April 11, 2017 The Last Supper


Unable to speak, walls are mute witnesses to what happens within them.
They merely hold up the ceiling, hold out the weather, and hold on to their secrets.

It was a large room, borrowed, of course, for the occasion of the last supper Jesus and his disciples would have together. Thirteen men, and perhaps the necessary servants for such a large gathering, filled the room, not at all sure of what to expect.

  • After Jesus quelled the selfish thoughts on the part of some about who might be the greatest among His followers by taking a towel and washing every foot they walked on, the mood became a serious one.
  • The air was thick with the smells of food, with the oily scents of burning lamps and candles, and with—significance.

Never Quite Sure…
Those who followed Him were never quite sure what He was doing at the moment or what He might do next. In the last few weeks a sense of sorrow emanated from Him. He told them strange things about being killed and rising again but they had no room in their hearts for such talk. He was the proven master of all things: storms, sickness, demons, and death itself. He never exhibited one bit of fear of the religious leaders or the Roman leaders or even their terrible army. Who would kill Him? It was not easy to ignore the questions such remarks left in their plans.

Just as He had called each of them to follow Him, Jesus had called them here to this meal. On this occasion He chose to reveal details of what was to come for them.

  • He established the New Covenant meal ceremony—it would be a New Covenant in His own blood,
  • He predicted His own betrayal, telling them He was going away but would soon return to them in a way so new they could not imagine it.
  • He left them the legacy of His peace, the peace that prevailed in the face of every danger and dilemma.
  • He told in great detail about the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Divine Helper who would soon reside within them.
  • And He prayed for them to be in the world but not of it and above all things, to be ONE, even as He and the Father are ONE.

There was no way those sitting together in this large chamber with its smoke-stained walls standing silent watch could grasp the meaning of His words but they did not forget. Each Gospel writer is faithful to record the details for us.

The Lord’s Supper
So for centuries, believers have received the cup and the bread in honor of Jesus’ sacrifice. We have debated its meaning, its nature, its appropriateness for any or all of us. But we have obeyed His command to do this “in remembrance of me.” Though the ongoing discussion divides us, the meal itself unites us across all the lines we draw and the borders we guard.

Why? Because their Last Supper became our Lord’s Supper. As we enter into the past, our present is blessed with His presence.

Matt 26:20
When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve
Mark 14:16-17
The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve
Luke 22:13-14
They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.
John 13:1-5
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

(from the Book of Common Prayer Adapted SRP)
(Lord Jesus, we) proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people … the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom. All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ: By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever. Amen.

Let Us Break Bread Together

1. Let us break bread together on our knees;
let us break bread together on our knees;

When I fall on my knees,
with my face to the Lord of life (rising sun),
O Lord, have mercy on me

2. Let us drink wine together on our knees;
let us drink wine together on our knees.


3. Let us praise God together on our knees;
let us praise God together on our knees.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 10, 2017 The Dinner at Bethany


A Large House
It was a large house, signifying wealth, but it was also a warm and welcoming house, signifying wealth of a more substantial kind. Martha ran this house she shared with her sister, Mary, and her now famous brother, Lazarus. It didn’t matter that Jesus traveled in such a large company. Martha was always up to the task because she kept her focus on Jesus. Those fishermen could make do the best they could; Jesus was the one who mattered. He must be made comfortable. He needed his rest from these daily forays into Jerusalem.

On this night, Mary, Martha’s sister, the quiet one, suddenly rose from her accustomed position at Jesus’ feet. No one paid her any mind as she left the room or when she returned.

The aroma of the contents of a broken alabaster jar filled the room.
Few of the men noticed as Mary produced this jar of ointment, a concoction ripe with pungent scent. The men were busy talking, eating. Only Jesus saw her steal away to her hiding place, find her most precious possession, break the container and lovingly anoint his feet with the spice. But the aroma gave her away, pulling back her curtain of privacy and thrusting her to the public stage.

The other men were not pleased.
They rebuked her. This simply was not the best way to use this valuable commodity. It was worth a year’s wages to the common man. Once committed to this line of reasoning, an alternative use had to be proposed. Let’s see, ah yes, the poor, always a handy cause to plead to gain the Master’s favor. The air was heavy with the smell of the ointment and with anticipation of how Jesus would handle this foolish woman.

Around that table were men whose names would become known throughout the world for centuries to come. At this moment they were obscure little men with glimmers of greatness that only Jesus could see.

  • Among them was John, so filled with fun and free with emotion;
  • Peter, his opposite, so rough and full of pride;
  • Thomas whose knife-like mind always sliced away the non essentials in an issue;
  •  James, John’s mischievous brother, a “Son of Thunder” he was called;
  • Matthew the former tax collector;
  • the other Galileans, and…
  • Judas, who kept the money.

This was a diverse group, hand selected, not for what they were, but for what they could become, if they centered their lives on God. All were silent now, waiting for Jesus to answer their question. Mary had wasted a valuable resource, hadn’t she?

“Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “Why are you bothering her?
She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

He went on to say that she had done what she could, that she had anointed His body for burial, and that wherever the Gospel is preached, her story would be told.

The men were ashamed. He had taken the woman’s side over theirs. But as they listened, something began to stir within them. It always did when He spoke. Soon, their embarrassment was forgotten and before long all but one was wishing that he had something valuable to pour over Jesus’ feet.

John 12:1-8; Mark 14:3-9
Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Lord Jesus, in the quiet moments of life, let me learn to sit at Your feet like Mary of Bethany. When it is time to work, let me learn to manage life’s kitchen like Mary’s sister, Martha. Through all of life, help me remember the tomb from which You called me, like their brother, Lazarus. The grave clothes gone, let me inhale the free air of grace that is Your presence. Above all, please be welcomed in my heart at all times, like the house at Bethany. All for You, Lord Jesus, All for You! Amen.

Broken and Spilled Out
Words and Music: Bill and Gloria Gaither

1. One day a plain village woman

Driven by love for her Lord
Recklessly poured out a valuable essence
Disregarding the scorn
And once it was broken and spilled out
A fragrance filled all the room
Like a pris’ner released from his shackles
Like a spirit set free from the tomb

Refrain 1:
Broken and spilled out Just for love of you Jesus
My most precious treasure Lavished on Thee
Broken and spilled out And poured at Your feet
In sweet abandon Let me be spilled out
And used up for Thee

2. Lord You were God’s precious treasure
His loved and His own perfect Son
Sent here to show me The love of the Father
Just for love it was done
And though You were perfect and holy
You gave up Yourself willingly
You spared no expense for my pardon
You were used up and wasted for me

Refrain 2:
Broken and spilled out Just for love of me Jesus
God’s most precious treasure Lavished on me
You were broken and spilled out And poured at my feet
In sweet abandon Lord You were spilled out and used up for Me
In sweet abandon, let me be spilled out And used up for Thee

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 9, 2017 Palm/Passion Sunday


No one knows where Jesus found that whip, the one He used on the money-changers that day, but He knew how to use it.

It was the third Temple to stand In Jerusalem.
The first Temple, built by King Solomon on the plans of His father, David, stood for many years before apostasy and the Babylonians brought it down. The second was built by Zerubbabel, a “Prince of Judah,” born in Babylon but also born in King David’s line. It stood until the reign of King Herod who began construction on a Temple of a size and beauty to rival Solomon’s structure. This political gesture was still under construction the day Jesus found that whip.

The gentle Jesus had fire in His eyes.
His strong, carpenter’s hands were sure of grip and his powerful arms smooth in motion. He did not miss. Doves flew from broken cages. Coins scattered noisily on the stone pavement. Merchants scrambled down dangerous Temple steps facing injury if they fell forward and the lash if they stood still.

It wasn’t as if no one had seen Jesus angry before.

  • His disciples had seen the fire in His eyes every time He and the religious leaders confronted each other in the city streets.
  • Many times Jesus seemed almost amused at the stupidity of His attackers. As quickly as lightning can light up a stormy night, His eyes would flash with anger at their wickedness, their pride, and their uncaring malice toward the people of God.
  • His ready powers of speech could produce impressive names as His anger erupted toward them: “Whited sepulchers,” –that meant they were cleaned up graves with only death and corruption inside, “brood of vipers,–meaning they were just so many snakes.

Sometimes His anger was so great that it brought tears.
On this day, as He approached the city, He had broken down in tears over their disregard of the visitation from God that was happening in front of them. He had wept before because the people were leaderless, like “sheep without a shepherd.”

  • This was a city of intrigue instead of truth.
  • This government was one of raw power instead of grace and these leaders of show and not substance broke His heart.
  • Now this Temple was a house of greed instead of grace, a place of profit instead of prayer.

Perhaps His eyes still stung with tears even as he overturned the tables, scattered the scavengers, and proclaimed their sin for all to hear!

“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?
But you have made it ‘a den of thieves.”

A Different Order
Their corrupt political machine grinding to a halt before them, the religious leaders scrambled to restore order. Before they could do that, Jesus started healing sick people. The same strong hand that served out justice without mercy, now delivered mercy and justice. There was nothing the establishment could do to stop Him.

Some of the people listened. Some of them felt His touch. They came to the temple that day with barely enough to buy a dove for a sin sacrifice and they went home healed. How can this be? How can one group of people have welts to dress from the whip and others have new life to relish from the same hand?

The only answer is grace—the one thing a Temple must possess.

When the healing was done, Jesus returned to rest in Bethany. The next day brought another debate with the leaders and another loss for them. Jesus was just as sure a marksman with the comment or story as He was with the whip. They were sorely outmatched.

Mark 11:15-18; 13:1-2
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.”
Psalm 24:7-10 NKJV
Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.
Isaiah 62:10 NKJV
Go through, Go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people; Build up, Build up the highway! Take out the stones, Lift up a banner for the peoples!

Lord Jesus, to you we shout “Hosanna!” which means “save us now!” We must honor Your procession into this house of worship. We shout Your praises and sing of Your might. We will not let rocks and stones out-sing us! We will carpet the ground before with our hearts. We will wave our hands like living branches to welcome You into our House, into our spirits. Hosanna! In the Highest! Save us now, O Lord! We need You and Your astounding peace. May Your Kingdom come and Your Will be done in us this day! Hallelujah! Amen!

Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
Words: Jennette Threlfall; Music: Traditional

1. Hosanna, loud hosanna the little children sang;
through pillared court and temple the lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them, close folded to his breast,
the children sang their praises, the simplest and the best.

2. From Olivet they followed mid an exultant crowd,
the victory palm branch waving, and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of earth and heaven rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children should on his bidding wait.

3. “Hosanna in the highest!” That ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven, our King.
O may we ever praise him with heart and life and voice,
and in his blissful presence eternally rejoice.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 8, 2017


Life, Heat, Hope
When the heat is on and life begins to boil, peripheral things vaporize and float away; only the solids remain. Hope is just such a solid. The last day of life before the week we call His Passion, Jesus could feel the heat increasing and His solid core of hope emerging.

It was the seventh day, the Holy Sabbath. Not a day for work but for worship and rest. We are not given details of how Jesus rested and worshiped on that particular Sabbath. It is not difficult to imagine that of all the psalms Jesus had memorized and prayed the one we call Psalm 42 may have been His prayer that Saturday. Like a wild deer pursued by frenzied hounds thirsting for a drink of water, Jesus wanted to spend time with the Father in prayer.

“The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
Though He was a young man at the height of His physical strength, He felt the weakness of His humanity. No innocent man had ever endured the trials before Him and none would ever do anything like it again. He knew that his physical strength and emotional resources were insufficient for His assigned task. He sensed that a moment would come when He would have to throw Himself on the strength of the Father and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The Garden of Prayer, Pilate’s Judgment Hall, the Sanhedrin’s illegal court, the scourging, the cross, and the final raising of it to suspend Him between heaven and earth, all required the strength of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

On the Sabbath Day before all of these events started in motion, I imagine that Jesus sought to marshal every ounce of strength or every kind. As the humanity He took on Himself when He laid aside Heavenly Majesty wasted away, a firm hope deep within Him did not at all diminish.

The Coming Cross
When on the cross He would at last surrender His spirit to death.

  • All of the creation that He had made would erupt in protest: storm, wind, lightning, thunder, a quaking earth and a deep darkness at midday. There would be no shortage of power. No one was strong enough to take His life; He would give it.
  • At that moment the hands of God would reach into the Temple and rip the heavy veil from top to bottom. The promises of God would then flood out of that Temple never to return to a forced seclusion made necessary by sin.
  • Sin, wickedness, iniquity, corruption, hate, and violence would all be nailed to the cross, their power broken by the force of love and the power of hope.
  • On the third day after the cross Jesus would walk among people again leading a victory parade in spiritual triumph, having disarmed the devil and won the hoped-for victory.
    For now, on this Sabbath, Jesus worshiped the Father and rested in the Spirit. Hope was his pillow. On the morning to come an impromptu process, one planned since before time began, would start the events of His Passion in motion. Hope sustained Him through the passion week just as it sustains us today.

Psalm 42
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”… Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; … Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Isaiah 53:1-12 NIV
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.… After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Lord Jesus, You are my hope. You conquered life as well as death. You came into the world You made. You even came into the flesh You created in Your own image. The world did not conquer You; You overcame the world. The humanity You wore did not wear You down. You endured every temptation possible and never gave in. You never slipped; You redeemed the image of God in us. There was still one thing that You had to do. In Your innocence, You took our guilt. In Your holiness, You took our iniquity. In Your pain, You healed our sicknesses. No one has done what You have done. My hope is in You and it is sure. Amen.

The Solid Rock
Words: Edward Mote; Music: Wm. Bradbury

1. My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

2. When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

3. His oath, His covenant, and blood Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

4. When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017


People were created to celebrate. 
We celebrate at the slightest provocation.  Occasions for celebration run from private gatherings in honor of intimate events like the birth of a child to big family events like graduations and weddings to huge public celebrations like championships, inaugurations and coronations.  Human beings love to celebrate even when there is nothing to celebrate like young people celebrating nothing more than the weekend.

In the words of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof,

“God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor.
How much more can we be joyful when there’s really something to be joyful for?”

Is there a deeper significance to this human need or desire?

Without doubt—public worship should be a celebration.
The spirituality of the Old Covenant was marked by frequent and fervent celebrations:

  • The Sabbath was a weekly celebration of God’s covenantal faithfulness.
  • Three festivals marked each year with celebrations related to the provision of God through the hard work of His people.
  • Every seven years the land itself had a celebration of rest.
  • Every 50th year was supposed to be a year-long celebration called the Year of Jubilee.
  • The book of Psalms commands singing and playing music, rejoicing and dancing before the Lord in celebration of “His abundant goodness.”

In the Gospel narratives, celebration is at the heart of New Covenant spirituality as Jesus presented worship in Spirit and Truth.

  • Jesus and the disciples celebrated the Old Covenant feasts.
  • Jesus instituted the New Covenant feast of the Lord’s Table.
  • The Father of the prodigal son celebrated greatly at the return of his repentant child.
  • Jesus said the angels in heaven celebrated over one lost sinner who repented.
  • The book of Revelation describes a great celebration with Jesus as Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride.

Each Lord’s Day worship service should have a strong element of celebration in it.
Even if the Spirit is calling the church to solemn prayer, to “weep between the porch and the altar,” the prophet Joel said, we should also “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise,” as the Psalmist said.

As Palm/Passion Sunday approaches, let us prepare to celebrate His abundant goodness.  Let us gather together to celebrate the Lord’s abundant goodness.  Let us rejoice and be glad.  Why?  Because we were made for this purpose and because the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!


Exodus 23:14-16
Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; No one is to appear before me empty-handed. Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the first fruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.
Numbers 9:1-3
The LORD spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said,  “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time.
Psalm 145:3-7
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.   They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
Luke 15: 10; 21-24
…I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Lord Jesus, today I will lay aside my burdens to free my hands so I can lift them to You in celebration. I will realign my calendar to make sure I give time to the celebration of Your loving-kindness. I will tune my voice to the sound of angels celebrating around Your throne. As I spend this day in celebration, You will inhabit my praise, strengthening me for the tasks ahead. Your joy and your truth will go before me and Your mercy and peace will follow me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I Will Celebrate

Words and Music: Don Moen

I will celebrate, Sing unto the Lord
I will sing to Him a new song
I will celebrate, Sing unto the Lord
I will sing to Him a new song

I will praise Him, I will sing to Him a new song
I will praise Him, I will sing to Him a new song
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelu, hallelujah!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017


Peace is not passive. 
Peace needs to be made, kept, and embraced.  We obtain peace from God through action on our part by active faith—choosing to act on the promises of God.

Jesus is our peace, Paul said, for He has broken down the walls life builds between us and others, between us and life.  But walls don’t come down for us until we obey the commands of the Lord.

The first two are simple and lead to success in all the others:

  1. Love God with the sum total of our humanity, and,
  2. Love others as we do ourselves.

Jesus said success in all the other requirements of living with God flow from these two.  Peace and faith are integrally related to each other.

There is a spiritual progression from no peace to much peace:

  • Our confidence in God’s faithfulness to His promises gives us peace when He seems to be paying no attention to us at all.
  • Faith is ours according to the depth of our knowledge of the Word of God.
  • The more we know of the Word of God the more of His peace we enjoy.
  • The greater our availability to the Holy Spirit, the more we will know about Jesus, the church, worship, service, humility, and the Kingdom of God.

We make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit through regular prayer and Bible reading and through an unbreakable commitment to the local church in worship, fellowship, and service.  Faithfulness to God provides peace that passes all understanding.

Peace is not accidental; sometimes it must be made. 
Jesus said those who made peace would be called the children of God.  The most obvious meaning of this is to help peace come to others through the ministry of reconciliation.  Those who foment conflicts among people are not doing the work of the Kingdom.  Believers are called to help bring an end to conflicts by fairness, truth-telling, and by being a friend and good listener.

Peace is not passive; sometimes we need to go get it.
Isaiah said that those who fill their minds with the things of God will have not just peace, but perfect peace.  When peace has flown from our lives we should deliberately go to the Book or to the place of prayer and pour truth about who God is and what He has promised into our minds. With that rehearsal of eternal truth, the peace we need will flood our souls.

Peace is not passive; sometimes we have to keep it.
One of the most ancient of Christian ministries was called “the passing of the peace.”  At a special time in a worship services believers turned to embrace each other with the words, “The Peace of Christ be with you.”  The one who was embraced responded with, “And also with you.”  In the early church this part the worship service was considered so important and so powerful it was reserved for only those who had been baptized into full fellowship with the church.  Perhaps it is time to return to this ancient spirituality.  The personal touch, the kind prayer, the good will in this moment of sharing would surely promote peace within the church.  Church strife could be avoided and the proper focus of each believer could be maintained—loving God and loving people.

On this day, don’t wait for wait passively for peace.  If you don’t have it,

  • Embrace it (go get it.)
  • Make it (speak peace to others.)
  • Keep it (do the work of the Kingdom.)

And watch Jesus tear down some walls.


Ephesians 2:14-18
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Isaiah 26:3 NKJV
You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.
Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Colossians 3:15
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Romans 14:17-19
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Songs of Peace
He Is Our Peace 
Composer: Kandela Groves

He is our peace who has broken down every wall
He is our peace, He is our peace
He is our peace who has broken down every wall
He is our peace, He is our peace.

Cast all your cares on Him for He careth for you
He is our peace, He is our peace
Cast all your cares on Him for He careth for you
He is our peace, He is our peace.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 5, 2017


Death is not a terminus, that is, a final goal or a finishing point.  Death is a passageway.

Consider the death of Christ.
From the moment He could grasp the thought of it, Jesus’ appointment with the cross dominated His life on this earth.

  • The long years in the home of Joseph and Mary,
  • the days in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth, and
  • the three and a half years of public ministry all led Him inexorably to Calvary.

Suspended there between earth and heaven by the cruel nails of our sin, Jesus declared “It is finished!”  Then He gave up the ghost and slumped in death, real death: no breathing, with blood no longer coursing through His body but dripping from His wounds.  He did not swoon; He died.  He was not drugged; He was executed.  Faithful friends took His lifeless body down from the cross, prepared it as best they could in the short time they had before the Sabbath, and placed it in a tomb.

It was finished.

But He was not finished.
Jesus’ death was not a terminus, a finishing point.  He descended to the place where those who were faithful to the Old Covenant waited for Him.  Each of their deaths was a passageway from earthly life to the place reserved for them called, Abraham’s Bosom.  In another spiritual location, Satan and his demons danced and celebrated their triumph over Jesus.  In the midst of their revelry, Jesus strode among them, shattering their noise to silence.  The only sound was the triumphal footsteps of the One who had died, but now lived again.

He demanded and received the keys of death, hell, and the grave from the fallen angel Lucifer and exited hell in absolute victory over all evil.  Jesus led captivity captive as He escorted the faithful from Abraham’s bosom to His Father’s presence in paradise.  Moses, Noah, Abraham, Samuel, David, and Isaiah were in that procession:

  • Moses realized the meaning of the lamb’s blood on the doorposts.
  • Noah saw the global saving grace of God in another ark; this one was a man named Jesus.
  • Abraham knew that God had indeed provided a Lamb.
  • Samuel could feel the anointing oil burning as he recognized the Lord’s Anointed One, The Christ of God.
  • David danced before His greater Son and the eternal Kingdom He was bringing.
  • Isaiah saw the scars of the suffering Messiah and knew he was about to enter the throne room of God he had seen centuries before.

Death is no terminus; it is a passageway.

  • Baptism brings another passageway into sight.  We are buried with the Lord in baptism and we are raised with Him to walk in newness of life.
  • We live a crucified life, dead to sin and alive to the Spirit of God.
  • Physical death is the passageway to life eternal, so we do not sorrow as those who have no such hope.
  • As we die daily in surrender to God, we are made alive in Christ.

The questions of Paul become our challenge in the face of the inevitable:

“O grave, where is your victory?  O death where is your sting?”

Death, you are not a finishing point, not at all!  When we meet you, we will simply go on from there!


Ephesians 4:7-10 NKJV
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says:” When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended” — what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
Revelation 1:17-18 KJV
And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: 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.
1 John 3:14
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.
2 Timothy 1:9-10
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
1 Corinthians 15:50-57 KJV
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus You faced down our greatest fear—death itself! You seized that old lion by his beard and broke its neck. At Calvary Satan bruised Your heel and in his smoky domain You bruised that Serpent’s head. You disarmed our enemy, robbing him of his greates weapon against us—the fear of death. You reduced the end of life to simply the turn of a page in our story. You have made the passage ahead of us so that those who believe may follow You even there—to life eternal. You robbed death of its sting and plundered the grave of its victory. No one has done what You have done and yet when our time comes the hand we feel will be Yours. The face we see, the voice we hear, and the peace we find, will all be yours. Thank You, Lord. Jesus! Amen and Amen.

The Victor
Words and Music by Jimmy and Carol Owens

1. Swallowed into earth’s dark womb,
Death has triumphed, That’s what they say.
But tried to hold him in the tomb
The son of life Rose on the third day

Look! The gates of hell are falling,
Crumbling from the inside out!
He’s bursting through The walls with laughter!
Listen to the angels shout!

It is finished. He has done it Life conquered death.
Jesus Christ Has won it!

2. His plan of battle fooled them all.
They led him off to prison to die.
But as he entered Hades hall,
He broke those hellish chains with a cry!

Listen to those demons screaming!
See him bruise the serpent’s head!
The prisoners of hell redeeming,
All the power of death is dead!


Look! The gates of hell are falling,
Crumbling from the inside out!
He’s bursting through The walls with laughter!
Listen to the angels shout!


Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 4, 2017


Searching for Life

  • Powerful telescopes search far out into space looking for signs of life.
  • Powerful microscopes peer into the smallest of spaces looking for the mysteries of life.
  • Here on earth scientists scrape the surface and probe the depths of this globe for clues of how things and people lived and died before our time.
  • Secular prophets study current trends and
  • pagan fortune tellers read palms to try and see how life will be lived in the future.

For the follower of Christ the search is simple—life is a gift from God.
The breath in our bodies came from the Spirit of God, giving us a life that is unique in all of creation—one that lasts for all time.  This life must not be lived as an animal lives, following instinct:

  • the will to survive, and
  • the avoidance of pain.

Neither is our life like that of plants: thoughtless, responding to wind and rain and sunlight only to perish with the passing of time.

Ruach— Hebrew for the Breath of God
The breath of God in us, first given to Adam and now passed through the generations to each of us, gives purpose to the life we live.  We are not the center of our world.  As the solar system revolves around the sun, the believer’s life revolves around the Son of God.  His will is our highest goal, not our survival and pleasure.  Wealth and prominence are not the measures of the life we are called to live for Jesus.  Jesus’ approval is the reward we seek.

The life we are called to live for Jesus is one of joy, an unusual joy that gives strength.  We have a guaranteed eternal destination and s daily walk with God to take us there.  We share a community with others who follow Jesus, and we are noted for the love we share together.  This life is more than physical systems: air coming and going through us, blood coursing in us, and the systematic transformation of food into energy.

It is even more than the sum total of our thoughts and words spoken each day.

  • Our real nourishment comes from the Bread of Heaven.
  • Our wisdom is from the Living Word.
  • The animating spirit within us is itself animated by the Holy Spirit.
  • According to scripture, we have the mind of Christ.
  • The life we live we live by faith in the Son of God.
  • Our innocence before men, healing through time, and justification before God are ours the through the power of the Blood of Jesus.

We have no need of telescopes or microscopes to find the life we enjoy.  We simply inhale the Breath of God, gaze into our hearts, and find Jesus there.


Romans 6:23 NKJV
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Luke 12:15
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Genesis 2:6-7
…the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Psalm 16:11
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Matthew 10:39; 19:17
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
… If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
Luke  21:19
By standing firm you will gain life.

Prayer of Confession:
John’s Testimony of Christ
John 1:1-5; 1 John 1:1-3; John 1:10-14
(from The Book of Daily Worship, adapted SRP)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 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.

My Life Is In You
Words and Music: Daniel Gardner

My life is in You, Lord,
My strength is in You, Lord
My hope is in You, Lord
In You, it’s in You. (Repeat)

I will praise You with all of my heart.
I will praise You with all of my hope.
With all of my life, and all of my strength.
All of my hope is in You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 3, 2017


“What’s in it for me?” 
Undoubtedly this is a crass question, unworthy of our highest efforts.
Really?  In human terms the question above speaks of pragmatic self-interest like other common sayings:

  • “I’m looking out for number one.”
  • “I’m gonna make hay while the sun shines.”
  •  “The world be hanged!  I’m getting mine while the getting is good.”
  •  “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
  • “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

Being cold-hearted and profit-driven are often equated in such thinking.

On a higher plane, each of us analyzes our efforts to determine success, failure, or ineffectiveness.  The most sophisticated organizations ask very sophisticated questions about what’s in it for them.

The Lenten Season
Self-assessment is a proper and godly thing to do and it is an emphasis in this season.  In business, in church, and in daily living, our methods must match our motivations.  Because we are fallen, selfishness profit motivations lie somewhere beneath the surface.  Prayerfully we root these out, cleansing our motivations from a selfish profit drive to a passion for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus spoke in terms of profit in one His most repeated questions.

Mark 8:36-38 NKJV
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Measuring Profit
We judge success in terms of numbers, increase of goods or wealth, acclaim, excellence of product, etc.  The profits of the Kingdom of God are counted by spiritual computations.  The coinage of the Christ’s Kingdom is not the same as that of the world.  Spiritual things that may not register on a cash register or accrue in a bank account, count for much in God’s economy.

Faithfulness to one’s calling is success, regardless of the measurable outcome.

Ask the pastor or missionary who faithfully sow and water the Word with little harvest to show for the effort.

  • When he or she enters into the courts of heaven, the angels and saints will stand in silent homage as the faithful one comes before Jesus.
  • A hushed heaven awaits the words of Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  You have been faithful…”
  • As soon as the commendation is out or Jesus’s mouth the innumerable company of joyful angels and the gallery filled with those of earth who are now perfect will erupt into praises loud and high sounding, and dance to rhythms that rock the doorposts of glory.

Why?  Numbers?  Hardly.  Money? Not at all.  Earthly acclaim?  It pales in comparison to the approval of Jesus.  It will be the same for all the faithful, not just pastors and missionaries.

May this coming moment of commendation from the Lord Jesus motivate us to a life of faithfulness.

This is true profit.


Mark 8:36-38 NKJV
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
Matthew 25:22-23
“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’  “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
1 Corinthians 10:31-33 NKJV
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
Luke 12:16-21
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Lord Jesus, You are my reward. Your approval is what matters most in this life and the one to come. I renounce any selfish profit motive in my work. I know that you will provide my needs since I have made Your Kingdom my primary passion. Set me free to do what You call me to do from a pure heart with Your glory as my only goal. Your smile is my motivation, Your joy in me and my work is profit, indeed. Help me measure this life by the values of the next life. In Your Lovely Name, Amen.

Mansion over the Hilltop
Words and Music: Ira Stanphil

1. I’m satisfied with just a cottage below,
A little silver and a little gold.
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined.

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old.
And some day yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold.

2. Don’t think me poor or deserted or lonely.
I’m not discouraged I’m heaven bound.
I’m but a pilgrim in search of the city.
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 2, 2017


Surprisingly, there is beauty in holiness. 
Many tend to tense up at the sound of the word, gearing up for expectations they know they can never fulfill, demands they can never meet, and stern judgment at the end of the road.  Those concerns come with the contemplation of our attempts at holiness.  The good thing about the Good News is that Jesus fulfilled the expectations, met the demands, and took the judgment for our shortfalls.

Our subject today is not our holiness, but the Holiness of God.  This is the day the Lord has made. It is another appointed time to “give unto the Lord the glory due His name” and to worship Him “in the beauty of holiness,” His holiness.

We are so broken by Adam’s fall and our complicity in it, that we cannot imagine true holiness.

  • To be without flaw, to be completely complete,
  • to be true from the core to the surface,

is a state of being we cannot begin to understand.

However, we can pay tribute to it. 
We can confess with our lips and believe in our hearts the absolute holiness of the Lord Jesus, pristine in pre-incarnate life and unsoiled and unspoiled by more than thirty years of incarnation here on earth.  With no sins of His own to subtract from His goodness, our sins alone left their mark on His hands and feet, on His brow, side, and His back.  Yet these scars are not flaws; they in no way mar the beauty of His holiness.  Indeed, they add to the wonder of the Father’s mercy and the Spirit’s power to bring the dead back to life.

Each Lord’s Day the Holiness of God is the subject of the liturgy we present to the Him.

  • It will be heard in all three points in the pastor’s message and even in his poem.
  • This will be the appeal in every invitation and the prayer at every altar.
  • The Holiness of God will flow in the cup when we drink it and nourish us the when the bread is broken and blessed and the truth believed.

The Glory Due His Name
Oh, there is beauty in Holiness, the beauty of the One who is the originator of all beauty, the designer of all designs, the master of all mastery and the creator of creativity.  We stand in awe of Him.  We lift our hands, our lives, our voices, and our hearts to Him in adoration, gratitude, and homage.

Most amazing of all, He responds to our praise and worship.

  • He inhabits our liturgy and reigns upon our sacred actions.
  • This Almighty One gently holds us in His loving embrace.
  • His wholeness then transmits to us and we are healed.

Oh, there is beauty in His Holiness!


Psalm 29:1-2 NKJV
Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, Give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
Isaiah 6:1-4
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 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.
Revelation 4:6-8
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”
Hebrews 10:19-22
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water
Psalm 22:3 KJV (NKJ)
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel….(Enthroned in the praises of Israel.)

Lord Jesus, I join the song of angels today, singing with all of my might of Your holiness. Let me see you high and lifted up. Let the train of Your robe cover me as I stand before Your throne in worship. Let your strength brace my knees, Your mercy bath my heart, Your peace calm my soul and Your truth bind up my mind. Your holiness is indeed beautiful, shimmering in the air of glory, not distant, but close, close enough to touch me. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

I See the Lord
Words and Music: Chris Falson

I see the Lord seated on the throne exalted
And the train of His robe fills the temple with glory
And the whole earth is filled And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled with His glory

Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy
Holy is the Lord
Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy
Holy is the Lord

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved