November 3, 2018 “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, 2018 “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, 2018 “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 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 Hughs

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, 2018 “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, 2018 “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 dray 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

October 29, 2018 “Darkness”

Darkness

It was a cold kiss.
Oddly enough, just as the crowds began turning away from Jesus, some of the leaders began to turn in His direction. It would take great courage for any of them to take a stand for Jesus and against the powerful Pharisees. They would lose everything. They would be excommunicated, thrown out of the fellowship of their synagogues at home and the Temple in Jerusalem. And what would they gain by such a rebellion? Nothing, to their minds, worth the cost it would exact. The whole system was based on pleasing the elders, the priests, and the Pharisees. The praise of men was sweet, immediate, and gratifying. Pleasing God was secondary in their hearts. It was wonderful to think of a Messiah moving among them with miracles in His wake. What they needed was one who could do all that and still submit to the Pharisees. That prospect was not only unlikely, it was preposterous! The love of these leaders was a cold kiss indeed.

The Grief of a Messiah Rejected
Jesus saw it all happening just as the prophets had predicted. People who once were lame, now walked away from Him. Those who once could not hear anything, now listened and rejected what they heard. Some who been blind before Jesus healed them could no longer see their way clear to follow Him. Lepers who once were outcasts now gathered with friends to discuss their disappointment in Jesus.

The Costs of Rejection
All the while, Jesus knew that there was more at stake for the people than their acceptance or rejection of Him. When they turned away from Him, they were turning away from the Father, they One He had instructed them to pray to each day.

“He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me.
And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.”

The Father was the source of life, of everything good in this world. To turn away from Him was to turn toward death, a turn to a path that seemed right but in the end was the way of death.
This rejection resulted in a preference for darkness over light.

“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me
should not abide in darkness.”

The darkness was deep and impenetrable. There was no escaping the hidden pitfalls and traps on the dark road. It was more than danger, it was death. And after the death came judgment.

“He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him
— the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.”

The Authority of Jesus
The crowds slipped away. The interest of the leaders cooled. A few faithful ones stayed with Jesus and something else remained with Him—the authority of His words.

“For I have not spoken on My own authority;
but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command,
what I should say and what I should speak.
And I know that His command is everlasting life.”

Though the actual sound of His voice faded away, the authority of His Words remains in effect even to this day.

Scriptures:
John 12: 42-50

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your words do not age. They are as fresh and powerful today as they were when You first uttered them. Your instructions are clear. Your promises are sure. Your love is constant and unchanging. The Light You bring defeats any darkness that falls across my path. Your voice sounds sweetly, deep in my spirit. I know it is the witness of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness that I am Your child, treasured by You always. I know that Your “command is everlasting life.” Amen.

Song:
The Church’s One Foundation

Words: S. J. Stone; Music: Samuel S. Wesley

1. The church’s one Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is His new creation, by water and the Word;
from heav’n He came and sought her to be His holy bride;
with His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.

2. Elect from ev’ry nation, yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy Name she blesses, partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses, with ev’ry grace endued.

3. Tho’ with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

4. The church shall never perish! Her dear Lord, to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish, is with her to the end;
tho’ there be those that hate her and false sons in her pale,
against the foe or traitor she ever shall prevail.

5. ‘Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation of peace for evermore;
till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.

6. Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we,
like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with Thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 28, 2018 “Isaiah”

Isaiah

The ancient books were not ancient to Jesus.
To Him they read like a morning news feed does for us. Writing in the past about the future, a reporter named Isaiah told the story as he saw it. Imagine how it affected Jesus when He read what we know as Isaiah chapter six—the prophet’s report on his visit to the throne room of God.

Jesus knew the place well for it had been His “Zion”—His dwelling and ruling place. It was important for Isaiah, engaged as an historian for the palace, to see the majesty of the King of Heaven. In time, he would also see Messiah as a suffering servant, a lamb slain for the sins of the world, a wounded healer, a man ridiculed by those who should have loved Him, and rejected by His own to whom He came but who received Him not. As he looked at the shrinking crowds, Jesus remembered the report of Isaiah.

“I have seen the King.”
Somehow in that time-flexible place in the Spirit of God where prophets do their work, Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord. He saw the Lord on the throne of Heaven, surrounded by thousands of angels in joyful assembly. He saw the glory of His majesty like a robe of light, filling the temple. He heard the music of heaven, octaves higher and lower than he had ever heard before with rhythms at once more pounding and profound and complex than any pattern of earth. So great was the music that the doorposts of heaven shook in sympathetic vibration.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”

This vision of heaven was both thrilling and profoundly disturbing. Isaiah was honored to be granted entrance to such a place but he was also stricken to the heart with his own unworthiness. He had no right to be there. His own sins buried deep in his heart and in his record roared in his ears louder than the worship all around him. The hammer of justice pounded in his mind drowning out the rhythms of the music all the angels produced.

His confession was an involuntary spasm.

“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

One of the angels flew to the altar before the throne and with tongs extracted a live coal from the fire. Winging his way to the weeping prophet, he thrust the coal to Isaiah’s lips. It burned with a fire that did not injure; it was a healing touch. In an instant, his sins were purged from his mind and from his record. The pounding in his mind quickly faded and in its place was a still, small, yet commanding voice.

“Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

His grief gone, his sorrow departed, his mission was now clearly seen.

“Here am I! Send me.”

Remembering Isaiah’s Words
As people continued to turn away from Him, Jesus remembered Isaiah’s words. The people had heard His voice but not His truth. They had received His gifts while rejecting Him. All of this was unfolding just as the ancient book had said it would.

“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes,
lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.”

Scriptures:
John 12: 37-41

But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.
Isaiah 6:1-8
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.” Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, if You never answered another prayer, if I never felt Your presence again in my life, I would never turn away from You. How it must have hurt deep in You to see the people You loved so much give up and turn back. Isaiah’s words were a warning to You. You knew it would happen, yet it still had to hurt so much. There have been times when I turned away, preferring some momentary diversion instead of Your sweet presence. I asked You to forgive and You did. Save me from such nonsense ever again!

Song:
I Will Follow Thee

Words: Johnson Oatman; Music: Edwin O. Excell

1. Savior, I will follow Thee; Thou art all the world to me;
Tho’ the way I cannot see, Savior, I will follow Thee.

Refrain:
Follow Thee, I will follow Thee, Follow Thee, I will follow Thee;
Follow till the day is done, Follow till the crown is won,
Savior, I will follow Thee.

2. Savior, I will follow Thee, Tho’ it lead me to the cross;
Counting all things here but dross, Savior, I will follow Thee.

Refrain

3. Savior, I will follow Thee,Tho’ it lead through toil and tears;
Through the long and weary years, Savior, I will follow Thee. .

Refrain

4. Savior, I will follow Thee Till the toils of life are o’er;
Till I reach the golden shore, Savior, I will follow Thee. .

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 27, 2018 “Thunder”

Thunder

The parade was over.
The music faded and the dancers caught their breath. The Pharisees hoped this unfortunate and dangerous demonstration was over. The hopeful kept their eyes on Jesus, still looking for a sign from Him that He was taking over. The delegation of Greek proselytes huddled together discussing in whispers the amazing things Jesus said to them. The air throbbed with the low moan of expectation. Surely Jesus was about to speak…

Not What They Wanted to Hear
The look on Jesus’ face was not one of triumph but of deep sorrow. He knew the ordeal that awaited Him before He could “take over” anything. He spoke quietly, more to Himself and to His Father than to the crowd.

“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say?”

Whatever it was, the people were ready to hear it. It would be so easy to play to the crowd, to give them what they wanted to hear. Looking to heaven, His sorrow became a prayer.

‘Father, save Me from this hour’?”

The heavens did not reply. Silence loomed like a dark cavern before Him. He knew the answer.

“But for this purpose I came to this hour.”

Still, there was no answer. Jesus lowered His head. The prayer of His heart escaped His lips.

“Father, glorify Your name.”

A wind seemed to come from every direction and the ground beneath them began to tremble. Screams from the crowd punctuated what some said later was a sudden storm. A voice from the heavens—or was it thunder?—shook the scene.

“I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

As quickly as it had come, the wind and the shaking were gone. Whatever the sound was—some claimed it was only thunder—it still echoed from the surrounding hills.

The Voice
Jesus confirmed that it was a voice, the voice of the Father from heaven. The troubled look was gone from His face, replaced by one of profound peace. He explained that the voice was not for His sake but for the sake of the people. This was the hour of judgment. Sin would run its best play and lose the game.

Lifted Up
He spoke in terms of crucifixion.

“… if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”

His meaning was not lost on the crowd.

“We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say,
‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”

Their selfish hopes were crumbling. This was not the Messiah for whom they longed. He was bringing a light they did not want to see.

“A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light,
lest darkness overtake you…”

People on the fringes began to gather their belongings and leave.

“…he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.
While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

Seeing they had lost interest, Jesus passed among them and out of their sight.

Scriptures:
John 12:27-36

“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die. The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, save me from my selfish ambitions. Help me serve You because You are worthy and not just because of Your blessings. Your plan includes me but it is much larger than me or my dreams or even my momentary needs. It is important that my life and my words “lift You up,” that my story is Your story, that my truth is Your truth. The cross lifted You up so that all may be drawn to You. May my message be that of the cross—God’s love extended down to man. May this truth thunder in every aspect of my life. Amen and amen.

Song:
Lord, I Lift Your Name on High

Words and Music: Rick Founds

Lord, I lift Your name on high
Lord, I love to sing Your praises
I’m so glad You’re in my life
I’m so glad You came to save us

You came from Heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord, I lift Your name on high

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 26, 2018 “Honor”

Hosanna!

Strangers at the feast, a delegation of Greeks who had converted to Judaism, came to Jerusalem just in time for the entrance of Jesus.
Most likely, they were surprised by the unplanned, unofficial parade honoring Jesus. Who was this man? A prophet? Messiah? As they inquired of the people in the streets, they were quickly supplied with the amazing news of this man called Jesus. He was a healer, a teacher, one who could even raise the dead. Their curiosity aroused, they singled out Philip from among the followers of Jesus and inquired as to how they might interview Jesus. Their words have gone on to become the request of people around the world make to the followers of Jesus:

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Their request went through channels.

“Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.”

Jesus had an answer for them. It had to do with honor.

“The hour has come.”
John does not tell us but let us imagine that the Greek proselytes followed Philip to Andrew and then to Jesus. If so, then the answer Jesus gave them, He also gave to the rest of the world.

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.”

The years of preparation were done. The time of itinerant ministry had come and gone. A line of destiny had been crossed and now the drama of redemption was underway. It was important that Greeks, who had submitted to the religion of Jehovah and had been grafted into the Vine of Israel, would now hear what Jesus was about to say. His glorification was not to be merely a Jewish event—He was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” to quote His forerunner, John the Baptist.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies,
it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”

Glorification
Drawing upon familiar images of sowing and reaping, Jesus framed the method of His glorification. There was a harvest of souls to be gleaned but first there must be a planting—the death and burial of a seed. His story was unfolding before their eyes and it was to be the story of each of His followers.

“He who loves his life will lose it,
and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

His glorification would be the first of many, a new creation to redeem the old fallen one, a new creation of everlasting life and honor.

“If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.
If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”

The Greek believers knew they had found Messiah, not just a Jewish Messiah, but the Redeemer of all the world. They fell to their knees in honor of Jesus, knowing that the One True God whom they had found, would also someday honor them.

Scriptures:
John 12: 20-26

Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.

Prayer:
Lord, I rejoice that Your grand plan of redemption includes me but help me to never forget just how grand this plan really is! You came to save the world and that salvation is available to all who will simply believe in You, repent of their sins and confess You as Lord. Just as Greeks could become Jews, all races can become followers of Christ and members of Your family, the Church! I will follow You and one day, I will hear You call my name and say, “Well done!” What else matters? Thank You, Lord!

Song:
I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go

Words: Mary Brown; Music: Carrie E. Rousefell

1. It may not be on the mountain’s height, Or over the stormy sea;
It may not be at the battle’s front My Lord will have need of me.
But if by a still, small voice He calls To paths I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in Thine,
“I’ll go where You want me to go.”

Refrain:
I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord,
Over mountain, or plain, or sea.
I’ll say what You want me to say, dear Lord.
I’ll be what You want me to be.

2. Perhaps today there are loving words Which Jesus would have me speak;
There may be now, in the paths of sin, Some wand’rer whom I should seek.
O Savior, if Thou wilt be my Guide, Tho’ dark and rugged the way,
My voice shall echo the message sweet,
I’ll say what you want me to say.

Refrain

3. There’s surely somewhere a lowly place In earth’s harvest fields so wide
Where I may labor thro’ life’s short day For Jesus, the Crucified;
So, trusting my all to Thy tender care, And knowing Thou lovest me,
I’ll do Thy will with a heart sincere,
I’ll be what You want me to be.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 25, 2018 “Hosanna!”

Hosanna!

It was a crowd, to be sure, that filled the streets of Jerusalem, but we must not see them as nameless and faceless.
They were everyday people with all the inner conflicts and life-struggles common to life then and life today. They could see that there was something different about Jesus. He was a good speaker, but it was more than that. He was kind to all (except the crooks and criminals who ran the place) but He was more than just a good man. There was power in Him, a power that could flow out from Him to meet the most desperate needs. Many had seen it happen and all had heard the stories.

Messiah?
The subtext of life in Jerusalem under Roman rule was the longing for Messiah, the long-promised Deliverer who would restore true worship and bring Jehovah God back to His covenantal promises of freedom and prosperity. It was easy for each citizen to fill in the blanks of what Messiah might do for him or her. Why not? They were God’s Covenantal People. If they were true to their part of the covenant, the same God who parted the Red Sea for Moses, made the Jordan roll up on one side for Joshua and made the sun stand still in the sky till the battle was won could help each of them out a little!

Hosanna!
The Passover feast was underway and the celebrants jamming the streets heard that Jesus was on His way to the city. If He was reluctant to make His Messianic claim, perhaps they could help Him a little. They cut branches from palm trees and went out to meet Him. Some even spread their own cloaks and outer garments in His pathway, treating Him like a king. They had known songs for the Messiah since they were children and took to them as if well-rehearsed.

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
“The King of Israel!”

Musicians appeared playing pipes, drums, and tambourines. Dancers whirled to the music as joy and hope danced together in the streets of Jerusalem. Such a display was sure to bring Him out of His reluctance.

Jesus was riding a young donkey, just as was prophesied. His men were confused. Why had He been so careful just a few days before just to make such a public declaration now? Later, they would understand but on this day, they possessed only questions and fears.

Driven by Needs
Why the celebration? The raising of Lazarus spurred the hopes of the people. If Jesus could do that, He must be Messiah! When He came to the throne, surely He would meet the needs of the nation and those of the people.

The songs of the people calling for Messiah continued unabated. The Pharisees saw that they were defeated again. They had no way of discounting the Lazarus miracle or stopping the people as they made this dangerous declaration. Realizing they were about to lose their positions of power, they murmured among themselves.

“ You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!”

The music, the dancing, and the joyful shouts of the crowd drowned out the sound of the murmuring.

Scriptures:
John 12:12-19

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord !’ The King of Israel!” Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, according to the psalms we must say among the nations, “The Lord Reigns!” It is so and we proclaim it. Motives may have been mixed in the streets of Jerusalem that day, but our motives are singular!—We crown You King! There is none beside You, none worthy to be compared with You! Of all kings, You are King. Of all lords, You are Lord. Of all princes, You are the Prince of Peace! Receive the humble crown we offer You, for it is only our hearts but You have chosen to make Your throne there! Hosanna to the King!

Song:
Jesus, We Crown You King

Words and Music: Stephen Phifer

1. Jesus, we crown You the King of all kings.
Jesus, we crown You the King of all kings.
You’re the joy of all creation, make the morning stars to sing!
Jesus, we crown You—Lord, we exalt You—
Jesus, we crown You King of kings.

2. Jesus, we crown You the lord of all Lords.
Jesus, we crown You the lord of all Lords.
On a throne of greatest splendor You are worshiped and adored.
Jesus, we crown You—Lord, we exalt You—
Jesus, we crown You Lord of Lords.

3. Jesus, we crown You the Prince of all peace.
Jesus, we crown You the Prince of all peace.
For You ride on every tempest, make the wildest storm to cease.
Jesus, we crown You—Lord, we exalt You—
Jesus, we crown You Prince of peace.

Bridge:
King of kings, Lord of lords,
Prince of Peace, Mighty God,
We crown You now as we sing.
Jesus, we crown You King of kings.

You’re the joy of all creation, make the morning stars to sing!
Jesus, we crown You—Lord, we exalt You—
Jesus, we crown You King of kings.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved