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

January 7 “Sabbath”

Sabbath

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

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

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

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

“Stretch out your hand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Repeat)

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 25 “Simeon”

Simeon

At his advanced age, Simeon saw every day as a gift from God.
He needed little sleep so he was well-rested even though he had prayed most of the night. In the darkness of his cell, he sometimes lost track of time, mixing early morning with early evening yet he paid special attention to the mornings.

Through those long nights Simeon rehearsed a promise from God. The Lord had told him that he would not taste of death until he had seen Messiah in the flesh. He was convinced that some morning a young couple would appear at the Temple to dedicate their son and not just any son—the Promised One!—and he would be there to see Him! Dedications were a common occurrence but Simeon never wondered how he would recognize the One he sought. With such a promise, he left the details to God.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus
On the eighth day after that unforgettable night in the stable at Bethlehem Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple for consecration to God. With the gold presented to them by the kings, they had paid their taxes and moved to rooms in Jerusalem. A benefit of the taxation was their proximity to the Temple for the dedication of Jesus.

As they entered the outer court, they had to stand in line with other parents of other boys waiting for the attention of the priests. Mary’s heart was racing just as it had the night the angel came to visit. She felt they were on the verge of something wonderful. Joseph felt it, too.

While they waited, Simeon, elderly and a stranger to them, obviously a priest but not one on duty, approached them. They could see the excitement in his pale eyes. His approach had the feel of an angel drawing near. An older lady was a few steps behind him, fully capturing the scene.

Simeon whispered to Joseph. He and Mary exchanged glances and, by instinct, allowed it. They watched the old man stare into the eyes of the child as tears began to flow down his ancient cheeks. He lifted his eyes to heaven and thanked God for this day. His worn voice vibrated with conviction:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation…”

Reluctantly, Simeon handed the child back to Mary. He looked into her eyes for the longest time as if judging whether to say what was in his heart. Mary returned his look and nodded the slightest bit, letting him know that she wanted to hear whatever it was he had to say. He prophesied more about Jesus;:

“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign which will be spoken against

And he added this, just to Mary:

“…yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also…”

She returned his gaze as if she needed to hear more.

“…that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Yes, thought Mary, we must know the hearts of people. Some will be trustworthy but others… Her thoughts broke off. There was no way to see what was ahead.

His mission completed, Simeon sighed and turned to look at his friend, Anna. As if on cue, she joined their little group.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:25-35 NKJV
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I, like Simeon, have promises from You. Some of them I enjoy every day; others seem long in coming. Grow my faith through the hearing of Your Word. Encourage my heart through my relationships with my brothers and sisters in You. I will rehearse Your promises in worship. I will keep constant my remembrance of Your blessings in thanksgiving. Tune my heart to each day’s music and train me eyes to see each day’s potential. In these ways, I will walk in Your steps and be ready when my promise comes to me. In Your Name, Lord Jesus.

Song:
Break forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light
Words: Johann von Rist (trans. John Troutbeck) Music: Johann Schop

1. Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light,and usher in the morning;
O shepherds, shrink not with affright,but hear the angel’s warning.
This Child, now weak in infancy, our confidence and joy shall be;
the pow’r of Satan breaking, our peace eternal making.

2. Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light, to herald our salvation;
He stoops to earth–the God of might, our hope and expectation.
He comes in human flesh to dwell, our God with us, Immanuel;
the night of darkness ending, our fallen race befriending.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 20 “Shepherds”

Shepherds

Someone else owned the sheep; shepherds merely cared for them.
If there was an economic ladder, they occupied the bottom rung. It was a “starter job” providing the young with employment. Former shepherds went on to more important occupations and kept their humble beginnings a well-guarded secret. A few saw being a shepherd as a satisfying life and stayed with it to old age. They loved being out of doors and the time it gave them to think. When asked, they shared their wisdom with the young and each kept a mental list of those who had gone on to bigger things.

There was always King David to think about.
They sang his songs, the songs of their hero, born like them, in Bethlehem. He wrote them in these very fields. He even claimed that the Lord Himself was the Shepherd of us all. They sang to the sheep and to each other, sharing their own kind of riches: peace, quiet, faith, and a certain confidence in the morning to come.

There were predators out there in the dark beyond the safety of the fire. The sheep bunched together to defend against them. Any hint on the wind of the lion or the wolf would radiate through the flock altering the shepherds to the danger. The system worked. From generation to generation wealth was measured by the size and health of the flocks a rich man owned. He owned them but shepherds cared for them.

This night was to be so different.
The songs were the same. The noise of the flock was as it had always been. No predators stalked the sheep out there in the dark. There was nothing unusual to report. Their thoughts drifted to dreams of what life might hold for the young and memories of what life held for the old. The present moment held little interest.

Suddenly light flooded the camp, pouring from the skies above them. Shepherd and sheep alike considered running but there was no place to run. From the brightest point a figure began to form—a man, tall and powerful—within the light but also made of light or something like it. A face formed as the man began to speak. Music, distant but distinct, accompanied the voice. They could not understand the angel’s language at first but as they listened the words became clear as did the message.

“Do not be afraid… good tidings of great joy …. For there is born … in the city of David a Savior… You will find a Babe … lying in a manger.”

Before the shepherds could process the words of the one angel, the sky was filled with them. They sang in a plethora of languages but among them was a clear declaration:

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

The light, the singing, the glory all began to swirl in extreme celebration. As powerful as it was there was peace in the middle of it and smiles replaced the fearful looks on the shepherds’ faces. When it seemed it would go on forever, it all began to fade and was soon gone leaving the peaceful night untouched. In the silence that followed, shepherds, from the youngest to the oldest, decided that the thing to do was to obey the angel. They left the sheep and struck out for Bethlehem.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:8-20 NKJV
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Prayer:
Father, we cannot fully understand why You chose to announce the birth of Your Son to shepherds but we draw from it certain truths. Lord Jesus, You came for all of us, from the least to the greatest, from the very rich to the very poor. We rejoice in this condescension. You love us all! You came to redeem us all! Because of this, each of us has a future. Each of us is a part of Your plan; we each have a purpose. Help me live up to that purpose today! In Jesus’ Name! Amen.

Song:
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night
Words: Nahum Tate; Music: G.F. Handel

1. While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground,
an angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around.

2. “Fear not,” said he for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind
“glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.

3. “To you, in David’s town, this day is born of David’s line
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord; and this shall be the sign:

4. “The heavenly babe you there shall find to human view displayed,
all simply wrapped in swaddling clothes and in a manger laid.”

5. Thus spoke the angel. Suddenly appeared a shining throng
of angels praising God, who thus addressed their joyful song:

6. “All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace;
to those on whom his favor rests goodwill shall never cease.”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 18 “Inn”

Inn

All they needed was accommodations—a room for the night.
With seven words, Dr. Luke introduces a most fruitful image into the Christmas story: “…there was no room for them in the inn.” This bit of history has birthed so much fiction:

  • If there was an inn there had to be an innkeeper and he had to have a wife.
  • The manger meant there was a barn or someplace unfit for the birthplace of a king.
  • If there was no room for them then the people at the inn were so caught up in their own lives they missed the most important thing.

It is the firm conviction of this writer that these sketchy histories exist precisely for the purpose of firing our imaginations. As we fill in the missing details, the story becomes more real to us.

So there was an inn in Bethlehem.
The end of the torturous journey for a young woman “great with child” was a first century version of a No Vacancy sign. There was a stable out back where beasts of burden rested tired limbs and aching backs. It would have to do for an exhausted Joseph and a sore, weary Mary. No one knew better than she that her time was near.

Joseph, the planner, the builder, the careful, caring husband did his best to make his wife comfortable. It was a losing cause. Her discomfort was beyond the reach of his skills and the possibilities of the primitive conditions. She did not blame him, of course. None of it was his fault. It was part of the blessing for which they had been chosen. Joseph had prepared for this moment by listening to the advice of his mother and Mary’s. Knowing this, he and Mary waited. He fed and watered the donkey.

They were ready.
The extra blankets they had brought along were put to good use, propping Mary up and shielding off the chill of night. None of the guests at the inn knew about them or cared. The innkeeper did not visit to check on them. He was too busy with his paying guests to worry about this unfortunate couple. The animals were quiet and the wind stopped at the frail door to the stable. They were so alone.

But they were not alone.
Unseen by them, angels stood at every corner of the stable. Each heavenly guard stood at an unusual alert. This was no routine assignment. Angels knew of the miracle that escaped the notice of the people at the inn. The One Who Sits on the Throne had somehow abandoned glory for this humble inn and its barn. He was soon to be born. The mystery of human life that fascinated angels was about to unfold before them—birth!—new life! An infant, helpless but full of potential, would enter the world. The clock of mortality would start ticking for the little one, measuring a life fading even as it begins.

As the pains become sharper and more frequent, Mary held Joseph’s hand. Together they grew strength with each whisper of the name, “Jesus.”

Luke 2:1-7 KJV
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Bethlehem was prophesied; the back room of an inn was a surprise. The joy of Your birth is clothed in irony and pain. Christmas today retains this uneasy duet of hope and sadness. We rejoice in the songs of the season and think deeply of those we have lost who in Christmases past rejoiced with us. It is a time of having and losing, of smiles and tears, of singing hope and uneasy doubt. Lord, help me adjust to the situation the way it is and find the comfort You provide. Assure me that angels are ever on guard and that Your name is the most powerful prayer I can pray. Jesus! Amen.

Song:
What Child Is This?
Words: W. Chatterton Dix; Music: Greensleeves

1 What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Refrain:
This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

2 Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Refrain

3 So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 16 “Taxed”

Taxed

Mary and Joseph lived in a real world at a specific time in history.
In his astounding account of the life of Jesus, Dr. Luke cites dates and locations to anchor his report in verifiable facts. Rome taxed Joseph and Mary in many ways: money, energy, convenience and personal risk. At the late stages of a pregnancy, a young mother-to-be should not have to trek 40+ miles past Jerusalem down to Bethlehem, the City of David.

It is easy to imagine Joseph’s anger and frustration. A good man wants to control things and Joseph must have felt he could control nothing. Ignoring the taunts and whispers of the town he served, he tried his best to provide Mary with everything she needed and now this! A decree from a godless heathen miles and miles away but with soldiers enforcing his mandates very close by destroyed every plan Joseph had made for Mary and the child to come. There was no denying or delaying the journey. They would just have to trust God, that is all. It had come to that!

Through the centuries as this story is told and retold, imagined and reimagined, we have settled on the image of Joseph leading the donkey bearing young Mary, great with child, through the hills and valleys of taxation. So much pain! And it all seems so unnecessary!

God had a purpose in their pain.

He always does. Unlike this young couple striding and bouncing their way south to Bethlehem, God sees beyond the next hill or bend of the road. He never loses track of either the destination in the distance or the pain in the journey. Just as each human being enters this world through pain, so must Messiah if He were to live the sinless life redemption required.

This fallen creation, once so pristine and perfect, was now riddled with pain and in imperfection. Just as Rome needed an accounting of the citizens of Israel, a sinful world needed a full accounting of its evil deeds and desires. Jesus, rocking safely in Mary’s womb, carried by a faithful beast of burden, would someday ride another donkey through Jerusalem’s gates toward the place of His taxation, a place called Calvary.

God has a purpose in our pain.
God does not cause pain but He uses the inevitable pain of this fallen creation to His purposes.   Like Joseph and Mary, we live in the real world.  We, too, have civic responsibilities that tax us, literally and figuratively.  The New Testament is clear on this; faithfulness in these things is part of our witness before the world.

For Joseph and Mary, the facts of the taxation and the birth to come in Bethlehem would serve to document in history the greatest story ever told. In the process, God provided what the torturous journey demanded: safety, provision, and an ever deepening bond between Joseph and Mary. Meanwhile, as the unforgiving road passed beneath them, God was assembling a well-drawn cast of witnesses:

  • shepherds in fields near Bethlehem,
  • rulers on another long road from the East with a star to guide men wise enough to follow, and
  • a pair of elderly saints praying through each night for Messiah to come.

Mary and Joseph lived in a real world at a specific time in history.

Scriptures
Luke 2:1-5 KJV
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
Luke 20:20-26 NKJV
So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
Romans 13:1-7 NKJV
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, someday You will wipe away all our tears and the pains of this life will be only an distant memory. Until then, there will be pain, the tax life demands of each of us. It helps to know that You are with us. We are never overlooked or forgotten. By Your stripes we are healed. So the Bible says and we believe it. Sometimes—praise Your holy name—the healing is here and now!—Hallelujah! Sometimes, the pain persists. Even in this, You are with us, comforting us, strengthening us, and giving songs to sing even in the long nights that tax us so deeply. Thank You for coming to this world to experience the pain of being human. Thank You for lifting us above the pain both now and for removing it completely in eternity to come. In Your Holy Name, Amen.

Song:
Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Words: Charles Wesley; Music: Christian Friedrich Witt

1. Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

2. Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 12 “Jesus”

Messiah has many names but one name stands above all others.

“His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”  “Call his name, Emmanuel which means ‘God with us!’”

–So many names!

The angel that visited Joseph in his desperate dream said his name would be “Jesus, for He shall save his people from their sins.” Jesus means “Savior.” Messiah’s ministry as Savior is the most important of all and the most relevant.

  • It is true that Jesus reveals who God is but if we remain bound by sin, we can only know God from a distance.
  • Jesus lived a sinless life but if we are still sinners that is just an interesting detail.
  • Jesus had a healing touch, but if the diseases of iniquity remain at work in us, His healing touch is only a fact of history.
  • Jesus commanded demons and they obeyed but if He does not wash away our sins, we remain a plaything of hell.

Jesus must be our Savior, the One who can save us from ourselves—from our sins. Without Him, we are lost forever, bound on earth, and doomed in eternity.

No wonder the angel said call Him Jesus!
In the days before the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph spent every possible hour together. He kept his shop opened as his cheerful demeanor returned. His work was excellent, as always, which kept the work coming in as ideas and going out as finished products. No one could say a word against Joseph on that account.

Mary’s increasing form was another matter. There was no hiding her condition and she was oblivious to all the whispers, some not so hard to hear. Had she no shame? Hardly. She was possessed of an endless joy! Joseph’s continuing diligence and Mary’s inexplicable joy served as a damper on the gossip—at least in public.

If people only knew the source of their remarkable behavior! It was a name, one commanded by heaven itself—“Call Him Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins!” To whisper that name was for Mary and Joseph an instant rescue from the perils of each day. It was a one-note lullaby singing them to sleep each night. Peace came with the sound of His Name—Jesus.

How would Jesus save us?
Once in a while Mary would think about the implications of how Jesus would save His people from their sins. How would he do that? What would he have to do? What would be the cost? Each of these questions was like a sword to her heart.

Joseph was troubled by passages in Isaiah that he had long ago memorized: “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities…” What would Jesus have to do to be the Savior of the World?

Quickly, at each reflection on the possible cost of it all, the beauty of the name itself would reassure their hearts. They would smile to themselves and to each other and say the name, “Jesus.”

Still today, saying that name brings a smile to each of us—“Jesus.” Why? Because He has saved us from our sins.

Scriptures:
Matthew 1:20-25 NKJV
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Philippians 2:5-11NKJV
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Prayer of Praise:
There’s Something about that Name
Gloria Gaither (adapted SRP)
Jesus, the mere mention of Your Name can calm the storm, heal the broken, raise the dead. At the Name of Jesus, I’ve seen sin-hardened men melted, derelicts transformed, the lights of hope put back into the eyes of a hopeless child. At the Name of Jesus, hatred and bitterness turned to love and forgiveness, arguments cease.  I’ve heard a mother softly breathe His Name at the bedside of a child delirious from fever, and I’ve watched that little body grow quiet and the fevered brow cool.  I’ve sat beside a dying saint, her body racked with pain, who in those final fleeting seconds summoned her last ounce of ebbing strength to whisper earth’s sweetest Name-Jesus, Jesus. Emperors have tried to destroy it; philosophies have tried to stamp it out. Tyrants have tried to wash it from the face of the earth with the very blood of those who claimed. Yet still it stands. And there shall be that final day when every voice that has ever uttered a sound-every voice of Adam’s race shall raise in one great mighty chorus to proclaim the Name of Jesus- for in that day “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!” So you see- it was not mere chance that caused the angel one night long ago to say to a virgin maiden, “His Name shall be called Jesus.”- Jesus-Jesus-Jesus. There is something about that Name. Amen.

Song:
There’s Something about that Name
Words and Music: Bill and Gloria Gaither

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus;
There’s just something about that name.
Master, Savior, Jesus,
Like the fragrance after the rain.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Let all Heaven and earth proclaim;
Kings and kingdoms will all pass away,
But there’s something about that name.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 11 “Impossible”

Impossible

Gabriel’s words were the words that counted most.
The long-anticipated day finally arrived; Mary was home from her trip to Elizabeth’s house. Joseph appeared at the door to her home as nervous himself as a bride. When she came to the door the sight of her took his breath away. She had always been beautiful to him but now there was a glow from within that made her even more wonderful in his eyes. Her eyes met his straight on without a hint of shyness. She carried a confidence in herself and her mission that seemed to invite him into her faith.

Without speaking she took his hand led him confidently through the streets of Nazareth as villagers stopped what they had been doing to watch them. The murmuring and muttering did not faze either of them as they looked either straight ahead or at each other. Joseph knew where she was taking him. On they went through the town to a small hill that marked the edge of the village. The familiar path lifted them to the summit where the view of the surrounding fields was always inspiring. It was a favorite spot for them to meet and talk about the future. No talk would ever be as important as this one. In years to come, the boy Jesus would come to the brow of this hill to think and to pray. As a young man he would be led by an angry mob of worshipers to this very spot but that is another story.

Finally, a Chance to Talk
Mary’s revelation of her condition and her sudden exit to her cousin’s house for these months had been the darkest time in young Joseph’s life. In this quiet moment, the story of his struggle poured out of him like a pent up stream. Mary listened quietly, the knowing smile never leaving her face. He recited the things he knew for sure:

  • He loved her; nothing would ever change that.
  • She loved him; she could never be unfaithful to him.

There seemed to be only one choice—to have her put away privately. He could never submit her to the mercy of the town. He paused, waiting for her to say something.

She was silent, still smiling, waiting for more. She was sure there was more.

The stream gushed again.
He told her of his sleepless nights and finally of the deep sleep in which he dreamed of an angel. It was more real than a dream. The angel told him to not be afraid to marry her and that the child was the son of God. They were to name him Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins.

The torrent of words past, Joseph took a deep breath and looked deeply into Mary’s eyes for her answer.

She smiled at him, took his hand and said this, the words of Gabriel to her, “With God, nothing is impossible.”

They sat quietly for the longest time. Few words passed between them because few words were needed.

Scriptures:
Matthew 1:16-25 NKJV
And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus , for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Luke 1:39-45: 56 NKJV
Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Joseph was a man of great faith. Let me follow his example. Let me have faith in You and in Your promises. I also need faith in others the way Joseph needed faith in Mary. Let me value and learn from what You are doing in the lives of my brothers and sisters. I need my brothers and sisters and they need me! Help me be faithful and full of faith! I want my life to be an adventure of faith, too, like that of Joseph and Mary. Also, may You live in me so large that all can see You! For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Emmanuel
Words and Music: Bob McGee

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called, Emmanuel.
God with us, revealed in us,
His name is called, Emmanuel.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 9 “Joseph”

Joseph

Of course he was handsome, the pride of the village of Nazareth.
With never a hint of scandal, never a worry about his future, never a complaint about his craftsmanship, many a mother of daughters in Nazareth had chosen Joseph to be a son-in-law. He arrived at his shop early each day and opened for business. The skill of his hands and his easy manner with clients made his carpenter’s shop a busy place.

On this day the door was closed and he didn’t answer those who called to him from the street. His skillful hands were clasp in a combination of prayer and despair. His friendly manor was now sullen and menacing.

Sometimes circumstances demand that a man do terrible things.
He had not slept since Mary had given him the news of her pregnancy. How can such a thing be? He knew, or he thought he knew, that Mary loved him yet here was evidence that some other man had…had what? Seduced her? Raped her? There was no good answer only the fact that she was with child.

He turned wearily to a small cot and collapsed. His brain was racing at speeds his heart could not match. Her story? More pain. How could he believe it? How could he not believe it? An angel? The stories of angelic visitations were for the Word of God, not for the village of Nazareth! Was she covering for someone? The thought of another man brought Joseph to his feet, pounding a fist into his hand as if it were the face of his rival. He paced the dimensions of the shop. Each finished and unfinished project mocked him, robbed by this intruder of any promise of a future with Mary. Exhausted by this fruitless combat he fell again on the cot, closing his bloodshot eyes as if he could shut out the truth. He knew what he had to do.  As sleep, long abandoned, reclaimed him, there was a single thought. He would  not subject Mary to public shame…

Soon merciful, heavy breathing commanded his frame. His mind finally relaxed as fear retreated to safe distance. He was ready for a visit from Gabriel.

A Dream, an Angel
The scriptures do not name Gabriel but an angel was suddenly commanding the shop. Light emanated from him as did peace, a welcome sensation to Joseph. The angel spoke in a voice deep and reassuring.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

As soon as he had spoken, the angel was gone but the peace he brought remained. Joseph slept the rest of the day. As he slept, a new name often escaped his lips: “Jesus.”

Villagers were amazed that the industrious Joseph slept all day in his shop. It was only the beginning of their amazement.

Matthew 1:18-25 NKJV
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Luke 1:26-27 NKJV
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
Matthew 2:13-15 NKJV
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.
Matthew 2:19-23 NKJV
Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, let me learn from Joseph! He was a good man who was faced with an impossible situation. Through the trial he kept his faith in You! He believed the story he was told by Mary and by the angel. Help me to face facts but keep my faith in You and in those I love. It would be wonderful to be visited by an angel in a dream, but I have Your Word in my heart and in my hands. I have Your Spirit in residence in my life. There is no dilemma I will ever face that has no answer from You. There is no trial I will ever endure that is beyond Your strength. Help me, awake or asleep, to keep Your holy Name on my lips. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
That Beautiful Name

Words: Jean Perry; Music: Mary Johnston Camp

1. I know of a name, A beautiful name,
That angels bro’t down to earth;
They whispered it low One night long ago,
To a maiden of lowly birth.

Refrain:
That beautiful name, That beautiful name,
From sin has power to free us!
That beautiful name, That wonderful name,
That matchless name is Jesus!

2. I know of a name, A beautiful name,
That unto a Babe was given;
The stars glittered bright Thro’out that glad night,
And angels praised God in heav’n.

Refrain

3. The One of that name, My Savior became,
My Savior of Calvary;
My sins nailed Him there, My burdens He bare.
He suffered all this for me.

Refrain

4. I love that blest name, That wonderful name,
Made higher than all in heaven;’Twas whispered, I know,
In my heart long ago,
To Jesus my life I’ve given.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 16, 2018: “Readiness”

Readiness

Inevitable things will come. We cannot stop them but we can be ready.
The observation point high on the Mount of Olives afforded a stirring view of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jesus and the Twelve had just left the Temple, exited the city gates and ascended to this point on the mountain. Such sights prompted questions about the future Jesus predicted. So far His answers had not been encouraging. It would get worse before it got better.

The Prophet Daniel
The Prophet Daniel wrote on a grand scale. His work concerns nations and epochs of time. So much so, that several historical events can be linked to just a few of His words. One of those terms is “The Abomination of Desolation.” This prophecy was a familiar one to the Twelve. Literally it speaks to a terrible event, an abomination, that brings about total destruction, desolation. It is a direct reference to the worship of Jehovah in the Temple.

The worship of God is so holy it can be readily spoiled by impure hearts and sinful hands. Beyond the personal failures of those who go through the motions of worship is the abomination of idolatry. The history of Israel was plagued by periods of apostasy in which people would worship idols made my men rather than their Holy, Covenant-keeping God. These false worship systems were usually established on high places far removed from the Temple. But there is never any way to hide idolatry. The judgement of God, promised by the words of the Covenant, always fell on the nation for her idolatry. Pagan nations conquered them time and again. God sent holy prophets, faithful priests, and reformer kings to restore true worship.

The Abomination of Desolation goes beyond these seasons of apostasy. Instead of illicit worship sites in the countryside, this idolatry takes place in the Temple itself. Pagan armies invaded the city and the Temple to set up their idols in the Holy of Holies. This abomination destroyed the Covenantal relationship with God and resulted in the desolation of the city and the slavery of the nation.

It had happened before.
Each of the Temples where God Almighty chose to dwell among people ended in this type of destruction. The repeated cause? False worship—idolatry in the house of God. At the moment when Jesus and the Twelve were taking in the exalted view of the Temple and the city, there was a false hope of the appeasement of Rome with a puppet king and an established routine of the external trappings of worship. This provided an aura of hope but it was a false hope.

It would happen again.
The disturbing warning of Jesus was that all of this beauty would crumble in violence and it would happen soon—in the lifetimes of the Twelve. They must be prepared. They must be in a state of readiness.

It did happen with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies 66-70 A.D. This abomination would destroy Old Covenant worship. At the same time, it would scatter the followers of Jesus throughout the known world. He would go with them. His Spirit would empower them. Through their lives a new Temple would be built, not of stone, but of flesh, a new habitation of God by His Spirit—the Church! The Church triumphant will take root in every culture and race making the Kingdom of God one Holy nation.

It is the duty of every generation to live in a state of readiness.

Scriptures:
Mark 13: 14-23
“So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter. For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days. “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.
Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
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 know what the future holds; I do not. I trust You with it. I realize that my job is to be ready for whatever comes. I want to be ready in prayer, in adoration of You, in witness to Your amazing grace and in personal holiness. You have called me to serve You in these last days. To be ready for tomorrow is to serve You today. Help any fear I may have of tomorrow become faith in You for tomorrow. You are already there, Lord Jesus! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Jesus Is Coming Soon
Words and Music: R.E. Winsett

1. Troublesome times are here, filling men’s hearts with fear;
Freedom we all hold dear, now is at stake.
Humbling your heart to God, saves from the chast’ning rod.
Seek the way pilgrim’s trod. Christians awake!

Refrain:
Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon;
Many will meet their doom; trumpets will sound.
All of the dead shall rise; righteous meet in the skies;
Going where no one dies, heaven-ward bound.

2. Love of so many cold; losing their home of gold;
This in God’s Word is told; evils abound.
When these signs come to pass, nearing the end at last,
It will come very fast; trumpets will sound.

Refrain

3. Troubles will soon be o’er; happy forevermore,
When we meet on that shore, free from all care.
Rising up in the sky, telling this world goodbye;
Homeward we then will fly, glory to share.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved