July 10 “Analogies”

Analogies

The Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality.
Jesus employed analogies, comparisons to material things, to help us “see” the Kingdom. Sometimes these were elaborate short stories, parables illustrating a life lesson. At other times, the analogy was a single image and it is up to us to make the application.

The Mustard Seed
The Kingdom of God is like this tiny seed, easily overlooked but full of life and potential. When we take in the Word of God, the seed of the Kingdom, and tend it carefully in our hearts, it takes root. Like a huge tree growing from a small source, the truth of the Kingdom grows deep in the heart, drawing nutrients from roots deep in God’s presence. In time and with careful care—discipleship—the Kingdom matures in the believer and he/she becomes a whole, healthy, productive tree.

The Leaven of the Gospel
Jesus mentioned leaven. What is that? Here is the second definition from Webster’s: “something that modifies or lightens.” Jesus was talking about a chemical reaction in bread, making it lighter and more palatable. The gospel is like that change agent. A test of whether a person is truly a follower of Jesus is the presence of change, not just change, but improvement. Like yeast in bread, the gospel of Christ changes us.

  • The believer is modified by the Gospel when it is obeyed. We are altered by what we believe for believing in Jesus demands a new lifestyle. Old things begin to pass away and all things begin a process of becoming new. This is not reform; this is transformation! The words spoken over those who are baptized in water as an outward sign of this transformation express this: “Buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life.”
  • To use the definition from Webster, the believer is made lighter by the entrance of Jesus. In what way? The guilt of sin is taken away. We no longer bear the burden of our mistakes or evil deeds. In their place, is the “easy yoke” and the “light burden” promised to those who follow Jesus.

More than the chemical reaction in bread when it rises, the leaven of the Gospel transforms the believer from the inside out.

The Narrow Gate
How does one enter into this transformational life? Although the way has been opened by Jesus to all, most people will not use the gate. Why? Because, the Gate, indeed, is a narrow one. It requires the denial of self, the voluntary taking up of a cross (God’s plan for one’s life) and the restructuring of one’s life around God’s will. The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane becomes the daily confession: “Not my will but Thine, O Lord.”

Most people just aren’t going to do this. Many will get the outward routines right without the tending of the mustard seed or submitting to the work of the leaven. When judgment comes, they will discover that they were fakes, never yielding to the inner work of the Spirit and settling instead for the wide, wide gate of the masses—human nature.

Jesus predicted that King Herod and Jerusalem would find themselves excluded while the unknown, unheralded, true believers, those of mustard seed faith and the leaven of the Gospel, will go in to enjoy the Goodness of Heaven.

In the words of Isaiah, “Go through the Gate!” The leaven of positive change is waiting and the Good Seed of the Word is yours to enjoy when you believe the Gospel.

Scriptures:
Luke: 13:18-35

Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.” And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, “Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’ Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I believe in Your Story—the Gospel of Christ. I am not ashamed of it. I embrace the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Help me to carefully tend the seed of the Word You have deposited in my Heart. I open my life to the wonderful working of Your Holy Spirit, the leaven of heaven. Change me, Lord! Lighten my life! Alter my thinking and the deeds of this day! I love the Narrow Gate for I know I will find You there! Amen.

Song:
Into My Heart

Words and Music: Harry D. Clarke

Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today. Come in to stay.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus,

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 22 “Weeds”

Weeds

When the seed is precious and the soil is rich, weeds will grow.
That’s just the way it is. This is a fallen world infested with fakes and frauds—human weeds. They take up space without adding anything to the garden. They use up resources without yielding any measurable results. They hinder the intended harvest by choking the healthy stalks of wheat. That’s just the way it is.

How did the weeds get into the wheat field? Jesus said the enemy crept in while the owners slept and sowed the weed seed in the field. Lesson? Everyone should never sleep at the same time—keep an around-the-clock watch. These were not just any weeds; they were tares, a plant that looks like wheat until it reaches maturity. The farmer is not surprised when workers reported the illicit, destructive plants standing next to the wheat, waving in the same breeze. He knew he had an enemy capable of this attack. When asked if the workers should pull the weeds, the owner declined; his primary goal was to protect the good plants. Each one was too important to risk just to spoil the enemy’s plot. At the time of the harvest the differences between the tares and the wheat will be so clearly seen the harvesters can actually mount two campaigns, one to remove the weeds and the other to harvest the wheat. They will bind the tares together in bundles to burn them. From the same field, wheat went into the owners’ barn and the tares went into the fire. The enemy’s plot did not destroy the harvest.

Lesson’s from Parables
These little stories from Jesus still ring with truth more than 2000 years later. They teach us truths for today:

  • “The Wheat and the Tares:” Until the Lord returns, the church will have deceivers and hypocrites in its ranks. At first they appear to be genuine believers but time tells the tale. Eventually, their true nature will be revealed and God will deal with them.
  • “Mustard Seed Faith:” Faith in God is so powerful, that an amount that seems small by society’s standards is actually a powerful force for good in the world. There are tall, healthy trees that shelter the land and host families of birds that grew from tiny seeds. So it is with the person of faith; insignificant in the eyes of the world but doing the work of God in the earth.
  • “The Leaven of Faith:” It doesn’t get the headlines like heroic deeds or horrific sins, but a life of faith in Christ changes the world. As leaven causes the dough to rise in the oven to become a nourishing loaf, so the person of faith is a blessing to everyone.

People of Faith
Putting these three parables together, we see that though there are hypocrites in the church, there are more genuine followers of Christ. These people are people of faith and they make all the difference in this world. They do the work of the Kingdom by the power of the Spirit. The world may measure their beliefs and behavior as small and insignificant, the truth is, their faith is a major force for good. Their faith in Christ is like a spiritual-chemical reaction in their heart, changing them even as the heat of life increases. They emerge from life’s oven, stronger, sweeter, and substantial enough to feed the world.

Scriptures:
Matthew 13:24-35
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘” Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to be a person of great faith. Teach me great truths to fuel my faith. Show me great prayers to pray so my faith can grow. I know that without faith it is impossible to please You. That means that with faith I can please You. That is my heart’s desire. May faith be the leaven in my life. Though the world may think my measure of faith is small, I know You will give me enough for the task. Lord Jesus, I want to be a person of great faith. Amen.

Song:
Faith Is the Victory
Words: John Henry Yates; Music: Ira David. 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,
Salvation’s helmet on each head,
With truth all girt about,
And onward to the fray
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

April 20 “Understanding”

Understanding

The nearness of Jesus increases our capacity to understand things.
God created everyone with five senses to help us understand the world around us. When Jesus comes into our hearts, the Holy Spirit enables us to understand spiritual things. It is much more than a sixth sense; it is an inner capacity to know God. This is one of the four promises God makes to us in the New Covenant. Before the fall of the human race into sin, Adam and Eve knew God—they had a capacity to understand spiritual realities. Sin disrupted this capacity leaving sinful people stumbling in the dark in spiritual matters. The imagination takes over, aided by hell itself, to create all the crazy beliefs about the spirit world.

“Given to you to know the mysteries…”
The disciples asked Jesus why He taught the people using parables. In His answer He explained that only those who had answered His call to follow Him had been given the beginnings of this New Covenant understanding. The multitude, even those who had been touched and healed, did not possess this inner capacity to understand spiritual things. The earthly ministry of Jesus was a time of transition between the covenants. He spoke as if the New Covenant were already in place; perhaps because His heart was already set on the cross, the final sacrifice that would seal the New Covenant. At the Last Supper He declared that the blood of the New Covenant was His blood. Until that time, the proximity of Jesus in the lives of the disciples set them apart from the crowd. For those of us on this side of the New Covenant, the promise to understand spiritual things is in full force. We have the Holy Spirit resident in our lives to teach us the facts, to show us the signs, to reveal to us the mysteries, and to amplify our capacity to understand the Bible.

With Understanding Comes Responsibility.
Jesus gives a promise and a warning:

“For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance;
but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

Like a muscle or the brain itself, regular use increases capacity. If we explore spiritual things, the very things we discover will increase our capacity to understand more. On the other hand, if we are lazy and disinterested in spiritual things, our capacity to know God and to understand spiritual things will fade. It is sometimes said that to waste a mind is a terrible thing. To squander the illumination of the Holy Spirit in our lives is much, much worse. When we read the Bible, pray at our private altar, or gather with the saints before the Throne of God in public worship, we are expanding our capacity to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

“But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear”

Jesus pointed out the transition at work that day. The prophets of old could not see in their day what the disciples were seeing. The patriarchs did not hear what those close to Jesus and following Him were hearing.

The nearness of Jesus increases our capacity to understand things.

Scripture:
Matthew 13:10-9
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Hebrews 8:8-12
He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my teacher! Holy Spirit, you bring light to my understanding of spiritual things. Thank You for this gift! Help me to regularly go to Your Word for understanding, to pray in the Secret Place where the Father is so that I might see things clearly, and to be faithful to Your House of Prayer so that we who have been called out of darkness into Your marvelous light can see You high and lifted up and therefore, see the world clearly. Help me to walk in the Light as You are in the Light, seeing and understanding all things. Amen.

Song:
More about Jesus
Words: Eliza E, Hewitt; Music: John. R. Sweney

1. More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of his saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

Refrain:
More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

2 More about Jesus let me learn,
More of his holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.

Refrain

3. More about Jesus in His Word,
Holding communion with my Lord;
Hearing his voice in ev’ry line,
Making each faithful saying mine.

Refrain

4. More about Jesus on his throne,
Riches in glory all His own;
More if His kingdom’s sure increase;
More of His coming, Prince of peace.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved