help it to shine clear today in my choices and attitudes and deeds. You have stamped my name deep in Your hand! I will have confidence today in that truth. Lord, help me be faithful in my civic duties rendering unto the government the things that bear its image. I will pray for my leaders, as the Bible instructs, so that we might be at peace in the world and so that fairness shall be the state of the nation. Help me work for the justice and peace that are the foundations of Your throne. To God be the Glory! Amen.

Song:
To Be Like Jesus
Traditional

To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus,
All I asked is to be like Him.
All through life’s journey
From earth to glory,
All I asked is to be like Him.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

February 5 “Hosanna!”

Hosanna!

More than a song of the moment, “Hosanna!” was the heart-cry of a nation in bondage.
Something in the heart of the average citizen of Israel told him that he was made for freedom, not bondage. The presence of Roman soldiers on patrol in the holy streets of the city of David was an affront to this inner sense. It wasn’t right. The Chosen People of God should not chafe in the iron grip of Rome.

Other potential “Messiahs” had arisen only to be captured by Rome and proved to be powerless. The religious leaders had a stake in the status quo; trouble with Rome was trouble for them. With the exception of a devout priest here and there, they had no interest in Messiah. They had heard about Jesus and were ready for Him.

The people had heard about Him, too. Many had relatives from the north who were in the miraculously fed multitudes, or were family members who had been healed or delivered at Jesus’ hand or spoken word. Now the miracle man had come to the city. There was reason to hope, reason to take up the ancient hopeful shouts for Messiah—“Hosanna!”

Hosanna—“Save Us Now!”
The word has a specific meaning—“Save us now!” It was a cry for rescue, for a miracle of deliverance. It is an expressed hope in the ultimate plan of God for the nation. They were a people under covenantal relationship with Jehovah God. If they would be faithful in worship, He would keep them free and make them a blessing to the whole world. The conditions of Roman occupation were a far cry from these promises. For 400 years, since the appearance of the last of the Prophets, the heavens had been silent; there was no new word from the Lord. The people had been faithful to the Temple and the calendar and still the Romans remained in power, the latest in a long list of conquerors. When would Jehovah act? When would Messiah come? This man riding the donkey was the best hope they had so they took up the song.

‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’

While they sang, people in the crowd threw their clothes in Jesus’ path and cut down leafy branches to wave in honor to Him and to pave the way for the donkey. This donkey rider had done things none of the others had done. He seemed to have come in the name—and the power—of the Lord.

“Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord!”

It was said He was the Son of David. This was another reason to hope. The storied glories of David and Solomon might come again with riches and tribute flowing into the nation rather than out to Rome. Peace was what they wanted and safe borders. It was a good time for the promises of the Covenant to come true again.

Into the Temple and Out
Jesus road to the Temple, dismounted and carefully examined all that He saw. If the praises of the crowd did not lift His spirits, the conditions in the Temple took them even deeper into sadness. Due to the lateness of the hour, Jesus and the Twelve retired from the Temple area and the city itself to a house in Bethany.

Scriptures
Mark 11:7-11
Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Blessed is the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Prayer:
Lord, Jesus, thank You for salvation, full and free! The cries and prayers of the multitude have been answered. The praises of the crowd have been realized. You are King. You are Savior. You are Messiah! You are mounted well and in splendor, ruling in majesty and righteousness and justice and peace. Thank You, Lord! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hallelujah, Amen!

Song:
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
Words: Jennette Threlfall; Music: Traditional

1. Hosanna, loud hosanna the little children sang;
through pillared court and temple the lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them, close folded to his breast,
the children sang their praises, the simplest and the best.

2 From Olivet they followed mid an exultant crowd,
the victory palm branch waving, and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of earth and heaven rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children should on his bidding wait.

3 “Hosanna in the highest!” That ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven, our King.
O may we ever praise him with heart and life and voice,
and in his blissful presence eternally rejoice.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

February 4: “Colt”

Colt

Kings don’t ride donkeys. Everyone knows that.
Kings ride proud, prancing steeds bedecked in armor and battle colors. The whole scene is an act of public theatre designed to impress the masses with the mastery of their champion over the finest examples of horseflesh.

Servants ride donkeys. They do not prance; they plod. They are naked beneath their load save a dirty blanket or two. The message the rider and donkey deliver is one of humility, poverty, and servanthood.

A Man and His Animal
In a village on the way to Jerusalem, near the Mount of Olives, a man tied his freshly weaned young donkey, just a colt, not far removed from his mother, to a post near the city gate. He had been waiting for this day, watching the colt mature into a proper beast of burden, as much a pet as an asset. This was a devout man who thought often about Messiah and who prayed regularly to be used of God in his homeland.

Jesus and Jerusalem
Jesus knew that when He arrived at the gates of Jerusalem an impromptu parade would break out. He would need an animal to ride to lift Himself above the throng and keep the procession from descending into chaos. In preparation for this event, Jesus sent two of His men into a nearby village. Their mission was to find a mount for Jesus to ride into the city. They were not aware of the purpose of their mission, just the mission itself. Jesus was specific in His instructions:

  • Go to the village.
  • Upon entering you will see a young, unbroken, donkey tied to a post.
  • Without asking anyone, untie it and bring it.
  • If anyone stops you and asks what you are doing, just tell them this:

‘The Lord has need of it.’

Evidently Jesus foresaw the owner of the colt and knew that God was already speaking to him. Without a word of protest the proud owner of the colt let these strangers take the unknowing beast. Amazing.

The Texas Cowboy
A story is told of a rough and tumble Texas cowboy whose mother was praying that he would become a follower of Christ. He knew that he was a maverick at heart and doubted anyone could control his behavior. Reluctantly, he attended a Sunday morning service. The preacher told the story of Jesus and the unbroken donkey colt. Before the invitation could be given the man ran to the altar to give his heart to Jesus. As the people rejoiced, his praying mother among them, he was asked what had moved him to accept Jesus. His answer came from his cowboy world, so familiar with horses, cows, mules, and donkeys. “If Jesus can ride an unbroken donkey, He can ride herd on me!”

The Power of Humility
As we shall see in the days ahead, the power of Jesus was not an act of public theatre designed to give an impression of regal standing. His power was so great that riding on a young colt became an act of royalty.

Scriptures
Mark 11:1-6
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.” So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go.
Zechariah 9:9 NKJV
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I invite You again today to be the master of my day, of my heart, of my life. I will join the procession of praise. I will engage with the multitudes who serve You today to advance Your Kingdom. Somehow, in Your astounding grace, use me! Give me purpose and responsibilities and help me to never fail to answer Your call to service. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
All Hail King Jesus
Words and Music: Dave Moody

All hail King Jesus All hail Emmanuel
King of Kings Lord of Lords
Bright Morning Star
And throughout eternity
I’ll sing Your Praises
And I’ll reign with You throughout eternity

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

February 2 “Serving”

Serving

Witnessing miracles impresses the mind but does not change the heart.
Consider for a moment what the Twelve had seen: countless healings, confused opponents, conquered demons and two miraculously catered lunches in the wilderness. Think of the teachings of Jesus they had heard; lessons on greed and sharing, pride and humility, leadership and servanthood, punishment in hell and rewards in heaven, and still they didn’t get it. Their hearts remained unchanged, carnal not spiritual. Two of the fisherman brothers made the most amazing statement to Him.

“Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

We know from other accounts that their mother had great ambitions for them. She could not know that James would be the first of them killed for the sake of Christ and that John would outlive all the rest. She must have transferred her ambitions for her sons to the brothers. Jesus answered:

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

Pause for a moment to let the audacity of their request sink into your heart. We need to fall before the Lord seeking what He wants us to do for Him, not the other way around! There was no shame in their carnal hearts, not even enough class to cloak their conceit.

“Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

Amazing. But their conceit went even deeper in response to Jesus’ rebuke and challenge.

“You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

“We are able” was their astounding reply. Jesus assured them that they would indeed share His baptism of death in the service of Life and that their futures were in God’s capable hands. The other disciples heard all of this and were much displeased with their colleagues and secretly glad that they had not earned such a rebuke and prophecy. Jesus called them all together as He often did when their hearts drove them apart.

No Lordship Options
At this moment Jesus announced a binding rule of leadership for those who would follow Him. According to unredeemed human nature, Gentiles ruled by lordship—raw power, rank manipulation, and rancid self-serving.

“Yet it shall not be so among you.”

There is no wiggle room here, no plan B, no alternative in case of emergencies. Human-powered leadership is not the Jesus-way, not ever, not then, not now, not at all. We must not cry out to Jesus for help as we lead and then proceed in a manor abhorrent to Him. To ask God to bless ungodly leadership methods is as foolish and arrogant as the pride of James and John.

“…but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.”

Jesus, of course, was the supreme example of this kind of leadership. It cost Him His life and gave us ours.

Scriptures:
Mark 10:35-45
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am embarrassed for James and John yet I must confess that I am prone to similar conceits. Save me from pride and ambition for the glory of my own name. I reserve the depths of my heart for Your glory, my ambitions for Your service. Help me be a servant leader today. Reveal to me the disgust You have for leaders who would seek to advance Your Kingdom by their own power, politics, and personalities. These things are abhorrent to You. You treasure humility and servanthood. When I obey You not just in the ends sought but in the means You taught, then I can expect Your power to flow in my life. Lord, make me like You! Amen.

Song:
Oh, To Be Like Thee
Words: Thomas O. Chisholm; Music: William J. Kirkpatrick

1. Oh! to be like Thee, blessed Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Refrain:
Oh! to be like Thee, oh! to be like Thee,
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

2. Oh! to be like Thee, full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinner to find.

Refrain

3. Oh! to be like Thee, lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer, others to save.

Refrain

4. Oh! to be like Thee, Lord, I am coming,
Now to receive th’ anointing divine;
All that I am and have I am bringing,
Lord, from this moment all shall be Thine.

Refrain

5. Oh! to be like Thee, while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love,
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

January 30 “Riches”

Riches

Wealth and the Kingdom of God are vitally related. It is a mistake to say they are in opposition to each other.
The Bible makes it clear that it is the love of money that is a root that brings forth only evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) Money is an essential to this life we live. It is also a window into the soul of the one who has it in great quantities. For those who love the Kingdom of God more than money, their wealth is a source of blessing, of advancing the Kingdom. More than impressive totals, ministry accrues.

Defining Riches
A simple definition would be this: having much more than you need to get along. Those who exist from paycheck to paycheck may handle lots of money but they are not rich. Those whose lives are a constant stream of blessing to the needs of others may often nearly deplete their accounts in the process but they are rich in heaven’s eyes. So it isn’t so much an issue of numbers, but of the heart.

The Rich Young Ruler
After boasting of his faithfulness to the commandments, he walked away in shame when Jesus revealed what was lacking in his life. He had great possessions, or to put it more accurately, his possessions had him. He was not ready to sell everything and follow Jesus. Wishing to make the point clear, Jesus said:

“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”

This surprising statement caught the Twelve off guard. Like everyone else, they knew that money, not just gravity, made the world go round. Won’t the Kingdom need rich people? Jesus made a second attempt to explain. It was a matter of having riches or trusting in them.

“Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!

At that moment a string of camels took the right-of-way, lumbering along, interrupting the conversation. Jesus seized the moment.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Each of them tried to imagine such a ridiculous event. Their astonishment grew like they wished their riches would grow.

“Who then can be saved?”

A Different Kind of Kingdom
Now they were getting somewhere. Jesus was bringing a different kind of Kingdom to earth, one based on the love of God, not the power of men. Money is time. Money is power—we know the clichés because they are true—in the Kingdom of men. In the Kingdom of God, riches are a means to an end, not an end—a tool for the work of the Kingdom, not the work itself. God uses money like He uses our talents and skills, our very lives.

“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

What is unlikely with men is routine with God. What is impossible in the Kingdom of Men is possible in this strange new Kingdom of God. A person can possess great possessions without being possessed by them. A person can have riches without being had by them. The secret is the first and second commandments: Love God and love people! When these loves are greater than the love for riches, blessings flow through the believer to the betterment of the world.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 23-28
Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Matthew 6:19-21
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have promised that if I followed You, putting Your Kingdom first in my life, that my life’s needs would be met. You have proven faithful in this! Lord, when abundance comes my way, help be a blessing to others. Help me lay up treasures in heaven and not just here below. Lord, as I am faithful to You in my giving, flow through me to the healing of my world and beyond. Keep me from the love of riches. In Jesus’s Name. Amen.

Song:
Give of Your Best to the Master
Words: Howard B. Groce; Music: Claribel

1. Give of your best to the Master;
Give of the strength of your youth;
Throw your soul’s fresh, glowing ardor
Into the battle for truth.
Jesus has set the example,
Dauntless was He, young and brave;
Give Him your loyal devotion;
Give Him the best that you have.

Refrain:
Give of your best to the Master;
Give of the strength of your youth;
Clad in salvation’s full armor,
Join in the battle for truth.

2. Give of your best to the Master;
Give Him first place in your heart;
Give Him first place in your service;
Consecrate every part.
Give, and to you will be given;
God His beloved Son gave;
Gratefully seeking to serve Him,
Give Him the best that you have.

Refrain

3. Give of your best to the Master;
Naught else is worthy His love;
He gave Himself for your ransom,
Gave up His glory above.
Laid down His life without murmur,
You from sin’s ruin to save;
Give Him your heart’s adoration;
Give Him the best that you have.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

January 26 “Greatest”

Greatest

Sometimes it seems all of life is a contest to determine who or what is the Greatest.
Jesus passed through Galilee in secret on His way to Capernaum. He explained this clandestine approach to the Twelve: a plot was forming against Him led by someone who wanted to betray Him. He told them the time would come for this but it was not then and not there. The men could not understand this at all. A dispute rose up among them concerning what Jesus meant. He assured them that when it eventually did happen that it would not be the end. He would rise on the third day.

Jesus in the Lead
Jesus walked ahead of the group, leading the way south. A group in the rear, safely out of earshot from Jesus, shifted the topic to a more pleasant one—who among them would be the greatest and take the lead in the new Kingdom. Knowing this, Jesus brought the subject out into the open.

“What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?”

It was useless to answer Him so they didn’t. Jesus stopped and found a place to sit by the road. Sheepishly the men gathered around for another lesson in leadership.

“If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

No long lecture. No puzzling parables. Just one simple hypothesis with no elaborate proofs offered in evidence.

A New Kingdom
The Kingdom of Heaven would be the direct opposite of the Kingdoms of men. Instead of leaders having servants, servants will lead! Power, which so often corrupts, will be seen as responsibility, which often leads to integrity. Humility will replace pride as the ruling sentiment. How could He illustrate this fundamental for them?

At that moment a family with children walked by the roadside classroom. Politely, Jesus asked the parents of a small child if He could hold the child. Perhaps they knew who He was, but at least they sensed He could be trusted.

Quickly, Jesus made a friend of the child bringing joy into all those who witnessed this object lesson. He looked at the crowd and with a big smile said this.

“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me;
and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Childlike faith will be the standard of the Kingdom to come. The least will be the greatest and the greatest will be the smiling servants of all. What a glorious Kingdom it will be!

He lifted the child and handed him/her back to the parents. They thanked Him as if He had blessed them with a valuable gift. Indeed, He had! The family went on their way as did Jesus and the Twelve. This time there was no dispute, in fact, no conversation at all. Nothing needed to be said but everything that had been said required deep thought.

Scriptures:
Mark 9:30-37
Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him. Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the greatest of all! Help me know that to strive to be the greatest in Your Kingdom is the opposite of my natural instincts. To be first with You is to take the lowest place. To lead is to serve. Help me welcome responsibility while I shun power. Lord, make me to become like You. You emptied Yourself of heavenly majesty to become a person of low estate. Help me have that same mind in me. All for Your glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
The Greatest Thing in All My Life
Words and Music: Mark Pendegrass

1. The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
I want to know You more
I want to know You more
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You

2. The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
I want to love You more
I want to love You more
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You

3. The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
I want to serve You more
I want to serve You more
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 23 “Denial”

Denial

Just as we are called to confess Christ, we are also called to deny ourselves to follow Him.
The crowds were huge. The miracles were many. His fame had spread beyond Galilee to Jerusalem. Pilgrims seeking God were coming to Galilee rather than traveling to the Temple. When they came to Jesus they saw the power of God at work, undeniable miracles, signs, and wonders. In Jerusalem they saw politics as usual dressed in the finery of hypocrisy. They were tired of mumbling rabbis so they came to Jesus to hear the Word of God proclaimed in power and authority.

A Change of Subject
Jesus knew it was time to take His teaching deeper. Yes, He had come to touch and heal a hurting humanity but He had also come to die a redeeming death. Yes, He was the Word of God made flesh, but He was also the Sin Bearer prophesied by Isaiah. This hard message must be delivered. If not, His death would be seen as tragedy rather than triumph.

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…

His disciples were not ready for this class. Peter took Jesus aside and tried to get Him back on topic. Jesus’ rebuke was sharp:

“Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Peter’s face burned red and none of the others dared even to look at him for they knew they were just as guilty.

The Things of God
It is not surprising that men would be primarily concerned about “the things of men:” food, clothing, shelter, power, position, wealth, influence. The surprising thing was that their eyes could be elevated to a higher vision, their passions could flow to others and not to self only, and that their minds could conceive of eternal truth, not just matters of the here and now. Yet, this surprising transformation in men was precisely what Jesus had come to bring about. He called all the people nearer, including his embarrassed disciples, and taught them this new and very ancient truth. To follow Him, there would be a heavy cost.

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

Jesus turned life upside down. Personal success was found in self-denial. To lose one’s life in Jesus was to find it. If someone gained the whole world there would be no profit in it if he lost his own soul in the process.

Crosses
For the first time Jesus spoke of His cross. An implement of death, it provides eternal life for all who believe. He spoke of other crosses, one for each person who would follow Him. Although demanding the denial of self, this cross would be a thing of life—a life’s work we do for Him. If we would follow Him, we must deny ourselves, find our cross—God’s will for us—and do it.

This is the life we were created to live. We dare not bargain it away on “the things of men.”

“…what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Scriptures:
Mark 8:31-38
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for taking up Your cross, for denying Your humanity and submitting to the plan of the Father for Your earthly life. It was not plan B. It was so for the beginning, that You would create human life, see it fall into sin, and then enter it through the virgin’s womb, live it to perfection and then die unworthily for those of us so worthy of death. Your cross, an instrument of torture, has become an implement of life. Help me today to be faithful in bearing my cross—Your plan for me—that I might bring someone closer to You. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Take Up Thy Cross and Follow Me
Words and Music: Alfred H. Ackley

1. I walked one day along a country road,
And there a stranger journeyed too,
Bent low beneath the burden of His load:
It was a cross, a cross I knew.

Refrain:
“Take up thy cross and follow Me,”
I hear the blessed Savior call;
How can I make a lesser sacrifice,
When Jesus gave His all?

2. I cried, “Lord Jesus,” and He spoke my name;
I saw His hands all bruised and torn;
I stooped to kiss away the marks of shame,
The shame for me that He had borne.

Refrain

3. “Oh, let me bear Thy cross, dear Lord,” I cried,
And, lo, a cross for me appeared,
The one, forgotten, I had cast aside,
The one, so long, that I had feared.

Refrain

4. My cross I’ll carry till the crown appears—
The way I journey soon will end—
Where God Himself shall wipe away all tears,
And friend hold fellowship with friend.
Refrain

<em>Semper Reformanda!</em>
<em>Stephen Phifer</em>
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<em> © 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved</em>

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

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.