July 21 “Rejected!”

Rejected!

In baseball, there is a play called the “sacrifice.”
With a bunt or a ground ball or a high fly ball to the outfield, a batter gives himself up as an out to advance a baserunner or to score a man from third base. One player suffers a loss to advance the winning cause of the whole team. Just so, in life there are sacrifices, temporary losses that eventually secure a larger win.

The Sacrifices of Jesus
In the earthly ministry of Jesus, there were many, many victories. He began in His home region of Galilee teaching and working miracles and multitudes followed Him. Of course, there were local rejections:

  • There was that awful day in Nazareth where the people in His own synagogue rioted and threatened to throw Him off a cliff, and there were
  • those foolish town elders in Capernaum who sent Him away after He delivered the town demoniac, but who’s counting, right?

For the most part, like the 5000+ plus multitude who filled their bellies in the wilderness, people went away healed and happy. The victories outnumbered the sacrifices.

We should not forget the constant rejection of Jesus by the leaders of the people; it was nearly unanimous, with only the occasional priest or Pharisee or lawyer who expressed interest in the Good News of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus said, He had come to divide those who believed from those who refused to believe.

The Road to Jerusalem
In Dr. Luke’s narrative, Jesus turned away from the adoring crowds and turned toward the Cross. This was His sacrifice play, a personal loss of great and terrible cost for the good of all people who would believe in Him. He tried to prepare His men for the horrors ahead. It was not an easy thing to do. For one thing, the “Day of the Lord” has many seemingly contradictory aspects. In this place, Jesus refers to His return with the image of a flash of lightning that illumines the whole world from horizon to horizon. In other places, He depicts His return as a “Thief in the night.” (Luke 12:39-40) Our job is not to choose one or the other but to believe both.

A line had been crossed.
With this turn in the journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus crossed a line; things were going to be different from there on to the conclusion. Rejection would increase and acceptance would retreat. For a while, Jesus would remain with them every day, teaching, healing, touching, loving them at close range. A time was coming when His presence with them would be spiritual, not physical. There were so many details about the New Covenant in His blood but they would have to wait until the extreme rejection did its work. He tried to warn them:

“The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man,
and you will not see it.”

In those days, it would be crucial that Christ-followers know the facts and know them well. It will be a day revelation and deception: the Truth revealed by the Spirit and horrible lies broadcast by the mechanisms of hell. It will be up to us to fill our hearts and brains with the truth about Jesus and to walk in His enabling Spirit every day.

Those days are these days. We celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus in the light of His ultimate victory.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:22-25

Then He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Do not go after them or follow them. For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are with me today! Not in the way that You were with the Twelve as You walked the dusty pathways of human existence, but in spiritual ways that are just as thrilling. You promised never to leave me or forsake me and it is so. Following You, I have a story to tell, Good News to share, and a healing touch to administer to the people in my path. Many will reject You and Your story but some will believe and come alongside me to share this journey to glory. I, too, will be a willing sacrifice to see the ultimate victory—the Thief in the Night and the heaven-to-earth stroke of lightning. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!

Song:
Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus

Traditional

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 20 “Within”

Within

Long before maps and GPS, the Kingdom of God could be located with ease.
It is not a continent or country. It is not an island or mountain range. Its borders do not change as armies march over them. The Kingdom of God has a native tongue—Truth! There is a national culture—Spirit!

When will the Kingdom come?
Everybody wanted to know—the disciples, the critics, the people, everybody. This, of course, was the direct result of all the “Messiah” talk. When Messiah comes, he will overthrow the Romans! It will be a restored Kingdom of Israel like David, like Solomon, the world bringing tribute to Jerusalem. The Temple would be restored to the center of the world as it should be. The Chosen People of God will rule the earth in benevolence and peace with Messiah on His rightful throne. The nation of Israel will be a kingdom of priests unto the whole world, bringing all the Gentiles to the knowledge of God, as promised at Mt. Sanai. (Exodus 19:6)

How do we find the Kingdom?
This Kingdom of God was in everyone’s best interest but there was a problem.

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation…”

Normal processes of inquiry do not reveal the time of the Kingdom. Friends and forbears may share anecdotes, inspiring us with their experiences but testimonies do not locate the Kingdom for us. The Bible is all about the Kingdom of God, providing us with its borders of truth so that we know when we have transgressed into error and exited the Kingdom. Awaiting the revelation, we must see into the spirit realm for this Kingdom is not of this world. It stands pristine, unblemished by sin, pure and centered on the Throne of God where angels declare in unceasing song, “Holy, holy, holy!”

The New and Living Way
When the Pharisees asked this of Jesus, the plan for its revelation was in progress. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, the courts of men, the cross, and to an empty tomb. He would open a “new and living way” to God, replacing the old and dying ways of types and shadows with present realities.

  • The Living Word would apply the truth of the written Word.
  • The one Final Spotless Lamb would take the place of the countless animal sacrifices.
  • The heavy veil in the Temple separating God from the People of God would be forever rent.

So where is this Kingdom?
It dwells within us, beyond the mountain ranges of faith, across the tossing seas of circumstances, over the River of the Spirit and into the realm of the Splendor of His Holiness! Without fail, we locate the Kingdom of God within our hearts. This is the unchanging truth.

  • The Kingdom of God is in the Church because Jesus reigns in the hearts of believers.
  • Until we draw our last breath on earth Jesus reigns in our hearts.
  • Until Jesus reigns for 1000 years of peace, He reigns in our hearts.

So, the Kingdom of God within us is “already, but not yet,” as theologians like to say. It is and will forever be a Kingdom of Peace. Here and now in our hearts and soon in the whole world.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:20-21

Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Hebrews 10:19-25
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
John 14:23
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.

Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today, our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the Kingdom and the power and the glory are Yours, now and forever. Amen!

Song:
King of Kings and Lord of Lords

Traditional

King of kings and Lord of lords,
Glory! Hallelujah!
King of kings and Lord of lords,
Glory! Hallelujah!
Jesus, Prince of Peace!
Glory! Hallelujah!
Jesus, Prince of Peace!
King of kings and Lord of lords,
Glory! Hallelujah!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 18 “Duty”

Duty

There were times when the Disciples asked Jesus for one thing and received something else entirely—or did they?
It is easy to understand why the Twelve would ask Jesus to increase their faith. His faith never wavered while theirs seem to come and go. On one assignment, as when they led the 70 disciples, demons were subject to them and sicknesses fled at their touch. At other times, demons were intransigent and immovable at their command. Why? It was a mystery that made life a public risk. It is one thing to have a demon depart at one’s command and another thing entirely to have one snarl back and stay put. So, they came to Jesus:

“Increase our faith.”

More Mustard Seeds
Of course, when they asked Jesus a question, the answer was sure to be an adventure they did not expect. He reviewed the lesson of faith the size of a mustard seed, so tiny yet so powerful. This time, instead aiming this faith at a mountain, it was a nearby mulberry tree. With mustard seed faith they could command it to be uprooted and transplanted in the sea,

Yes! That was it. That was the kind of faith they wanted more of, the spectacular, the crisis kind of faith that overcomes obstacles in memorable moments! But, Jesus spoke of a different kind of faith, an ordinary faith, a daily, moment-to-moment kind of faith.

The Faithful Servant
Jesus asked them a rhetorical question about servants, slaves really, and their masters.

  • When a servant comes in from a day in the fields, hot, tired, spent in the service of his duties, does he kick off his sandals and join the master at the dinner table for a relaxing meal prepared by other servants? That was a foolish notion.
  • When the servant comes in from a day in the fields, he is commanded to prepare a meal for the master and then eat later if there is anything left.

Does the master commend the servant for this second shift? Of course not. He was only doing his duty and had earned no such commendation.

The Duty of Faith
Mountains and mulberry trees get cast into the sea when mustard seed faith meets a crisis, but an every day kind of faith is the duty of the servant of the Lord. There are no crowds looking on, no accolades to be won, and no celebrity to be gained. There is just work, the work of the Kingdom of God. The work of both the field and the kitchen requires faith of mustard seed proportions, too.

Duty-faith is routine not remarkable, expected not extraordinary, and it is on-the-job and not optional. Each of us has a set of duties to perform each day. These things–Worship, Word, and Prayer–must be our daily tasks. They are not spectacular but they are powerful, essential, and they enable success, public and private, throughout the day.

The Witness of the Spirit
These spiritual duties connect our human spirit with God’s Holy Spirit resulting in blessings that are remarkable, extraordinary, and on-the-job. We have within us, not just the words of Jesus, “Well done!” or “She has done what she could!” “You’ve done a beautiful thing to me.” but the witness of the Spirit that we are not just His servants, but His family! And so we cry, “Abba Father!” And as King David advised Solomon, we simply “do the work.”

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:5-10

And the apostles said to the Lord, So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'”
Galatians 4:1-7
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
1 Chronicles 28:20
David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is work to be done for You today! I want to be faithful and do this work. I don’t seek adoring crowds or approving experts, I simply want to serve You in the ordinary things of everyday life. I sense Your Holy Spirit speaking in my spirit that I am Your child, a trusted member of Your family, a player on Your holy team. Help me find the courage and strength to do the work today! For Your Glory, Lord. All for You! Amen.

Song:
Every Day with Jesus

Traditional

Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.
Every day with Jesus I love Him more and more.
Jesus saves and keeps me. He’s the one I’m working for!
Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 6 “Prophets”

Prophets

For those who are sensitive to the voice of the Spirit of God, no day is just another day.
Every day holds some hidden delight to be enjoyed, some enrichment of the soul available to anyone who really watches and listens.

In the Temple
Two ancient servants of God were allowed living quarters somewhere within the Temple courts. They had earned these accommodations through faithful living and a singular focus on Messiah.

  • Simeon had a promise from God that with his own eyes he would see Messiah. Every day he surveilled the Temple court where babies were dedicated. As his years piled up, his expectation also grew. Any day might be the day!
  • Anna, a widow of some 84 years and a prophetess, lived in the Temple courts as well. She was renowned for her spirituality, fasting and praying continually for Messiah to come. She too, watched the place of dedication every day knowing that one day He would come.

It is inevitable that two such Temple fixtures would have known each other. They must have crossed paths every day, encouraging each other to be faithful in all things. Messiah is near!

The Dedication of Jesus
Eight days after His birth in Bethlehem, Jesus was presented for circumcision and dedication in the Temple. Before they reached the appointed place, Simeon met them and Anna followed at an appropriate distance. The old man took the child from Mary’s arms without the slightest protest from Joseph—he was learning to let God handle things! Joseph and Mary took a step back as Simeon took the Baby Jesus and lifted him toward heaven. Just as Zacharias had done for his son, John. Prophecies began to flow from Simeon.

Simeon’s Song
Regular visitors to the Temple found the old man mildly amusing and he regularly drew a small audience. All the priests and their wives knew of Simeon’s promise. He began this way:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word”

His audience stopped to listen to the strange old man. Strange old men speaking to the People of God was part of their heritage.

“for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

A child had never been so tenderly and securely held by an old man as was Jesus that day. Reluctantly, Simeon handed Jesus back to Mary. As he did, Simeon prophesied about the ministry of Jesus

“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign which will be spoken against…”

In midsentence, the Spirit spoke to Simeon about Mary. Her life was not to be an easy one.

“…yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also…”

Anna’s Song
As Simeon handed Jesus back to Mary, Anna began to sing, her thin soprano lifted high above the din of the Temple courts. Her words were not recorded for us except to say that she gave thanks to God and encouraged others to pay attention to this child. Redemption for Israel would be found in Him.

Scriptures:
Luke: 2:21-38

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord “), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, remind me from time to time that the whole story is not right in front of me. You are at work in unseen ways and always to my benefit. Joseph and Mary were simply doing what they were supposed to do and You sent them two surprise messengers to confirm them in their faith in You. Help me watch today for those You send to me. Let me hear Your voice in their words and take the strength and hope I need for today’s obedience. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Run, Run, Run!

Words and Music: Jimmy and Carol Owens from “The Glory of Christmas”

The Spirit stirs within my heart, He whispers in my ear.
He sings at last, at last He’s come. The Christ of God is here.
Run, run, run, run to hold Him in your arms!
To look into salvation’s eyes and kiss God’s baby Son.

O be consoled Jerusalem, your waiting time is done.
God’s glory rests on Israel. The Light of the world has come.
Run, run, run, run to hold Him in your arms!
To look into salvation’s eyes and kiss God’s baby Son.

Within a tiny frame of flesh all strength and wisdom lie.
The mighty host and lovers of God who bow before Him cry:
Run, run, run, run to hold Him in your arms!
To look into salvation’s eyes and kiss God’s baby Son.

Come see the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings.
The One whose birth joined heaven and earth as Prophet, Priest and King.
Run, run, run, run to hold Him in your arms!
To look into salvation’s eyes and kiss God’s baby Son.

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

November 30, 2018 “Follow”

Follow

The call to follow Jesus and be His disciple is not a call to comparison.
Is this why Jesus repeatedly questioned Peter about the measure of his love? Our love for God is not measured by that of others. Nor is this love measured against the love of things. The measure of our love of God is our love for His People. The Gospel calls all people to love God but many will not. We must love all people but our embrace of the Church is a deeper one. “Feed My sheep—tend My lambs—feed My sheep” must ring in our ears and propel our hearts.

John and Peter
As the morning sun continued its climb, Peter saw John standing by. His mind flashed back to their last supper and he remembered John leaning on Jesus. Did Peter envy the relationship John had with Jesus? Something prompted his question.

“But Lord, what about this man?”

It is a sad truth than men compete with each other and it may have been so with these two. Jesus had just predicted that Peter would someday follow Him in crucifixion. Peter wanted to know how John would fare in the days to come.

Jesus would entertain no such competition.

“If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

God’s plan for John was of no consequence to His plan for Peter. Peter’s job was to follow Jesus. Period. End of sentence. It is the same for us.

Rumors
Unauthorized versions of this conversation went out misquoting Jesus to say that John would not die until Jesus returned. This is not what He said; Jesus said, “If…” We know that John was the last of the disciples to die. He lived to see a vision of the end-times and relate that vision to us in the Book of Revelation. In fact, the full record of the Jesus Story as told by John could be considered that book and the three letters John wrote to the church as well as his gospel account.

John’s Summation
There was so much more that Jesus said and did than could ever be written in a single book. Our job and our joy is to read and read and read again the primary resources that tell us the Jesus Story. The whole Bible is about Him.

  • He is the Living Word discovered in the supernatural pages of the Written Word.
  • He is seen in type and shadow in the Old Testament Law and Histories.
  • He is seen in what are called “theophanies” where the “Angel of the Lord” or some other divine, pre-incarnate Son of God visits the earth.
  • He is celebrated as “The Lord” in the Psalms and other poetic books.
  • He is the animating spirit of the prophets as they call the nation back to God and to His Covenant.
  • He is Messiah, predicted to come and arriving on the scene, as the Old Covenant changed into the New Covenant.
  • He is the hero of the Gospels and the book of Acts.
  • His ways are the thesis of the New Testament letters.
  • He is King of kings and Lord of lords in John’s Revelation.

Our job is to know and to follow Jesus.

Do not be ashamed!
Do not shrink back from the Jesus Story. It is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Read it again and again. Seek the Christ of the Story, follow Him in all things. He wants to walk with you and in you by His Spirit. Live His story and others will find Him, too.

Scriptures:
John 21:20-25

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
Romans 1:16-17 NKJV
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Psalm 40:6-8 NKJV
Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.”
Hebrews 10:5-7 NKJV
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come — In the volume of the book it is written of Me — To do Your will, O God.'”
John 6:28-29 NKJV
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, as the Psalmist and the writer to the Hebrews said, You have come “in the volume of the book written of You.” Thank You for words, for language that narrows truth down to a human tongue and for Your Word, which transcends all human language or thought. Though Your ways are indeed higher than mine and past finding out, Your Spirit enables me to understand holy things and, more than that, to appropriate them into my life. Tune my heart to heaven today so that I might sing with angels as I walk this earth with You. Amen. Alleluia!

Song:
Wonderful Words of Life

Words and Music: P. P. Bliss

1. Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life;
Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life;
Words of life and beauty, teach me faith and duty:

Refrain:
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
wonderful words of life;
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
wonderful words of life.

2. Christ, the blessed One, gives to all, wonderful words of life;
Sinner, list to the laving call, wonderful words of life;
all so freely given, wooing us to heaven:

Refrain

3. Sweetly echo the gospel call, wonderful words of life;
Offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior, sanctify forever.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 28, 2018 “Breakfast”

Breakfast

Two miraculous appearances of Jesus to the assembled disciples share this factor: We do not know how they ended.
It is safe to assume that Jesus simply disappeared as suddenly as He had appeared. If so, a sweetness in the room must have remained. The words He spoke to His gathered followers must have stayed with them after He left. There was no announced schedule indicating when He would return. All they could do was wait and speculate on what it all meant. What was next? They remembered His announced intention to leave them. Had that already happened? If so, could they rehearse all the things He had told them and mold them into some sort of action plan? Mary had told them that Jesus said to go to Galilee where He had found most of them and He would appear to them. This is what they decided to do.

Fishing
The sight, smells, and sounds of the sea were too much for the fishermen among them. Peter, as per the well-established pattern, spoke what the others were thinking,

“I am going fishing.”

They all agreed it was the thing to do. A boat was handy so they boarded her and began a fruitless night of fishing. The fish were somewhere else but still it felt good to be back at the old job even with nothing to show for it. The night blossomed into the early morning as the sun inched over the horizon but all they had was blistered hands and sore backs.

A Stranger on the Shore
As they pulled for land, a figure waved to them from the beach. At that distance, they did not recognize the Lord. He called to them.

“Children, have you any food?”

Their negative report brought a surprising bit of instruction.

“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

To some a sense of deja vu stole over them. This had happened before, hadn’t it? At any rate they obeyed, casting on the right side of the boat, something they had done repeatedly without result. This time it was different. Immediately the net started filling and was soon to the danger point with the men straining to hold it and propel the boat to shore.

John, also experiencing deja vu, realized the identity of the stranger and told Peter it was Jesus. Peter could not wait for safe passage. He plunged into the sea and started for his Jesus; things were not settled between them.

The men brought the boat and the catch—153 large fish!—to shore and found a fire with fish already frying and bread on the side. Jesus invited them,

“Come and eat breakfast.”

Their weariness forgotten, their joy returned, they consumed the meal Jesus had prepared for them.

A Meal for Us
It is not a breakfast, but Jesus has prepared a meal for us. We call it the Lord’s Supper. Like all meals shared by family and friends this one is a time of bonding in sweet fellowship. It is a renewal of the Covenant we share. It is a thanksgiving for past blessings and an anticipation of great things to come. We gather at His table because He has invited us to “Come and dine.”

Scriptures:
John 21:1-14

After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.” And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.” Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?” — knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish. This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
Luke 5:3-6 KJV
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I marvel at Your invitation! As the Psalmist said, “You prepare a table for me…” even in the presence of my enemies and certainly in the presence of my friends and family. Your Word itself is a feast! Food and drink like manna from heaven, sourced in another world to give strength to those of us in this present world. Joyful new wine is at this table, Your life outpoured for us and then poured into us. There is living water at this feast. To drink it is to know in our hearts that we need never thirst for any other. I will feast today at Your Table. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Come and Dine

Words and Music: C.B. Widmyer

1. Jesus has a table spread where the saints of God are fed.
He invites His chosen people, “Come and dine.”
With His manna He doth feed and supplies our every need.
Oh ‘tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time.

Refrain:
“Come and dine,” the Master calleth, “Come and dine.”
We may feast at Jesus’ table all the time.
He who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now, “Come and dine.”

2. The disciples came to land, thus obeying Christ’s command,
For the Master called to them, “O come and dine;”
There they found their heart’s desire, bread and fish upon the fire;
Thus He satisfies the hungry ev’ry time.

Refrain

3. Soon the Lamb will take His Bride to be every at His side,
All the hosts of heaven will assembled be;
O ‘twill be a glorious sight, all the saints in spotless white;
And with Jesus they will feast eternally.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 27, 2018 “Thomas”

Thomas

Jesus had told them before, “The Work of God is to believe in the One who was sent.”
The time came to obey that word. One week later, the disciples were again gathered, this time with Thomas attending. This was so different. The testimony of the women and the two disciples was now a shared experience—they had all seen the Lord! He had appeared among them, shining with an inner radiance that could only be sourced in the heavenly Zion, His ruling and dwelling place. None of them would ever look at closed doors and windows the same way again.

Absenteeism
Among them this time was one of the original 12 men chosen by Jesus, Thomas. Our brief glimpses of Thomas in the gospels indicate him to be a man of sharp intellect and prodigious reasoning skills. If Thomas had a favorite scripture it was probably, “Come, let us reason together…” On this night, he found the testimonies of the others insufficient. They had seen Jesus; he had not.

He knew the story.
Perhaps Thomas had watched from a safe distance as Jesus carried His cross through the streets of Jerusalem toward the Place of the Skull. It could be he was close enough to hear the sound of the Roman hammers or even see the nails driven mercilessly into the hands and feet of Jesus. Maybe he had stayed after Jesus cried, “It is finished” to see the Roman soldier spear Him in the side. Thomas knew of these things. The resurrection witnesses reasoned with him:

“We have seen the Lord.”

Thomas needed more. His reluctance to believe had become more a will-set than a mind-set.

“Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

In the Presence
Without warning, just as He had done a week before, Jesus was among them without benefit of door or window. Let us imagine that He materialized behind Thomas and the first indication of His presence was the two-fold witness of

  1. the looks on the faces of those who saw Jesus first, and
  2. the sweetness of the Lord’s presence among them.

Thomas ceased his internal and external debates, closed his mouth, and opened his heart. Turning a full circle, he saw Jesus, smiling and offering hands, clearly scarred, for Thomas’ inspection.

“Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

Such inspection was no longer required. As Mary Magdalene had done, Thomas fell at Jesus’ feet, clinging to Him in worship.

“My Lord and my God!”

Jesus lifted Thomas to his full height to look him full in the eyes. He had to reach deeper than the man’s mind, all the way to his heart.

“Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Believing
It is good to ask questions when done in faith and not in cynicism. It is proper to reason together for the Lord, through Isaiah, invites us to do this. But the beginning and ending of our questioning and reasoning must be faith, believing in “Him who was sent.” To question in doubt leads to more questions. To reason in our own strength leads to dubious conclusions. Believing is the work of God.

Scriptures:
John 20:24-31

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
Isaiah 1:18-20 NKJV
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword”; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
John 6:26-29 NKJV
Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for Your wonderful presence. As on that night, You have no need of doors for our thanksgiving is the eternal gateway to Your presence. The recognition of Your nearness comes to me through my mind, my heart, and my spirit–my whole, redeemed being! Your blood has cleansed my soul. Your Spirit has raised my mind and body to new, resurrected life. Your amazing grace has healed me completely. I once was blind, but now I see—You! And I know You are with me always. Thank You, Lord! Alleluia!

Song:
I Live

Words and Music: Rich Cook

I live, I live because He is risen.
I live, I live to worship Him.
Thank You, Jesus! Thank You, Jesus!
Because You’re alive,
Because You’re alive,
Because You’re alive, I live!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 26, 2018 “Breath”

Breath

Fear and hope were a discomfiting mixture for the followers of Jesus.
They gathered in the evening, all except Thomas, to hear again the stories of the witnesses. With what they had been through, they needed more than excited women and men who had failed when the moment of testing came—they all fit that category!—to dare to believe that Jesus was alive. The Jews were still in power and Roman soldiers patrolled every street and alleyway on full alert, all looking for the followers of Jesus. There were plenty of crosses available for rebels such as these misguided fools.

For this feast, fear was the only menu item and there was plenty to go around. All of them feasted, except for Mary and the other women—they had no doubt. Other sources tell of us of other encounters between women and the corporeal figure claiming to be Jesus in the garden of the tomb. Peter seemed on the verge of believing but they all knew he could change directions at a moment’s notice. Who could believe John, the dreamer, the mystic, whose overriding love for Jesus could lead to error as likely as to truth?

Gathered together that evening as the same watching full moon, only somewhat reduced in size from the night in Gethsemane, looked down, lighting the world around their closed windows and tightly shut doors. There was no singing, no mirth, only fear and faith doing an uncomfortable dance.

“Jesus Came and stood in the midst…”
With no suspended cymbal roll or trumpet fanfare, (We would add those things much later.) Jesus suddenly stood among them. Mary Magdalene may have, for an instant, heard a chorus of angel voices singing in that same strange harmony employed by the two angels in the tomb, but we cannot be sure. Jesus had breached no door nor any window, but there He was—very present and very real. It seemed there was no air to be had in that room though each observer sought in unison to breath. Could their eyes deceive them? In the hearts, the combat between fear and faith rose to a heretofore unseen violence. Into this pitched battle Jesus spoke, His voice clear and unmistakable.

“Peace be with you.”

Fear, like a defeated foe, forsook this battleground and faith took the field. Jesus held out his hands for inspection. He pulled back His shining white robe for their eyes to see scars where nails had pierced them marking his graceful hands and where a deep gash marred His side. These were all they needed to completely believe—Jesus was alive and He was with them!

Slowly at first and then with a rush, they closed the circle around Him, hesitantly and joyfully touching Him—again. With each touch, faith mounted in each heart. With faith, a solemn call to mission began to sound in each of them. Jesus confirmed this inner impulse,

“Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Remembering His Words
Each of them, as the Spirit led them, remembered in unison all the words of Jesus predicting their joy after their sorrow. It was only the beginning of such an inborn education. He had told them about the Holy Spirit’s ministry to come. When the sounds of wonder receded a bit, Jesus, gathering their complete attention, breathed on them, saying:

“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The forgiveness of Jesus through their witness to the Jesus Story would change the world one heart at a time.

Scriptures:
John 20:19-23

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Romans 6:5-11 NKJV
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Victor—You conquered death; there is no doubt. You are the Redeemer—You destroyed sin, the destroyer. You are the King—You rule over death, hell, and the grave. You hold the keys to them all! I will follow You because by faith I have seen the scars in Your hands and feet and in Your side. “Draw me nearer, nearer, Blessed Lord!” Somehow, Your open wounds still heal those who are sick and release those who are bound. Your blood, poured out once and for all, still flows to our salvation, healing, and to our victory over evil. Amen and amen.

Song:
I Am Thine, O Lord

Words: Fanny Crosby; Music: W. Howard Doane

1. I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice
And it spoke Thy love to me.
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to Thee.

Refrain:
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord
To the cross when Thou hast died.
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord
To Thy precious, bleeding side.

2. Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord,
By the power of grace divine.
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope
And my will be lost in Thine.

Refrain

3. O the pure delight of a single hour
That before Thy throne I spend.
When I knee in prayer and with Thee My Lord
And commune as friend with friend.

Refrain

4. There are depths of love that I cannot know
Till I cross the narrow sea;
There are heights of joy that I may not reach
Till I rest in peace with Thee.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 25, 2018 “Magdalena”

Magdelena

Deep in her heart, Mary still had faith in Jesus.
Standing by the empty tomb as Peter and John disappeared on the road out of the garden, her mind raced with possibilities. What did she know for sure?

  • The soldiers were gone. It looked like they had been frightened away.
  • The stone was rolled to one side. How many men and tools did it take to do that?
  • John and Peter reported that the grave clothes were there but the body wasn’t.

She could not yet entertain the idea of resurrection, even though she had witnessed Lazarus
emerging from his tomb. The only fact to be sure of was that Jesus’ was not in that tomb.

Angels
Scarcely breathing, Mary stooped down and looked into the tomb. A pearly white light glowed deep inside the vaulted space. She stared at the light as it morphed into the forms of two tall men in shining white clothes, one at each end of the slab where the linens lay. Speaking at the same time but in a strange harmony, the men asked her,

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

She was fascinated by the multiple pitches in their voices and now her heart was racing faster than her mind. Perhaps they knew…

“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

Dead or alive, present or absent, Jesus was and always would be her Lord.

Jesus
The two angels looked past her toward the low opening of the tomb. Suddenly, they began to worship, whispering in a language Mary had never before heard. Their constant focus on a single point behind her prompted her sense that someone else was in that tomb. Slowly she turned around to see a man standing in the morning light as it streamed into the tomb. The light was so bright she lowered her eyes assuming He was a worker in the garden. He spoke and there was something familiar about His voice.

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

She turned her face away from the shining light, caught her breath, and somehow managed to answer.

“Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him,
and I will take Him away.”

At this Jesus called her name. She turned to look at Him and called Him “Teacher!” He was smiling with the same smile that thrilled her heart and terrified the demons the day He set her free. Mary was transfixed by Him. Was this a vision? No, this was real. Tears flowed freely as soft notes of wonder issued from her lips. She rushed forward and fell at His feet embracing Him in complete submission and joy. After a moment, Jesus lifted her to her feet saying,

“Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'”

Her Jesus was back and He had called her name! All was right with the world again, her world, at least. As if waking from a dream, she remembered that Jesus had given her a mission. With one long look at Him, she turned and ran from the garden to find the men who had gone home too soon.

Scriptures:
John 20:11-18

But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, teach me perseverance. Help me hold on to the facts of my faith until the answer comes. Help me bear up under the strain when events of people turn against me. Holy Spirit, keep me focused on Jesus and the promises made to me. Help me to never give up until victory is mine. Lord, You are alive in me and You rule this day. Give me strength to persevere to the end. For the end of this day is the dawn of a greater one. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Song:
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today

Words: Charles Wesley; Music: from Lyra Davidica

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!

5. Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

6. King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 24, 2018 “Empty”

Empty

The world has never been as empty as it was that weekend.
The disciples congregated in small groups with nothing to say to each other. Brief attempts at conversation all ended in mumbled apologies or sudden silences. There was nothing to be said. They didn’t accuse each other—they had all failed Jesus and felt like cowards. Peter was the worst among them. He didn’t want to be there and wore his silent shame like sackcloth. As much as he hated being there, he could not be anywhere else. Each man was trying to figure out what to do next. Go back home? They had families and lives which they had suddenly left to follow Jesus. Follow Him to what? This?—Enemies of Rome and the Temple? What would they do now?

The women also met together but they did not meet in shared silence like the men. They wept together and remembered. His mother was the leader, it seemed, and she had been storing up memories in her heart since the beginning. The other women listened enraptured to her stories of angels and shepherds and foreign kings bearing gifts and those two strange elderly people in the Tempe. Somehow, in their grief they found solace in these histories. Mary and Martha of Bethany told of their adventure with their brother Lazarus. Mary Magdalene was hesitant to speak of her life before Jesus removed seven demons from her ruined soul. Every time she tried to tell the story she dissolved into tears. All of the other women understood and joined her.

The Morning of the First Day
Before dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene could wait no longer. The same full moon that lit Gethsemane led her to the tomb. Those Pharisees, Nicodemus and Joseph, told them the location of the tomb in a garden used by the wealthy. It was no matter. She had to do go there. No one could stop her.

Approaching the tomb in the blue-green moonlight, she could tell that something was wrong. The ground was littered with the equipment of soldiers as if they had left in a great hurry. Shadows covered the impressive tomb. The moon emerged from behind a cloud and the sky brightened just enough for Mary to see that the huge stone had been rolled away. Instead of looking inside she ran, right into the path of Simon Peter and John. Breathless, she reported to them what she had seen,

“They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb,
and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

Peter and John exchanged glances and without a word started running toward the tomb. Mary followed behind them. John, being younger, arrived first and, swallowing hard, stooped down and peered into the darkness of the tomb. When his eyes adjusted to the lack of light, he saw the linen cloths lying on the stone slab where the body had been. Simon Peter arrived and carefully entered the tomb. He also saw the linen grave cloths and, oddly enough, the handkerchief that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head lying in a separate place, neatly folded. As Peter tried to understand what he saw, John entered the tomb. When he observed these things, faith filled his heart.

No Place to Go but Home
According to John’s narrative, they went home, leaving Mary Magdalene standing by the empty tomb. John explains the reason; they did not yet know the scriptural prophesy that Jesus would rise from the dead. The tomb was empty but their hearts were not yet full.

Do we really hear the Lord?
Jesus had told them all many times that He must die and then be raised to new life. Did they really hear Him? Do we?

Scriptures:
John 20:1-10

Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I know there are things You have said to me in Your Word that have never penetrated my heart. When the situation arises and I need that Word from You, I act as if I had never heard Your voice. Forgive me, Lord. Help me to really listen and believe what You have said. When I read something in the Bible that I do not understand, help me believe it anyway, trusting to Your Spirit to bring it home to me when the time comes for it. Many things You have promised have yet to happen. Help me believe and keep on believing. Amen.

Song:
Lord, I Believe

Traditional

Lord, I believe. Lord, I believe.
All things are possible. Lord, I believe.
Lord, I believe. Lord, I believe.
All things are possible. Lord, I believe.

Jesus is here. Jesus is here.
All things are possible. Jesus is here.
Jesus is here. Jesus is here.
All things are possible. Jesus is here.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved