February 28 “Commission”

Commission

Some things are so very real, they can only be seen with eyes of faith.
With repeated appearances to those who had loved and followed Him, Jesus convinced them all that He was, indeed, back from the dead. He gently rebuked those who failed to believe the good reports from the first witnesses. After all, He had told them this was going to happen!

From other sources we know that He did meet with the disciples in Galilee. On one occasion He met with the Eleven and those wonderful women and convinced even the skeptical Thomas that he was back and His power was greater than ever. He could appear and disappear at will and could pass through walls without effort.

We cannot imagine the joy of the followers of Jesus to have Him back. But this was not the end of surprises. There were always surprises with Jesus! It seemed He wasn’t planning on staying. Later they would realize that He had come to earth to complete a two-fold mission:

  1. To show people what their God was really like, and,
  2. To redeem the sins of the world so that we could walk with God in this life.

That two-fold mission had been accomplished and it was time for Him to return to the throne room of God in heaven.

There was one more thing that He had to do: Commission His followers to continue His work in the earth. His story had to be told to the whole world and they, and those who came to know Him through their ministry, were the ones to tell it. He condensed the mission into a single statement and a promise:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

“Gospel” means “Good News.”

  • In a world in the iron grip of Rome, Good News was needed.
  • In every epoch of time since the ancient world existed, Good News has been needed.
  • Any type of news rooted in man’s character will eventually be found to be corrupt.
  • Any message based on the intellect of man will present only partial solutions since the knowledge of mankind is inadequate.
  • Any hope of staving off disease that rests in man will itself be found infected with sin.

Death rules man as it always had until that day at the empty tomb. The only source of Good News is the Gospel of Christ.

The Power of the Holy Spirit
The Jesus story is not complete without the story of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not commission us to go out in our own power! He sends us the Holy Spirit to make us holy and empower us to be His witnesses. We should expect the demonstration of the Spirit when we tell His story. We will protected from harm as we go and signs will follow as we pass through this life preaching the Gospel. Demons cannot stop us for we can call on Jesus’ name. The sick will be healed as we pray in Jesus’ name. Wild animals and poison will not even slow us down.

Having spoken His final words to them until the Holy Spirit would come upon them and bring His words back to them as needed, He made His exit into the welcoming skies. Heaven took Him back and He resumed His rightful place at the right hand of Majesty on High.

What did they do then? They waited in Jerusalem until they received “power from on high” and they went out and preached His Story everywhere. The Lord was with them confirming the Word with miraculous signs. Amen.

Scripture:
Mark 16:14-20
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have heard Your call to follow You. I have obeyed that call. I hear Your call to tell Your story, to preach the Good News about You in every possible way. I will fear no demons or dangers, no sickness or setbacks, no opposition or lack of opportunity. I will follow and I will tell. I receive Your Holy Spirit to make me holy, Your power to make me mighty, and Your love to make me lovable. Use me, all of me, my gifts and my gaffs, my head and heart and hands to do your work. Thank You, Lord. Thank You.

Song:
We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations
Words and Music: H. Ernest Nichol

1. We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light, a story of peace and light.

Refrain:
For the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright,
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.

2. We’ve a song to be sung to the nations, that shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
a song that shall conquer evil and shatter the spear and sword, and shatter the spear and sword.

Refrain

3. We’ve a message to give to the nations, that the Lord who reigneth above
has sent us His Son to save us, and show us that God is love, and show us that God is love.

Refrain

4 We’ve a Savior to show to the nations, who the path of sorrow has trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples may come to the truth of God, may come to the truth of God.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 18 “Seasons”

Seasons

Many times natural phenomenon, like the changing of the seasons, point toward supernatural things.
The sun had almost disappeared behind the hills surrounding Jerusalem as Jesus told the Twelve about the things that were to come. Could they also see the sun setting on an old Covenant? Could they see a terrible night of suffering just ahead for Jesus and for them? Is it possible that they could have foreseen the dawning of a New Covenant of presence and power? We can be sure they did not see these things. All they saw was the ending of another day.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree
Somewhere on the approach to Jerusalem a withered fig tree gave silent warning of the endtimes. Jesus had sought figs from it out of season and, finding only leaves, He cursed it and it obediently died. The fig tree was a symbol of the nation of Israel. Jesus had come to them in a green season, expecting fruit and receiving none, He spoke of their destruction. Now, He took the lesson deeper.

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree…”

This was an agrarian society, one engaged with the seasons. The men knew what He was talking about. Now was the time of their visitation! If they reject Jesus in these favorable days, what will they do when the stones of the Temple start to fall?

“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”

Each of the men looked at Jesus and then at each other. “This generation!”—Them! He was talking about them! This was no parable; this was about to happen—to them! None of them wanted to believe it but how could they doubt the words of Jesus?

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

If He said it would happen; it would happen.

“Take heed, watch and pray.”
No one knows the day or the hour, but we can detect the season. Like the natural cycles of the earth, seasons of war and peace will come and go. People see these things but cannot know when the end will come. The solution is to be ready at all times. Jesus said that we who follow Him are like caretakers in His House with specific work to do—do it! Do it with all your might. Do it faithfully for you never know when the Owner will return.

Jesus was talking about them and the destruction of the Temple in their lifetimes and He is talking about us and the endtimes. There are three things for us to do:

  1. Take heed—keep our eyes open on current events so we can understand.
  2. Watch—be sensitive to the leadership of the Spirit.
  3. Pray—pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the Promised Outpouring of the Spirit. Pray this prayer: “Even so, Come Lord Jesus!”

As we shiver through another winter, rejoice in another spring, swelter through another summer and find our jackets to ward off the winds of another fall, may these seasons speak to us of these last days.

Many times natural phenomenon, like the changing of the seasons, point toward supernatural things.

Scriptures:
Mark 13: 28-37
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near — at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming — in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning —lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I know You are coming soon! I want to be ready when You come. I want You to find me working at my assignment in Your great House. Help me take heed, watch, and pray for that day! I know that Your Word is sure and will never pass away. I recognize that in my generation Israel was restored to nationhood. If this is what You meant by the generation when all is fulfilled, help me be ready! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Signs Are Everywhere
Words and Music: Mrs. F.W. Suffield

1. The King is coming in glory to catch His bride away.
It may be in the morning. It may be at midday,
At the even at midnight; the trump will sound so clear;
The dead in Christ, and we that live, His voice shall hear.

Refrain:
The King is coming, hallelujah! He’s coming in the air,
The fig tree is budding, the signs are everywhere.
The saints are looking ever upward while journeying on their way.
He’s coming, hallelujah! To catch His bride away.

2. Behold He cometh and leaping and skipping o’er the hills;
Like the young roe, like the young hart, My soul with rapture thrills;
Through the window He’s looking, through the lattice work is seen,
The winter’s past, the rain is o’er, the figs are green.

Refrain

3. The King is coming, “Be ready,” to meet Him on that day;
With your heart right, with your robes white, and in this holy way;
Like the light’ning that flashes in the twinkling of an eye,
Our Lord shall come to claim His own, He’s drawing nigh.

Refrain.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 17 “Return”

Return

Many people are willing to admit that Jesus came to this earth but they do not think that He will return.
Theologians call the end of the world and the return of Christ, the “eschaton.” It is defined as the divinely ordained climax of history. Endless debates originate in the various theories of how this is going to come about. Liberal thinkers see it all as symbolism. Conservatives try to parse the scriptures to discover a narrative for it. Scoffers laugh at the thought. I saw a picture of a man marching in some sort of protest carrying a sign that said, “If Jesus comes again, we’ll kill him again.” We should be sure of this: He said He would return and He will.

Back to the Mountain
Jesus and the Twelve are resting at an impressive overlook on the Mount of Olives. It is the close of another day of the public ministry of Jesus. He has tangled with the leaders of the nation and the Temple in the Temple courts. He has shared disturbing certainties with His men about the near future and the destruction of the beauty they see at their feet. Now He is about to balance the bad news with some really good news. His glory will be revealed to all!

“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”

This is what they wanted to hear! Enough of the death and destruction, let’s hear more about the power and great glory. They wanted some of that. Finally, everyone would see Jesus the way they did—in all the greatness He was careful to hide every day. They could process this prediction and they did, turning it over in their minds with the implications it had for them. So what if a few stars fall out of heaven and what did it really mean that “the powers of heaven will be shaken?” They heard the part they wanted to hear.

We must hear more.
We have a more exalted view of Jesus. They saw Him up close and we can only guess at what that was like, but we see Him from the vantage point of prophecy from cover to cover in the Bible. Regardless what theory we may hold concerning specific events in the Eschaton, we must always live in constant awareness of His return.

The Engine that Drives the Boat
If our lives before Christ are seen as a journey at sea, we must be sure to keep the engine in good repair. That engine is the Blessed Hope—the imminent return of Jesus. We are not dead in the water. This hope propels us forward. He is coming and His reward is with Him! The dead in Christ will rise first and we who are live and remain will be caught up to be with Him. He is coming with ten-thousands of saints to make an end to evil in this world. It is all true for the Bible says it clearly. We must live in readiness for in a moment all our theories of the eschaton will melt before its reality. Believers, believe it. Preachers, preach it. Worshipers, sing it! Jesus will return to this earth again and no one will kill Him! All will confess Him Lord and Christ!

Scriptures:
Mark 13:24-25
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.
Titus 2:11-15 NKJV
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NKJV
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Jude 14-15 NKJV
Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me live in constant anticipation of Your return. What You have given me to do I must do quickly. There is no time to waste. Each opportunity to serve You, worship You, or to tell Your story is precious and not to be squandered. I know that at any moment I could hear that trumpet and the shout of the archangel! I will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. I will see You and my loved ones in Your company! Oh, the joy it brings my heart to think of it! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.

Song:
He’s Coming Soon
Words: Thoro Harris; Music: Queen Liliukalani of Hawaii

1. In these, the closing days of time, What joy the glorious hope affords,
That soon—O wondrous truth sublime! He shall reign, King of kings and Lord of Lords.

Refrain:
He’s coming soon, He’s coming soon; With joy we welcome His returning;
It may be morn, it may be night or noon—We know He’s coming soon.

2. The signs around—in earth and air, Or painted on the starlit sky,
God’s faithful witnesses—declare That the coming of the Savior draweth nigh.

Refrain

3. The dead in Christ who ’neath us lie, In countless numbers, all shall rise
When through the portals of the sky He shall come to prepare our paradise.

Refrain

4. And we, who living, yet remain, Caught up, shall meet our faithful Lord;
This hope we cherish not in vain, But we comfort one another by this word.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 14 “Lord”

Lord

To be called “Lord” and to actually be LORD are two very different things.
The questioners, the “lords over the people,” were silent. They were out of trick questions and their ranks were divided. Along with the usual divisions over beliefs, there were now divisions over this man called Jesus. Some were close to believing that Jesus may be Messiah. Others were sure that He was not. Still others, the majority perhaps, were somewhere in between. Their strategies used up, their questions exhausted, there was nothing to do then but to listen to the man.

The Subject Was King David
The shepherd king was always a favorite. They sang his songs and some of them played the instruments he brought into public worship. They gloried in the reflected splendor of his victories and they ignored the failures and sins because he was “the man after God’s own heart.” If he failed so terribly and yet was used by God so mightily, perhaps there was hope for them as well.

“How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?”

This question lay at the heart of the search for Messiah. He would not be just anyone; he must be of the house and line of David. However, this was not a controversy. Where was Jesus going with this?

“Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?”

No one had ever thought of this before. Yes, Messiah would be Lord, and He would be the Son of David. Was there a contradiction here? Or was this just a play on words? Jesus did not answer His own question, leaving the mystery of the investigation of son-ship and lordship to another time. He made his surprising point to the “lords of the people.”

“Beware of the scribes!”

The leap from King David’s history to the present day was a strenuous one. There were false “lords” right there in the Temple! They were neither sons of David nor of God. They were more akin to the Devil, impostors from the heart out! What were the signs?

  • Pretense—“long robes,”
  • Show-biz—“greetings in the marketplace,”
  • Self-importance—“the best seats,”
  • Corruption—“they devour widow’s houses,” and
  • False spirituality—“prayers of pretense.”

What will be their end? -–“Greater condemnation.” Today we would say, “the hottest room in hell.”

God Resists the Proud
A fundamental truth in the dealings of God with people is this:

James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5
“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

God loves people but He hates pride. Pride is the cornerstone of false leadership. Positions gained through pride are ruthlessly guarded by any means available. Violence is always the result, sometimes private like a widow’s house devoured and sometimes in public war.

God Gives Grace to the Humble
The mark of true lordship is humility. Look to Jesus. Look to the disciples after Pentecost. Look to any truly great Christian leader and you will find humility for it is the source of the grace that flows in their lives.

To be called “a leader” and to actually be a leader are two very different things.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:35-40
Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”‘ Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?” And the common people heard Him gladly. Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
James 4:1-6 NKJV
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5-7 NKJV
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your Lordship is that of the Son of David, the Son of God. You are Master of all time and space for they are Your creations. You rule in love and justice and peace. All of our lives are safe within Your Lordship for You care for us. We can cast all our burdens upon You because You can handle them. Holy Spirit, root out any vestige of pride in my heart for I know it is a source of God’s resistance in my life. Replace that pride with humility for Your love and Your grace flows in it. Amen and amen.

Song:
He Is Lord
Traditional

He is Lord. He is Lord.
He has risen from the dead
And He is Lord.
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 13 “Offerings”

Offerings

Offerings to God do not go unseen by heaven.
We may do everything in our power to hide our gifts from prying eyes and we regularly succeed. We succeed because we don’t want to get caught spying on the giving of someone else. Neither do we want them to know what we are doing. We cover up the cash in our hand until it is out of sight in the bucket or the bag and then we release it. Anyone watching us can think what they want about us and our offerings. When we write checks we place them in offering envelopes and it is nobody’s business but our own—and the money counters in the back room. They had better credit us with the right amount—taxes, don’t you know? All of this secrecy works on the human level but it is useless in the spiritual realm. God sees and remembers!

Resting in the Women’s Court
Jesus found a place to sit and rest after his bout with the scribes and Pharisees. There were public receptacles in the Women’s Court of the Temple where money was collected. Some commentaries say the money was for the expenses of worship supplies and others say it was for the relief of the poor. Regardless of its exact purpose, this was public giving and thus an opportunity for those who wanted to do some theatrical giving—giving for show, for effect.

Jesus sat and watched the show—rich people making grand gestures as their brass coins clanked into the receptacles. Some historians say these were metal horns which would offer several clanks per coin. There is even the suggestion that rich people would change more valuable coins into smaller, less valuable brass ones—more noise, you see—more impressive.

Just an Extra in the Drama
Into this grand drama of “giving” came a bit player, just a background “extra” from central casting—a poor widow. Perhaps she was one of the widow’s whose house had been “devoured” by the wicked rulers of the Temple. At any rate, she came, seeking above all things to be anonymous in her humble offering—two nearly worthless brass coins. They barely made a sound when she stretched her withered frame to drop them into the metal horn. Quickly, she shrunk back to her normal diminutive size to hurry away.

She had taken only a few steps when Jesus called her to His side. She wasn’t sure He meant her but a second gesture convinced her and in just a few steps she stood trembling before the Master. She was old but she knew what was happening. She knew who He was.

Jesus called the Twelve to Him:

“Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury;

The men and the woman were confused. How could this be? There was no way her gift could be greater than that the parade of the privileged and their clanking coins. What sort of math was Jesus using?

…for they all put in out of their abundance,
but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

Jesus was using heaven’s math wherein things are counted differently than they are on earth. To give out of one’s abundance does not count the same as to give out of one’s need. God has the ability to multiply the offering given sacrificially to meet the greatest need.

Jesus smiled at the elderly lady, perhaps thinking of his mother, Mary. His smile made the little widow blush like a fresh young bride.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:41-44
Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have given all for me. I give my all to You. Nothing else makes sense. I repent of any theatrical giving in the past. May You forget the noisy clanking of such offerings! Lead me in this area, Lord. There are so many needs crying out to me. Lead me to the sacrificial gifts that You can multiply to meet the needs. Thank You, Lord, for the privilege of partnering with You to the healing of the world. All for You, Lord Jesus, all for You!

Song:
Lord, I Give You My Heart
Words and Music: Darlene Zschech

This is my desire to honor You
Lord, with all my heart, I worship You
All I have within me, I give You praise
All that I adore is in You

Lord, I give You my heart
I give You my soul, I live for You alone
Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake
Lord, have Your way in me

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 7 “Whatever”

Whatever

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

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

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

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

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

“Have faith in God.”

Amused by their puzzled looks, Jesus continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 2 “Serving”

Serving

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

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

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

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yet it shall not be so among you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved