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

August 16 “Greatness”

Greatness

Passing a cup among them and taking a bite of bread, the Twelve quickly forgot the words of Jesus.
They started squabbling among themselves. Who among them would be judged the greatest? In kindness to these men, let us remember that this was before Calvary and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They had no power over their sinful natures beyond their own will power.

Life as Competition
In groups as small as two, someone has to be the leader. In a group of 12 with the leader established beyond question, the competition will be for the number one spot among the followers. On this night of all nights, it must have been discouraging for Jesus to have to deal with this issue when He was trying to establish the New Covenant. He took what His men gave Him and taught them about leadership under the New Covenant.

“Not So Among You!”
The Kingdom of God is fundamentally different from the kingdoms of men so it must be led in a different way. Pagans follow their human nature and “exercise lordship” over those they lead. Jesus drew the contrast:

“But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.”

Leaders must be servants. Elders must be as optimistic and idealistic as the young. Age should not breed cynicism or pessimism but patience and faith, those iron tools forged in fires of experience. Power is not some brute force, as destructive as a tornado. It should be an intelligent influence building confidence and consensus.

The Principle—Servant-Leadership
Where could the men go to find examples of this leadership principle? Certainly not the Temple. The accumulated power of a hypocritical priesthood and the corruption of the ruling Sanhedrin Council amounted to force personified. The Romans? Force was their weapon of choice as well. Garrisons of soldiers occupied the city and mounted patrols watched every country lane and village street. Was there really another way to lead? Who could show them that way?

The Jesus Way
He was sitting there with them at the table. He reminded them of what they had seen in Him every day.

“For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”

He was their example of servant-leadership and He is our example, too. This was true Greatness in the Kingdom of God. Christian leaders must shun power and welcome responsibility. Our authority must rest in our anointing, not in our selves. The calling God gives a leader puts him/her on a path to leadership the Jesus-Way, the power of self-giving love, of faithfulness, and of servant-leadership. Tough decisions still have to be made and those who are in the wrong have to be compassionately dealt with by the Scriptures. The way of a Christ-like leader is not easy but it is never enhanced by worldly methods. To lead the People of Jesus, we must lead the Jesus Way.

A Kingdom Bestowed
As human and flawed as the men were, with one of them already in league with the enemy, Jesus poured out His commendation on them. They could not see it, but He was in the process of passing the leadership of His Kingdom on to them. This was their last supper but it was the first of an eternal communion feast at His table in His Kingdom.

Scriptures:
Luke:22:24-30
NKJV
Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. “But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am of this world by nature so competition and power come to me naturally. But I have been born again into Your Kingdom, a Kingdom where servants rule and peace reigns in all hearts. Lord, I accept my calling and the responsibilities it brings. Help me be faithful in all things. I will love those I serve as leader for they are serving You and we are serving You together. May the world, so full of the struggle for power and position, witness the servant-leaders in our church and see a different Kingdom, a Kingdom of peace. Amen and 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 were a servant, Make me one, too
O Lord I am willing. Do what You must do
To make me like You, Lord.
Please make me like You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 21 “Leadership?”

Leadership?

Jesus had finally had enough of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees.
Today, in the language of newspaper publishing, we would say He gave them a broadside. They had positions of authority but no spiritual authority. Their words were lofty but their deeds were little. Jesus warned the people to listen to the words if they came from a holy source but not to imitate their deeds. They loved public recognition and preferred to be called “Rabbi.” Jesus told the people to avoid such phony titles. Since Jesus had come into their lives, the people had their teacher!

“But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees”
When He was sure everyone knew who He was talking about, Jesus launched into a tirade.

  • You will not worship and you prevent others from worshiping.
  • You rob widows while praying long, impressive prayers in public.
  • You make a show of converting heathens only to make them all the more a child of hell.
  • You carelessly swear oaths by the things of God only to use them toward selfish ends.
  • You carefully tithe the smallest most insignificant things while paying no attention to the important things: “justice and mercy and faith.”
  • You present a holy image to the world, but inside there is only corruption. You are white-washed tombs.
  • You honor the leaders of the past saying that you would have followed them, but you are the sons of those who killed the prophets and do the same works as they.

This was the leadership style of the day.

The Brood of Vipers
Just as Jesus had used the whip to scatter the evil merchants in the Temple, He used words to flail the scribes and Pharisees. He called them:

  • Hypocrites,
  • Blind Guides,
  • Fools and blind,
  • Whitewashed Tombs, and
  • Serpents, a Brood of Vipers.

How did they react to this scathing indictment? Matthew does not tell us but we can be sure that with their hypocrisy exposed they stomped out of the Temple courts to huddle together in private to plot against Jesus.

Jerusalem
Watching the brood of vipers slither away to their nests, Jesus’ heart broke. He had not come to make enemies, but to lead people back to God. His enemies were those whose wealth and status were built on deceit and hidden iniquity. Their wickedness was no longer hidden; Jesus tore away the veil of respectability to reveal the rottenness of their souls. He had dismantled the carefully constructed system that held the people back from God, kept the Romans in power, and enriched the actors in this drama of deception.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … How often I wanted to gather your children together…but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate”

Their day was coming as sure as the morning sunrise; God, the just, will see them and their whole self-serving system tumble to the ground like the heathen walls of ancient Jericho. Go ahead and plot your schemes, devise your plots, and initiate your intrigues. You are not in control. You are merely the visible villains in the vaudeville. God is working His plan and this Man Jesus who today pronounced your doom, will triumph in the end.  His leaders will lead from true hearts, cleansed by a holy flame.

Scriptures:
Matthew 23:1-39
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

  • “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
  • “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord !'”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, when You walked this earth, You did so in complete integrity. You were the same inside as You appeared to be outside. When You encountered hypocrisy, You condemned it in the strongest terms. O Holy Spirit, cleanse my heart with Your fire! Make me pure from the inside out. If I am to have a positive impact on my world, I must be true to You in my most private life. Send the Fire, O God, and make me pure! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Send the Fire
Words: William Booth; Music: Frederick Booth-Tucker

1. Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Thy blood bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost;
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

2. God of Elijah, hear our cry:
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To make us fit to live or die,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To burn up every trace of sin,
To bring the light and glory in,
The revolution now begin,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

3. ’Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
The fire will meet our every need,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
For strength to ever do the right,
For grace to conquer in the fight,
For power to walk the world in white,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

4. To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To live a dying world to save,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
O see us on Thy altar lay
Our lives, our all, this very day;
To crown the offering now we pray,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved