January 30 “Riches”

Riches

Wealth and the Kingdom of God are vitally related. It is a mistake to say they are in opposition to each other.
The Bible makes it clear that it is the love of money that is a root that brings forth only evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) Money is an essential to this life we live. It is also a window into the soul of the one who has it in great quantities. For those who love the Kingdom of God more than money, their wealth is a source of blessing, of advancing the Kingdom. More than impressive totals, ministry accrues.

Defining Riches
A simple definition would be this: having much more than you need to get along. Those who exist from paycheck to paycheck may handle lots of money but they are not rich. Those whose lives are a constant stream of blessing to the needs of others may often nearly deplete their accounts in the process but they are rich in heaven’s eyes. So it isn’t so much an issue of numbers, but of the heart.

The Rich Young Ruler
After boasting of his faithfulness to the commandments, he walked away in shame when Jesus revealed what was lacking in his life. He had great possessions, or to put it more accurately, his possessions had him. He was not ready to sell everything and follow Jesus. Wishing to make the point clear, Jesus said:

“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”

This surprising statement caught the Twelve off guard. Like everyone else, they knew that money, not just gravity, made the world go round. Won’t the Kingdom need rich people? Jesus made a second attempt to explain. It was a matter of having riches or trusting in them.

“Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!

At that moment a string of camels took the right-of-way, lumbering along, interrupting the conversation. Jesus seized the moment.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Each of them tried to imagine such a ridiculous event. Their astonishment grew like they wished their riches would grow.

“Who then can be saved?”

A Different Kind of Kingdom
Now they were getting somewhere. Jesus was bringing a different kind of Kingdom to earth, one based on the love of God, not the power of men. Money is time. Money is power—we know the clichés because they are true—in the Kingdom of men. In the Kingdom of God, riches are a means to an end, not an end—a tool for the work of the Kingdom, not the work itself. God uses money like He uses our talents and skills, our very lives.

“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

What is unlikely with men is routine with God. What is impossible in the Kingdom of Men is possible in this strange new Kingdom of God. A person can possess great possessions without being possessed by them. A person can have riches without being had by them. The secret is the first and second commandments: Love God and love people! When these loves are greater than the love for riches, blessings flow through the believer to the betterment of the world.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 23-28
Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Matthew 6:19-21
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have promised that if I followed You, putting Your Kingdom first in my life, that my life’s needs would be met. You have proven faithful in this! Lord, when abundance comes my way, help be a blessing to others. Help me lay up treasures in heaven and not just here below. Lord, as I am faithful to You in my giving, flow through me to the healing of my world and beyond. Keep me from the love of riches. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Song:
Give of Your Best to the Master
Words: Howard B. Groce; Music: Claribel

1. Give of your best to the Master;
Give of the strength of your youth;
Throw your soul’s fresh, glowing ardor
Into the battle for truth.
Jesus has set the example,
Dauntless was He, young and brave;
Give Him your loyal devotion;
Give Him the best that you have.

Refrain:
Give of your best to the Master;
Give of the strength of your youth;
Clad in salvation’s full armor,
Join in the battle for truth.

2. Give of your best to the Master;
Give Him first place in your heart;
Give Him first place in your service;
Consecrate every part.
Give, and to you will be given;
God His beloved Son gave;
Gratefully seeking to serve Him,
Give Him the best that you have.

Refrain

3. Give of your best to the Master;
Naught else is worthy His love;
He gave Himself for your ransom,
Gave up His glory above.
Laid down His life without murmur,
You from sin’s ruin to save;
Give Him your heart’s adoration;
Give Him the best that you have.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

January 28 “Salt”

Salt


A life without seasoning is bland and unsatisfying. Jesus commands us to be salt to a tasteless world.

The stench of the trash heap faded as they continued their journey south. Soon, even as they conversed, they would arrive in Judea. With the improved atmosphere the subject shifted from warnings about a poorly lived life and its aftermath to the keys to living an enjoyable life. We must be salt in a bland world. In so doing we will be a blessing to others, secure our marriages, and bless our children.

The Salty Life
Jesus said our personalities season our lives, making them pleasant for others to taste. A lack of salt in our lives blends us into the blur of godless living and we are best left alone.

“Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”

God has given each of us a distinct personality and it colors everything we say and do.

  • In a home full of love and encouragement, we develop that personality from the earliest age and as we do our parents smile when we smile and laugh when we laugh. Their hearts are stirred when we hurt and cry out. They are moved to action on our behalf.
  • In a different kind of home where parents are cruel or absent, the personality of the child is stunted and the “salt” does not develop its power to bless. There is no trust of others and life is lived in pain and selfishness.

Salt in Marriage
When two people with “salt”—properly developed inner lives—marry, the results can be wonderful—a happy home and happy children. When a marriage includes one or both parties who are without “salt”—that is, self-centered and untrusting—the marriage is doomed to failure. When solace is sought by one or both parties outside the marriage, sin destroys the home. The children in such a home will continue the salt-less life into another generation.

Salt can be obtained.
If Jesus were merely pointing out a fact of life that is without remedy, His words would be of little interest to us. That was not and is not the case. Jesus came to change things! Inevitabilities are dismantled when we give our lives to Him! When He said, “Have salt in yourselves.” He was telling us that the way we are is not the way we have to be. We can change and we can be changed.

  • We can change by actions of our will—repentance, reversal, renewal, revival—we can decide we want something else than what we have always had. We can decide to follow Jesus and be someone we have never been before.
  • We can be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would later say, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” If it was true for Him, it is certainly true for us. The power of our personal decisions can only take us so far. The Holy Spirit resides within the believer to carry us across the finish line, to make the change complete, to conform us to the image of Christ, and to provide the salt in our personalities needed to make us a blessing to all.

Add some salt.
To become the “you” you were intended to be, to save your marriage, and to bless the next generation, let the Holy Spirit add some “salt” to your life.

Scriptures
Mark 9: 49-50; 10:1-16
“For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”
Chapter Ten
Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again. The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You create mankind male and female, each gender with a delightful salt all its own. Help me be the person You made me to be. Season my life with salt, with the uniqueness and distinct function You intended. This salt will flavor my worship of You. It will bless my impact on others, making me a blessing, starting and continuing in my home. Above all, I want to be a blessing to You, Lord, a pleasant servant of Yours. Give me the salt it takes for this, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Make Me a Blessing
Words: Ira B. Wilson; Music: George S. Schuler

1. Out in the highways and byways of life,
many are weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
making the sorrowing glad.

Refrain:
Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,
Out of my life May Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

2. Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;
Tell of His pow’r to forgive;
Others will trust Him if only you prove
true ev’ry moment you live.

Refrain

3. Give as ’twas given to you in your need;
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed;
Unto your mission be true.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 26 “Greatest”

Greatest

Sometimes it seems all of life is a contest to determine who or what is the Greatest.
Jesus passed through Galilee in secret on His way to Capernaum. He explained this clandestine approach to the Twelve: a plot was forming against Him led by someone who wanted to betray Him. He told them the time would come for this but it was not then and not there. The men could not understand this at all. A dispute rose up among them concerning what Jesus meant. He assured them that when it eventually did happen that it would not be the end. He would rise on the third day.

Jesus in the Lead
Jesus walked ahead of the group, leading the way south. A group in the rear, safely out of earshot from Jesus, shifted the topic to a more pleasant one—who among them would be the greatest and take the lead in the new Kingdom. Knowing this, Jesus brought the subject out into the open.

“What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?”

It was useless to answer Him so they didn’t. Jesus stopped and found a place to sit by the road. Sheepishly the men gathered around for another lesson in leadership.

“If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

No long lecture. No puzzling parables. Just one simple hypothesis with no elaborate proofs offered in evidence.

A New Kingdom
The Kingdom of Heaven would be the direct opposite of the Kingdoms of men. Instead of leaders having servants, servants will lead! Power, which so often corrupts, will be seen as responsibility, which often leads to integrity. Humility will replace pride as the ruling sentiment. How could He illustrate this fundamental for them?

At that moment a family with children walked by the roadside classroom. Politely, Jesus asked the parents of a small child if He could hold the child. Perhaps they knew who He was, but at least they sensed He could be trusted.

Quickly, Jesus made a friend of the child bringing joy into all those who witnessed this object lesson. He looked at the crowd and with a big smile said this.

“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me;
and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Childlike faith will be the standard of the Kingdom to come. The least will be the greatest and the greatest will be the smiling servants of all. What a glorious Kingdom it will be!

He lifted the child and handed him/her back to the parents. They thanked Him as if He had blessed them with a valuable gift. Indeed, He had! The family went on their way as did Jesus and the Twelve. This time there was no dispute, in fact, no conversation at all. Nothing needed to be said but everything that had been said required deep thought.

Scriptures:
Mark 9:30-37
Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him. Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the greatest of all! Help me know that to strive to be the greatest in Your Kingdom is the opposite of my natural instincts. To be first with You is to take the lowest place. To lead is to serve. Help me welcome responsibility while I shun power. Lord, make me to become like You. You emptied Yourself of heavenly majesty to become a person of low estate. Help me have that same mind in me. All for Your glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
The Greatest Thing in All My Life
Words and Music: Mark Pendegrass

1. The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
I want to know You more
I want to know You more
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You

2. The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
I want to love You more
I want to love You more
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You

3. The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
I want to serve You more
I want to serve You more
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 23 “Denial”

Denial

Just as we are called to confess Christ, we are also called to deny ourselves to follow Him.
The crowds were huge. The miracles were many. His fame had spread beyond Galilee to Jerusalem. Pilgrims seeking God were coming to Galilee rather than traveling to the Temple. When they came to Jesus they saw the power of God at work, undeniable miracles, signs, and wonders. In Jerusalem they saw politics as usual dressed in the finery of hypocrisy. They were tired of mumbling rabbis so they came to Jesus to hear the Word of God proclaimed in power and authority.

A Change of Subject
Jesus knew it was time to take His teaching deeper. Yes, He had come to touch and heal a hurting humanity but He had also come to die a redeeming death. Yes, He was the Word of God made flesh, but He was also the Sin Bearer prophesied by Isaiah. This hard message must be delivered. If not, His death would be seen as tragedy rather than triumph.

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…

His disciples were not ready for this class. Peter took Jesus aside and tried to get Him back on topic. Jesus’ rebuke was sharp:

“Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Peter’s face burned red and none of the others dared even to look at him for they knew they were just as guilty.

The Things of God
It is not surprising that men would be primarily concerned about “the things of men:” food, clothing, shelter, power, position, wealth, influence. The surprising thing was that their eyes could be elevated to a higher vision, their passions could flow to others and not to self only, and that their minds could conceive of eternal truth, not just matters of the here and now. Yet, this surprising transformation in men was precisely what Jesus had come to bring about. He called all the people nearer, including his embarrassed disciples, and taught them this new and very ancient truth. To follow Him, there would be a heavy cost.

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

Jesus turned life upside down. Personal success was found in self-denial. To lose one’s life in Jesus was to find it. If someone gained the whole world there would be no profit in it if he lost his own soul in the process.

Crosses
For the first time Jesus spoke of His cross. An implement of death, it provides eternal life for all who believe. He spoke of other crosses, one for each person who would follow Him. Although demanding the denial of self, this cross would be a thing of life—a life’s work we do for Him. If we would follow Him, we must deny ourselves, find our cross—God’s will for us—and do it.

This is the life we were created to live. We dare not bargain it away on “the things of men.”

“…what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Scriptures:
Mark 8:31-38
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for taking up Your cross, for denying Your humanity and submitting to the plan of the Father for Your earthly life. It was not plan B. It was so for the beginning, that You would create human life, see it fall into sin, and then enter it through the virgin’s womb, live it to perfection and then die unworthily for those of us so worthy of death. Your cross, an instrument of torture, has become an implement of life. Help me today to be faithful in bearing my cross—Your plan for me—that I might bring someone closer to You. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Take Up Thy Cross and Follow Me
Words and Music: Alfred H. Ackley

1. I walked one day along a country road,
And there a stranger journeyed too,
Bent low beneath the burden of His load:
It was a cross, a cross I knew.

Refrain:
“Take up thy cross and follow Me,”
I hear the blessed Savior call;
How can I make a lesser sacrifice,
When Jesus gave His all?

2. I cried, “Lord Jesus,” and He spoke my name;
I saw His hands all bruised and torn;
I stooped to kiss away the marks of shame,
The shame for me that He had borne.

Refrain

3. “Oh, let me bear Thy cross, dear Lord,” I cried,
And, lo, a cross for me appeared,
The one, forgotten, I had cast aside,
The one, so long, that I had feared.

Refrain

4. My cross I’ll carry till the crown appears—
The way I journey soon will end—
Where God Himself shall wipe away all tears,
And friend hold fellowship with friend.
Refrain

<em>Semper Reformanda!</em>
<em>Stephen Phifer</em>
</div>
<em> © 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved</em>

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 22 “Confession”

Confession

Words have power. When they are spoken that power is called into action.
Jesus grew up confessing the psalms. It was part of the training of every boy in Nazareth. Since He was—Jesus!—we can be sure that He had a deeper understanding than others of these normal processes. The Holy Spirit inside of Him told Him things, gave Him a perspective on normal events and practices that others could not see. Thus, when as a young man, He began this teaching and miracle tour of the regions around Galilee, He had lots to say, many observations to share and many parables and metaphors to employ. Among these was the power of confession.

Jesus knew that beliefs privately held possessed an innate power and when those beliefs were publicly spoken, that innate power externalized; it entered into life itself. The crowds coming to Him were enormous and they did not depart from Him disappointed. He knew there would be many theories as to who He was. If the general confession was that He was Messiah, it could bring about the end too soon. Perhaps for this reason He implored those who benefitted from His healing, delivering touch to remain quiet about it. It was a hopeless cause, of course. Who, once blind but now seeing, could not confess it? What deaf person now hearing, lame person now walking, dead person now alive, could refrain from telling people about Jesus? What sane person, once possessed by emissaries from hell, now clothed and in his right mind, could keep from telling people how it happened as by whose hand?

Bethsaida
So they came to a fishing village called Bethsaida. A blind man was led to Jesus by friends. He and his friends begged Jesus to touch him. Jesus did some strange things:

  • He took the man by the hand and led him out of town.
  • He spat in the man’s eyes and laid His hands on him.
  • He interviewed the man. He asked if he could see anything.

“I see men like trees, walking.”

The job wasn’t finished. The man’s true confession revealed that there was more healing needed. Jesus touched his eyes again and made the man look up, beyond the level of men or trees. The blind man’s vision was completely restored. Then Jesus sent him home, commanding him not to confess his miracle to the town. He left the outskirts of the village and made his way unassisted home avoiding the townspeople.

Caesarea Philippi
By foot, Jesus and the Twelve went north to Caesarea Philippi on the slopes of Mount Hermon, the northernmost point of Jesus’ ministry. On the road, Jesus asked His disciples about the various confessions of His identity. As they discussed various ideas expressed by the wondering crowds, Jesus asked them personally who they were confessing Him to be. Peter’s answer continues to ring all these centuries later.

“You are the Christ.”

It was too soon for this explosive confession, so Jesus asked them to keep this to themselves for a little while.

Confessing Christ
It is great to believe in Jesus, but we must confess Him publicly. When we do this with repentance, we become a follower of Him. When we do this every day we are a witness to Him. The innate power of our believe goes out into the world with our confession and someone’s life gets changed.

Scriptures
Mark 8:22-30
Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.” Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?” So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.

Prayer:
Confession of Faith

The Apostles’ Creed
From the Book of Common Payer
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Song:
Because We Believe
Words and Music: Don Moen

1. We believe in God the Father.
We believe in Christ the Son.
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
We are the Church and we stand as one.

2. We believe in the Holy Bible.
We believe in the virgin birth.
We believe in the resurrection
That Christ one day will return to earth

Refrain:
Holy, holy, holy is our God!
Worthy, worthy, worthy is our King!
All glory and honor are His to receive.
To Jesus we sing because we believe.

3. We believe in the blood of Jesus.
We believe in eternal life.
We believe in His love that frees us
To become the bride of Christ.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

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.