November 13, 2018 “Cheer”

Cheer

Speaking plainly at last, Jesus predicted His ultimate victory.
This victory would not be one of symbols or images; it would be a real victory over real enemies in this very real world. The time for symbols alone was passing and the time had arrived for the realities they represented to be clearly seen.

“I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.”

Jesus longed for the day when the Holy Spirit would reside in the hearts and minds of the disciples, making the Father whom Jesus loved a present reality to them.

‘…the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world.
Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”

The disciples rejoiced in this.

“See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!”

Every teacher knows the moment of breakthrough when his/her students finally get what he or she has been saying all along. The wonderful epiphany of this night was the first of many—a lifetime of revelation by the power of the Holy Spirit. They claimed to believe.

“Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.”

Not so fast!
Jesus was glad for this small victory, this promising breakthrough in their minds, but He knew the matter was not yet settled. Again, He had to bring them back to earth, to rescue them from their self-congratulation.

“Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone.”

As painful as the truth must have been, it had to be told. They had spoken brave words but impending circumstances would make them regret them. Like the agony facing Jesus, the victory on the other side of the pain facing Jesus was beyond their control. God was at work in the earth, undoing the work of Satan. This heavenly momentum was a work in progress. In many ways, the men were simply bystanders though certainly not innocent ones. When the test came, they would desert Him but Jesus would not be alone; He would be doing the will of the Father.

“And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.”

The Overcomer
In that moment, Jesus was not alone. When the soldiers invaded the garden of prayer and His men scattered in fear, the Father would remain with Him. The same was true in all the events of the Passion until the His final moments on the cross. Nailed there, however, Jesus was the most forsaken man who ever lived. Yet, in that moment of complete abandonment, He would overcome the world.

After that, He would never be alone again. The Father, the Spirit, the hosts of Heaven and the holy, blood-bought church would be His companions. Together, we share His astounding, marvelously complete victory.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

It has all proven true: tribulation, peace, victory, all in the name of Jesus.

Scriptures:
John 16:25-33

“These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, because of You, I can face an often cheerless world with a cheerful song in my heart. Your passion, endured by You to rescue me from sin, and Your victory over sin, form the tune and rhythm of my heart-song. To think that You personally turned the sorrows of life into peace and cheer is the theme of my song. Help me sing it well and often. Give me listeners to hear my song as I sing Your story to my world. May failures on my part never hinder for long the music of my life. I know You will forgive and cleanse men and then play the introduction for me again when I repent and confess Your name. What joy, peace, and cheer I have to be in Your choir! Amen.

Song:
Rejoice the Lord Is King!

Words: Charles Wesley; Music: John Darwall

1. Rejoice, the Lord is King: Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks and sing, And triumph evermore.
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

2. Jesus, the Savior, reigns, The God of truth and love;
When He has purged our stains, He took his seat above;
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

3. His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell Are to our Jesus giv’n:
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

4. Rejoice in glorious hope! Our Lord and judge shall come
And take His servants up To their eternal home:
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 12, 2018 “Joy”

Joy

Sometimes the words of Jesus just made no sense at all.
Such was the case when Jesus told His eleven remaining disciples that they would not see Him and then in a little while, they would see Him again, all because He was leaving them.

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me,
because I go to the Father.”

What was that again? His men protested the illogic of such a statement.

“We do not know what He is saying.”

Jesus could hear their private conversations and, more than that, He knew their thoughts. He had to prepare them for both the sorrow to come and the joy to follow that. As for the deep sorrow:

“…you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice…”

Out of Sync
They were destined to be out of phase with the world. The joy of the sinful world would cause them great sorrow. It has always been so. Those who follow Jesus are often saddened to tears by the thinking and actions of sinful people. Their laughter sends believers to the closet of intercession to weep before the Throne of God. Their mirth is seen as prelude to disaster, their frivolity to great tribulation. On the other hand, Christ-followers sow in tears over the sadness of the world so that they also may reap in joy when the Rescuer intervenes, saving lost souls and healing deep and debilitating wounds.

“…and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.”

Trading Our Sorrows
Only Jesus can perform this astounding transformation—sorrow into joy—but it can be seen in creation itself. Jesus cited childbirth as an example.

“A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come;
but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish,
for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”

We must remember this was an all-male gathering so this very masculine sentiment can be forgiven. The women who loved and followed Jesus might have moderated this view somewhat but the truth remains. Witness the smile of the mother, just delivered from the door of death, when she holds her child for the first time.

Unassailable Joy
They too, were about to come near the door of death as Jesus passed through it. They would weep and lament as they scattered to find their own hiding places. They would abandon the One who had found them and desert the One who had brought them to the gates of heaven.

Then, they would see Him again, see Him as they had never seen Him, with the shining garments of glory draped about Him. The inner circle had seen a glimpse of this on the mountain but soon they would all see Him thus and their hearts would rejoice.

“Until now you have asked nothing in My name.
Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

A new joy would be theirs, a joy deeper than the deepest sorrow, a continuing joy of unlimited answers to prayer. Things would be so different then. Perhaps His words made sense after all.

Scriptures:
John 16:16-24

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.” Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I live in a world marred by the sins of people. The pristine environment You created is now polluted and scarred by the actions of sinful man. And so it is with the lives of people. Created to experience Your glory and be host to the Holy Spirit, people are now ruined and desperate, ravaged by their own choices and misled by the culture. Yet You have come into the world to ravage sin itself and counter the lies of the culture with truth of the Gospel. The result for believers is a joy like no other—Your joy, hard won in the garden of prayer, in the courts of men, on the cross of death and in triumph of an empty tomb! Thank You for this impervious joy! Amen.

Song:
If You Want Joy, Real Joy

Traditional

If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy,
Let Jesus come into Your heart.
If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy,
Let Jesus come into Your heart.
Your sins He’ll wash away.
Your night He’ll turn to day.
Your life, He’ll make it over anew.
If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy,
Let Jesus come into Your heart.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 11, 2018 “Advantage”

Advantage

It was a classic good news / bad news situation.
The bad news was that Jesus was leaving them. The good news was that He would send them the Holy Spirit. Jesus came to the earth on a divinely appointed mission. He never married, set up a business, and settled down to stay. In a very real sense, in the same way that He was born to die, He came here to leave. His rightful residence is Zion, God’s ruling and dwelling place, where on His throne of majesty, He receives the worship of thousands of angels, dozens of elders, and a gallery of faithful believers.

The good news is this: because of this sequence of events in His mission:

  • The Incarnation,
  • The sinless life,
  • The atoning death, and
  • The Resurrection,

Jesus makes the hearts of those who follow Him and worship Him, an outpost of Zion. He dwells and rules in the hearts of those who love Him.

Better for Them
When Jesus spoke of terrible events soon to commence, sorrow filled the hearts of His men. What He had to get across to them was that this was all to their advantage. This was difficult to believe. How could it be an advantage to them for Jesus to go away?

“I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”

Because they had not yet experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, they could not understand what Jesus was telling them. On the Day of Pentecost, they would suddenly understand, as the flood of the Holy Spirit gushed through their hearts. On this night, all they could do was listen and try to make sense of what Jesus was saying. They knew that if Jesus promised to send the Spirit to them, it must be a good thing to anticipate. How would the Spirit help them?

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
These are some of the most important words of Jesus. He explains the work of the Holy Spirit among us. These are the things Spirit will do:

He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come.

“…of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

It would not be the job of the disciples to browbeat people to faith in Christ. All they had to do was tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit would do the convicting.

He will guide believers into all truth.
There were many details of the Christian life that Jesus did not address. For instance, He told us to baptize believers but did say how it should be done. The same is true for the Lord’s supper. These men and the ones they taught would continue to hear from the Spirit as to the details of how to live out the teachings of Christ.

He will glorify Jesus.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is all about revealing Jesus to believers. Anything we know about Jesus, we know because the Spirit has revealed it to us. That is His job!

“He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”

The Holy Spirit leads the church in worship. When true worship happens, it is all about Jesus.

We are truly advantaged to have the ministry of the Spirit with us!

Scriptures:
John 16:5-15

“But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He abides in my heart because You have taken my sins away and made my heart a fitting place for the Spirit to dwell. I can function beyond the limits of my talent and skill because Your anointing rests on me, lifting my efforts to a higher level. Oh Holy Spirit, sanctify my heart and my mind, keeping my inner life pure and simple. O Lord, help me represent You well in my world. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
Spirit of the Living God

Traditional

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 10, 2018 “Witness”

Witness

Jesus spoke of two simultaneous floods of the Holy Spirit.
One would be a flood of revelation, knowledge of the holy things of God flooding into their lives. The other would be a tide of witness as they told people about Jesus. Truth would flow into them and out of them.

  • The Holy Spirit would abide with them, the Spirit of Truth, The Helper, The Comforter, the One who would bring His words to their remembrance and lead them into all truth.
  • The Holy Spirit would anoint them, enabling them to live holy lives and empowering their words. They would perform the same kind of miracles they had seen Jesus do. Their words and deeds of witness would fly like arrows piercing the hearts of those who heard and saw them. Their lives would point the way to Jesus.

This two-way flood would give them a lasting impact on the world. In short, they would be His witnesses.

The First Generation
They were the first generation of countless generations to come. They would possess an authority no other Christ-followers would enjoy. They were the ones who walked this earth with Jesus. Millions more would come to know Jesus by believing their witness but the distinction of being His original disciples would forever belong only to them. As such, they would set patterns and teach principles for believers to follow for ages to come, all the way to our day and to the wonderful day when Jesus will return. Like everything else Jesus asked of them, this was far beyond their ability to perform. They would need the Holy Spirit to strengthen them from the inside out and guide them through every unpredictable, unprecedented situation they would face.

They must not stumble.
So much depended on these eleven men and the ones they would train. As if their mission weren’t daunting enough, they would have to deal with intense opposition. Just as the leaders of Israel opposed Jesus, they would likewise oppose His disciples.

“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.
They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”

What is worse than the opposition of those who should be helping? Following Jesus would divide families both internally and among the generations. Two great forces of opposition would arise:

  1. The entrenched religious leaders, and
  2. The Roman authorities.

The leaders of Israel would arrest them, torture them, and execute them thinking they were doing the work of God. In their generation, the Roman government would suppress them and make following Christ a dangerous life style. The disciples would see the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jesus was leveling with His men. He did not exaggerate for history reveals nearly three centuries of persecution from religious leaders and from the Romans.

Knowing God
The sustaining force to counter this two-pronged onslaught of violence was the two-fold flood of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was gone from them physically, He would still be with them spiritually through the abiding Spirit of God. The more they opened to the inward flow of life from the Spirit, the more powerful would be the outward flow of power and victory in their lives.

Scriptures:
John 15:26-27; 16:1-4

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. (John 16) “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. “And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I open my heart to the ministry of the Holy Spirit—flow into my heart in a flood of compassion and into my mind in an ever-rising tide of wisdom and understanding. O Holy Spirit, let Your anointing rest on me to sanctify my life and empower my witness. Flow into me, Lord! Flow out from me, Lord! When persecution comes my way, help me be strong and patient, trusting always in You. You have called me to faithfulness and fruitfulness. Grant it, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Let Me Touch Him

Words and Music: Vep Ellis

1. Let me touch Him let me touch Jesus.
Let me touch Him as He passes by.
Then when I shall reach out to others.
They shall know Him they shall live and not die.

Refrain:
Oh to be His hand extended,
Reaching out to the oppress’d.
Let me touch Him let me touch Jesus,
So that others may know and be bless’d.

2. I was straying so far from Jesus.
I was lonely had no peace within.
Then the hand of my Saviour touched me,
Now I’m reaching to others in sin

Refrain

3. There’s a river a river flowing
From within and to cleanse my soul,
And the flow sets my life to glowing,
Holy Spirit more than silver and gold.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 9, 2018 “Hate”

Hate

As impossible as it may seem, people hate Jesus.
It wasn’t “those people back then” who hated Him; people still do. This is seen in the media, in the arts, and in routine conversation. The name of no other founder of any religion is used as a curse. Who hates Jesus today?

  • People who love the things of this world hate Jesus because He is calling them to a higher one.
  • People who are in love with themselves hate Jesus because He is calling them a love centered in others and in God.
  • People who seek power hate Jesus because He has the power.
  • People who are haughty hate Jesus because He is humble in the face of His majesty.
  • People who crave sin hate Jesus because He reveals sin to be a destructive force.
  • People who are evil hate Jesus because He is good.
  • People who are bound hate Jesus because He is free and offers freedom to all.

Make no mistake; those who hate Jesus do so with a passion and violence often meted out on those who follow Him. This is not paranoia—it is fact.

Facing the Hate
Jesus warned His men that night: there was only one way to overcome hate. They would have to learn to love those who hated them, just as they saw Jesus doing.

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”

Hate is often hidden beneath the surface. People who choose not to believe in Jesus will report that they do not hate Him, they just don’t believe His story. This kinder, gentler hate is still hate. To hear about His incarnation, leaving heaven’s throne to inhabit the squalor of a stable, and refusing to believe it is a politically correct dismissal of God Himself and bears the same terrible consequences of outright hostility. To know about the cross of Christ and His suffering for our sins and to turn away from Him, is to identify with the soldiers who drove the nails into His hands. To spurn such love so freely offered is a cruel rejection that condemns the offender.

To Follow Christ
Paul speaks of knowing Christ in “the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.” With the peace of Christ vibrating in our hearts, we are privileged to participate in the sufferings of Christ. When others sin, we are often called upon to endure the consequences of their wrong-doing. This injustice is a point of fellowship with Jesus. He suffered for the sins of others and sometimes we do as well. The pain is real but deeper than the suffering there is a peace born in the privilege of sharing, not just the joy of victory, but the cost of it.

Persecution
Today and throughout history, the degree of persecution for Christ-followers varies greatly from place to place. To whatever degree we are delivered to persecution, it will happen to all who take up their cross to follow Jesus. Two things comfort us:

  1. The persecution is not permanent; it will come to an end with a crown of glory on the other side.
  2. The Lord is with us through the trial.

Meanwhile the disciples were in good company!

“… now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.”

What is the answer? To love others as Christ has loved us, even those who hate us. We overcome evil with good.

Scriptures:
John 15:18-25

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’
Philippians 3:7-11 NKJV
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Romans 12:17-21 NKJV
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are love! You deal with me through Your love for me. Help me love others in the same way. When I am incapable of this, take over Lord, and love people through me. Help me overcome evil with good. Remind me to pray for those who persecute me, just as You commanded. Help to live the Jesus life in my world today, loving when hated, being kind in the face of cruelty, exercising faith in the face of cynicism, showing truth like a light shining in the darkness of the world’s continual deception, and spreading hope to a world desperate for it. All in Your name, Your Power, and for Your glory! Amen.

Song:
People Need the Lord

Words and Music: Greg Nelson

1. Every day they pass me by. I can see it in their eyes.
Empty people filled with care, Headed who knows where?
On they go through private pain Living fear to fear.
Laughter hides their silent cries. Only Jesus hears.

Refrain:
People need the Lord. People need the Lord.
At the end of broken dreams He’s the open door.
People need the Lord. People need the Lord.
When will we realize People need the Lord?

2. We are called to take His light To a world where wrong seems right
What could be too great a cost For sharing life with one who’s lost?
Through His love our hearts can feel All the grief they bear
They must hear the words of life Only we can share.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 8, 2018 “Friends”

Friends

Christianity is more than a philosophy—it is a life lived in relationship with Jesus.
What the world can never understand is that true Christianity is a daily walk with Jesus. The name, Emmanuel, God with Us is more than a name; it is a condition, a reality, a companionship of spirit and not one of mind or imagination. These meanings are all derived from the word “abide.” A Greek dictionary is helpful:

Abide: (NT:3306) me/nw ‎meno (men’-o);
a primary verb; to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy). (Strong’s)

Far from an abstract set of life principles, true Christianity is a life to be lived with God Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Abiding in Christ
“Abiding” is an action word, a powerful verb, something to be done intentionally and perpetually.

‘If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

The grace of God makes this possible but the choice is ours. Jesus invites us in when He teaches us to pray, when He calls us to take up His yoke and learn of Him, when He enrolls our names into His family records, and when He calls us friends. He is the Lord of Hosts, high and lifted up on a throne of majesty with all of heaven focused on Him and yet He calls us friends. He is not content to be separated from us. The words of Isaiah: “Fear not for I am with thee…Thou art graven in my hand…” Yes, we are His servants, but we are also His friends, His confidants, His life companions.

Obedience
The key to such intimacy with the Almighty is a simple one—obedience. In this simple but challenging life, obedience closes the distance between the human and the divine. It is the source of the deepest joy available to a human being—the joy of Christ.

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you,
and that your joy may be full.”

Fullness of joy comes when our purpose is known and engaged. It has little to do with circumstances; this joy is sourced in eternal things. It is a joy that remains constant as life swirls around us. It is peace in and out of the storm.

A Circle of Friends
Obedience to the commands of Christ connects us to like-minded, like-hearted brothers and sisters. We are no longer alone in the world.

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

This circle of obedient servants of Christ is a circle of deep friendships with dependable companions all headed in the same direction for the same reasons.

Graduation Day
As Jesus spoke so tenderly to His men that night, He promoted them from the status of servants to that of friends. They would still be servants, but they would serve Him at the heart level and not from arm’s length. He had chosen them to be faithful and fruitful.

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain…”

This companionship is one of obedience born in love.

Scriptures:
John 15:9-17

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.
Isaiah 41:9-10; 49:16 KJV
Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, it is so amazing that You have called me to serve You. It is more than amazing that You have called me to be Your friend. This is no meaningless designation; it is real. Just as friends do, You share Your heart with me, letting me feel what You feel, value what You value, and see things through Your eyes. Your voice speaks from Your Word; help me always to hear it. Even what my understanding falls short of Yours—as it must do!—help me continue to believe. I trust You, Lord Jesus, my very best friend. Amen.

Song:
Friendship with Jesus

Words: Joseph C. Ludgate; Music: Stephen C. Foster

1. A friend of Jesus! Oh, what bliss That one so weak as I
Should ever have a Friend like this To lead me to the sky!

Refrain:
Friendship with Jesus! Fellowship divine!
Oh, what blessed, sweet communion!
Jesus is a Friend of mine.

2. A Friend when other friendships cease, A Friend when others fail,
A Friend who gives me joy and peace, A Friend when foes assail!

Refrain

3. A Friend when sickness lays me low, A Friend when death draws near,
A Friend as through the vale I go, A Friend to help and cheer!

Refrain

4. A Friend when life’s short race is o’er A Friend when earth is past,
A Friend to meet on Heaven’s shore, A Friend when home at last!

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 7, 2018 “Abide”

Abide

Jesus introduced a new metaphor—The Vine and the Branches.
More than an illustration, this was the reality of their relationship. The metaphor was marvelously complete:

  • Jesus is the True Vine.
  • The Father is the Vinedresser.
  • The followers of Jesus are branches in the Vine.
  • The whole point is the production of the fruit.

The concept of “bearing fruit” invites us to imagine a wide range of products a life in Christ might produce. Vitally connected to Jesus, each of us should bear much fruit, fruit defined by the gifts and calling of our individual lives.

Pruning and Bearing Fruit
With the metaphor fixed, Jesus began to teach. Bearing fruit was both the point and the test. The Father, as Vinedresser, would constantly monitor each branch for two things:

  1. the health of the branch, and
  2. the production of fruit.

What the Father discovered in His examination determined how He must care for each branch.

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;
and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

The whole point of the Vineyard was to produce grapes, not to eliminate branches. This required a healthy vine—Jesus was that!—and healthy productive branches. If a branch proved unproductive steps must be taken to make it productive. Pruning it—removing unnecessary, hindering factors—was the first option. The final option, cutting the branch from the Vine, was never a joyful choice.

Christ-followers through the ages have felt the skillful hands of the Vinedresser as the Lord has modified their lives through circumstances beyond their control. The Father’s hands are loving hands, using the circumstances of our lives—sometimes through answered prayer and at other times through unanswered ones. Branches are in the Vine to produce fruit that is powerful, sweet, and lasting. The same was true for the Eleven. The joyful bearing of fruit was and is worth the pain of the pruning.

Abiding in the Vine
The Vinedresser deals with us from a blessed proximity not from a distance. Jesus makes it clear.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself,
unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

Simply put, to abide means to live. God is closer to us than our very breath. The “Breath of God” is the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in us. This is the closest of relationships: We abide in God and God abides in us. This is the secret of fruit-bearing, not skill or luck or even good intentions. We bear fruit because we are attached to the True Vine.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him,
bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

Unlimited
The potential of this life is unlimited. History shows the amazing things Christ-followers have done for Him and through Him. That potential remains for us today.

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire,
and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified,
that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

Never simply a metaphor—this is God’s plan for us.

Scriptures:
John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want with all my heart to be a fruitful branch. Help be guard my connection You—prayer and the Word. Just as life-giving substances flow through the vine to the branches in the plant world, Your life flows to me through my connection to You. Teach me to listen for Your voice and to sense the moving of Your Spirit. If I fall into error, help me yield to Your tender hands as the pruning begins. Correct me so that nothing hinders the flow of Your life through me! I want with all my heart to abide in You! Lord, Abide with me! Amen.

Song:
Abide with Me

Words: Henry Francis Lyte; Music: William H. Monk

1. Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

3. I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like thyself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

4. I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless,
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

5. Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 6, 2018 “Peace”

Peace

Peter was listening again now.
Jesus’ prophecy of his imminent denials had taken away all His confidence. The subject of Jesus’ teaching now created a tiny bit of hope in the fisherman’s heart. He could not understand why Jesus chose him if He knew he was going to deny Him. There must have been some prospect for Peter’s eventual success. Perhaps this “Helper,” this paraclete, was the answer.

The Holy Spirit
As His time on earth was running out, Jesus sought to prepare His men for the great changes coming to the world. There would be a New Covenant, one vastly superior to the Old Covenant. Everything about worshiping and serving God would change and the Holy Spirit would be at the heart of all the changes. Peter tried to reach through his fear to grasp the hope Jesus was holding out to him.

“… the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”

The Peace of Christ
This was good news. There was so much to remember and the Holy Spirit would help them remember. A stillness began to settle into Peter’s soul. The other ten disciples felt it too. Sensing this transfer from His heart to theirs,’ Jesus explained.

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

It was true. His peace—an astounding calm anchored to the heart of the Father—was flowing into them as they listened to His words. Each man began to believe that he was up to the task. This was a peace none of them had ever known. It was strength to their minds and courage to their hearts.

“You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.”

This was new information. He was about to leave but He would be returning to them. Meanwhile the Comforter would abide with them.

“If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’
for My Father is greater than I.”

They weren’t quite at the point of rejoicing yet but hope was building in their hearts. Jesus saw their struggle.

“I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe.”

One more thing: They would be opposed. The “ruler of this world” was coming in force. His power was great but was vulnerable to the love of God and the love for God. For these things the enemy had no countermeasure. Thus, the teachings of Jesus they had heard for three years would be their guide. Loving God would make them strong. Loving people would make them beneficial to a world with no other hope. As He had done on this earth mission, He would continue to do through them and the world would be changed one soul at a time.

The meal was done as was the current lesson so Jesus dismissed His men from the upper room. They departed in peace.

Scriptures:
John 14:25-31

“These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I. “And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.
Colossians 3:12-17 NKJV
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the gift of Your peace. It is the anchor of my soul, struck deep into You and holding there. This peace is a spring in my heart bubbling forth without ceasing in all circumstances, those who seem to turn against me and those who seem to flow my way—Your peace permeates all events. I will let Your peace be the umpire of my life. I will let it rule in my heart. You made the world and by the same creative power You dwell in my heart. I will fear no person but will trust completely in You. Amen and amen.

Song:
Let the Peace of Christ Rule in Your Heart

Words and Music: Denny Cagle

Let the peace of Christ Rule in your heart
Let the peace of Christ Rule in your heart
And whatever you do in word or deed
Do it all in the name of the Lord

Giving thanks giving thanks
To God through Christ the Lord
Giving thanks giving thanks
To God through Christ the Lord

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 5, 2018 “Helper”

Helper

The eleven disciples of Jesus were fully awake; even Peter was emerging from his stupor.
They had all learned not to try and correct Jesus. It was better to hold their questions and just keep listening. He had just told them they would do greater works in their lives than Jesus Himself had done. To a man, each of them felt as far away from such a life as it is possible to stand. They knew they were helpless before such a calling. They would need assistance to be such men in this world.

The Paraclete
Jesus knew this. He smiled and delivered the best news they could ever imagine. The key to it all was this: love the Lord and live a life of obedience!

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever…”

They would do greater works through the ministry of the Holy Spirit abiding within them. The Greek word used is paracletos, or paraclete, meaning:

“first Advocate, a defender, helper, strengthener, as well as comforter.”
(Smith’s Bible Dictionary)

Far from being helpless, the followers of Jesus—beginning with those eleven common men—would be mightily–divinely–assisted. The creative power of God the Holy Spirit would inhabit them with an abiding presence to empower them to live holy lives and do works of service both great and small.

They would cross another line. In the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit came on God’s servants for specific tasks. Under the New Covenant in His Blood, the Holy Spirit would abide in their hearts, a constant anointing of power and peace.

The Spirit of Truth
The Helper would also be the Spirit of truth. He would arm them with truth as a mighty sword. He would enable them to be true, to live truly, and to tell the truth to the world. The heart of that truth would the presence of Jesus. Though He was soon to leave the world, He would still inhabit the world, living in the praises of His people and reigning on a throne of their worship and service.

”I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

Jesus went on to give details about how they would know the Father when they knew Him better through the ministry of the Spirit. He promised that with Him, the Father Himself, would abide in their hearts.

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him,
and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”

Jesus described a world that had never existed before—at least not since Adam and Eve walked with God in a garden untouched by sin. This would be their world and it would be the Good News they would bring to the nations.

Soon they would witness terrible events far beyond their greatest fears. It would look very much like the end. They must remember all the words spoken that night, especially this promise.

“Because I live, you will live also.”

The room was silent as Peter, who, seated by himself off to one side, had recovered the shock of Jesus’ prediction and was listening carefully, knowing how much he needed a Helper.

Scriptures:
John 14:15-24

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, we are helpless in this world without the indwelling of Your Spirit. He is our enabler. He is or illumination. He abides in our hearts because Your Holy blood has sanctified us for Your service, qualifying us to host Your Holy Spirit. I dare not go into this day in my own strength. I dare not try to understand the confusion of this world without Your Spirit’s illumination. With the Spirit of Truth, I can detect the lies. With the anointing of Your Spirit I can prevail over evil. In the power of the paraclete, I can prevail in this day. For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Spirit of t
he Living God
Words and Music: Daniel Iverson

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 4, 2018 “Greater”

Greater

With Judas gone and promises added to all the somber warnings, the mood in the upper room brightened.
While there was a price to be paid, there was also a prize to be gained. The task before Jesus was this: help His men develop a deep trust in the heart of the Father. Growing up under the Old Covenant of Laws and liturgies, regulations and rules, they had never even considered a personal relationship with Jehovah. They experienced the intimacy of their hometown synagogues without feeling intimacy with God. They were impressed with the grandeur of the Temple in Jerusalem but never felt the touch of God on their minds or in their hearts.

Jesus changed everything.
Now that He had called them to walk with Him, they had someone with whom they could relate. He called Himself Son-of-God and Son-of-Man—how strange—and yet how very true. John the Baptist was the last of the Old Covenant prophets but Jesus was a prophet and so much more. They would soon realize that Jesus was “Prophet, and Priest, and King,” as we often sing today. He had to show them the Father He knew so well.

Seeing the Father
How could this be done? Only one way: They had to realize the power of knowing Jesus.

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also;
and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”

It was easy to see Jesus, sitting there at the table with them, but who among the eleven could see the Father? Phillip voiced the question.

“Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”

The concept was new to them—a matter of relationship rather than rules and multi-faceted proximity rather than manifold promises. They had to know that Jesus, Himself, was the revelation of the Father!

“Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip?
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

So important was this truth, Jesus let the words hover in their hearts before elaborating. Because the Father dwelt in Jesus, He, too, was right there at the table with them. Jesus’ words and deeds were sourced in this internal and spiritual residence of the Father.

“The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority;
but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.”

They must believe in Him—in His words, in His works—they all came from the Father.

Greater Works
To a man, each of the eleven remembered what Jesus said about leaving them alone. How would they know the Father then? Who would teach them? Who would work the wonders then? Jesus knew their thoughts.

“… he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.”

Surely, He had gone too far! These simple men would do greater works than Jesus? How could such a thing be? Surely Jesus would qualify such a claim, moderate the metaphor, explain the symbolism… No. He made it more explicit.

“And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”

None of the men dared to look at the other. This was more than their minds could grasp. Yet, this was also their destiny.

Scriptures:
John 14:7-14

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, How could it ever be that I, that my brothers and sisters in Your Kingdom, could greater works that You did as You walked this earth? Yet this is Your promise to us. I must let others judge what is great and what is greater. The task before me today is simply to obey You, to do what You put on my list for the day. Looking back, I can see things we have done that are far greater than anything I could ever do without You. I will operate by Your truth to do our will. In Your name, I can and will succeed. Amen.

Song:
Open Our Eyes, Lord

Words and Music: Bob Cull

Open our eyes, Lord We want to see Jesus
To reach out and touch Him And say that we love Him
Open our ears, Lord And help us to listen
Open our eyes, Lord We want to see Jesus

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved