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

You may also find these devotions at KingdomWinds.com.

February 16 “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

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

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

February 11 “Resurrection?”

Resurrection?

Faith and reason do not have to be at war with one another.
There were those leaders in Jesus’ day who did not believe in the supernatural. They were bright people of reason who could not imagine a world beyond their own senses. If they could see something, or taste it, or measure it, or hear it, then it was a part of their acknowledged existence. If not then it really didn’t exist and was the province of fools. Intellectual superiority marked their company and they amused themselves with lesser beings who believed in things like the resurrection of the dead.

Missing Evidence
Life after death? The whole idea flew in the face of reason. Where was the evidence of such a thing? The evidence for the finality of death was all around, from the elaborate gardens of stone tombs in the city to the cemeteries in every humble village. Stories of ghosts and demons and angels were hardly evidence at all.

A group of these men approached Jesus. They pretended to accept the premise of a resurrection. They began with a quote from Moses about brothers marrying the wife of a dead sibling to raise up children in his name. They extended the hypothetical into seven such instances in one family. Now, in the “resurrection,” whose wife will she be?

Jesus did not reason with them. They were wrong from the onset.

“Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?

A Different Reality
These proud men were mistaken. Their logic was sound but wrong. Their reasoning fell short of reality. There is a world beyond the five senses! They quoted Moses assuming his writings were natural in their source. The Word of God reflects all of reality not just the natural world. The primary concern of Scripture is not an understanding of the natural world. His Word opens to us the world of invisible realities, those of –faith!

These sincere, brilliant men were mistaken because they took reason to be everything and ignored the crucial role of faith in life. This side of heaven, there will always be more questions than answers. Reason organizes the predictable; faith deals with the unpredictable.

The Sadducees projected the ways of the natural world onto the supernatural world—marrying and giving in marriage. Jesus opened the curtain on the spirit world. Gender exists but not for procreation! Life is eternal without deaths or births, an existence like that of angels. These mistaken men were hindered because they did not recognize and exercise the role of faith. Faith in God makes sense in both worlds because the power of God is at work in both worlds. Reason without faith will lead to pride and destruction.

Faith and Reason
Jesus said these men were “greatly mistaken.” Their miscalculation robbed them of life before and after death. The same is true today. To believe in the Word and power of God is not to deny the natural world, but to enjoy it as a witness to the works of God. Within the framework of each day’s sunrise and sunset, each night’s darkness and promise of light to come, we pray—a supernatural activity—and believe and worship and serve, all with the expectation of a real reward in the life to come. Faith and reason, working together, enables us to live life to the fullest.

Faith and reason do not have to be at war with one another.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:18-27
Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.” Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are Master of both the natural and supernatural worlds! You are the Creator of both. You gave me a human spirit to understand the supernatural world and a human soul and body to process the natural world. Help me walk by sight in the natural world and by faith in the unseen world. I will not fear the unpredictable in the world nor the powers of darkness because I am living in Your care. You are God of the living and not the dead! I know my loved ones are waiting for me over there in Your presence and I know You are with me today in this world. Help me live by faith and by reason. Amen.

Song:
Living by Faith
Words: James Wells and R.E. Winsett; Music: J.L. Heath

1. I care not today what the morrow may bring,
If shadow or sunshine or rain,
The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything,
And all of my worries are vain.

Refrain:
Living by faith in Jesus above,
Trusting, confiding in His great love;
From all harm safe in His sheltering arm,
I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.

2. Though tempests may blow and the storm clouds arise,
Obscuring the brightness of life,
I’m never alarmed at the overcast skies—
The Master looks on at the strife.

Refrain

3. I know that He safely will carry me through,
No matter what evils betide;
Why should I then care though the tempest may blow,
If Jesus walks close to my side.

Refrain

4. Our Lord will return to this earth some sweet day,
Our troubles will then all be o’er;
The Master so gently will lead us away,
Beyond that blest heavenly shore.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

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

February 3 “Bartimaeus”

Bartimaeus

Like the wings of a bird, mercy gives flight to grace.
The road to Jericho was paved with history. Joshua and his army, carrying torches and trumpets, took this road to conquer the city. They returned after the walls fell down. When a new city was built not far from the site of the one that fell down, Jericho became a major city in the Jordan valley. As Jesus and His followers took this road on their way to Jerusalem, it was crowded with travelers. Travelers attracted beggars and beside the road a blind man had set up shop, Bartimaeus by name.

A Blind Man’s World
We can only imagine what the ancient world was like to one who could not see. Sounds, smells, and temperature changes, along with something we might call extrasensory perception, brought information to the brain. Voices revealed more than the words spoken; accents, inflections, and volume said as much as words in the super-tuned ears of a blind man. Evidently, Bartimaeus knew that Jesus was coming his way. He lifted his voice above the noise of the crowd.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

What the Blind Man Saw
He did not cry out for healing but for mercy. Interesting. Perhaps mercy was a beggar’s careful approach to his real need. Or perhaps, Bartimeaus knew something about Jesus to which others were blind. Jesus was not a showman. His miracles were not done to draw a crowd although they certainly did. He was not out to build a name for Himself although that, too, was happening. Jesus healed people, delivered demoniacs, and performed spectacular miracles because He loved people. People with perfect vision lost sight of this while blind Bartimaeus saw it clearly.

It may be that Bartimaeus had heard that Jesus didn’t heal everyone. Sometimes, when there was no faith in action, He passed people by who did not call out to Him. This beggar knew that his moment of opportunity had come. There was faith in his cry for mercy and Jesus heard him. He stopped and called for the one who had called to Him. Helpers assisted the blind one to Jesus:

“Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”

Bartimaeus cast aside his thick, protective garment and positioned himself—a little off-center— in front of Jesus. Smiling, Jesus straightened out the man’s position and asked,

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

Now was the time for specifics: mercy was about to make grace take wings.

“Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”

With Jesus, a simple word was all that was needed.

“Go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Faster than the flight of the swiftest bird, light came into the world of Bartimaeus. Rubbing his eyes and shaking his head as if to shake off the last fragments of night, the man’s face shone like a sunrise. His head jerked this way and that as each familiar sound was matched with a new image. He spun around taking in the symphony of color he had always imagined the world to be. In one whirl of his spin his eyes came to rest on Jesus, smiling, laughing, enjoying once more what faith can do. Bartimaeus stopped, steadied himself and fell at His feet. Jesus raised him to eye-level and continued along on the road to Jericho. Perhaps in His spirit He could still hear the faint sound of trumpets and shouts and crumbling walls—another victory at Jericho. Bartimaeus followed.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 46-52
Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.” And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, open my eyes that I may see You clearly—in Your Word, in creation, in my life! You are my all in all. Sharpen my spiritual vision to see more of You and to see You more clearly. Let me move in mercy through this world so that my life gives wings to grace! Help me hear the cry for mercy from those I pass on the roads today. Miracles await the cry for mercy and the confession of faith! Open my eyes that I may see! Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Open My Eyes that I May See
Words and Music: Clara H. Scott

1. Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me.
Place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my eyes; illumine me, Spirit divine!

2. Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear.
And while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my ears; illumine me, Spirit divine!

3. Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere.
Open my heart, and let me prepare love with thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my heart; illumine me, Spirit divine!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

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

January 20 “Signs”

Signs

What is it about people who witness the hand of God at work right in front of them who still ask for a sign?
For three days the multitude followed Jesus. They were so fascinated with Him they forgot about eating. So many of them, or their friends, were so desperate for His touch they paid no attention to the passing of time or their distance from home. Their portable supplies were long gone but they seem to have had no desire to break off their pursuit of Jesus. They had heard about the 5000 men and their miraculous meal at the hands of Jesus. Why go home? It could happen again.

4000 This Time
When Jesus expressed compassion for the people, His disciples seemed to have forgotten about the feeding of the 5000+.

“How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”

Jesus must have sighed at this question. So he started the who process over again.

“How many loaves do you have?”

“Seven,” was the bleak answer. Jesus commanded the preparations, again. He took the bread and fish in His hands, again. He blessed it, again. He gave it to the men and they in turn set it before the people. Again, the blest food supply would not deplete. It multiplied, again. They people got their wish and ate their fill. Jesus sent them away, healed, delivered, informed, inspired and with their bellies full for the journey home.

Back in the Boat

He sent them away, immediately got into the boat with His disciples,
and came to the region of Dalmanutha.

When they arrived the Rules People were waiting for them. They argued with Him and asked Him for a sign. Two miraculous meals to two vast multitudes, countless physical healings and emotional releases, and a host of previously possessed people now clothed in their right minds were not enough for the Rules People; they wanted a sign. What, beyond these amazing signs, could possibly serve these hard-hearted, hard-headed people?

When the mind is made up, signs don’t matter.
It is the same today. Signs of the validity of the Christian Life are everywhere:

  • Lives transformed when people repent of sins and confess Christ as Savior,
  • Sicknesses healed when the prayer of faith is prayed and anointing is made,
  • Powers of Hell broken in the Name of Jesus,
  • Wickedness in men’s hearts replaced by righteousness, and,
  • Communities transformed by Spirit-led revival.

And still people need a sign.

There is a sign—two pieces of wood in the shape of a cross—a sign that changes worlds and hearts. See this sign and know that God is loving. See this sign and know that God is just. See this sign and believe that there is hope for you.

Scriptures:
Mark 8:1-12
In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.” Then His disciples answered Him, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away, immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha. Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the only sign I need from You is the cross. It tells me everything I need to know. It shows me everything I need to see. It points me in the way, the only way, I should go. This symbol of guilt and execution is now more than a symbol; it is a means of forgiveness and pardon. I see my guilt in the cross and I see Your innocent blood flowing down to cover my guilt and wash it away. I see my victory in the power of the cross for there is no other power to save and deliver me. Thank You, Lord, for the one sign I need—The Cross! Amen.

Song:
The Old Rugged Cross
Words and Music: George Bennard

1. On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.

Refrain:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.

2. O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
has a wondrous attraction for me;
for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary.

Refrain

3. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.

Refrain

4. To that old rugged cross I will ever be true,
its shame and reproach gladly bear;
then he’ll call me some day to my home far away,
where his glory forever I’ll share.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved