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Welcome to the Path of Life Daily Devotional!

The Pathsrp-experiment of Life daily devotions are designed to be an aid to daily prayer. They consist of a short essay on a single word followed by a few selected verses on the subject, and concluding with songs and/or prayers on the topic of the day.

The Path of Life Daily Devotions work for morning or evening.
Start your day or end your day with an encouraging word.

Each devotion, in fact each article I write, ends with the same signature:
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

Semper Reformanda!
Semper Reformanda! is my ministry motto. It means “Always Reforming.” The church must never stop progressing toward the Coming of the Lord. We must never cease to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. We must never stop seeking God’s Face. We must never restrain from testing all things to see if they are from the Lord. This ongoing process requires a growing knowledge of what God has said and a listening ear to what God is saying. If we are not constantly vigilant in these things, our lives will be tossed about by the unrelenting winds of culture. If we are constantly available to the Spirit for instruction in righteousness, we will build our lives on the Rock! To me, Semper Reformanda! is each day’s work as we walk the Path of Life.

 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 NKJV)

To begin reading the devotions for this year go to the end of this article.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

Interested in Christian Worship and Spirituality?–That is my subject!  For  a plethora of articles on Worship  and Worship Renewal Go To StevePhifer.com.

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July 28, 2017 “Dragons”

Dragons

Poets are known to exaggerate for effect.
They even have a word for their exaggeration that seems to legitimize it a little bit, “hyperbole.” Definition:

Hyperbole is a figure of speech…in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect;
an extravagant statement…”

Dragons are a prime example of the vivid imaginations of people through the centuries. All of the common fears of society were rolled into the idea of an evil creature out there in the dark. The dragon was neither reptile, bird, nor lion but seemed to be all of them at once. The dragon lived on the land, in the water, and it flew through the air. Its breath contained two deadly elements: fire and disease. The flight of the dragon through the night could blight the land and contaminate the rivers and lakes.

Poets took up the tale and sang songs of terror to entertain their audiences in lamp-lit inns and around campfires in the dark, disturbing woods.

St. George and the Dragon
The most famous of these tales is “St. George and the Dragon,” an ancient legend brought to England by Medieval Crusaders. The pagan king in a far-off land and his people were terrified by a plague-breathing dragon in a lake. The dragon demanded sacrifices to refrain from destroying the kingdom. At first it was sheep and then the demanded sacrifice was the children of the Kingdom, chosen by lot. When the lot fell on the King’s daughter, she was taken to the lake. St. George was passing by. He made the sign of the Cross and struck the dragon, taming it and putting a leash on it the girl used to lead the dragon to the King. Before the King, St. George advised the people to convert to Christianity. They did and he killed the dragon. At the site of the slaying a spring started flowing. It was a healing stream.

Message: We have a Champion who has killed the beast.
St. George is the Patron Saint of England; his sword was called “Ascalon.” Winston Churchill used this name for his personal aircraft in WW2.

The biblical Poet engaged in this same hyperbole:

“You divided the sea by your might and shattered the heads of the dragons upon the waters.”

The Bible is not promoting a belief in dragons; the Poet is extoling the victories of God.

Dragons are a metaphor for our fears—those undetected beasts of the night and those predators lying in wait in tomorrow’s high grasses. Our enemies fly in the skies, swim in the seas, and lurk in the shadows. We need a champion—a brave knight who is more than a match for any dragon. We need a God who commands the seas and the skies and the rivers and the mountains, plains, hills and deserts.

We still need a Champion.
Like St. George, we make the sign of the Cross—that is—we commit our lives to Christ! When we do, he tames any dragon who would dare oppose us and he lends us His mighty sword. He is the One who met the dangers we face and disarmed them. The darkness holds no terrors. The high weeds shield no predator. The skies are clear to be enjoyed. The water supply is rich in its healing flow and the breath we breathe is the breath of God.

Poets are known to exaggerate for effect. St. George and his dragon is not history—it is hyperbole. The victory of Christ over Satan is not hyperbole—it is accomplished fact.

Scriptures:
Psalm 74
… God is my King from ancient times, victorious in the midst of the earth. You divided the sea by your might and shattered the heads of the dragons upon the waters; You crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him to the people of the desert for food. You split open spring and torrent; you dried up ever-flowing rivers. Yours is the day, yours also the night; you established the moon and the sun. You fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter. … Arise, O God, maintain your cause…
Colossians 2:13-15 NIV
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
1 Corinthians 15:50-58 NIV
I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 John 5:1-5 NIV
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my Champion, I will fear no dragon, no hyperbolic imagination that exalts itself against the knowledge of You. Your sword is mighty and unblemished by combat. Your shield shines with use against the fiery darts of the enemy. Your breastplate keeps my heart safe in me while danger dances around me in the dark. The helmet of Your Salvation guards my mind; no concussion of confusion will rattle my brain. Your righteousness is my belt and Your Spirit is my preparation. Lead on, O King eternal! No dragons will I fear today! Amen and Amen!

Song:
Victor’s Crown
Words and Music: Rob Packer

You have won the Victor’s Crown.
You have triumphed over sin and death.
Your name is lifted high and rings through all the earth.
Ev’ry demon spirit of hell trembles when your mighty name is heard.
And we, Your church proclaim Your vict’ry in the world.

O, the glory of Your name, the splendor of Your name,
And none can compare with the power of that name!
You are Jesus! You are Lord! You are God!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 27, 2017 “Hills”

Hills

We build castles and forts on mountains. On hills, we build farm houses and barns.
This is the relationship the Poet describes in reference to the nation’s King:

That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice.
and the little hills bring righteousness.

Metaphorically, mountains represent big ideas while hills represent the daily truths that occupy the details of our lives. It is said that we cannot live on the mountaintop and to a great extent it is true. Mountaintops are for pilgrimage and recreation and are useful when elevation is needed to see what is in the distance.

We come home from the mountaintop to dwell among the hills. Keeping the mountain in view through the bedroom window, we can rest in our hilltop home, secure and safe with all we own within easy reach.

The rule of our King is equally strong on the mountains as on the hills.

The Mountains
The righteousness of God is a mighty mountain, eternal—He has never been anything except righteous—and impervious to the erosive effects of time. It is the theme of worship in both the Old and the New Covenants—God is good and His mercy endures to all generations!

God’s love and His mercy form a mountain range of protection around those in Covenant with Him. No enemy can cross these mountains at any point. Out hilltop dwellings are safe in the shadow of the Almighty.

The truth of God is the highest peak of all. From the lofty heights of the Word of God we can clearly see to each horizon. We gain a perspective on the smaller issues somewhere down the mountainside that we could never see from the trails going up or down.

The Hills
Justice is the joy of the hills—truth, love, mercy, and righteousness at work in our homes and businesses.

It takes all the mountains to produce justice on the hills. Justice without mercy would not be loving. Mercy without truth would not be just. If these things are not all in order all at once the hills would not be safe for houses and barns.

Here is the redeeming order:

  • It is true that we have sinned.
  • It is also true that God made us and loves us.
  • In His mercy He sent His Son to bear our sins far away.
  • The righteousness of Christ has been credited to our record and the case is closed.
  • We have been justified by the Love of God in Christ Jesus!

We are free to build our lives on the gentle hills of daily discipline and obedience, praise and prayer, and with skillful hands and hearts.

In the shadow of the King’s Castle on the friendly mountain, we can till the fields on the hills, tend our flocks in the broad pastures, and rest each night in perfect peace in our hilltop homes.

Scriptures:
Psalm 72
Give the King your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the King’s Son; That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice. That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, and the little hills bring righteousness. He shall defend the needy among the people; he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor. He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, from one generation to another. He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, like showers that water the earth. In his time shall the righteous flourish; there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more. He shall rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. His foes shall bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts. All kings shall bow down before him, and all the nations do him service. For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper. He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy. He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight. Long may he live! and may there be given to him gold from Arabia; may prayer be made for him always, and may they bless him all the day long. May there be abundance of grain on the earth, growing thick even on the hilltops; may its fruit flourish like Lebanon, and its grain like grass upon the earth. May his Name remain forever and be established as long as the sun endures; may all the nations bless themselves in him and call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous deeds! And blessed be his glorious Name forever! and may all the earth be filled with his glory. Amen. Amen.
Psalm 72:1-4;16 NIV
Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.
He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor. …Let grain abound throughout the land; on the tops of the hills may it sway.
Isaiah 55:12-13 NIV
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord ‘s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”
Amos 5:24 NIV
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the mountains, the towering truths that do not change. Thank You for four horizons lined with these comforting peaks. Thank You also, the hills, these present blessings that make up my life: home, family, work, prayer, health, and hope among so many others. Because You are the author of it, my life is multi-dimensional, mountains and hills and streams in the valleys, constant health from Your hand. Thank You, Jesus.

Song:
Peace in the Valley
Words and Music: Thomas A. Dorsey

1. Well, I’m tired and so weary
But I must go along
Till the Lord comes and calls me away
Where the morning’s so bright
And the Lamb is the light
And the night, night is as fair as the day.

Refrain:
There will be peace in the valley For me some day
There will be peace in the valley
For me, Oh Lord I pray
There’ll be no sadness
No sorrow, no trouble I see
There will be peace In the valley for me.

2. Well, the flowers will be blooming
And the grass will be green
And the skies will be clear and serene
Where the sun ever beams
In this valley of dreams
And no cloud will be seen.

Refrain

3. Well, the bear will be gentle
And the wolf will be tame
And the lion shall lay down By the lamb, oh yes.
And the beasts from the wild Shall be led by a child
And I’ll be changed,
Changed from this creature that I am.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 26, 2017 “Sinai”

Sinai

When God visits the earth, creation responds. It was so at Mt. Sinai.
One hundred fifty miles and three months out of Egypt, through the Sea and into a wilderness called Sinai, which some scholars think means the “Wilderness of Sin,” or perhaps the “shining moon god,” the Israelites camped for a year at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

It was a year of adjustment.

  • They were people who had been ruled faced now with learning to rule themselves in covenant with God.
  • They were slaves learning to breathe free.
  • They were household servants now living in tents, homeless, but free.
  • They were normal human beings who had witnessed the acts of their supernatural God.
  • They were people whose status quo was gone and whatever was next was not yet revealed, and
  • they were travelers sitting still with a homeland none had ever seen shining like a mirage on the horizon.

It was a year of God’s faithfulness:

  • When they needed food it rained from heaven or flew in belt-high.
  • When they needed water it flowed from a rock, stricken at the Lord’s command.
  • When they were attacked by the Amalekites, God gave them victory through Joshua, a foretaste of their covenantal future.
  • When they murmured in their tents, God gave them Moses, a leader who was also an intercessor.

The Shadow of Sinai
They saw the seasons of the year march onto and off of the huge mountain of Sinai. As the sun ran its course each day changing the seasons, the shadow of Sinai passed over them. Soon it was all routine, the new normal, and the people began to complain—Egypt was better than this.

Moses was the most anxious of all the Israelites. He was the one to handle the complainers and to answer the question, “Now what?” His only answer was to wait.

Then God touched the mountain.
There was lightning, thunder, smoke, and a roar from the mountain. This was no natural storm, stuck on the heights of Sinai; this was the same presence of God that had ruined Egypt. This was the force that split the Red Sea. It was the source of their daily manna and the refreshing water from the rock. Their God was back and He wanted something.

What did Jehovah want? He wanted them. He wanted them to love Him, depend on Him, listen to Him, learn His ways but their hearts were as hard as Pharaoh’s heart had been. The sin that dwelt there separated them from their God.

God came to Sinai with a plan, a plan of redemption through which the people could commune with Him daily. It was an earthly copy of His Heavenly Throne room, His dwelling and ruling place. He would take up residence with them, not just with them, but in them, in the very center of them. They would be His People and He would be their God. They would be a Kingdom of Priests to the rest of the world.

The Blueprint
God knew what no one else knew—this plan of worship, this blood covenant would be a blueprint for a better covenant to come, a covenant in the Holy Blood of Jesus. No wonder the mountain trembled and smoked. No wonder lightning walked the heights and thunder rolled down the mountain into the plain below.

When God visits the earth, creation responds. It was so at Mt. Sinai—and at Mt. Calvary.

Scriptures:
Psalm 68
Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. … God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom; but the rebels shall live in dry places. O God, when you went forth before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth shook, and the skies poured down rain, at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel. … the Lord will dwell there forever. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands; the Lord comes in holiness from Sinai. …They see your procession, O God, your procession into the sanctuary, my God and my King. The singers go before, musicians follow after, in the midst of maidens playing upon the hand-drums. Bless God in the congregation; bless the Lord, you that are of the fountain of Israel. … Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord. He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice. Ascribe power to God; his majesty is over Israel; his strength is in the skies. How wonderful is God in his holy places! the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people! Blessed be God! your praise from age to age.
Exodus 19:1-19 NIV
In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt — on the very day — they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ … On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
Exodus24:15-18 NIV
When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Hebrews 8:5; 12:18-22 NIV
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, never let me stray from the mountain! You touched Mt. Sinai and it trembled, just as I did when You touched me. You gave Your life on Mt. Calvary and that is where I found new life. You dwell at the summit of Mt. Zion, Your ruling place; my destination when I worship You in Spirit and in Truth. In truth, though different locations on earth and in heaven, these mountains are really one in the same: the Mountain of Your Great Love. Lord, do not let me stray from the mountain! Amen.

Song:
See His Glory
Words and Music: Rich Cook

See His glory; see His glory.
See His glory come down.
Praise His name. Heaven Reigns!
See His glory come down.
See His glory come down.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 25, 2017 “Satisfied”

Satisfied

Hunger drove the multitude to wilderness and there, in the presence of Jesus, they were satisfied. In the beginning, food was not the object of their quest—they wanted more of what this man Jesus seemed to have. They were the children of Abraham in covenant with Jehovah God yet the lives they led were markedly different from the lives their religious heroes had led. God’s record was wonderful—He:

  • freed their forefathers from Egyptian bondage and opened the sea for them with Moses,
  • made the Jordan pile up in a heap for the people with Joshua, and He
  • made the walls of a hostile city crumble at the sound of trumpets.

Why weren’t these Romans added to this list of nations subdued by the hand of God?

It is true the fathers had failed to live up to the covenant, chasing the nasty little gods of the nations and neglecting the True Worship of the One True God. It is also true that God had punished them with captivity. But He had then restored them to the land. Things were different now. Unbroken worship in the second Temple and now in this new one Herod had built was their record now—so why were they still in bondage?

God had promised a Messiah to be their deliverer—was this man Jesus, the One? He worked miracles and taught of a higher Kingdom, just beyond the reach of their minds. This deep, spiritual hunger preceded their need for food and sent them deep into the wilderness and late into the day.

As if descending from a mountain of hope to a valley of hunger the multitude (by count, five thousand men along with women and children) realized that they were in trouble. To me, they were a metaphor for the nation of Israel—hungry for God yet surrounded by a hostile wilderness populated by enemies and corrupt in the heart.

Jesus is the master of the crisis; feeding a multitude was no challenge for Him. He did not need help or advice but he asked His disciples what to do. The best they could produce was a little 1st Century Boy Scout who came prepared with lunch for one. Five lumps of bread and two fresh(?) fish were enough for Jesus.

When all was done,

“They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls
broken pieces that were left over.”

Today this miracle still feeds our hopes, as if those baskets of leftover bread and fish were still being passed among us. Life does not have to be an endless hunger. Satisfaction eludes us only when we follow the wrong crowds to the wrong meetings to the wrong source. When we follow Jesus, our hunger can be assuaged and our thirst can be slaked—He is the One who satisfies.

The Poet provides us with two items on the menu:

“The beauty of Your house,” and, “the holiness of Your Temple.”

The human heart hungers for beauty as much as for meat and drink.

  • When we see the world as God’s Creation, His “House,” we have a constant source of context for the beauty around us.
  • The human spirit hungers for holiness—the nearness of God, the purity of His character, the safety of His name.

Hunger drives the multitudes today and of wildernesses there are many. Those who follow Jesus and linger in His presence—where beauty and holiness abound—are those who are satisfied.

Scriptures:
Psalm 65
You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem. To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come, because of their transgressions. Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there! they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house, by the holiness of your temple. Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, O Hope of all the ends of the earth and of the seas that are far away. You make fast the mountains by your power; they are girded about with might. You still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the clamor of the peoples. Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your marvelous signs; you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy. You visit the earth and water it abundantly; you make it very plenteous; the river of God is full of water. You prepare the grain, for so you provide for the earth. You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase. You crown the year with your goodness, and your paths overflow with plenty. May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, and the hills be clothed with joy. May the meadows cover themselves with flocks, and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; let them shout for joy and sing.
Matthew 14:15-21 NIV
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Matthew 5:6 NIV
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is a hollowness in me, a void so large only You can fill it. Forgive me for all the times when I have turned away from the table You have spread for me in the presence of my enemies. Sometimes a little taste of Your provision is so sweet that I fail to take in all that You are giving out. The little boy’s lunch is multiplied in Your hands and under the power of Your blessing to become all that I need today. But this day will consume all of this day’s repast so that tonight, and certainly tomorrow, I will be empty again. Only when I turn to you with my hand outstretched will I be satisfied on this wilderness journey. Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Come and Dine
Words and Music C.B. Widmeyer and S.H. Bolton

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 24, 2017 “Press”

Press

Divine guidance brings with it certain sensations.
An unseen but tangible hand presses the small of our back to keep us going. Two unseen hands equally tangible throw us a “stop sign,” like a third base coach to a runner who wants to score, and stops us in our tracks.

Divine guidance: Sometimes a hand from the back pressing us forward and at other times a hand in the front telling us to slow down or even to stop.

The Poet says it this way:

“You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.”

The NIV translates the verse like this:

You hem me in — behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Psalm 139:5-6

These hands that hem us in are gentle hands, the hands of our best best Friend. There is wisdom here that sees beyond the obvious and knows what lies around the next curve in the road.

A Hand on Our Back
All of us need a push from time to time. Like a parachutist on his/her first jump we freeze in the door of the plane. Our Instructor pushes out into the freefall of faith, a sensation we could never feel in the safety of the aircraft and an on-rushing vision of creation we could never have seen through any window.

When the Lord tells us to do something, there is a natural hesitation to obey. This is good. We are warned in the Scripture to count the cost before beginning a new enterprise. It is proper to think things through, to plan, to gather resources and information and to build a team. Sometimes such careful analysis can lead to careless paralysis. At this point we feel that welcomed push in the small of our back, the gentle hand of a Savior leading us to greatness—and not just any greatness—but greatness in His eyes.

A Hand before Us
There is this thing in life called momentum and it must be accounted for. It is closely related to its cousin, inertia—the resistance to a change in motion. These things are of this world, a part of God’s creation. As hard as it is to get something rolling, if gravity and inertia get hold of it, it can be even more difficult to stop or even slow down. Just as that beginning parachutist needs the nudge from the back, he/she also needs the braking power of the chute itself!

Too many well-intentioned souls have crashed to the ground when momentum carried them through a stop sign. When that runner in baseball rounds third base to head for home plate, if he runs through the two-handed stop sign of the third base coach and he is called out at the plate, not only has he made an out, he is in big trouble with the team. The coach and the whole team can see the whole play in the field the runner cannot see. And so it is with the Christ-follower who does not slow down or stop when the hands in front give the sign. He knows when it is time to score and when it is time to slide safely into third base, 90 feet away from home.

We can rejoice with the touch of the Master’s hands on our backs to get us going and keep us on track and in front of us to slow us down when disaster looms. Loving hands are these and wise, hands to be trusted to guide us safely home.

Scriptures:
Psalm 139
Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways. Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether. You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it. Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,” Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well. My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them. How deep I find your thoughts, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.… Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts. Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, that You for Your guiding hand. When I drift off course, even when I don’t know it, I feel Your hand edging me back to the proper coordinates. If during the course of this day, I wander to the left or the right, I know I can count on your guiding hand. If I get ahead of myself or of Your plan, hold me back! Your hands are gentle and firm and loving. I am so grateful that You have “hemmed me in behind and before and laid Your hand upon me.” Thank You, Lord!

Song:
I’ll Go where You Want Me to Go
Words and Music: Mary Brown

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 Yours,
I’ll go where You want me to go.

Refrain:
I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord,
O’er 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 You will be my Guide, though 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 through life’s short day for Jesus, the Crucified.
So, trusting my all unto Your care, I know You always love me!
I’ll do Your will with a heart sincere,
I’ll be what You want me to be.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 23, 2017 “Gates”

Gates

Ancient Gates
Ancient cities crumbled into ruins with their ancient gates still standing guard, the only remaining testament to the greatness of the city. It requires little imagination to stand under the naked arch of an ancient gateway and visualize the traffic that once crowded through the fortified entrance to the city. With the sunrise the gates were opened to commerce and soon after dark they were closed to danger. High walls protected against the enemies, real and imagined, out there somewhere in the dark who wanted the city and all it contained for themselves.

Gates, themselves, were keepers. They kept people and things out and they kept them in. Important zones were protected by gates. They opened for the right people and closed to the wrong people. Gates were strong points made even stronger by the gatekeepers stationed near them to man the mechanisms that made the gates operate. Armed soldiers patrolled the approaches to the gates, inside and out, ever on the alert for the saboteur or the spy. Lookouts manned the heights above the gates to scan the horizon for enemies who might try to violate the security of the city.

Contemporary Gates
There are real gates, still today. Adjacent countries have borders with armed guards at the check points. These are the gates—of entrance and exit points for the neighboring citizens.

As metaphors, gates are even more numerous. There are behaviors, compromises, substances, and seeming innocent images or presentations that can all act as gateways to sin, disease, and addiction. As we walk the Path of Life, the Spirit warns us where to step, which fork in the path to take, and with whom we should choose to walk.

Ancient Gates Still in Power
The good news is that there are still Ancient Gates guarding significant places. The Poet reveals them to us:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Ps 100:4 NIV

“His gates” means that God has gates. There is a way to approach Him and a way not to approach Him. Three words describe “His Gates:”

  • Gratitude,
  • Praise, and
  • Humility.

We should approach the Gates of His presence with thanksgiving and praise springing from a humble heart. Pride and self-centeredness will close the Gates to us.

When we gather to worship, our greatest desire should be to see these Holy, ancient doors open in response to our thanksgiving and praise. Why? Because above all other considerations, we need for the King of Glory to come in! He is the answer to all the world’s problems from the most private pain to the most public pandemic. If we are faithful to tend His Gates, if we guard the City of God from lesser, frivolous pursuits in public worship, if we lift up our heads, these organs of speech designed in Eden for the praise of Heaven, The Lord Will Come In!

And He will make all the difference.

Scriptures:
Psalm 24
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein. For it is he who founded it upon the seas and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep. “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? and who can stand in his holy place?” “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, who have not pledged themselves to falsehood, nor sworn by what is a fraud. They shall receive a blessing from the Lord and a just reward from the God of their salvation.” Such is the generation of those who seek him, of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Lift up your heads, O gates; lift them high, O everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. “Who is this King of glory?” “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.” Lift up your heads, O gates; lift them high, O everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. “Who is he, this King of glory?” “The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.”
1 Peter 5:5-7 NIV
Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Psalm 51:17 NIV
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Isaiah 57:14-15; 66:1-2
And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” For this is what the high and lofty One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.
Psalm 84:10 AMP
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand [anywhere else]; I would rather be a doorkeeper and stand at the threshold in the house of my God than to dwell [at ease] in the tents of wickedness.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Today I will process with the People of God through the ancient Gates of Thanksgiving. I will lift my voice in the Courts of Praise. I will bow at the Altar of Repentance in deep humility. In the midst of the congregation I will enter the Most Holy Place to pray and hear Your Word in the light and power of the Holy Spirit. Then we, the saints and I, will pass through the Riven Veil to wait before Your Holiness. You will meet my every need, here at the summit of Mt. Zion. How is all this my destiny? Because when we, the church, lift up the ancient Gates of Praise, You, the King of Glory, came in! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

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 the King of kings.

2. Jesus, we crown You the Lord of all lords.
Jesus, we crown You the Lord of all lords.
On a thrown of greatest splendor You are worshiped and adored!
Jesus, we crown You, Lord, We exalt You.
Jesus, we crown You the 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 the Prince of Peace.

King of kings, Lord of lords. Prince of Peace, Mighty God
We crown 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 the King of kings.
King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of Pease,
Mighty God! King of kings!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 22, 2017 “Muzzled”

Muzzled

The Holy Ghost muzzle is a grace, not a punishment.
We all need it from time to time. No exceptions. The Poet says,

“I will put a muzzle on my mouth while the wicked are in my presence.”

I had a beagle named Bailey.
He was my pal. Every night when we let him out before bedtime, he would station himself in the backyard to warn the neighborhood of some danger only he could sense. A full moon really set him off. I am sure the neighbors would have gladly supplied us with a muzzle for Him.

There isn’t another reason I can think of to muzzle a beagle; they are such gentle and playful dogs. They were, however, designed to make noise, to bay and howl on the trail of a rabbit and to warn of the approach of an intruder. He was a little dog but his “big dog bark” was impressive.

We also may be gentle souls; dutifully saved by grace and full of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. We can also, however, be noisy. Not everything that runs through our minds need to flow out of our mouths.

Edit yourself!
In simple words we need to watch what we say and sometimes shouldn’t say anything at all.
The metaphor for speech often used in the Bible is the tongue. James, the Lord’s brother, has the most to say on the subject

  •  “Keep a tight rein” on the tongue
  • “It makes great boasts,”
  • “Is also a fire,” and finally,
  • “No man can tame” it.

So, how do we know what to say? The answer is simple—edit yourself! Think before your speak. Ask questions like:

  • Is this true or false?
  • Is this helpful or hurtful?
  • Is this private or public?
  • Is this any of my business?
  • Where will this lead the conversation?

Another question is: when do we speak and when do we keep silent?

  • When saying something is kind, we should speak.
  • When saying nothing is kind, we should not speak.
  • When something must be said, we should speak.
  • When nothing needs to be said, we should not speak.

King Solomon proved this wisdom:

Eccl 3:1-8 NIV
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…
a time to be silent and a time to speak…

When it is time to speak we need the boldness of the Holy Spirit and when it is time to be silent we need the Holy Spirit’s muzzle.

The Holy Ghost muzzle is a grace, not a punishment. We all need it from time to time.

No exceptions.

Scriptures:
Psalm 39
I said, “I will keep watch upon my ways, so that I do not offend with my tongue. I will put a muzzle on my mouth while the wicked are in my presence.” So I held my tongue and said nothing; I refrained from rash words; but my pain became unbearable. My heart was hot within me; while I pondered, the fire burst into flame; I spoke out with my tongue: Lord, let me know my end and the number of my days, so that I may know how short my life is. You have given me a mere handful of days, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight; truly, even those who stand erect are but a puff of wind. We walk about like a shadow, and in vain we are in turmoil; we heap up riches and cannot tell who will gather them. And now, what is my hope? O Lord, my hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions and do not make me the taunt of the fool. I fell silent and did not open my mouth, for surely it was you that did it. Take your affliction from me; I am worn down by the blows of your hand. With rebukes for sin you punish us; like a moth you eat away all that is dear to us; truly, everyone is but a puff of wind. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears. For I am but a sojourner with you, a wayfarer, as all my forebears were. Turn your gaze from me, that I may be glad again, before I go my way and am no more.
James 1:26-27; 3:3-12
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
1 Peter 3:8-12 NIV
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
1 Peter 2:15-16 NIV
For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
Ephesians 4:29-32 NIV
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me speak when it is time to speak and give me the words to say. Help me to hold my tongue when there is nothing right to say. Let my words be measured in grace. Help be speak the truth in love and never in hate or prejudice or petty nonsense. Somehow, may others hear Your voice in the sound of my voice. Let me speak peace and healing, comfort and challenge—just the things that need to be said! And, Lord, help me to really listen to others! Amen.

Song:
Be Still My Soul
Words and Music: Don Moen

Be still my soul. Be still my soul.
Cease from the labor and the toil.
Refreshing springs of peace await
The troubled minds and hearts that ache.
Be still my soul. God knows your way
And He will guide For His name’s sake.
Plunge in the rivers of His grace;
Rest in the arms of His embrace.

Be still my soul. Be still my soul,
Though battles round you rage and roar.
One thing you need and nothing more
To hear the whisper of your Lord.

Be still My child I know your way
And I will guide For My name’s sake.
Plunge in the rivers of My grace;
Rest in the arms of My embrace.

Be still, be still my soul

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 21, 2017 “Fools”

Fools

Sometimes they make us laugh. Sometimes they bring us to tears.
Some of them are harmless and others are deadly. The one thing all fools have in common is this: they look for a response from us.

If fools set out to amuse us, they succeed only if they get a laugh. If, on the other hand, they set out to deceive us, they succeed when we are distracted by their skills and take their lies to be truth. Entertaining fools are dangerous when deception is their goal. They make us laugh while they make us listen. They fascinate us with their antics while they demonstrate the wisdom of their foolishness and the folly of our wisdom.

The Poet identifies these dangerous fools for us. They hold a common theology.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”

These are fools on a mission—to convince created beings that there is no Creator.
They peddle the preposterous notion that this is a universe of chance. Their faith is in the idea that absolutely everything came from absolutely nothing. They strive to convince us that there is no God, no afterlife, and no Judge to whom we must give an account.

To these jesters:

  • Human life has no intrinsic value beyond that of insects and plants.
  • Life only has a meaning when we give it one.
  • Humans only have the rights granted by the state and none “endowed by their Creator.”
  • The human soul is destined to perish with the body and the human spirit is a persistent fiction.
  • There is no such thing as talent—environment is the source of all abilities. (No one can be called “gifted” if there is no “Giver!”)
  • Human behavior is raw instinct, like that of migrating beasts.
  • Young men and women cannot control their impulses and neither can adults—urges, no matter how degrading, are not to be mastered by the will—they are to be obeyed as self-actualization.
  • The mind of man is the greatest intelligence available.
  • Truth is whatever we need it to be at the moment.

Fools seem to be in charge everywhere. We need to be wary of their shows and systems, their games and gambits, and their lessons and lies. If we are not careful we can laugh our way into tragic error as their performances pollute our thinking.

What to do?

Don’t be a fool.

  • Open your eyes to their charade.
  • Tune your ears to their dissonance.
  • Think through the hidden messages in their movies,
  • the content of their concerts, and
  • the idolatry of their images.

Fill your heart and mind with the truth so that lies are easily seen.
Fools: sometimes they make us laugh. Sometimes they bring us to tears. Some of them are harmless and others are deadly.

The one thing all fools have in common is this: they look for a response from us.

Scriptures:
Psalm 14
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” All are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none who does any good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all, to see if there is any who is wise, if there is one who seeks after God. Every one has proved faithless; all alike have turned bad; there is none who does good; no, not one. Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers who eat up my people like bread and do not call upon the Lord? See how they tremble with fear, because God is in the company of the righteous. Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, but the Lord is their refuge. Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.
Proverbs 10:14; 23; 11:29; 15:2 NIV
Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin. A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom. He who brings trouble on his family will inherit only wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.
Isaiah 59:9-16; 20-21 NIV
So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away. For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. …”The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, unlike the fool, I have declared in my heart that there is a God and He is You! I look for You everywhere and find You there. I listen for Your voice in all that You have made and in the Book You gave us. I somehow see Your face deep in my spirit where Your Spirit abides. It is not a fleeting glance; it is a long, lingering look that changes me from the inside out. This process of saying in my heart that You are there informs me against the lies of the fools. It braces my mind against the abuse of those who sing and dance and laugh and seek to make me jump to their arts. I will not. I will look to You and be wise. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Be Thou My Vision
Ancient Irish Hymn

1. Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
Be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

2. Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
Be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord;
Be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
Be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

3. Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
Be thou my whole armor, be thou my true might;
Be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

4. Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise:
Be thou mine inheritance now and always;
Be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

5. High King of heaven, thou heaven’s bright sun,
O grant me its joys after victory is won;
Great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 20, 2017 “Midnight”

Midnight

The darkness fell hours ago. The morning light is hours away.
Midnight—the suspended time in the middle, the dissonant chord without a resolution, the question as yet unanswered, the song without an ending, repeating, repeating.

Midnight.

Most nights we sleep through midnight, our long slumber breaths undisturbed, our eyelids dancing to a tune we will never hear in the daylight.

But there are those other nights when sleep is far away. The mind relentlessly runs a race to nowhere like a small animal on a cruel treadmill in some heartless laboratory. On nights like this there is usually another midnight in play, some unresolved dilemma robbing us of rest.

God knows about time—it is His invention. He created the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night. He knows the beginning from the ending and He also knows the middle. He is with us at midnight, whether we are asleep or awake, and He has something for us—a song!

A Song in the Night
Not an unending beat or an unresolved chord pattern, but a song of rest and peace, a song of praise. It is a song made for the midnight hour for it turns our unclosed eyes heavenward, away from the trial before us to the victory ahead of us, from the darkness of the unresolved to the promised dawn of resolution. It is a song about Him and not about us, about His power and not our weakness, about His success and not our failure, about His Word and not our worries.

The song in the night must be sung—it demands action—a deliberate transfer of thoughts from nightfall to morning light. As we sing of the faithfulness of God and rehearse in our minds the promises of God, a gentle smile will reassure us that all is well, even in the darkness.

“Why be downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God!

The Midnight Cry
Soon, at some undisclosed midnight to come, we will hear a cry—not the weeping of fear, but the Midnight Cry of the Bridegroom. Jesus will return or His church. Then for us a day will break that will never end and the last midnight will have passed.

Scriptures:
Psalm 119:49-64
Remember your word to your servant, because you have given me hope. This is my comfort in my trouble, that your promise gives me life. The proud have derided me cruelly, but I have not turned from your law. When I remember your judgments of old, O Lord, I take great comfort. I am filled with a burning rage, because of the wicked who forsake your law. Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I have lived as a stranger. I remember your Name in the night, O Lord, and dwell upon your law. This is how it has been with me, because I have kept your commandments. You only are my portion, O Lord; I have promised to keep your words. I entreat you with all my heart, be merciful to me according to your promise. I have considered my ways and turned my feet toward your decrees. I hasten and do not tarry to keep your commandments. Though the cords of the wicked entangle me, I do not forget your law. At midnight I will rise to give you thanks, because of your righteous judgments.
I am a companion of all who fear you and of those who keep your commandments. The earth, O Lord, is full of your love; instruct me in your statutes.
Psalm 42:5-8 NIV
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon — from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me —a prayer to the God of my life
Psalm 32:7 NIV
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Psalm 77:1-6 NIV
I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night.
Psalm 16:7-8 NIV
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Acts 16:25-26 NIV
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.
Matthew 25:6 NIV
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, each morning the midnight hour seems far away, the one that is past and the one yet to be. Help me remember the song You gave me in the night all through this day. Let my song of praise be constant, just as is Your care. In Jesus’ Name! Amen.

Songs:
You Can Have a Song in Your Heart

Traditional Chorus

You can have a song in Your heart at night,
After every mile, after every trial.
Anyone can sing when the sun’s shining bright.
But you need a song in your heart at night.

The Midnight Cry
Words and Music: Charles and Greg Day

1. I hear the sound of a mighty rushing wind and
It’s closer now than its ever been
I can almost hear the trumpet
As Gabriel sounds the call
At the midnight cry we’ll be going home

Refrain:
When Jesus steps out on a cloud and calls God’s children,
The dead in Christ shall rise to meet him in the air.
And then those that remain will be quickly changed
At the midnight cry When Jesus comes again

2. I look around me and the prophecies fulfilling and
Signs of the times their appearing everywhere
I can almost hear the Father as He says son go get my children
At the midnight cry The bride of Christ shall rise.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 19, 2017 “Altar”

Altar

God has chosen to meet people at altars of prayer.
God’s record is quite good.

  • He met with Abel at the altar of sacrifice.
  • He blessed Noah and his family at the altar they built on newly dried land.
  • He rescued Isaac from the deadly obedient hand of Abraham at an altar high on the mountain that would one day be called Zion.

On and on we could go for God was faithful to the altar of prayer whenever men were faithful there, too.

When Moses brought down the divine plan for God’s dwelling place in the earth, an altar was prescribed to stand at the entrance. Prayer, thus begun in the Outer Court was renewed in the Holy Place with an altar of incense and with such sacrifices God was well pleased. His Shekinah inhabited the Tabernacle as His presence was revealed at the center of the nation. From this high altar of prayer a cloud of glory ruled the day and a holy fire illumined the wilderness night.

God meets people at the altar of prayer.

The Altar of God Demands Response.
Altars are all but invisible these days. We may look at our church platforms and see nothing that looks anything like an altar. Do not be alarmed. The Altar of God is more than a piece of furniture. Just as worship has been liberated from restriction of time and place, prayer is made of “spirit and in truth,” not wood or stone. The Altar of God is the humble human heart reaching for Him in faith.

Faith is a necessity.
We can stand in awe of His creation and marvel at the detail of His handiwork but there is no salvation in admiration from a distance.

  • We can be touched by people who carry His name but some of them carry it poorly. Their hands bear no healing power.
  • We can even read the Bible, but if we do not read in faith, if cynicism is our guide as we try to make the Holy Book say what we want it to say, we will not see His face.
  • We can stand in the midst of a crowd enveloped in the worship of others, but if our hearts are closed, if we are in the audience but not in the congregation, Jesus will be there but He will pass us by.

There was a song we used to sing:

Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.
You’ll find he’s not too busy to answer your cry.
He’s passing by this moment your needs to supply.
Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.

The song got it right.

Prayer is reaching out to touch the Lord. Prayer makes an altar out of wherever we are standing, or sitting, or kneeling, or walking around. God meets us at the altar of prayer when our hearts become the altar of prayer.

Reaching Out
We reach out and touch the Lord in so many ways:

  • At our private altar of prayer each day,
  • As we prayerfully read the Bible,
  • With psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with the saints on the Lord’s Day,
  • When the church unites in prayer for the needs of the community and the world, and
  • When the church gathers to pray at the altars.

The Lord’s Day is a day for heartfelt prayer, not empty routine, for reaching out and touching the Lord, not just singing songs and watching the platform people present their program.

Altars are all but invisible these days. But if we are to reach out and touch the Lord we had better find one, make one, and use one for prayer.

God has chosen to meet with people at the altar of prayer.

Scriptures:
Psalm 43

Give judgment for me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked. … Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling; That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God. Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why are you so disquieted within me? Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
Genesis 8:20-21 NIV
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
Genesis 22:9-14 NIV
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
Psalm 26:6-8 NIV
I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, O Lord, proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds. I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, take my heart as an altar today, a meeting place for You and for me. Here I repent of sins and attitudes and carelessness and here I am forgiven. Here, at this altar, the fire of heaven will fall on me, unseen and without sensation, Your fiery Spirit will purge my life and consume my soul in redemption. How precious is Your altar today. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Sweet Hour of Prayer

Words: William Walford; Music: William B. Bradbury

1. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

2. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Savior shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

3. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

4. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight:
This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise
To seize the everlasting prize;
And shout, while passing through the air,
“Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved