September 19, 2018 “Stirring”

Stirring

Thirty-eight years is a long time to wait.
The man was an invalid living at a pool called Bethesda, meaning, “House of Mercy,” where it was believed that an angel would periodically trouble the waters. It was said that the first person into the waters would be healed. There were five porches at varying heights where people waited for the angelic visit.

A Community of the Impaired
After an extended season of ministry in Galilee, Jesus and His disciples traveled back to Jerusalem for a religious feast. On the Sabbath, He visited the pool at Bethesda and found a community but not a thriving one. This was a community of the sick, afflicted, blind and those otherwise impaired. John does not explain the stirring of the waters, leaving us with a provocative image that lends itself to spiritual applications such as the stirring of hope, or of the Spirit of God, or a wind from heaven. These people we helpless. A constant low moan added an almost musical drone to the sound of wind, water, and voices. We do not know how this “house of mercy” came to be but it was a poor way of distributing the grace of God. One man in particular illustrates the mixed results.

He had been lame for 38 years. When the waters were stirred, he had no one to help him. We do not know how many years the poor man had lived with this faint, tantalizing hope. How many people had he seen enter the water with a debilitating illness and come splashing out rejoicing and healed, while his withered legs remained under him numb and useless? Such repeated disappointments dulled his hopes. He made peace with his lot and merely watched the spectacle of a hurting multitude and the occasional angelic breeze. Jesus came upon him in the state of pessimistic resolve and asked a remarkable question.

“Do you want to be made well?”

It seemed a foolish, if not cruel, question. The man made his well-rehearsed excuses, explaining his predicament. As Jesus looked deep into his eyes, a stirring began in the man’s heart—a stirring of hope. Jesus commanded him,

“Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

People heard the bones snap in the man’s legs and saw them straighten. The man carefully rose on unsteady feet, trying not to fall over. The muscles in his legs filled out as new strength flooded into them. In the shortest time, he was standing tall, no longer unsteady on his feet. He stared at his mat on the ground, his prison for 38 years. He clapped his hands together, bent over and picked it up, dust raining down to the floor of the porch. He rolled it up and threw it over his shoulder. He enjoyed this so much, he threw it down and picked it up again, just for fun.

It was the Sabbath.
Other sick folks in the crowd found a new hope beyond that of an arbitrary angel—they found Jesus! We are not told how many were healed—curiously, John does not tell us if any more healings took place—but we are told of religious leaders who ignored the healing and accused the man of working on the Sabbath for carrying his mat! When they asked him who had healed him, he confessed he did not know. Later, he met Jesus in the Temple, and credited Him with the healing to the religious leaders.

Better than the stirring of the waters was the stirring of the spirit when Jesus was near.

Scriptures:
John 5:1-15

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.'” Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Great Physician! You are the Sun of Righteousness, rising with healing in Your wings! The Bible says that the stripes on Your back were for our healing and I believe it. The New Testament says that the prayer of faith shall save the sick and raise them up! You are our source of healing, a constant, never lacking supply. Save me from accepting less than all that You have for me. Help me to want Your touch, Your healing touch. Amen and Amen.

Song:
The Waters Are Troubled

Words and Music: Bill and Gloria Gaither
1. There is a fountain for healing the soul
And those who will plunge in that stream are made whole
The waters are troubled and so is your soul
The Spirit is moving be completely made whole

He knows you are broken and long to be free
He sees all the heartache that others can’t see
The waters are troubled and so is your soul
The Spirit is moving be completely made whole

2. I sat by the water of life’s healing stream
There was no one to help me no way to be free
But Jesus loved me and said tenderly
I am the Water so just come to me

He knew what I needed before I could ask
He saw deep inside me behind all my masks
The waters were troubled and so was my soul
The Spirit was moving and He made me whole

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 18, 2018 “Fever”

Fever

When the skin of your child burns with fever, you know that some unseen sickness dwells within. A nobleman from Capernaum in Galilee had a son who was gravely ill with such a fever. He wanted to bring the case to Jesus. The news about Jesus reached Galilee before He and His men. Why? Jesus spent two days in the Samaritan village of Sychar where He had met the famous Woman at Well.

Worship Renewal in Samaria
It is easy to imagine the discomfort of the Twelve as they spent two days among their hated rivals, the Samaritans. We are not told of any miracles by Jesus’ hand in Samaria. John will soon tell us about Jesus’ next miracle, so let us assume that these two days were spent only teaching the Samaritans. It is reasonable to assume He continued teaching the villagers about the new era of worship that was fast approaching. Worship was the main conflict point between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans were the innovators, mixing the religion of the Jews with the idolatry their forebears brought with them from Babylon. The Jews were the traditionalists, trying to perpetuate the religion and traditions of their elders. This was at the heart of her question to Jesus about worship: in their mountain or in the Temple in Jerusalem?  To this day, there continues to be conflict between innovators and traditionalists in worship.  Jesus’ answer then is still His answer today.

Worship in Spirit and Truth
Jesus brought good news about True Worship:

  1. The Father in Heaven was searching for worshipers, and,
  2. True Worship would be a dynamic combination of ancient truth with current realities—Spirit and Truth!

To the amazement of the disciples, this worship would be available to all—to “whosoever will” as He told Nicodemus—and that meant even the hated Samaritans. Finally, to the great relief His disciples, Jesus wrapped up His teaching in Samaria and led them back to Galilee.

Back to Cana
Realizing that He was unlikely to be well received in Nazareth, His home, Jesus returned to Cana where He had performed His first miracle. Many of the Galileans had seen the ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem and were excited to see Him again. Among them was the aforementioned nobleman whose son was ill with a life-threatening fever. He made the journey from Capernaum to meet Jesus and seek help for his son. He found Jesus and implored Him to come and heal his son who was at the point of death. Jesus tested the man’s faith.

“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”

The man was not to be put off.

“Sir, come down before my child dies!”

Seeing the man’s faith and his pain, Jesus was quick to respond.

“Go your way; your son lives.”

The look in Jesus’ eyes seemed to carry the health of heaven in it. It was enough! The father hastily retraced his steps back to Capernaum, travelling through the night. As dawn approached, while he was still on the way, servants met him with the news of his son’s miraculous recovery. When he asked when it had happened, the report was the exact hour of Jesus’ proclamation.

Like the crowd who followed the Samaritan woman, the whole household of the nobleman believed on the Lord Jesus.

“This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.”

The fever of a child and the social fever of racial prejudice both fell before the healing power of Jesus.

Scriptures:
John 4:43-54

Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast. So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household. This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.
Psalm 107:17-22 NKJV
Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted. Their soul abhorred all manner of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You walked this earth in power, like no man before You or since. Time has not diminished Your power. The distance between Your Throne in heaven and our needs on earth has not removed or restrained Your power. Just as You spoke the word and the nobleman’s son was healed despite the over-night distance between Cana and Capernaum, there is no distance in prayer. Your Word is powerful and unhindered by time or distance. Thank for You tender compassion and care. Amen.

Song:
I Am the God that Healeth Thee

Words and Music: Don Moen

I am the God that Healeth thee
I am the Lord Your healer
I sent My word and I healed your disease
I am the Lord Your healer

You are the God that Healeth me
You are the Lord My healer
You sent Your word and You healed my disease
You are the Lord My healer

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 17, 2018 “Harvest”

Harvest

There was a very real world of which the Samaritan woman knew nothing—the world of the spirit.
She was interested, intrigued really, by the words of Jesus—water that one could drink and never thirst again? She knew this was not a truth in the real world she knew, the world of mountains and valleys, cities and villages, people and livestock. These things were all dependent upon the water she knew—river water, well water, cooking water, water for drinking. This water did its work and was a blessing but it soon needed to be replaced with more. She sensed that Jesus was talking about a different world and certainly a different kind of water. Jesus made it clear.

God is Spirit.
Jesus began to open the truths of the spirit world within for this woman.

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

This was interesting but was still beyond her ability to understand. She shook her head as if to clear away the accumulated cobwebs of errant tradition. All she could do was imagine a hero, the Messiah, who would explain all these things. To her amazement, He said.

“I who speak to you am He.”

Silence again, the deepest spell of silence yet. What did he say? At that moment 12 men joined them, noisily approaching the well from the village. The woman retreated a safe distance with her water jar. The disciples were amazed to interrupt a totally improper conversation, but they had learned enough not to ask questions or to comment. The woman forgot about her water pot and hurried away toward the village.

Come see a man!
She ran into the village leaving behind all her fear of gossips and social standing. She told everyone who would listen about this amazing man and the amazing things He said.

“Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”

Soon, a crowd soon was following her out of the village toward Jacob’s well.

Food to Eat
While they were coming, the disciples offered Jesus some of the food they had found. He surprised them when they saw that He was somehow refreshed. The man whom they had left winded by the well, was now restored to strength. He explained,

“I have food to eat of which you do not know.”

Immediately they concluded that someone else had fed Him. He explained further,

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”

He went on to explain that renewal was a result of doing God’s will—the spirit is refreshed when we obey the Lord. As He told them about the hunger and thirst in the world, the woman and her following returned, proving His point. He gave His men details of the calling on their lives. God was calling them to meet the needs of the world. They must see people as God saw them—spiritual beings thirsting for a relationship with God.

The Samaritan Revival
Jesus began to teach both the disciples and the crowd. He paid no attention to the social customs of the day treating Samaritans and Jews alike. They were all part of what He called “The Harvest”—a world filled with thirsty people. What they all needed was the living water found at the well of worship in spirit and truth.

Scriptures:
John 4:24-42

God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?” The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Then they went out of the city and came to Him. In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.” And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me see people they way You see them—spiritual beings designed for fellowship with You. Help me also see Your thirst. Just as You asked the woman at the well for a drink of water, You are refreshed by my worship. Help me also see the thirst of the Father. You said He was seeking for worshipers who would worship Him in spirit and truth. The father is also refreshed by my worship. Amazing! May You be blessed by my life in every way. Amen.

Song:
Ho Everyone Who Is Thirsting

Words and Music: Lucy Rider Meyer

1. Come every one who is thirsty in spirit;
Come, every one who is weary and sad.
Come to the fountain, there’s fullness in Jesus –
All that you’re longing for; Come and be glad!

Refrain:
“I will pour water on him that is thirsty;
I will pour floods upon the dry ground.
Open your heart for the gifts I am bringing;
While ye are seeking Me I will be found.”

2. Child of the world, are you tired of your bondage?
Weary of earth-joys, so false, so untrue?
Thirsting for God and His fullness of blessing?
List to the promise, a message for you.

Refrain

3. Child of the Kingdom, be filled with the Spirit!
Nothing but fullness thy longing can meet.
’Tis the enduement for life and for service.
Thine is the promise, so certain, so sweet!

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 16, 2018 “Worship”

Worship

The Samaritan woman was strangely at ease, there at the Jacob’s well talking with the interesting man who asked her for a drink of water. Her comfort would be short-lived.  Relaxing a bit in this unusual situation, she followed Jesus’s revelation of some new source of water that actually relieved thirst with a request.

“Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

Why was she drawing water from the village well in the heat of the day, a time everyone else avoided? Chances are it was because the village gossips made her more uncomfortable than the noon-day sun. There was much to gossip about in her life and the other women didn’t even bother to whisper. So, it was noon-day for her at the well in Syhcar. Just when she thought she was safe from the gossips…

“Go, call your husband, and come here.”

“I have no husband.”
The woman was shocked by the sudden change of subject and by the subject itself; she did not answer right away. She looked around the streets leading to the well to see if some of the busybodies were watching. Maybe they had been talking to this man. Finally, she answered with the truth—not the whole truth—but the truth. She expected Jesus to be offended but He was smiling at her!

“You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands,
and the one whom you now have is not your husband…”

There was not an ounce of condemnation in His accounting, simply the facts. The woman was totally confused now. What did this man want from her? More than a drink of water, she thought. Maybe He was not one to be trusted. She decided to change the subject.

“Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.”

With this, Jesus broke out in laughter. She hadn’t meant to make a joke but she was so relieved to have changed the subject that she joined Him with nervous laughter. She pursued the new topic.

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”

Jesus caught his breath and looked into her eyes. It was as if He carried a torch deep into her soul. He saw her search for love, for meaning, for a relationship that would last. He knew that she vaguely suspecting that she might find what she was looking in worship of Jehovah.

But with His reply Jesus ruled out all the forms of worship she knew, both that of the Samaritans on the their mountain or that of the Jews in the temple. A new day of worship was coming—indeed it was here—when

“…the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth;
for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”

In her soul, a deeper thirst  began to stir.
Perhaps there was a way to quench her parched mind, to water her thirsting spirit. “The Father”—who exactly did He mean? God Himself?

Just then the tenacious little breeze returned to the well, pushing dry leaves before it. Loose hair fell from her headpiece and she quickly put it back into place. She knew she should pick up her water jar and go about her business but the promise of water that would slake a deep thirst like hers made her stay. Who was this man and what else did He have to say?

Scriptures:
John 4:15-23

The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, we may not be able to identify with Samaritan woman’s life but each of us possessed a thirst deeper than water can reach, a thirst for life, for true companionship, for safety when life threatens like an approaching storm. You do offer living water, spiritual refreshment that goes deep into our souls, reaching the driest parts of us. You are the spring of Living Water! I will drink deeply in prayer. I will draw the refreshment of Your presence in worship and the Word and my thirsting soul will be satisfied. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Drinking at the Springs of Living Waters

Words and Music: John W. Peterson

1. I thirsted in the barren land of sin and shame,
And nothing satisfying there I found;
But to the blessed cross of Christ one day I came,
Where springs of living water did abound.

Refrain:
Drinking at the springs of living water,
Happy now am I,
My soul they satisfy;
Drinking at the springs of living water,
O wonderful and bountiful supply!

2. How sweet the living water from the hills of God,
It makes me glad and happy all the way;
Now glory, grace and blessing mark the path I’ve trod,
I’m shouting “Hallelujah” ev’ry day.

Refrain

3. O sinner, won’t you come today to Calvary?
A fountain there is flowing deep and wide;
The Savior now invites you to the water free,
Where thirsting spirits can be satisfied.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 15, 2018 “Thirst”

Thirst

There was an easier way to get from Judea to Galilee—the Jordan River road!
To travel directly north from Judea presented two problems:

  1. It was a rugged, mountainous journey.
  2. It required traversing the land of the hated Samaritans.

Going this way, Jesus and His men faced steep mountain trails as well as hindering mountains of racial prejudice.

The Samaritans

Samaritans were descendants of invaders from the days of the Babylonia captivity. In subsequent generations they mixed with the Jews who were not taken away to form their own brand of religion, similar to but distinct from the true religion of the Jews. They even built their own temples and “holy” sites or worship and used their own version of the Torah. They flourished under Roman rule, posing a threat to the residents of Judea in the south and Galilee in the north. By the time of Jesus, the hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans was severe. Strangely enough, Jesus often used Samaritans as major characters in His parables. In this famous incident, a Samaritan woman is the focus of the Lord’s ministry.

Jacob’s Well
After a full morning of climbing the torturous roads, Jesus and the Twelve were ready for a break. They stopped at the village of Sychar where an ancient well, going all the way back to the time of Jacob, served the citizens. Most people would come to the well in the cool of the day when the temperature was more accommodating. When Jesus and His men arrived at the well, a lone woman was there drawing water.

A Thirsty Savior
Jesus sent all the disciples into the village to get something to eat. The woman saw the 13 men approach and she saw Jesus send 12 of them away. She hurried to draw the water she needed. Jesus, smiling, approached her.

“Give Me a drink.”

The woman was shocked—Jewish men did not speak to Samaritan women, in public at least. She hesitated, studying His face. It was a kind face and He had a friendly smile. Although confused by His request, she determined that He was the rare man that one might trust. Still, one could not be too careful

“How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”
For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”

She reached inside her loose fitting garments and produced a wooden cup, filled it with water from her jar, and gave it to Him. He smiled and drank all of it. Handing the cup back to her He said,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

This made no sense to her but she could not look away from the face of Jesus. Who was this man? She had to say something.

“Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob…”

Her voice trailed off. Something about this man exited a deeper thirst in her. She needed more than water…

“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.”

What was He saying, “never thirst again…?”

The sun bore down on the two of them and a deep silence was broken only by a tremulous breeze trying to make its way through the village street.

Scriptures:
John 4:1-14

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, life is a thirsty business. Our need for water is only one expression of our thirst. We thirst for meaningful relationships, for truth, for safety, for hope, for all kinds of deep needs resident in the human heart. I see in this story that You have thirst as well. You thirst for a relationship with each of us—with me. Lord, I want to fill Your cup with my love! In prayer we each satisfy our mutual thirst. Amen.

Song:
Fill My Cup Lord

Words and Music: Richard Blanchard

1. Like the woman at the well, I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy.
And then I heard my Savior speaking—
“Draw from My well that never shall run dry.”

Refrain:
Fill my cup, Lord; I lift it up Lord;
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.

2. There are millions in this world who are seeking
For pleasures earthly goods afford.
But none can match the wondrous treasure
That I find in Jesus Christ my Lord.

Refrain

3. So my brother if the things that this world gives you
Leave hungers that won’t pass away,
My blessed Lord will come and save you
If you kneel to Him and humbly pray—

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 14, 2018 “Testimony”

Testimony

John’s last sermon was like his first one, all about Jesus.
In a wilderness location where there was “much water” both Jesus and John were preaching and baptizing converts. John’s disciples were disturbed by the number of people following Jesus instead of John. When they mentioned this to their Rabbi, John was not at all disturbed. In fact, he welcomed the growing prominence of Jesus. To the amazement of his disciples, John took joy in his decreasing stature. He had told them all along that he was not the Messiah but only the Forerunner of the Messiah. Now that Jesus was on the scene, the transfer of influence was inevitable. John took great joy in this. Hear this amazing statement:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John knew that the declension of his ministry was not to be grieved; it was a sign of his success. Perhaps, when Messiah, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” began His public ministry, John could look forward to a more conventional life—a wife, a home, children—perhaps. Oh, he had made enemies to be sure who would be more than happy to see him disappear. Maybe they would leave him alone.

One Last Sermon
John continued to explain to his followers how the Kingdom of God worked in ways so different from the kingdoms of men. Jesus was different from John; His origin was from a higher place.

“He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly
and speaks of the earth.”

John was Jesus’ cousin. He knew about the visit of Jesus’ mother Mary to his mother Elizabeth. He knew that, while his birth was miraculous—his father and mother were far beyond the childbearing years—Jesus’ birth was a greater miracle. He had no earthly father! In John’s words, Jesus was “from above” and was “above all.”

The Supremacy of Christ
John had heard the voice of God calling him to the wilderness to preach, but he had not seen God. If Jesus was from “above,” who could imagine what He had seen? John’s taste of the supernatural filled him with an anticipation of the preaching of Jesus. Sadness tempered this anticipation for John also knew the prophetic prediction that most people would not listen to the message of Jesus.

“And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.”

John had stopped baptizing people and was looking across an expanse of the wilderness to where Jesus was at work with His followers and a growing crowd. As people left John’s congregation to go to Jesus, John’s heart quickened with joy.

“He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.”

As people realized that it was a joyful thing to John to see them flock to Jesus, the flow increased.

“The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.”

His voice was no more than a whisper now. He waved the people on toward Jesus.

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

His time on the witness stand was over, his testimony complete. Picking up his belongings and quietly exited the scene, John thought with a smile, He must increase and I must decrease.

Scriptures:
John 3:30-36

He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the a has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Prayer:
Lord, You have chosen to work in this world through people, not through angels. John had his work to do and when he was done, he stepped out of the spotlight. His earthly life was nearly done but his eternal reward would never cease. Help me learn from his example, Lord! I know what You have called me to do—I will be busy doing it until I take my final breath. John won Your commendation and that’s what I want to do! For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
I Will Serve Thee

Words and Music: Bill Gaither

I will serve Thee, because I love Thee.
You have given life to me.
I was nothing until You found me.
You have given life to me.

Heartaches, broken pieces, ruined lives are why
You died on Calvary.
Your touch was what I longed for.
You have given life to me.

I will serve Thee, because I love Thee.
You have given life to me.
I was nothing until You found me.
You have given life to me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 13, 2018 “Bridegroom”

Bridegroom

Ideally, there are many kinds of joy at a wedding.
There is the joy of the bride and groom, so much in love, yet having preserved the expression of that love for this moment. There is the tearful joy of the parents of the couple, counting the days and years backward to remember the little girl and the little boy. Childhood images are gone forever except in memory and will soon be reflected again in the faces of the children to come from this union.

“Friend of the Bridegroom”
There is also the joy of the friends of the happy couple. John the Baptist referred to himself as the “friend of the Bridegroom.” His was not the spotlight. His role was to stand in the shadow of the husband-to-be. As John joyfully fulfilled this introductory role his followers did not understand. As the focus of the nation shifted from John to Jesus, John’s disciples were afraid for him. If their leader lost face, it somehow felt like a loss for them as well.

A Place of Much Water
When two prophets are abroad in the wilderness preaching and baptizing converts, an unplanned meeting was inevitable. In a place ideal for their ministries both Jesus and John were doing their work; Jesus preaching and His disciples baptizing. Prior to this, the leaders from Jerusalem disputed with the disciples of John about some theological aspect of purification. We are not told what the issue was, but it is easy to imagine the priests would not be pleased that John offered forgiveness for sin without going through the established agents of forgiveness. In the process of reporting this, some of John’s men mentioned that Jesus was preaching nearby.

“Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified — behold,
He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!”

John’s men were good men. They needed an understanding from John about how to deal with Jesus and His disciples. The natural assumption would be that He was a rival. Most likely, they were ready to fight for the honor due unto their leader.

Stepping Aside
John rushed to assure his men that He was not jealous of Jesus or His growing popularity. John had never claimed to be Messiah. He had made it clear that he was only the Forerunner. He tried to take the occasion to explain how the call of God worked in someone’s life.

“A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.”

The Kingdom God is not a place for competition among leaders. Each of us must determine the calling God has given to us and get busy fulfilling that call. We work together in this Kingdom; we do not compete with each other. John reminded them of what he had always said,

“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but,
‘I have been sent before Him.’”

His men were quiet, each man trying to tamp down his natural competitive instincts. Wasn’t life all about competition? Every man needs an edge… John interrupted their thoughts.

“He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.”

Quiet ensued with only the sounds of the wilderness to accompany the diminishing lines of those waiting to be baptized by John.

“Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.”

John smiled the smile of a man whose best friend was getting married.

Scriptures:
John 3:22-29

After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. For John had not yet been thrown into prison. Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified — behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have placed a call on my life; You have given me work to do. Help me to never be confused by what You have called others to do. I must take joy in their faithfulness even if they seem to outshine me. Your approval is my heart’s desire, not the applause of others. Help me to be so caught up in what You have called me to do that I can only rejoice in the success of others. I want to be a good team member, Lord, doing my part well and enjoying the fellowship of the team. Amen.

Song:
We Will Stand

Words and Music: Russ and Tori Taff

1. Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand
Why we pull away from each other so easily
Even though we’re all walking the same road
Yet we build dividing walls between our brothers and ourselves

2. But I, I don’t care what label you may wear
If you believe in Jesus you belong with me
The bond we share is all I care to see
And we can change this world forever
If you will join with me, join and sing

Refrain:
Oh you’re my brother, you’re my sister
So take me by the hand
Together we will work until He comes
There’s no foe that can defeat us
When we’re walking side by side
As long as there is love we will stand

3.The day will come when we will be as one
And with a mighty voice together
We will proclaim that Jesus, Jesus is King
And it will echo through the earth
It will shake the nations and the world will see, see that

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 12, 2018 “Believing”

Believing

Jesus led Nicodemus far beyond the land of logic to the land of faith—of believing.
In this realm, all things were possible. The rules of nature, the proclivities of creation, were just starting points for whatever God wanted to do. The power of God was at work when people simply believed in the Words of God. Nicodemus knew this, of course. He knew the stories of miracles he had heard since his childhood—the Red Sea splitting like a sliced apple, the thundering heights of Mt Sinai and the stone tablets of the Law, the water from the rock and the bitter waters healed by a felled tree, the Manna in the Wilderness and the quails flying just chest-high, the River Jordan rolling up to one side, the walls of Jericho, and the conquest of Canaan—all stories now becoming believable to him for the first time.

The New Birth
He could see the logic of it. He would not blame Jehovah for giving up on the reformation of Israel. Their sad history was one of revival and apostasy in shameful repetition despite godly prophets and kings. The faithless ones always seemed to prevail in less than a generation. Surely the problem was within the hearts of the people. If those hearts could be changed, restored to righteousness, then all of the nation could be saved. No power on earth could stand against Israel. Was this man Jesus, the One predicted? His news of a Spirit from God, perhaps God Himself, who could repair the sinful heart, cleanse the sin-stained mind, and heal the broken spirit must be the answer.

Jesus continued to teach this good man.

“…God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Believing—How Does One Believe?
Was it too much to hope for? He and a few of the other leaders had the best of intentions. There was nowhere else to turn. The pagans all around them certainly had no answers. The Romans were wise to let the nations they have their religions; nothing changed in the hearts of people. Perhaps what was need was a new creation—a new birth. Could merely believing be that powerful?

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Believing meant believing in Him—in Jesus! He was saying there were no other options. Jesus was not to be listened to and filed away with the other prophets. He was more than prophet—He was the Son of God—and He was to be believed.

The Light Has Come into the World.
It was simple, really. The Light had come into the world and to turn away from Him was to embrace the darkness. The unavoidable result of this was condemnation. When men love darkness rather than Light, the tragedy of human existence continues. Evil is the result and evildoers hate the light.

Those who believe—expressed by words and deeds—are those of the Light. They are those of this new birth.

Scriptures:
John 3:16-21

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus these thoughts, so new to Nicodemus, amaze me as well. You are the Light. Some people embrace You, happy to escape the darkness. Others are counting on the darkness to hide their evil deeds and true natures. The entrance of Your Word gives Light. May I always have Your Word on my lips. May my footsteps every day bring light to the world. In Your Name, Lord Jesus!

Song:
The Light of the World Is Jesus

Words and Music: Philip Bliss;

1. The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin,
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Like sunshine at noonday, His glory shone in;
The Light of the world is Jesus!

Refrain:
Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;
Sweetly the light has dawned upon me;
Once I was blind, but now I can see:
The Light of the world is Jesus!

2. No darkness have we who in Jesus abide;
The Light of the world is Jesus!
We walk in the light when we follow our Guide!
The Light of the world is Jesus!

Refrain

3. Ye dwellers in darkness with sin-blinded eyes,
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Go, wash at His bidding, and light will arise;
The Light of the world is Jesus!

Refrain

4. No need of the sunlight in Heaven we’re told;
The Light of the world is Jesus!
The Lamb is the Light in the city of gold,
The Light of the world is Jesus!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 11, 2018 “Whosoever”

Whosoever

A refreshing breeze graced the courtyard where Jesus and Nicodemus conversed by night.
The careful, logical, reasonable Nicodemus was facing a totally illogical proposition—a new birth! It was impossible of course, in the natural scheme of things. Jesus, respecting the thoughtfulness of Nicodemus, explained the reality of spiritual rebirth.

Born Again
Adam and Eve were created without sin but with a choice. They enjoyed a freedom laden with personal responsibility. We do not know how long our two original parents “walked with God in the cool of the day” untroubled by temptation or sin or thoughts of death—it could have been centuries! When tempted they failed and sin entered the human condition. Eden and the close fellowship with God was lost. Without this daily fellowship with God, the descendants of Adam and Eve quickly fell into iniquity and perpetuated it to all subsequent generations all the way down to us.

Jesus is called the Second Adam because when tempted He did not sin. Then, in another garden, He drank the complete cup of iniquity for us all and took our sins upon Himself. Our sins were buried with His lifeless body. On the Third Day, He left that tomb and our sins remained there.

This salvation plan was designed to give each of us a new start with a new nature. Through Jesus we can rise above our record. We can walk again through each day and night in fellowship with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. We can be born again!

However, being “born again” made no sense to Nicodemus:

“How can a man be born when he is old?
Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Born of the Spirit
Legitimate questions! Smiling with a smile that seemed a torch in the darkened courtyard, Jesus told Nicodemus of the ministry of the Spirit. Another birth was needed, a spiritual rebirth.

“…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

There was logic in this—a strange, new line of reasoning like a door slowly opening in the well-trained mind of Nicodemus. Seeing the breakthrough, Jesus went on.

“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The door was not opened wide enough to receive this.

“How can these things be?”

Earthly Things, Heavenly Things
The gentle smile departed from the face of Jesus as He expressed frustration that a leader in Israel would not have some inkling of the plan of God.

“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe,
how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”

Nicodemus lowered his head. He knew the accusation was true. Was there any real hope for a nation fallen so far from its heritage? Yes. And the hope stood before him—this man, Jesus! Through Him, the love of God was abroad in the land! Jesus went on.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

What was that word—“whosoever?” The most inclusive term possible! There was hope and He was standing there talking to him.

Scriptures:
John 3:5-15

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
1 Corinthians 15:20-23
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for opening my mind to so much of Your truth! Truly Your Spirit is at work opening my heart and mind as I pray and meditate on Your Word. Thank for this new birth. It is more than a lofty ideal—it is a reality! I am a new creature. Old things have passed away and all things are becoming new. Thank You for coming to this earth—thank You for coming to me! Amen.

Song:
Whosoever Meaneth Me

Words
1. I am happy today and the sun shines bright,
The clouds have been rolled away;
For the Savior said, whosoever will
May come with Him to stay.

Refrain: “Whosoever,” surely meaneth me,
Surely meaneth me, O surely meaneth me;
“Whosoever,” surely meaneth me,
“Whosoever,” meaneth me.

2. All my hopes have been raised, O His name be praised,
His glory has filled my soul;
I’ve been lifted up, and from sin set free,
His blood has made me whole.

Refrain:

3. O what wonderful love, O what grace divine,
That Jesus should die for me;
I was lost in sin, for the world I pined,
But now I am set free.

Refrain:

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 10, 2018 “Nicodemus”

Nicodemus

A few of the leaders of Israel were open to the ministry of Jesus.
Among them was Nicodemus, a man of reason and integrity who saw past the surface of things to the structures beneath. He was troubled by the gap, the incredible distance between the lives he and his contemporaries lived and the life the Covenant with Jehovah promised. He did what he could to make things better, to make everyday life a better reflection of how things should be. This passion opened the pathways of leadership to him as his peers and those younger turned to him for guidance.

More Problems than Just the Romans
He knew that the shortcomings of life in Israel were rooted as much in the vacant spirituality of the Temple as they were in the occupying Roman forces. It was just too easy to blame everything on Rome. The historical record was clear; when God’s People were true in their worship and in their covenantal responsibilities, Jehovah had proved to be their protector and rescuer. Nicodemus had a deep conviction that the experience of the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians could be the fate of Rome if the heart of the nation turned back to God.

Something was missing.
Nicodemus believed in God. He was faithful in daily prayers from the psalms. When David and the other poets spoke of the nearness of God or their delight in the Lord, these things rang true to Nicodemus. He studied the histories and was determined to learn from them and not to repeat the failures of his forebears. He wept as he read the prophets with their calls to repentance. He did not understand how the priests and other leaders could read and chant the Word of God and not be changed by the power of these sayings. How could they settle for a form of godliness that was totally devoid of power? He did his part in public with solemnity, hiding his breaking heart but inwardly, and in the quiet of his chamber, he wept.

Then Came Jesus
Before he even saw his first miracle, the words and manner of Jesus captured the hopes of Nicodemus. The miracles themselves demanded action on his part. He was puzzled by the reactions of the other leaders; they saw Jesus as a threat. Nicodemus saw hope, a hope upon which he had to act. He came to Jesus under the cover of darkness.

On this night, the Father had work for Him to do so Jesus knew in His spirit that He must stay in the city. He sent the disciples out to their resting place as He waited in the shadows. Nicodemus had been following Him, looking for an opportunity. When He saw Jesus alone, he approached respectfully, reasonably.

“Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Logic was the friend of Nicodemus. He questioned the values of the other leaders with reasoning, not blind loyalty. This made him dangerous and unpredictable. Jesus, however, wanted to take him deeper than logic.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

This made no sense so Nicodemus protested.

“How can a man be born when he is old?
Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

This was to be a night like no other.

Scriptures:
John 3:1-4

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for this journey of faith! You are leading me to places I never dreamed of. There have been mountaintops of revelation and deep valleys of fear but You have been with me every step of the way. As You did Nicodemus, You are leading me higher in You and deeper in faith. I will use my logic for my mind came from You. And, I will trust with my heart, for it is Your dwelling place. Wherever You lead, I know You are in command. Amen.

Song:
Ye Must Be Born Again

Words: William T. Spencer; Music: George C. Stebbins

1. A ruler once came to Jesus by night
To ask Him the way of salvation and light;
The Master made answer in words true and plain,
“Ye must be born again.

Refrain: Ye must be born again, Ye must be born again;
I verily, verily say unto thee, Ye must be born again.”

2. Ye children of men, attend to the word
So solemnly uttered by Jesus the Lord;
And let not this message to you be in vain,
“Ye must be born again.

Refrain

3. O ye who would enter that glorious rest,
And sing with the ransomed the song of the blest,
The life everlasting if ye would obtain,
“Ye must be born again.

Refrain

4. A dear one in heaven thy heart yearns to see,
At the beautiful gate may be watching for thee,
Then list to the note of this solemn refrain,
“Ye must be born again.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved