November 8, “Friends”

Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This companionship is one of obedience born in love.

Scriptures:
John 15:9-17

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

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

Song:
Friendship with Jesus

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 7 “Abide”

Abide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptures:
John 15:1-8

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

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

Song:
Abide with Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 6 “Peace”

Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptures:
John 14:25-31

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

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

Song:
Let the Peace of Christ Rule in Your Heart

Words and Music: Denny Cagle

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 5 “Helper”

Helper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because I live, you will live also.”

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

Scriptures:
John 14:15-24

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 4 “Greater”

Greater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptures:
John 14:7-14

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

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

Song:
Open Our Eyes, Lord

Words and Music: Bob Cull

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 3 “Mansions”

Mansions

The blood drained from Peter’s face so that even his olive skin shone pale in the lamplight.
Jesus motioned for the men to get comfortable around the table where they had shared their last meal together. The mood was somber as Peter sat transfixed staring at nothing, his mind a blank and his heart barely beating. Jesus knew He had to somehow bring good news to the men He had chosen to take His Good News to the world.

The Future
He had to put all these impending disasters into a positive context. He could see far beyond the ordeal facing Him, and the fear and confusion of His men. There was a better day coming—really, it was the point of all this. There was great joy to be had of the other side of all this sorrow. He must help them keep the faith in Him that was growing in their hearts.

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.”

This was the central issue: faith in Jesus. He was the link between the Old Covenant and the New, soon to be written in His blood. They had always believed in God. Now they must believe in Him, the Son of God, Messiah, long predicted, faithfully expected, and now among them. He must also be the Sin Bearer, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. Jesus knew the disciples would witness things they could never bear. They would fail Him because there was not yet power available to them to stand this terrible storm. Soon the Holy Spirit would abide within their Calvary-cleansed spirits and they would indeed stand the storm. After their lives on this earth, their true lives would commence. He had to tell them.

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.”

He had to make it clear that this was not a parable or a metaphor or an illustration. These were the facts! It was all leading somewhere, somewhere wonderful and forever.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

As Jesus spoke the candles and lamps seemed to burn brighter as if fueled by the hope He was giving them. Questions remained. Thomas gave voice.

“Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”

Jesus paused and looked at Thomas for a while before give Him a huge smile. Thomas and the others had to smile back at Jesus as He said these words.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Just a flash of insight, a small foretaste of the ministry of the Holy Spirit to come, and they understood that Jesus was the way and they had found Him. He was the truth and they knew Him. He was the life and somehow He and they would live on. A large house with mansions for rooms—seemed entirely reasonable in that moment.

Scriptures:
John 14:1-6

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the hope of glory. This life is the prelude to another, greater, more joyful one in heaven with You. Soon the great day will come and we will see You in the skies and be with Your there forever. We will be reunited with loved ones who have gone before us. We will be at peace in Your Presence forever in mansions You have prepared! Thank You, Lord for this Blessed Hope! Amen.

Song:
Mansion over the Hilltop

Words and Music: Ira Stamphill

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

Refrain:
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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 2 “Commandment”

Commandment

The atmosphere in the upper room seemed to clear when Judas closed the door behind him.
A note sounding almost like hope appeared in Jesus’ voice. The men were glad to hear it.

“Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him.”

It seemed another line had been crossed and a mission was on the verge of completion.

“Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me
… ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’

Just as their spirits began to rise, these words sent them crashing to the floor. Jesus was smiling broadly now as if He had something wonderful to tell them.

“…so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another;
as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

Now there were eleven.
They had struggled all their lives to keep the ten commandments and now there would be eleven of them. They could not share His smile. “Love one another?” This was not very specific. They could see no reason for such a smile and, to a man, declined to join Him in it.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Could this 11th commandment actually make things simpler? Obviously the world would be a better place if people obeyed this commandment, but that was obviously impossible. This 11th commandment—love one another—will be the mark of the follower of Messiah? How could this be? People would still be like they always were. The powerful would do whatever it took to hold on to power. The poor would still be poor. If Jesus weren’t there to heal them, the sick and disabled would still be sick and disabled. Worst of all, the Romans would still be the Romans. How would affection for each other change the world? Panic began to set in among them. Peter voiced their united question.

“Lord, where are You going?”

Following Jesus
There was no place for Him to go, not in this world at least. Rome ruled the whole world; there was no escape. Jesus turned to look into Peter’s eyes. It seemed to the fisherman that another line was about to be crossed.

“Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.”

Peter objected to this discouraging prophecy.

“Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.”

It was more than a boast. It was deepest desire of Peter’s heart and Jesus knew this. Standing face to face, man to man, Jesus asked a life-changing question.

“Will you lay down your life for My sake?”

No one spoke as the air in the upper room thickened. The supply of oxygen was suddenly insufficient. Peter swallowed hard and straightened his shoulders as if to answer this question with the force of his will. Jesus placed his hand on the stiffened shoulder of His friend and spoke quietly.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.”

Peter was stunned and embarrassed. How did He know? He knew everything. Jesus gathered the Eleven around the table to hear the most important talk He had ever presented to them.

Scriptures:
John 13:31-35

So, when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately. Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus help me live the 11th commandment! To love You and Your people without reservation. To give myself to Your service, to Your church and Kingdom. Any talents I may have came from You. I want to return them to You as skills You can use to build Your Kingdom. I want to please You in all things. I want to be known as a believer in You and a follower of You and Please Lord, make the evidence of this by my love for others.
Amen.

Song:
Old Time Religion
Traditional

Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
It’s good enough for me.

Makes me love ev’ry body,
Makes me love ev’ry body,
Makes me love ev’ry body,
It’s good enough for me.

Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
It’s good enough for me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 1 “Night”

Night

First, evil thoughts entered the heart of Judas and then, the devil himself.
The sun had slipped beneath the western horizon hours before. Darkness lay on the land like an impenetrable fog, unbroken except for the meager lights filtering through open windows. Flames from candles and oil lamps tried as best they could but could only push back the night for a few inches each.

Ready to Listen
None of the men could remember any other time when Jesus exhibited this mood. There was a note of sadness in His voice they had never heard before. He seemed resolved to impending events, whatever surprises they might hold for the rest of them. If He was ready and they were with Him and led by Him, surely they were ready too. One sign they could read with no misunderstanding—Jesus had things to tell them that night. Of this they were sure. Each man, with his feet so recently washed and dried by Jesus, was fully awake now and ready to hear what Jesus had to say

A line had been crossed.
A sequence of events had begun and there was no way to stop them from continuing. One of their number had, for reasons unknown, decided to betray Jesus to the authorities. It is useless to try and determine the motives of Judas. We are sure of only this: Satan was the one who beguiled the treasurer of the group. In the closeness of the night, as shadows on the wall danced with the flames of lamps and candles, Jesus revealed the moment to all of them.

“He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.”

All individual conversations ceased. In the ensuing silence, heads began to swivel left and right, each man seeking indications in the eyes of the others of who the traitor might be. Many had feared this very thing from outsiders but never from within their company. Suddenly the silence broke in a chorus of questions from eleven of the Twelve. Jesus set the context.

“…I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass,
you may believe that I am He.”

The issue was the same as always—do you believe Jesus was Messiah? If so, then all of the prophesies must come to pass. He spoke of His Father and of their unbreakable unity. To receive Him was to receive His Father. The thought of betrayal from within this hand-selected group broke Jesus’ heart. The disciples wanted to ease His pain and to declare their own innocence.

John, the Beloved
John was closest to Jesus and asked the question that filled the mind of each man.

“Lord, who is it?”

Jesus gave John a sign; it would be the one to whom he gave a morsel of bread. With that, Jesus dipped the bread into a cup of oil mixed with wine and gave it to Judas. When the betrayer ate the bread, the light in his soul went out. In its place came darkness and the presence of one too evil to contemplate. Jesus sensed the exchange.

“What you do, do quickly.”

Judas was shocked but he should not have been. Of course, Jesus knew! Of course He did. Was this permission to do what was in His heart to do? Deception clamped the man’s mind like a vice. Wiping the oil and wine from his lips, Judas stood to his feet and left the upper room. A dark wind seemed to follow him out the door. Some of the eleven, trying to make the best of this turn of events, thought Judas was on an errand for Jesus.

John concludes the scene with the simple declaration,

“And it was night.”

So true. So very true.

John 13:18-30
“I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.
Isaiah 60:1-3 NKJV
Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus there is a darkness in this world. The Prophet Isaiah called it a “deep darkness.” It is more than the revolving of the earth, turning away from the sun. This is the darkness of men’s souls turning away from You. You are the Light of the World. You lit the fuse that kindled the sun. Your mighty angels light the night as do the stars of heaven. Your Word is a lamp and a light to guide me through this darkness. Help me walk in the Light so that those who see me can also see You, the way out of this dark night. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Here I Am to Worshi
p
Words and Music: Tim Hughes

1. Light of the World You stepped down into darkness
Open my eyes Let me see
Beauty that made This heart adore You
Hope of a life Spent with You

Refrain:
Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me

2. King of all days Oh, so highly exalted
Glorious in Heaven above
Humbly You came To the earth You created
All for love’s sake became poor

Refrain

Bridge:
I’ll never know how much it cost To see my sin upon that cross
I’ll never know how much it cost To see my sin upon that cross
I’ll never know how much it cost To see my sin upon that cross
I’ll never know how much it cost To see my sin upon that cross

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 31 “Servant”

Servant

Kings and servants are often found in the same room, but never in the same class.
Jesus turned all of that on its head. His teaching was an inversion of human nature. Without thinking, we exalt leaders and debase servants. Is the natural order of things but is it inevitable and irreversible? It is natural because nature has fallen into sin. Jesus came to accomplish just such a reversal. Leaders are to be servants in His Kingdom. Servants are exalted as they serve and never debased. How can this be? It is because such false exaltation and debasement is based in the fall, not in creation. In creation, there is an equalizing order. Some created things are beautiful and valuable while other things lack in beauty but are still valuable for their usefulness.

After the Object Lesson
Jesus finished washing the feet of the inattentive Judas. He put away the towel and put his outer garments back in place. It was time to explain the object lesson.

“Do you know what I have done to you?
You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.

The men, still so moved by the intimacy of the touch of Jesus and the sacredness of the moment, were as ready as they would ever be to hear what He had to say. None of them had any idea this was their last time together. Before the next dawn, Jesus would be in chains and they would be scattered seeking shelter where they could find it. Knowing this, Jesus began to take them deeper.

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

It was difficult for them to see the object of the object lesson. This was not so much about washing feet as it was about serving one another as they all served the Lord. They must at all costs avoid the trappings of “lordship:” pride, position, power, posturing, and pretense. Jesus could see their struggle to understand.

“…I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”

It was crucial for them to understand that they were not supposed to lead the way men normally led, ranking important people and unimportant people. Everyone was important. He was about to prove that at a place called Calvary.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master;
nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.

In His Kingdom, greatness must not be measured downward, amassing servants to do one’s bidding. Greatness is to be measured laterally, holding each one in equal esteem. He had demonstrated this kind of greatness and now they must do the same when He was gone.

The Waiting Reward
There was a crown to be won for each of them. For Jesus, it was the coronation on the other side of the cross. For each of them it was a Crown of Life when they stood before Him again and received His commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” A crown of rejoicing awaited each of them, if they could master this reversal of the roles of leaders and servants.

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Scriptures:
John 13:12-17

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
2 Timothy 2:20-22 NKJV
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have called us to live supernatural lives. You conquered the desire for pride and position and power in the human heart. Continue to save me from these things. Let me amass friends, brothers and sisters, yoke-fellows in the work of the Kingdom, not servants! May each person I lead feel his or her value. May they sense the esteem in which I hold them. May those who lead me also be servants at heart. Help us to come together in a marvelous ensemble of grace making the music of heaven here on earth. For Your Glory, Lord, for Your glory! Amen.

Song:
Show Me Your Ways

Words and Music: Russell Fragar

Show me Your ways, that I may walk with You.
Show me Your ways, I put my hopes in You.
The cry of my heart is to love You more,
To live with the touch of Your hand,
Stronger each day. Show me Your ways.

Show me Your ways, that I may walk with You.
Show me Your ways, I put my hopes in You.
The cry of my heart is to serve You more,
To live with the touch of Your hand,
Stronger each day. Show me Your ways.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 30 “Towel”

Towel

There was no quitting or turning back for Jesus.
What we call “the Last Supper” was over. Their bellies full and the outset of night’s shadows blurred the minds of the Twelve—all except one. The mind of Judas was racing. His heart was occupied by a plan. We do not know his reasons; it is enough to know what John tells us—Satan put it in Judas’ heart.

The Towel
The evening was far from over. Jesus had much to teach His men. Seeing their mental state, He began with an object lesson. John’s explanation of Jesus’ motives is crucial.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments,
took a towel and girded Himself.”

How could the Son of God stoop to this extreme act of humility and service—to wash the dirty feet of the Twelve, including Judas? He could do this because He was sure of both His origin and His destiny. He came from heaven and would soon return to heaven. On the other side of the agony He was about to endure, was a coronation. When one knows from whence he came and is sure of his destination, there is no shame in humility, no dishonor in servitude. So Jesus took a towel and knelt before each of His men and washed their feet. He prayed for each one, whispering words of encouragement never to be forgotten.

The men watched in amazement. None of them would do this. They were repulsed by it and fascinated with it. Each man was deeply conflicted until Jesus took his feet and drenched them water, and wiped them dry with the towel. He whispered prayers and blessings meant only for them and all their internal conflicts ceased. Each man knew that no one had or ever would love them the way Jesus did.

Peter
Jesus came to Peter next to last. The fisherman could not understand the reactions of the others. Whatever Jesus doing, He would not do it to him. Peter protested, shielding his feet from Jesus’ hands

“Lord, are You washing my feet?”

The other men shook their heads, wishing that Peter would be quiet for once. Jesus stayed at Peter’s feet, waiting for Peter to offer them to Him. Without looking up said,

“What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

Peter would have none of it. Like a petulant child, he drew back his feet.

“You shall never wash my feet!”

His voice was louder than he intended. Jesus stood and dried His hands with the towel as if the ceremony was over. Firmly, He admonished Peter.

“If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Peter was crushed. He wanted to look at the others but He could not take His eyes off Jesus. Was He still willing to wash his feet? Jesus smiled and knelt before him. Peter surrendered, broken, but still unable to restrain his words.

“Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

The other men shook their heads again as Jesus smiled and went on.

“He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean;
and you are clean, but not all of you.”

Jesus came to Judas, who, unmoved by the moment, looked away, distracted while Jesus washed His feet. He did not hear the tender words spoken only to him as Jesus washed his feet and dried them with the towel.

Scriptures:
John 13:1-11

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Lord of All, You, whom all of heaven served joyfully, willingly, and completely, came not to be served but to serve. You did more than teach us about serving, You served. Humility is the coinage of Your Kingdom. Make me rich in it, Lord Jesus! Teach me the joy of service in Your powerful name and in Your peaceful shadow. I know from whence I came and I know my destination, so let me find my towel and serve my brothers and sisters and this hurting world. For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Lord, Make Me Like You

Words and Music: Jimmy and Carol Owens

Lord make me like You, Please make me like You.
You are a servant. Make me one, too.
O Lord I am willing  Do what You must do
To make me like You Lord,  Just make me like You
Whatever You do Lord, Please make me like You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved