April 21, 2017

Thoughts

The universe was once simply a thought in the mind of the God.
The thought became a word. The word became the Creation, piece by piece. Everything we can see, or hear, or feel, or smell, or taste began as a thought in the Master’s mind. Our mightiest telescopes and microscopes reach out and in to search out the limits of creation only to find more—more space in outer space, more detail in inner space. Such are the thoughts of God: infinite in scope and minute in detail, “un-resting, un-hasting, and silent as light.”

The Secret of Human Life
He installed the ability to think into our hearts and brains as well, equipping us to create our own little universes as thoughts become words and words become deeds and deeds produce results. Created are we, in the image of God, “imago dei.” This is the secret of human life.

Almost as an aside as he is warning against the evils of selfishness, King Solomon reminds us of this: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” That nails it. The evil thoughts residing in our hearts will come spilling out of our mouths and usually at exactly the wrong time. It works the other way, too. Good things planted in the heart flow from us in words of praise to God and deeds mercy to humankind. Jesus calls these godly thoughts the “good treasure” stored up in our hearts.

Garbage in…
In the early years of the computer revolution there was a platitude. (Some of us can remember a time before computers, comical days of typewriters and mimeograph machines and libraries and other wonders of the ancient world.) Anyway, the saying was this: “Garbage in; garbage out.” This meant if you want your computer to produce valuable stuff, you have to put good stuff into it.

This still has massive application to life. If we feed evil thoughts in our hearts, like a reverse of the creation process, thoughts will become words, words will become deeds, and the devastation of evil will surround us. Garbage in; garbage out. In this way such things as hate, violence, addiction, lust, and greed perpetuate themselves from heart or heart and generation to generation.

Only Calvary…
Were it not for the Salvation Plan of God, this would be whole of the human condition. People have never found a way to turn off the evil thoughts-to-words-to-deeds machine. Only Calvary does that. That innocent Man nailed to that instrument of punishment was the divine plan for the human condition.

Because of true forgiveness, we are now hosts to the Holy Spirit of God. He prompts good thoughts and tends the heart making it a garden brimming with goodness:

  • stunning flowers of grace,
  • satisfying fruit of Spirit, and
  • a New Wine to gladden the soul.

Our inmost being becomes the dwelling place of God—treasure indeed—tried in the fire and brightly shining for all to see.

Scriptures:
Psalm 55 NIV
Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the enemy, at the stares of the wicked; for they bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger. My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest — I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” … But I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. …God, who is enthroned forever, will hear them and afflict them — men who never change their ways and have no fear of God…. Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. … But as for me, I trust in you.
Proverbs 23:6-7 NLJV
Do not eat the bread of a miser, nor desire his delicacies; for as he thinks in his heart, so is he.
Psalm 1:1-2 NKJV
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; nut his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.
Philippians 4:8-9 NIV
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Luke 6:45 NKJV
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, guard my heart. Help me rehearse Your words, sing Your songs, obey Your commands, and share Your joy. You promised that a spring of living water would flow deep in me, in my heart. It is there, bubbling with life. Sometimes it seems to be only trickle and at other times it is a swelling tide. In small measures or large, Your life is in me—the Great Treasure, the Pearl of Great Price. Holy Spirit, keep watch over my heart. Alert me to the dangers of this world. Warn me of the insurgent wickedness that seeks to steal away what You have given me. I will fill my mind with thoughts of You. Lord Jesus, guard my heart. Amen.

Song:
Immortal, Invisible

Author: Walter Chalmers Smith

1.Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious—Thy great name we praise.

2.Un-resting, un-hasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

3.To all life thou givest—to both great and small,
In all life Thou livest—the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

4.Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render—O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 20, 2017

Repentance

He sits there shivering in his sin-cloak.
He is covered by these rags but they are no shield against the cold. Alone, so alone. He hears no music to entertain him. No colors or shapes distract his abused mind. On the other side of the room a cheap lamp is on the verge of exhaustion. The only voice he hears is that of the Accuser rehearsing his guilt, reading the charges against him over and over until the din of this silent indictment envelopes him completely.

The only movie playing in his mind unfolds scene after scene, sequence after sequence of sin after sin:

  • his own words and deeds—profanities cloaked in humor,
  • his passions parading as aesthetics,
  • his hate and prejudice crammed deep into his heart, remaining unspoken,
  • his selfishness—the wolf dressed like a lamb—masquerading as service, and
  • his greed giving no space to charity.

Something somebody said has plunged him into this depressing study, this contemplation of his past. Desperately he tries to turn his thinking in a different direction—the future! It is there, waiting and full of promises. Things could be different tomorrow. He could be different. Past is not necessarily prologue. Change is possible—isn’t it?

Try as he will, thoughts of the past spread outside the lines of the future he was trying to paint. Now, in addition to the guilt that assaulted him before, his thoughts throw open a window to the freezing winds of failed attempts at personal reformation. Like a year filled with Januaries, his life is littered with broken resolutions, frozen in failure.

Shaking, he tries his best to close that window and lock out that frigid blast of guilt but it will not close.

Someone, somewhere is praying for him, calling his name out to a listening Savior.

An old children’s song comes to mind: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” This simple song of memory begins to muffle the noise of the Accuser’s recording. The Bible! He searches his mind for things he had once known. The Holy Spirit is there to help him remember fragments—but in this dark room fragments are mighty things:

  • “For God so love the world…”
  • “The wages of sin…the gift of God…”
  • “If we confess our sins…”

With a faith he barely knew was there, he starts turning each accusation of guilt into a prayer of repentance. Through the open window a grace-breeze clears the room and the chamber begins to warm. The nearly useless lamp seems to surge in light just as a long unused smile dances lightly on his lips.

Suddenly he can breathe again, and not just the newly clean air in the room but a different oxygen that flies straight to his spirit. He breathes more deeply than he can ever remember breathing. He needs the air for he is now singing, his spirit draped in shining white robes: “Jesus loves me this I know!

Scriptures:
Psalm 51 NIV
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you. Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem. Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Mark 1:14-15 NIV
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
1 John 1:9-10 NKJV
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us
Romans 10:8-11 NIV
“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Prayer of Repentance
from the Book of Common Prayer (adapted SRP)
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Song:
Jesus, I Come to Thee
Words and Music: William T. Sleeper

1.Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,
Jesus I come, Jesus I come;
Into thy freedom, gladness and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of my sickness into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

2.Out of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,
Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress to jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

3.Out of unrest and arrogant pride,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy blessed will to abide,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,
Out of despair into raptures above,
Upward for aye on wings like a dove,

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 19, 2017

Perfection

We have a love-hate relationship with perfection.

  • The image of God in us longs for perfection, seeking symmetry in all things, seen and unseen, awestruck when we find it and perplexed when we expect it and don’t get it.
  • The fallen humanity part of us suspects the whole business of perfection, thinking it impossible in the first place and an illusion in the final analysis, a shimmering mirage of no material substance and no real use.

Despite our suspicions, we demonstrate a constant search for perfection. We want to

  • look at perfect faces,
  • hear the perfect music,
  • experience the ideal of any concept,
  • enjoy mutually fulfilling relationships all around, and
  • “Chamber of Commerce” weather every day.

Despite our expectations, we take what we can get from life and perfection is seldom in the hand we are dealt.

A Battle for Dominance
These two things, the inborn need and the acquired realistic outlook, battle for dominance in our thinking. In some things we accept the imperfect as the reality we can do nothing about. We pray with the alcoholic, “Lord help me accept the things I cannot change…” This is wise and it is the path of peace.

But it can be an uneasy peace, far from perfect. The unpleasant, unchanged things in life do not go away just because we are at peace with them. The deep conviction, born in the clay of Eden when God fashioned Adam and Eve by hand and breathed into them the breath of life, will sometimes fail to accept the imperfect. Something must be done, flaws identified, solutions found, and corrections made. There is a standard of excellence and a vision of perfection that form the true measure of greatness.

The Life of Adventure
A life crammed packed with the mediocre and mundane may be an efficient and peaceful one but we know there is more to life than comfort and predictability.

  • There is adventure and discovery and creativity and, dare I say it, perfection “out there” waiting for someone to make the journey and, “in here” waiting for someone to dig it out.
  • As we long for perfection, we cannot bear the perfectionist, the one who is never pleased, even with excellence. This one is a different kind of bore and an imperfect companion.

So where can we turn to slake our thirst for perfection?

The Psalmist gives us the obvious answer: Only God is perfect.

“From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.”

Divine perfection is beyond our understanding and stubbornly refuses to yield to our logic. God’s perfect ways are “past finding out;” case closed. But the perfections we can see: stars and sky, sun and sea, mountain and mole hill,satisfy us and leave us speechless except for that angelic confession—“Holy, holy, holy.”

With this revelation of perfection, excited hearts can rest, inquiring minds can fall silent, and the spirit within each of us can find its home.

Scriptures:
Psalm 50:1 NIV
The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.
Deuteronomy 32:3-4 NIV
I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
Psalm 18:30-32 NIV
As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.
James 1:17 NIV
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Isaiah 26:3 NIV
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.
Romans 11:33; Isa 55:8-9 NKJV
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 6:3-4 Rev 4:8;
And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, only in You does my soul come to rest. You are the end of all my quests, the answer to all my questions, the object of my artistic eye. Though centuries of sin have marred Your creation, I can see the perfection of “in the beginning.” Lord, once in a while You help me bring something new into this world. While my work is far from perfect, there is sometimes a glimmer or Your perfection there. After all, You made me in Your image. You put creativity in me as well as this deep appreciation of perfection. Help me take joy in my work but to always look to You for perfection—“Holy, holy, holy!” Amen.

Song:
Holy, Holy, Holy

Words: Reginald Heber, 1826; Music: John B. Dykes

1.Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

2.Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

3.Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

4.Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name,
in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 18, 2017

Stirred

Inertia is my middle name—yours too!
What does that mean? A particularly depressing definition is this: “a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.”

Ugh!

No matter how self-motivated we may be, each of us needs to be stirred up once in a while; it is the human condition. Inertia, the resistance to being moved, is deep in our DNA. We resist change and we tell ourselves a lie when we deny it.

“I’m ag’in it!”
In the bicentennial year 1976 I heard Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers tell of the answer a 100 year old man gave to a reporter who asked him if he had seen any changes in America in his 100 years. “Yes Ma’m,” he said. “And I’ve been against every one of them.”

In Psalm 45, the poet confessed his need to be stirred up.
His method was recitation of scripture, perhaps even an original composition, “for the King.” In this he advanced into New Covenant life. The Lord has given us the means of spiritual stirring of the heart. This is a ministry of the Holy Spirit abiding in our Calvary-cleansed hearts.

  • When we read the Scriptures carefully and prayerfully, our hearts are stirred.
  • When we sing or confess praise and worship to the Lord, the Holy Spirit stirs us up.
  • To gather with the saints of God to worship in the church house on the Lord’s Day should be a major stirring of the heart.
  • Holy conversation with other believers can stir us up as we hear the voice of the Spirit in their words.
  • Participation at the Table of the Lord as we receive the substance and life of Christ stirs us deeply.
  • To obey the Lord for no reason except that we love Him and we want to serve Him, warms the heart and stirs us and moves us forward in life.

These Holy practices are contained in the testimony of the Psalmist: “My heart is stirred by a noble theme…”

Finding the Noble Themes
There are themes that are not so noble that can also stir us up.

  • Emotions can be stirred by words and images and even our own imaginations.
  • The deeds and words of others can stir us toward mimicking them—joining them in what they are doing.

There is a saying that applies to hunting dogs in reference to their love of their masters: “He is whosever’s dog that will hunt with him.” Like a dog controlled by genetics and a powerful nose, we can shift our loyalties from the Lord to others and find ourselves, noses to the ground and tails fiercely wagging, on a trail that leads to sin. We are stirred, but not well-served by these temptations.

Don’t let your heart sleep late!
When our hearts are at rest, it is a good thing. But we must be careful not to let them sleep late! There is a time to stir them up! There is worship to be given and work to be done. We have a story to tell to the nations, a Kingdom to represent, and we have a cause, a holy cause, a noble cause, one that stirs the heart.

Scriptures:
Psalm 45 NIV
My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.
Exodus 35:21-22 NKJV
Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the Lord’s offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments. They came, both men and women, as many as had a willing heart…
Haggai 1:14-15 NIV
So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius.
2 Peter 3:1-2 NKJV
Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior…
2 Timothy 1:6-7 NKJV
Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Give me victory over my own inertia. Lord, I open my heart to Your Spirit—inspire me as I read Your Word! Breathe Your breath into my spirit. Let the same Spirit that raised You from the dead quicken my heart, stir my soul, and awaken my mind. I have a song of praise to sing to You that the world needs to hear—that I need to hear! I have a work to do that is filled with assignments from Your Throne—help me be faithful and “do the work!” Your anointing can take be beyond the limits of my talent and provide strength beyond my human abilities. Help me rise up today and shake off any inertia that has lulled me into ineffectiveness. In Your Name and for Your Kingdom, Amen.

Song:
Rise Up, O Saints of God

Words: William P. Merril (Adapted SRP); Music: Aaron Williams

1.Rise up, O saints of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
To serve the King of kings.

2. Rise up, O saints of God!
His Kingdom tarries long;
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And in the night of wrong.

3. Rise up, O saints of God!
The church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task,
Rise up and make her great.

4. Lift high the Cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod;
As followers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O saints of God!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 17, 2017

Flourishing

What it means…
The dictionaries define “flourishing” this way:

  • growing vigorously; thriving; prosperous
  • In positive psychology, flourishing is living “within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness,…growth, and resilience.”

Not bad.

Not bad at all!

“…I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God…”
The poet claims his life to be a vigorous one, a thriving one, and a prosperous one, like an olive tree. Good for him. He is living up to his human potential, functioning at the maximum. He possesses goodness and resilience while continually growing and producing.

And where does this olive tree grow? In a grove of other trees, well-tended by professionals, with the proper amounts of nutrients from the soil, radiance from the sun, rest from the nighttime, and water from above and below?

Not this tree.
It lives indoors, in a temple. The sun can’t reach it. The winds never shake it. The soil it stands in is in a pot. Other olive trees have been likewise transplanted into the house so at least our tree is not alone.

It is comforting that an olive tree would flourish in an olive grove; comforting and productive, but not surprising or worthy of note. But a tree flourishing indoors is worthy of careful observation. So is the Christ-follower who thrives in the hostile environs of this world.

Believers in Jesus are known to do the impossible.
The biblical metaphors are striking:

  • They walk on water—staying dry and keeping their balance when by all rights they should be sinking like everyone else.
  • Their houses remain upright and watertight when the raging storms and rising floods wipe everyone else out.
  • They find manna every morning and sleep every evening in times of famine and stress.
  • They return good for evil and in this strange way, overcome it.
  • They live in the same world as everyone else, but by the standards of a higher one.
  • When needs press in, they do not worry—they pray.
  • At the darkest midnight they are known to sing.
  • Their enemies get prayed for and cared for.
  • They are as human as anyone else but somehow when struck they don’t strike back; they go a second mile when only one is demanded and they give more than is ever taken from them.

Every company needs these trees.
Every house can benefit from their fruit. God calls us to impossible places and unreasonable tasks. Why? Because we are in this world but not of it. He calls us to dark places so He can shine more brightly through us.

Christ-followers are emissaries of a higher Kingdom, representatives of a more excellent way to live, and channels of the River of Life. Jesus said this River would flow from deep inside each of us, a River of blessing and peace for the people in our lives. Where else will they hear the Good News?

So we can flourish today and this week even in hostile environments because God has planted us there to do His work. The house where we do our work

  • in Jesus’ name,
  • as unto the Lord and not unto men, and
  • with all our might—

that place becomes the House of God and there do we flourish.

Scriptures:
Psalm 52
Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit. You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth. You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue! Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin: He will snatch you up and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. The righteous will see and fear; they will laugh at him, saying, “Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!” But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints.
Psalm 1:1-3 NIV
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
Colossians 3:17; 23-25 NIV
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
John 15:16-17 NIV
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatevver you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the True Vine and I am Your branch. You have chosen me to bear much fruit in Your name. There are no limitations on this call, no lessening of Your expectations because of what the world may do or circumstances may dictate. Your leadership stretches beyond circumstances and You have overcome the world. As long as I stay in You—as I guard the vital connection from my heart to Yours—I will flourish. Your House is a supernatural place and this tree can live there and produce much fruit. And in some small or immense way, the world around me will be blessed. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Make Me a Blessing

Words and Music: Ira B. Wilson

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

Refrain:
Make me a blessing, make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today!

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 16, 2017 The Victor

Victory

It was going to be a long night.
A squad of sixteen strong soldiers stood watch through the night, four at the time. Soldier jokes quickly wore thin and soon no attempts at humor could lighten the mood. From the lone officer to the youngest recruit to the most ignorant and crass veteran, the soldiers resented this duty. Sleeping out under a full moon held no romance for them. Armor does not make the ground softer. Night air does not ease the persistent cough or loosen the joints grown stiff in the humid dark.

More disgusting than the discomfort was the duty itself: guarding a dead man. The soldiers had spoken to the execution squad and were sure their comrades had done a good job. The corpse was not going anywhere. It had taken all sixteen of them to roll the huge stone into place. The lever and fulcrum they had used protruded from the bushes near the tomb but that was no risk for these weak-kneed Jews. There was no danger in this garden, just as there was no comfort to be found either.

Along toward Morning…
With twelve soldiers sleeping, or trying to, while three watched the approaches to the tomb and the other paced back and forth in front of the stone, a sudden shaking of the earth brought them all to an immediate full alert. They could not know that this earthquake was highly localized and no one else would even report it. It seemed the whole earth was shaking as dust flew up from the floor of the garden to cloud the air. Their training took over and immediately they formed a cordon of defense, ready to repel an attack from any direction.

Something like lightning, but much more startling, much brighter, struck out in all directions from inside the tomb and with a thunder that rattled the brains of each soldier. A brilliant beam of this magnified light circled the huge stone from inside the opening of the tomb sending out shards of light into the darkness. The dust from the earthquake reflected the circling light giving weird and beautiful shapes to the shining beams.

Blinded by the light and bewildered by shaking of the earth the soldiers drew their swords and positioned their shields. One of them found the lever since his short sword was temporarily mislaid.

Suddenly, they were not alone.
Without the soldiers seeing where he came from, a tall warrior suddenly confronted them. He carried no weapon and it looked like he would never need one. With a single look, the angel silenced and shackled the soldiers of the Empire with a fear they had never known. Instead of reaching for them, the angel went for the stone.

With unimaginable ease the angel rolled the stone from the door of the Tomb with a single hand and then sat on it. The light and smoke from inside the tomb poured out into the garden like the bursting of a dam. The soldiers, all sixteen of them, collapsed to the ground and fell into a trance as if they were dead. They did not see what happened next.

Emerging from the blinding light, Jesus stepped out of the tomb.
The soldier angel stood in His presence. This was the One he had worshiped and adored as long as he could remember and angels can remember the very beginning. From every corner of the garden and from every corner, it seemed, of heaven itself, came the choirs of heaven singing a new verse to the song the shepherds had heard so many years before. For centuries to come those of earth would gather on the first day of every week to sing the song.

On this morning of the third day, in the isolation of this garden of death it was for heavenly creatures only to sing the song of victory. The angels remember like it was yesterday the other Garden, the Garden of Life where the reign of death had its beginning. Now the wrong was righted. The joy restored in triumph. Jesus, the Second Adam, was the Victor! The sharp sting of death was blunted. The bondage of the grave was broken. He had won for all of those who would believe in Him complete victory over sin, over sickness, over wrath, over judgment, and over even the loneliness of selfishness.

We gather on the first day of the week because the ancient song must be sung at the beginning of everything new: “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”

Scriptures:
Matthew 28:2-4; Mark 16:9-10; Luke 24:4-6
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!
1 Corinthians 15: 20-23;54-57
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Revelation 5:9-14
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped

Prayer of Praise:
Glory to God
From the Book of Common Prayer
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship You, we give You thanks, we praise You for Your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us; You are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer. For You alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord, You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Song:
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
Words: Charles Wesley; Music: Easter Hymn

1. Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

2. Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

3. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

4. Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 15, 2017 The Garden Tomb

Tombs

Tombs, when they are closed, hold their secrets.
Stories are finished whether they had a chance to end or not. Voices are stilled, left only to the dubious recordings of memory and subject to alteration by pain and preference. Eyes are closed. The heart is still. If there is a journey of the spirit that sets sail at the moment of death, there is no evidence of it inside the closed tomb.

At the tomb of Jesus, even the angels could not know what was happening after the stone was rolled into place by the soldiers. The holy creatures had stood before the Son of God in heavenly majesty, their angel hearts bursting with worship. He had sent them on countless angelic missions to aid the people of God. They had also served by only standing and waiting. Some of them sang to the shepherds. An army of them stood at the ready during Jesus’ earthly ministry, ready to rescue Him were he to simply kick a rock as a signal for them to charge.

Guardian Angels
As a child and young man, Jesus never called them so they had to watch as those around Him

  • ignored Him,
  • did carpenter business with Him,
  • misunderstood Him, and
  • gave up on Him like His brothers and sisters must have done.

For the last three years, angels had traveled with Him throughout Galilee and down to Jerusalem. They stood by as those He came to save

  • underestimated Him,
  • took freely of His miracles,
  • suspected Him, unsure of His motives,
  • watched with amusement as He grappled with the religious leaders, and
  • went about their lives as if nothing important had happened.

Now angels wept, unable to see into the tomb, having confidence in God but sorrow for their Master.

The Women Who Loved Him
In other quarters, human tears flowed form sources deep within. Just when the women thought there could be no more tears, another torrent of grief would break. They wanted Him back. They wanted to finish the work of caring for Him, at least for His body, all they had left of Him. But it was not really all they had.

In a place in their hearts deeper than the well of their tears, a tender of flame of hope flickered in slight but promising light. Unlike the men, the women had really listened to Jesus. They remembered those strange things He said about three days. Their wounded hearts yearned for tomorrow, the third day.

His Chosen Men
Hiding for fear of their lives, the disciples did not dare gather all in one place. They had broken down into their little clumps of friendships perhaps all in some proximity just in case. Unlike the women who could allow their tears to flow unhindered, the men pushed their grief deeper into their hearts while their minds raced to process some sort of action plan. But with Jesus dead, there was certainly nothing any of them could do.

Meanwhile, the tomb was closed, hiding its secrets.

“He Descended to the Dead”
For centuries, theologians have discussed what Jesus might have been doing on this Holy Saturday. One ancient belief is based on an interpretation of a few verses. It is romantic and appealing to the believer: “Jesus entered the regions of hell, confronted Satan, wresting from him the keys of death, hell, and the grave. He then led the souls in the Bosom of Abraham, Paradise, out of their spiritual prison into the heavenly realms.” Some believe this ardently, others oppose it with equal ardor.

What we all can do as we relive this Holy Saturday and the closed tomb, is join our tears to those of the angels and the women and wonder with the men what we must do next.

Scriptures:
John 19:38-42
Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus… Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Luke 16:22-26
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.
Ephesians 4:7-8b
“When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”
Revelation 1:18 KJV
I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I believe the words of the ancient creed! The stillness of the Garden Tomb hid Your deeds on that Saturday. You descended to the dead! You led captivity captive. You rescued the Old Covenant saints! The countless innocent lambs and goats and bulls counted at last for the redemption of the faithful when You, the Final Lamb, the Lamb of God, gave Your life! You hold the keys to death, hell and the grave! You are the Victor! You robbed death of its sting and plundered the grave of any victory. I will be silent today and weep with the angels, but I will weep in hope that tomorrow is the third day! Amen and Amen!

Song:
Were You There?
Traditional African-American Spiritual

1. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

2. Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

3. Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 14, 2017 The Crucifixion

Calvary

Tools of the Trade
The Roman implements of torture and execution were tools of the trade for the soldiers of the Empire. Iron was expensive, whether the sharp bits lodged in the tentacles of the whip that tore the flesh of prisoners or the sharp pointed nails that split the hands and feet of their victims, precious iron had to be cared for and cleaned. A carefully maintained whip and supply of crucifixion nails could do their duty on many a criminal’s back and fasten many a rebel to the wood.

But the Roman soldier knew nothing of germs and microbiotic residue. Each new flogging carried with it all the ones who had gone before. Each fresh use of a set of nails was not at all fresh. But what did that matter? In a few days each one crucified would be just so much rotting meat, food for the birds, until whatever was left was taken down.

Such was the business of a place called Calvary.
This Place of the Skull warned of Roman justice to those who would take up arms, even if only treasonous words, against the Empire. Fear was the theme of this theatre. Guilt or innocence was not an issue; order was the point. Stay in your place, you wretched Jews. Worship your one God in your Temple and tend to your ancient ceremonies and chants. Speak against Rome and Calvary is your destiny.

The Cross of Christ
To this place an innocent Man came, condemned, bleeding from the whip, crowned with twisted branches from a thorn bush, carrying a heavy cross.

  • Soldiers forced Him up the stone-strewn trail to the summit with fresh lashes from their carefully maintained whips.
  • They forced Jesus to stretch out on the cross where the freshly washed nails were hammered through His hands and feet.
  • A mounted soldier backed his well-trained steed, pulling the cross and its prisoner from the ground. For a moment it remained poised against a sky where storm clouds were gathering. One more step backward by the horse and the cross plunged into the hole in the mountain that had been used countless times before.
  • Other soldiers went to work quickly to stabilize the cross with little regard for the blood splashing down on them.

The Gathering Storm
Their work done, the soldiers divided their spoils while enjoying the suffering of another rebel against Rome. They joined those in the crowd in their lame insults, each of which yielded more laughter that it deserved. They all pretended not to notice the dying of the light in the approach of the storm. This tempest was not coming from west to east but from all directions at once. It seemed to be linked to a storm deep within each witness of these events.

Jesus spoke from the cross, His voice lost in the abuse hurled at Him and heard only by those who were listening. Yet His words have lasted longer than any storm, piercing though all of the noisy crowds who still today relentlessly come to mock Him.

At last, with His last breath, He declared. “It is finished.”

And it was.

Salvation’s price had been paid.
All the whips and nails of a hostile humanity proved unable to still His voice or to stem the flow of His life-giving blood. The sin barrier was forever broken so there was no longer any need for God to separate Himself from the people He loved. The veil in the Temple ripped from top to bottom, opening a new and living way. And nothing can ever change this.

Indeed the whip and the nails were infected by all who had known them before and by all of us. They carried the disease of sin and the blood they spilled is the only cure.

Scriptures:
Matthew 26:57; 67-68; 27:1-2; 27-31-40; 45-46; Mark 15:36-38; John 19:30:
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?” Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

For Fridays
The Book of Common Prayer
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first He suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord. Amen.

Song:
The Day He Wore My Crown
Words and Music: Phil Johnson

The city was Jerusalem The time was long ago
The people called him Jesus
The crime was the love He showed
And I’m the one to blame I caused all the pain
He gave Himself, the day He wore my crown

He brought me love that only He could give
I brought Him cause to cry
And though He taught me how to live
I taught Him how to die
And I’m the one to blame I caused all the pain
He gave Himself, the day He wore my crown

He could have called His holy Father, and said,
“Take me away, please, take me away.”
He could have said, “I’m not guilty.
And I’m not going to stay I’m not going to pay.”

But He walked right through the gate
And then on up the hill
And as He fell beneath the weight
He cried, “Father, not My will.”
And I’m the one to blame I caused all His pain
He gave Himself, the day He wore my crown.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 13, 2017 Judgment Halls

Trials

Irony of ironies
Jesus the Good, Jesus the Righteous, Jesus the Just—standing in the judgment halls of bad men, sinful men, and unjust systems both political and religious.

Has the world ever seen such restraint on the part of any defendant? Not only was He innocent of the charges made against Him, He commanded an unseen corps of warrior angels, ten thousand in number, ready to spring to His rescue with the slightest signal from their Master. But they were not given the order to rescue, to defend, or even to secure Jesus from further injustice. I am sure angel-heads shook in dismay. What was the Father’s plan? Why was such a thing happening before their eyes? If angels have ever breathed hard, it must have been then; angel-muscles rippling with angel-weapons tightly gripped and at the ready.

There was to be no rescue.
Jesus was taken before the religious authorities, Annas and his son-in-law, Caiaphas, the High Priest. The whole governing council of the Jews gathered for an illegal middle-of-the-night trial. Their witnesses could not get their stories straight as Jesus stood before them as silent as a lamb before the sacrificial knife. Finally He was asked to testify against Himself which he readily did:

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you:
In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One
and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

There followed sudden cries of official outrage and the requisite moans grief that could barely mask their inner delight at His words. Tearing their robes in dramatic demonstration of their political advantage, they declared Him death-worthy, slapped Him around, taunted Him and sent Him to Pilate.

Before Pilate
The Roman governor had several official duties he would rather start his day with than another Jewish rabble-rouser, but he had little choice to go along with these fanatics in their bloody, arrogant (one God!) religion. His job was to keep them happy.

Weary from the abuse, the chains, and the lack of sleep, Jesus was dragged before Pilate. He could not have looked like much of a threat to Rome. Pilate tried to make sense of it but it made no sense at all. When accused by the Jews, Jesus did not answer. It was clear to Pilate the man was innocent of any crime against Rome. Pilate took Jesus inside away from the crowd and asked Him directly, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

A Different Kingdom
Jesus told Pilate about His Kingdom—it was of a different sort—a peaceable Kingdom of might and power and justice—not a Kingdom of this world—a Kingdom built not on lies or power but on truth. For ages we have been intrigued by Pilate’s answer, “What is truth?”

The Governor tried to release Jesus but the people would have none of it. The wanted His blood, even if charged to their own accounts. In an ironic act of blasphemy the Children of Abraham confessed they had no King but Caesar.

Pilate gave in to their demands and turned Jesus over to the soldiers. He went by the book ordering Jesus to be whipped. The soldiers were as creative as they were brutal. They put a purple robe on Jesus and wove a crown of thrones and rammed it onto His head so recently bloodied by the sweat in the Garden of Prayer.

Angels wept. The disciples hid. Pilate washed his hands. The rabid crowd raged.

The soldiers led Him away to be crucified.

Scriptures:
Matthew 26:57-27:31
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled… Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied… Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”… Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death.
John 18:28-19:18 NIV
Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor…
Pilate … summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
… When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”…When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. … “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free…But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.” We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me walk worthy of You! My heart sinks at the thought of such injustice in the courts of men. You were not the one on trial that night and day—we were! Our sins were placed upon You. You drank all of the terrible cup of iniquity in the Garden. We could never atone for our sins so You atoned for us. You took the blows. You wore the thorny crown. You fell beneath the Roman lash—and all for love of us! Lord Jesus, help me walk worthy of You! Amen. (1 Thess 2:11-12 KJV)

Song:
He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels
Words and Music: Ray Overholt

1. They bound the hands of Jesus
in the garden where He prayed;
They led Him thro’ the streets in shame.
They spat upon the Savior so pure and free from sin;
They said, “Crucify Him; He’s to blame.”

Refrain:
He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world and set Him free.
He could have called ten thousand angels,
But He died alone, for you and me.

2. Upon His precious head
they placed a crown of thorns;
They laughed and said, “Behold the King.”
They struck Him and they cursed Him
and mocked His holy name.
All alone He suffered everything.

Refrain

3 When they nailed Him to the cross,
His mother stood near by;
He said, “Woman, behold thy son!”
He cried, “I thirst for water,”
but they gave Him none to drink.
Then the sinful work of man was done.

Refrain

4 To the howling mob He yielded;
He did not for mercy cry.
The cross of shame He took alone.
And when He cried, “It’s finished,”
He gave Himself to die;
Salvation’s wondrous plan was done.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 12, 2017 The Garden

Gethsemane

Alone
Like the full Passover moon overhead, an angel from heaven stood watch in Gethsemane.  The sleeping disciples were scattered throughout the grove of ancient olive trees using cloaks and outer garments to keep warm and to soften the hard ground.

Jesus was alone in a way that no one has ever been alone. Sensing the moment and the heaviness of the burden, the angel came near to Jesus as He agonized in prayer. He touched the Lord’s shoulder, imparting strength, a flow of energy as heaven touched earth and earth responded. The strength the moment required was quickly spent in prayer, prayer so deep the blood vessels in his scalp and forehead broke as sweat and blood mingled flowing down His face to drop heavily to the garden floor.

His prayer was the same as before, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me!” His voice was hoarse with the depth of His struggle.

The angel stood by, this time unable to assist his Lord.

The Decision
Jesus was doing what no one else could ever do; He was drinking a cup no one else could drink and He must drain it dry.

“Nevertheless, not my will but Your will, Father, is what I will do.”

In this garden with a watching angel and sleeping friends, the decision was made. Jesus had emptied Himself of heavenly majesty and traded His jeweled crown for one to be made of thorns. He was the only one who could drink from the cup containing the sins of the world, all of them, yours, mine, those of all history and of all the evil deeds yet to come.

The Prize
He had won the struggle and this was the prize. He had been tempted to sin in all points as we have all been tempted yet not once had He yielded. Now, He had won the right to take all our sin upon Himself.  The decision was made that night in the Garden and tomorrow the deeds would be done: trials, beatings, scourging, abuse, insults, and finally a cross and just the right number of nails to pin Him there.

The Kiss
As Jesus prayed, Judas led Temple guards with torches, swords, and binding ropes. The disciples stirred from sleep and tried to fight the intruders but they were a sorry lot of warriors. One blow, that’s all, and a severed ear fell to the ground. Jesus rebuked the disciples and Peter, the one with the sword. His Kingdom did not advance by the sword. While still speaking, Jesus found the severed ear and replaced it to its rightful place as whole as the untouched one. Even a miracle could not prevent the events unfolding in a steel-blue moonlight of Gethsemane.

The disciples fled in terror as the guards led Jesus away. Soon the garden was quiet again with no one but the moon and the angel left to ponder these things.

Scriptures:
Luke 22:39-48
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have felt what it is like to be alone. In the depth of my isolation, You were with me. Your words were on my lips. Your presence was in my heart. Your hope was the song I heard, faint but unmistakable. I was not alone, really. In this week as we seek to somehow appropriate Your love for us, help us feel some of what You felt there in that garden alone, your friends sleeping, your enemies approaching while an angel touched your shoulder. I cannot know the agony of sweat turned to blood. I cannot feel the weight of the world’s sins, only mine. But even here in this garden I can still hear the angels singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy…” Amen.

Song:
Amazing Love
Words and Music: Chris Tomlin

I’m forgiven because You were forsaken,
I’m accepted, You were condemned.
I am alive and well, Your sprit is within me,
Because You died and rose again.

Amazing love, How can it be?
That You, my King would die for me?
Amazing love, I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

You are my King.
Jesus You are my King.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved