January 21 “Hard-hearted”

Hard-hearted

Following Jesus was many things—exciting, amazing, fun even—but easy it was not.
The Twelve were normal people following an extraordinary man. They were physical and emotional and Jesus was spiritual. Beyond all the miracles, Jesus wanted to teach them higher truths and deeper concepts. This was long before Calvary, so their hearts were not made new. It was years before Pentecost so they did not have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within them. Like the disciples that night in the middle of the lake, Jesus was paddling against a strong wind.

Back across the Galilee
After another miraculous meal, Jesus and the disciples boarded the boat and headed across the water again. Whichever disciple was assigned to take provisions failed in his mission and they had no bread to eat on the boat. It must be that the dispersed crowd claimed the seven baskets of leftovers but the fact remained they were in a boat with nothing to eat.

The Leaven of the Pharisees
Unconcerned with provisions, Jesus wanted to take the men deeper into the truths before them. Bread was a metaphor as was the ingredient in bread that made it rise in the baking process. Jesus wanted His men to see that there was a corrupting factor beneath the behavior of the Pharisees.

“Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

With empty faces the disciples looked at each other. They didn’t get it. They thought He was complaining that they had nothing to eat on board. You can hear the frustration in Jesus’ response.

“Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?

He shook His head and started over.

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”

They knew this answer and the next one about the four thousand. They still didn’t get it

“How is it you do not understand?”

Us, too.
Before we come down too hard on these hard-hearted disciples, we need to take a look at our own hearts. We can be just as hard-headed and hard-hearted as the Twelve. How soon do we forget the faithfulness of God yesterday and begin to doubt His promises today? Truly we are without excuse. We are living under the New Covenant! Our sins were washed away when we repented of them and asked Jesus to be our Lord. The Disciples would not experience this until the resurrection. We have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within us to teach us and empower us. They would not experience this until the Day of Pentecost. When our hearts are hard, we are without excuse. If we keep having to learn the same lesson over and over, perhaps we should ask the Lord to soften our hearts.

Scriptures:
Mark 8: 13-21
And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart. still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, soften my heart! Give me a teachable spirit. Help me remember Your faithfulness in the past as I face the challenges of this day. Help me hear what the Spirit is saying to me. Train me thoroughly in Your Word by principle and directive. Help me act in faith upon this base of knowledge in the questions I must answer today. Holy Spirit, cleanse my heart. Empower my life so that I might walk the Path of Life in Victory! Amen and amen.

Song:
Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated
Words: Frances Ridley Havergal; Music: Henri A. C. Milan

1. Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in endless praise,
let them flow in endless praise.

2. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

3. Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

4. Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

5. Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.

6. Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

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

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 18 “Hearts”

Hearts

While the physical heart remains unseen, the emotional heart cannot be hidden for long.
The news about Jesus reached south to Jerusalem. A squad of higher ranking Rules People came to Galilee to investigate Jesus. The Galileans were impressed. They saw the extravagant display of finery in their appearance, the regalia of power in the religious leaders and the army of servants it took to care for such important men. Jesus saw their hearts. There was no finery there, only rags of self-righteousness. Their hearts wore no robes of power; they were naked with ambition. The hearts of these men were not attended to by servants, they were themselves slaves to Satan.

What the Rules People Saw
It didn’t take long for the Rules People to catch the disciples in an infraction of their law—they were actually eating bread without washing their hands! Horror of horrors! Such wickedness!

“Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders,
but eat bread with unwashed hands?”

Jesus did not take the bait. He cut straight, shall we say, to the heart of the matter. These hypocritical power people were not concerned with health and safety—their concern was power. They were of the ruling class and their rules kept them in power over the ordinary people. They were not happy about a new level of health in the community because so many people had been healed. They were not impressed that the power of evil had been dealt a heavy blow and there suddenly was a shortage of demons in people. They were upset that here were men they could not control. Jesus and the twelve threatened their power structure.

He called them Out.
He quoted the prophet Isaiah speaking for God Himself:

‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.”

He accused them of setting aside the commands of God and replacing them with their own rules. Their hearts were far from God—their actions proved it. In detail He pointed out their guilt. Far from unwashed hands holding bread, their tainted hearts spoiled everything they did “in the name of God.”

He called the multitude together and publicly shamed the Rules People. He explained the truth to everyone. Wickedness is in us all. It is folly to blame it on some outside force. What comes out of the heart defiles us!

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Later, in a nearby Home.
Away from the crowd, Jesus explained things more deeply to the disciples. The truth was illustrated in the normal process of eating food. But when the evil that is in the heart erupts to the surface it is clearly seen by all. What lies hidden in the heart? He gave them a terrifying list beginning with evil thoughts and finishing with crimes, pride, and foolishness.

Do we have ears to hear? Unlike that Galilean crowd, we live in a day when the evil abiding in our hearts can be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. We are on the right side of Calvary. When we give our hearts to Jesus, He moves in to take up residence. The evil has to go. And it does! From our newly repaired hearts come praise and obedience and blessing to others.

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Scriptures:
Mark 7:1-10:1
Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. ‘For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men — the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban” — ‘ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You know my heart! You live their because I have repented of my sins and asked You to move in. Keep my heart clean, Lord. Let no wicked thoughts abide there. Let no selfish ambition take root. Give me a heart for You and for the people I meet today. Holy Spirit, fill my heart with the Word of God so that I might not sin against God. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and the deeds of my life be acceptable in Your sight O Lord, my Redeemer! Amen.

Song:
Search Me, O God
Words: J. Edwin Orr; Music: Maori Melody

1. Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

2. I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

3. Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

4. O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 17 “Winds”

Winds

Jesus commanded the winds and they obeyed. The hearts of men were a different matter.
That boat really came in handy. At Jesus’ command, the disciples took the boat toward another town on the other side, Bethsaida. Then Jesus sent the multitude away—happy I’m sure. When all the good-byes were finished, Jesus climbed a nearby mountain to be alone with the Father to pray.

Along about evening, the disciples were still only half way across the lake because the winds were against them. He saw His men struggling against the wind and the heavy seas. This went on for several hours. In the middle of the night, Jesus went to help them—walking on the tumultuous waters. The waves never shook Him. The winds never disturbed His balance. It was like a pleasant walk on the beach rather than on the surface of a raging sea.

Frightened Sailors
After hours of rowing against the wind and getting nowhere the exhausted disciples were losing all the faith they had gained on the ministry tour. It seems yesterday’s victories did little for the crisis that night. Some of them were rowing, others were bailing out the onboard water, while others were draped over the side losing what was left of the loaves and the fishes. All they needed was a ghost walking up to them on the top of the unforgiving waves. That was what they thought Jesus was—a ghost! Fear of more than a capsized boat now added to their misery. Sensing their fear, Jesus called to them:

“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

When they helped Him into the boat, the winds calmed down to normal. In a little while, the waves followed suit.

Hard Hearts
The men looked at Jesus as if they were seeing Him for the first time. Who was He? How did He do these things? Why had He chosen them? Sheepish looks passed from man to man while no one wanted to look Jesus in the eyes. When each of them worked up the nerve to look at Him, Jesus was smiling. He knew their hearts had a long way to go. He knew that one day the Holy Spirit would reside in their hearts as He did in His own. He knew that the inward ministry of the Spirit, not the outward work of the ministry, was the change agent. Power over demons and sickness, even food multiplying in their hands, did not prepare them for the storm. Their time was coming and coming soon, but first must come the cross.

The Land of Gennesaret
By sunrise they landed in the land of Gennesaret—so much for a night of rest—and the crowds were even bigger at the landing and the healing winds were blowing in force. Wherever they went in towns of all sizes people pressed Him seeking just to touch the hem of His garment.

“And as many as touched Him were made well.”

Scriptures:
Mark 6:45-56
Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is healing in Your touch. Help me to never forget the answers to yesterday’s prayers in the midst of today’s challenge. Every day Your promises are true. You will not leave me alone in the storm; You will come to me in my distress. If my heart has hardened in recent days, soften it, O Holy Spirit. Let the restoring winds of Your spirit brace my faith. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Change My Heart, O God
Words and Music: Eddie Espinosa

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You

You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

“January 15 “Sent”

Sent

It is one thing to go. It is quite another to be sent.
Jesus knew deep in His heart that He was sent by God on a mission of redemption in the earth. In turn, Jesus sent others to share in His mission. The act of sending changed the lives of the ones who were sent. Their lives were divided by the call. Before the call their lives were their own; after the call, their lives were not their own—they were under a prior commitment. Before the call, their lives radiated the power of their personalities. After the call, another personality eclipsed their own. Jesus Himself moved in them, spoke through them, healed with their touch, and delivered with His authority sounding in their voices.

The Twelve
Jesus divided the twelve into six teams of two each. So there was an organizational plan. We are not given the rationale Jesus used in pairing up these men but we can be sure it made sense. Perhaps each team had a spokesman and a silent prayer partner. Whatever the plan was, Jesus knew how to put a team together. He still does!

He gave them power over unclean spirits. This means more than the exorcisms people would need. The powers of hell were focused on Jesus and His ministry. There was an ongoing spiritual warfare all around Jesus. Those in league with Satan, whether possessed by demons or merely evil people operating by their own sinful passions, were always set on edge by the presence of Jesus. When the six teams went out, they, too, would need power over all of hell’s devices and over the wickedness of powerful people whose petty little kingdoms were threatened by this Man from Galilee.

Traveling Light
Jesus shared His methodology with them—travel light. Have no concerns for what might happen. Trust God in every detail of life. The One who sends, always provides. Keep your traveling gear in order at all times. Stay with the people; join their households and families. You will be a blessing to them. But, when it is time to go, go! Someone in the next town must be similarly blest. If someone turns you away, that is their problem not yours. God will deal with them. From His instructions, the phrase, “shake the dust off your feet,” entered the languages of civilization. The rejecters will have to get in line with the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah to receive their reward.

The Tour
The six 2-man teams made their tour and the results were fantastic. They did the same works in Jesus’ name that He had done: preaching repentance, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Their successful tour got the attention of Herod, one of those evil people in un-knowing league with Satan.

John, “a Man Sent From God.”
Herod thought he had disposed of John the Baptist. He was tricked into giving His word to a sensuous woman who danced for Him. She demanded the head of John. She got it. When the paranoid king got word of all the healing going on, he thought John was back from the grave.  It was actually a reasonable conclusion. When a person has been sent by God, a little thing like death may not stop him!

And so it is with us. Jesus has called us out. He has sent us into this world to continue His work. In His name we have power over the enemy. In His name we can preach repentance and see the sick raised to new health. Our lives are not our own. We have been bought with a price and we have been sent.

It is one thing to go. It is quite another to be sent.

Scriptures:
Mark 6:7-29
And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff — no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts — but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics. Also He said to them, “In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place. And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them. Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known. And he said, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” Others said, “It is Elijah. And others said, “It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets.” But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!” For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!” Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my life is divided by the call You placed on my life. Now I am under orders—Your orders. You have sent me into this place to do these things. Thank You for not sending me here in my own power. You share Your power with me. You send me forth in Your powerful name. Help me be patient with those who oppose me for many do not realize they are fighting against You. Help me be firm and uncompromising with opposition from evil spirits. They know what they are doing. Send Your angels to go before me and watch behind me for they too have been sent. For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Go Forth (Rise Up O Champions of God)
Words and Music: Mark Altrogge

1. Rise up, you champions of God.
Rise up, you royal nation.
Rise up, and bear His light abroad.
We’ll reach this generation.
We’ve got our marching orders.
We’ve got our marching orders.
Now is the time to carry them forth.

Refrain:
Go forth! Jesus loves them.
Go forth! Take the gospel.
Go forth! The time is now.
The harvest is ripening.
Go forth!

2. Feel now the burden of the Lord.
Feel how He longs to save them.
Feel now for those who never heard
About the Son He gave them.
We’ve got our marching orders.
We’ve got our marching orders.
Now is the time to carry them forth.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 11 “Parables”

Parables

There was so much to preach, so much truth to proclaim, Jesus used little picture stories—parables.
Jesus sat in the boat he had arranged for this purpose teaching His heart out. Even though these were the People of God who had been trained in the Scriptures since childhood there was still so much darkness in their minds. He saw Himself as the “Sower who went forth to sow.” He was graphic in His teaching, using little stories packed with meaning and tiny pictures drawn from real life to illustrate deeper things.

  • A lamp is obtained to shine in the darkness, not to be hidden in a basket. The secret things will be revealed in its light.
  • Secret words will be sounded for all to hear so be careful what you say. It is coming back to you in the same measure.
  • The Kingdom of Heaven is like the mystery of planting and harvesting. People do the work but forces beyond them really make things happen.
  • The Kingdom of God is like the tiny mustard seed, small at first, but expanding to fill the earth.

“…without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone,
He explained all things to His disciples.”

Time to Rest?
After a full day of this, Jesus was spent. He needed a break. He suggested that they take the boat to the other side of the water. Theirs wasn’t the only boat. Others followed Jesus and the twelve across the lake. A violent storm rose up to threaten them all. Their well-earned rest was in peril as were the occupants of all the boats. The boat Jesus was in began to fill with water. What was He doing in this storm? Resting. He was asleep on a pillow in the boat in spite of the storm. Everyone else panicked. They woke Jesus up.

“Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

They questioned the compassion of the Healer. They suspected the truth of the Teacher. They feared that the Deliverer would not deliver this time. Jesus woke up, stretched his back, yawned a big yawn and rebuked the storm.

“Peace, be still!”

It obeyed and the waters became still and the winds friendly once again. After all they had seen and heard, they still had trouble believing in Him.

“Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”

With these words, fear came on them, greater than their fear of the storm.

“Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Jesus sighed and returned to His pillow and to His rest. There was so much to preach, so much truth to proclaim.

Scripture
Mark 4:21-34
Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your truth is not some elevated thing beyond our understanding or use. Your truth is real, current, available, and applicable to our lives today. Help me be a light, not hidden, but shining for all to see. Help me be careful what I say and hear. Help me sow the good seed of Your Good News every day. And if a storm should arise today, help me rest in You in the midst of it, knowing that the storm must obey Your Word. Amen.

Song:
This Little Light of Mine
Traditional

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 7 “Sabbath”

Sabbath

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

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

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

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

“Stretch out your hand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Repeat)

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions also appear at KingdomWinds.com.

January 6 “Rules”

Rules

Rules are the delight of small minds. Principles are the strength of the wise.
Just as so many suffering folk were ready for His healing touch, many humble minds were open to the teachings of Jesus. Other minds were locked tight, threatened by anything from outside of their limited experience be it message or messenger. These were the “people of the rules.” To keep the rules required no thought and certainly no creativity. Since rules were at the surface of things, there was never any need to dive into matters. To alter the scriptures for them, “Deep did not call to shallow.” (Ps 42:7)

Rule Number One: Call the Right People
Beyond shallow rules, Jesus brought the truths of Kingdom of God to the regions of Galilee. He encountered the Rules People time and again. Passing through the multitude of hungry, humble souls, He spied one Levi, also called Matthew, a tax collector, and called to him just as he had the four fisherman, “Follow me.” Like those fishermen who left their businesses to follow Jesus, Levi abandoned his tax rolls to take up with the least political public figure he had ever seen.

The results of Levi’s obedience to the call were immediate. He invited his associates, an unseemly if prosperous lot of crooks, to dine with Jesus and His disciples in his own home, surely a sizable one acquired in the usual manner of those in his profession.

When the news of this dinner became known to the Rules People, the scribes and Pharisees, they had the evidence they needed to discredit Jesus. They approached His disciples with the 1st century equivalence of a smoking gun.

“How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”

When Jesus heard about it, His answer went beyond surface rules to deep principles:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Rules by Comparison
Certain Rules People who followed both John and the Pharisees noticed that the four fisherman were not joining them in fasting. They wanted to know why their rules were not everyone’s rules. The answer lay in the identity of Jesus Himself. He was Messiah, not forerunner. This was a day for feasting not fasting. Those times would come when He was gone from them. Here was the principle: Something new required new preparations:

…new wine must be put into new wineskins.”

Grainfields and the Sabbath
Jesus and the five disciples walked through a field of grain. Hungry, the men ate some of the ripened grain. No problem; except that it was the Sabbath. The score-keepers marked their cards and complained. The rules were more important than the hunger of the men. Jesus answered them with a story from the Scriptures. David and his men ate bread dedicated to the priests when they were pursued by King Saul. In their hunger this was an approved action, not a sin. In this case, the Rules People called it reaping and condemned Jesus and His men.

To answer their charges, Jesus introduced one of the most important facts about the Kingdom of God: Jesus is Lord of all—including the Sabbath! He is the ruling principle!

Rules are the delight of small minds. Principles are the strength of the wise.

Scriptures:
Mark: 2:13-28
Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me a hunger for You today. Bless me with a thirst for Your Living Water, truth direct from the Throne of God, a River of Life. As my spirit feasts on Your Word and as my soul deeply drinks of Your Spirit, impress upon me the principles behind the rules. You, Lord Jesus, are Rule Number One! Your life-giving principles demand much of me, but they supply so much more! Give me that hunger and thirst for righteousness that results in a full heart. Amen and Amen.

Song:
As the Deer
Words and Music: Martin Nystrom

1. As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after Thee
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship Thee

Refrain:
You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship Thee

2. You’re my friend and You are my brother
Even though You are a king
I love You more than any other
So much more than anything

Refrain

3. I want You more than gold or silver
Only You can satisfy
You alone are the real joy giver
And the apple of my eye

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 4 “If…”

If…

Having the power to heal the sick is one thing. It’s availability to others is another.
While recognizing His power, the leper doubted the character of Jesus. Why shouldn’t he? As a leper he was an outcast never welcomed in any circumstance and never invited into any circles of friendship except those of other lepers. Thus his call to Jesus, “If you are willing…”

The Morning After
The day before had begun in the synagogue with teaching, continued in a house for healing, and concluded past sundown in a city-wide healing and deliverance meeting. Early the next morning Jesus arose before all the others and went out to a solitary place to pray. When the others finally woke up, so many of them pain free for the first time in recent memory, no one could find Jesus. The people turned to the four men who seemed to be His followers to locate Him. The search was on until Peter found Him hidden away in the wilderness. Peter was not one to hesitate before speaking. He rebuked the Lord for being so unavailable.

“Everyone is looking for You.”

Jesus paid no attention to the rebuke. He had been praying about what to do next. Would He set up shop in Capernaum and operate from there, inviting needy people in? Or should they move on? Now He was sure of what do.

“Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also,
because for this purpose I have come forth.”

That settled it. They would move on to as many of the towns and villages in the region as possible. Every village had a synagogue where Jesus preached. Every town had sick folks who received a healing touch. Those infested with demons were everywhere to be found. Jesus exhibited mastery over them, commanding them not even to speak to Him.

At some point in these journeys the leper braved the rejection of the crowd and called out to Jesus:

“If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Jesus stopped to locate the unfortunate man. The crowd cleared the way making it possible for Jesus to see the pitiful sight: rags for clothes, bandages old and putrid, and a face covered to hide the wounds. Jesus could see into the leper’s soul. There He saw the deeper wounds of the outcast. Words had pierced his heart. Rejection had bruised his mind. Abuse had crippled his dreams.

Compassion and power rose up in Jesus, a compassion deeper than the wounds within the man and a power greater than the wounds on the surface.

“I am willing; be cleansed.”

From a safe distance the crowd watched without breathing as the leper began to shake his head as if shaking off a chill. His eyes opened as wide as possible as bandaged hands began to claw at the rags around his face. A great gasp came from the people as his face emerged without a scar. The man stripped the rags from his hands and they, too were clean and whole. The man began to dance as rags flew off in vile circles into the amazed and disgusted crowd. Someone brought him a robe and he danced in it for a while. His breath gone, he stood before Jesus. Jesus instructed him to not tell anyone before going to the priests for the requirements of the law.

Of course the man didn’t do that. He told everyone and the crowd became a multitude.

Such a miracle! And it began with the word, “If.”

Scriptures:
Mark 1: 32-45 NKJV
At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him. Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.” And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons. Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, sometimes we can recognize on one level that You are powerful and good and still doubt at another level that Your grace is available to us. We introduce the word “if” into our prayers. While we must never presume upon Your grace, let us always have faith in Your Word. The Bible says Your promises are sure. They are based in Your character, Your goodness. Let us confess with the Old Covenant saints that “the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!” Help us to hear, deep in our wounded spirits, Your sure word, “I am willing…” In Your Name, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Reach Out and Touch the Lord
Traditional

Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.
You’ll find He’s not too busy to answer your cry.
He’s passing by the moment, you needs to supply.
Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 2 “Wilderness”

Wilderness

In wild places, powerful things come about.
Far from the safety of home and the comfort of the routine, Jesus sought His Father’s heart in the desert. For 40 days he prayed and waited before God and did not eat or drink. Why? He was without sin. Surely He could “ascend the Hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place.” His hands were clean and His heart was pure.

The Spirit
No longer acting as a gentle dove, the Holy Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness. This was no gentle prompting, no sweet wooing of the soul. It was a demand to seek the solitary place, to flee from the distractions of everyday life and commerce, to retreat from normal interaction with people, even those He dearly loved. There was work to be done in this wilderness.

The Flesh
Years later in a garden, green and lush, Jesus revealed a mismatched contest within Himself: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Now in this desert, the spirit must subdue the flesh. The risk of the incarnation was that the flesh might win the contest. With fasting and deprivation the flesh was disciplined. Jesus’ body was strong and lean, that of a man who did hard work with his hands and the strength of his back and legs. There was no storehouse of calories packed anywhere on His frame. Fasting soon weakened these strong limbs and drained His stamina. Thirst stiffened his joints making the slightest move a painful ordeal.

The Beasts
Mark adds a dangerous detail. He “was with the wild beasts.” Desert predators can sense the weakness of a prey. They found him long before the 40 days were up. Perhaps like Daniel before Him, angels stopped the beasts and shut their mouths. Imagine that every night was filled with the hungry red eyes of wild beasts and every day the sky was patrolled by winged scavengers. This desert was no place of ease.

The Temptation
Mark gives no record of Satan’s temptations leaving those details to other evangelists. He reports only that Jesus was “tempted by Satan.” Jesus endured temptation as none of us ever have or will and He did not yield to sin. Therefore He can help us in our times of testing. The New Testament gives us details of how this happens but it is because of this victory in the wilderness. The same Jesus who went without food and water is with us in our privations. This same Jesus who turned away from pride, position, and false worship resides in us by the Spirit to enable our humility, servanthood, and true worship.

The Angels
How long the 40 days seemed for the guardian angels of Jesus! We marvel at their restraint. Jesus would not need their assistance. When the testing was done and Jesus proved victor, we can imagine the angelic rush to His aid. Wild beasts scattered before them. Perhaps manna, the bread of angels, was brought to Him, as well as the living waters He would promise to others. Strength for the tasks ahead returned to Him—God in the flesh, tested in the wilderness, ready to touch and heal, teach and deliver.

In wild places, powerful things come about.

Scriptures:
Mark 1:12-13 NKJV
Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
Hebrews 4:14-16 NKJV
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 2:14-18 NKJV
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 NKJV
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I cannot not imagine Your agony in the desert. You explored the depths of physical weakness to make me strong. You endured the extremes of loneliness in the wilderness to have fellowship with those who would come to love You. Help me enter into and flourish within that fellowship today. You went face to face with the devil and defeated him on his own ground. Let me share that victory today in my thoughts, my words, my actions, and in compassion to those around me. Help me feed on manna and drink deeply of living water so I can be strong this day and meet its demands. For Your Glory! Amen.

Song:
Yield Not to Temptation
Words and Music: Harold R. Palmer

1. Yield not to temptation, For yielding is sin;
Each vict’ry will help you, Some other to win;
Fight valiantly onward, Evil passions subdue;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain:
Ask the Savior to help you,
Comfort, strengthen and keep you;
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.

2. Shun evil companions, Bad language disdain;
God’s name hold in rev’rence, Nor take it in vain;
Be thoughtful and earnest, Kindhearted and true;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain

3. To him that o’ercometh, God giveth a crown;
Through faith we will conquer,Though o ften cast down;
He who is our Savior, Our strength will renew;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.