Welcome!

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

June 23, 2017 “Continually?”

Continually?

The sea—it never stops.
On the surface the waters never stop moving inland to crash on the beach. Underneath, the same water never ceases to slide back into the sea only to regroup and make another run.

It never stops. It is continuous. The sun is motionless but to us it never stops moving. Every single moment of time is sunrise somewhere and sunset somewhere else. The rotation of the earth is continuous.

“Continually” and “Continuously” are not synonyms; they mean different things:

  • Continually means to do something regularly and often.
  • Continuously means to do something without ever stopping.

Even though modern translations of the Bible use the word, “continually,” the Greek word actually means “continuously”—without ceasing.

The Poet instructs us, “Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face,” but the meaning is “continuously,” without ceasing.

At first these biblical injunctions to do something continuously seem completely out of reason. Is there anything we can do continuously? I suppose good discipline allows us to do good things continually, that is, frequently, regularly, and so on. But continuously? Without ceasing?

The difference in the two words helps us understand two great sources of strength:

  • Those things we can do continually and
  • Those things we can do continuously.

Things We Can Do Continually
These are the activities of life, the things we do and then stop doing.

  • Reading,
  • Writing,
  • Arithmetic,
  • Making music
  • Exercising,
  • Resting, on and on we could go.

Things We Do Continuously
·

  • Breathe,
  • Think,
  • Listen, and
  • See.

It appears to me that these very human activities are continuous.

  • If we have stopped breathing, we are dead.
  • We never stop thinking. Even when we sleep the mind does not.
  • In the same way, we never stop listening.

If we extend the concept of sight beyond the recognition of light, to the recognition of images, when the lights go out or we close our eyes to sleep, we keep on seeing. The imagination is a widescreen technicolor film that never stops running.

In these miraculous continuous things we reveal the image of God in us.

The Lord is wonderfully continuous in His care for us. He never sleeps or slumbers, the Bible says, and His ears are always open when we pray the psalm says. His Spirit is the breath of life we breathe. His continuous heartbeat is the rhythm of the universe and of our bodies. The differences between continual and continuous help us understand the Christian life.

There are many things we must do continually:

  • Worship privately and publicly,
  • Read and live by the Word of God,
  • Be led of the Spirit in daily work and witness.

These things we do frequently and regularly:

There are few things that we must do continuously

  • Pray without ceasing—we must live in an attitude of thanksgiving and devotion to God.
  • Seek the Lord—this should never stop! We must live with all our antennae up and trained on the voice of the Spirit. God speaks through all creation.
  • Depend on the Lord—at all times in everything!
    These activities are not things we do often and regularly; they are life processes we do constantly.

For us, the sea will roll in and then it will roll out again, ceaselessly. The sun will faithfully rise to warm the earth each day. These are reminders of God’s constant care. As we breathe and pump blood, and think, and see with eyes of sight and imagination, we can continuously know the love of God.

Scriptures:
Psalm 105:1-4 NASU
Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad. Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually.
Hebrews 13:15-16 NIV
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Luke 24:50-53 NIV
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Psalm 121 NIV
I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip —he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you — the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Psalm 34:15 NIV
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, In You I live and move and have my being. Sometimes I forget to take note of Your continuous faithfulness. Forgive me. Your love and care are the true constants in my life. Lord, help be faithful in the things I can do continually. As Your Spirit enables, I will do the continuous things: live in an attitude of prayer; listen at all times for the voice of the Spirit, seek Your face in all things, and look for Your truth in the details of each day. I want to serve you continually and live for You continuously. By Your Spirit, Amen.

Song:
Constantly Abiding
Words and Music: Anne S. Murphy

1. There’s a peace in my heart that the world never gave,
A peace it cannot take away.
Though the trials of this life may surround like a cloud,
I’ve a peace that has come there to stay!

Refrain:
Constantly abiding, Jesus is mine;
Constantly abiding, rapture divine.
He never leaves me lonely,
Whispers O so kind:
“I will never leave thee,” Jesus is mine.

2. All the world seemed to sing of a Savior and King,
When peace sweetly came to my heart;
Troubles all fled away and my night turned to day,
Blessed Jesus, how glorious Thou art!

Refrain

3. This treasure I have in a temple of clay
While here on His footstool I roam.
But He’s coming to take me some glorious day,
Over there to my heavenly home,

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
For more on Pride: “The Invisible Mountain”

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 22, 2017 “Crooked”

Crooked

My mother had a saying, “That man is as crooked as a barrel of snakes.”
Pretty descriptive, right? I tried finding an image for this devotion of a barrel of snakes and found some; they are too gruesome to use so I went with the crooked tree. That works too.

The poet says, “A crooked heart shall be far from me; I will not know evil.”

Good for him! I wish we could all be so certain.

Before we examine the “crooked” aspects of this, we must take a look at the heart.
That muscle faithfully pumping blood all through us has been our friend since we were snuggled in our mother’s womb. It survived the shock of our expulsion from that safe place into this dangerous world and has served us well ever since. We can feel it and hear it but we have never seen it.

Somehow in man’s attempt to understand the inner life, he has decided to call this hidden world within us, the heart. Like the muscle, we can feel it and hear it but we have never seen it clearly. We have little glimpses from time to time of the secrets lurking there, the good, the bad, and the unproductive. We resonate with the words of Jeremiah:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

The Crooked Heart
When we think of such a lofty theological concept as “The Fall of Man” it is difficult to realize what this really means. It means we come into this world with a crooked heart—a heart bent like that poor wounded tree in the picture, positioned next to a tall, straight tree with no sign of past trauma. A twisted, crooked tree is the result of a trauma when it was only a bendable sapling. It is twisted but it must be seen as a survivor, not at all pretty, but still alive.

This is how we are born, twisted by the sins of Adam and Eve and all our subsequent parents. For a few years we survive in our crooked form and then we are gone.

Except for Jesus.
He is the one who was born of woman but not of man, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. His heart was straight, a perfect example of the highest human potential. His heart never failed Him all through His life on earth: as an infant, a child, a teen, and as a young man. This was the heart that took on our sin because there was room in it for Jesus had no sin of His own to clutter it. This was the heart that broke and finally stopped beating on the cross when all His healing blood had been spilled to the earth. This was the heart Mary and the other women heard at the tomb and the disciples found again in the resurrected Jesus.

It is true we come into this world with hearts bent out of shape, but that is not the whole truth.
Our hearts were designed for better things:

  • To fellowship with God,
  • To be the dwelling place of God,
  • And the Temple of the Spirit of God, and
  • To host the Throne of God and of the Lamb.

We live from the heart out to the surface. Out of the heart flows the River of Life making us a healing force in this world.

Our hearts have been healed of the trauma and straightened by amazing grace. Now each of us is like a tree by rivers of water, tall straight, and fruitful.

Scriptures:
Psalm 101
I will sing of mercy and justice; to you, O Lord, will I sing praises. I will strive to follow a blameless course; oh, when will you come to me? I will walk with sincerity of heart within my house. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the doers of evil deeds; they shall not remain with me. A crooked heart shall be far from me; I will not know evil. Those who in secret slander their neighbors I will destroy; those who have a haughty look and a proud heart I cannot abide. My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me, and only those who lead a blameless life shall be my servants. Those who act deceitfully shall not dwell in my house, and those who tell lies shall not continue in my sight. I will soon destroy all the wicked in the land, that I may root out all evildoers from the city of the Lord.
Matthew 12:34-37; 15:18-20 NIV
For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.'”
Jeremiah 17:9-10 NKJV
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.
Psalm 51:10-11 NKJV
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Keeper of my heart. You found it wounded and You healed it. You found it full of sin an selfishness and You emptied it. When You found it thus emptied You did not leave it there—You moved in to live there. You filled my heart with the Blessed Holy Spirit to make it strong and true, a heart to be trusted. With this redeemed, restored heart I worship You and that changes everything for the good. Praise You, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Change My Heart, O God
Words and Music: Eddie Espinosa

Change my heart, O God,
Make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God,
May I be like You.

You are the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me, this is what I pray.

Change my heart, O God,
Make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God,
May I be like You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
How to find true-hearted people for your team: “Heart-Search”

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

 

June 21, 2017 “Pasture”

Pasture

Pastor and Pasture—Two Important Words
The word we use for a scene suitable as habitat for livestock with broad grasslands and maybe a split-rail fence is, “pastoral.” What is the link between those guys up there carefully not wearing suits with this rural vision? Care—Pastoral Care. The word “Pastor” means “shepherd”–One who cares for the sheep.

King David, poet laureate of the Scriptures, gives us the timeless metaphor:
“The Lord is my shepherd.”

The composer of Psalm 100 continues the metaphor:
“We are his people and the sheep of his pasture”

Believers are like sheep?
It may not be flattering to think of Christ-followers as sheep since these animals are not known for the qualities we think are most human: intelligence, creativity, independence, etc. But it is accurate. With all our excellent, highly “evolved” humanity we are still so like sheep. What we need is a good pasture, a safe, abundant place to live and make more sheep.

And, of course, we need a Shepherd. If it is unpleasant to think of ourselves as a dumb sheep, it is just as pleasant to think of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. He makes it OK to be a sheep. We have value because He loves us, is focused upon us, provides for us, disciplines us, and because we know His voice. When He calls us, we come to Him. At night when we need to sleep, He sings over us until we are at rest. When we need to move, He prods us and gets us going. When we need a cause, He gives us one worth moving for.

The pasture in which we are enclosed (not confined!) is His Kingdom.
It is expressed locally as a church, a congregation of fellow believers, a spiritual flock of spiritual sheep. Most are top notch sheep, but some are unruly and stay on the fringes of the flock. Others are stupid and move only by their baser instincts.

  • These self-absorbed sheep hear only the bleating of other sheep, not the Shepherd’s beautiful call.
  • They stay lost and confused and are always fighting.
  • When they wander too far from the safety of the Shepherd’s reach, they too easily and too often become the prey of the many predators sneaking around the pasture.

Out on the edges, there are false shepherds who are themselves predators.
There are also sheep who aren’t real sheep. These conspire to deceive the true sheep with promises of greener pastures outside the fence. They lie. They destroy but they are never satisfied; they never cease to patrol the edges. Some of them even win places in the flock, places where their lies can contaminate the grass, poison the still waters, and alienate the sheep from the Good Shepherd.

The safety of the sheep is in proximity.
Stay away from the edges. Snuggle in close to the Shepherd. Listen carefully to His voice and sing along with Him. Drink deeply from the still waters and feast on the nutrition He has led you to. There is no need to stray, no reason to starve or die of thirst, no reason to roam aimlessly through this world. The Lord is our Shepherd and we are the sheep of His Pasture.

Scriptures:
Psalm 100
Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; give thanks to him and call upon his Name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
Psalm 23 NIV
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
Mark 6:32-34 NIV
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things
John 10:14-15 NIV
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
Matthew 7:15-16 NIV
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.
John 21:15-18 NIV
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my Shepherd! I am safe in Your fold, secure in Your flock, and cared for in Your nearness. Sometimes Your pasture is a noisy place. I will listen carefully for Your voice today. Your call is gentle and always true. Your loving-kindness is the staff in Your hand. Guide me with it, today! We will pause and drink from the still waters and rest in green pastures. We will feast at the table You provide in the face my enemies and no shadow of any valley shall give me fear. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Song:
Walking Beside the Still Waters
Words and Music: J.D. Phifer

1. Tired from the day’s pace of living,
Weak from the chaos of sin,
I go down by the still waters,
And talk things over with Him

Refrain:
Walking beside the still waters,
Problems of life will grow dim.
Walking beside the still waters,
Walking and talking with Him.

2. O how I long for that morning,
Free from the chaos of sin,
I’ll go down by those still waters,
And walk forever with Him.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
For an article on things sheep should not believe: “Don’t Believe the Lies”

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 20, 2017 “Hidden”

Hidden

From time to time everyone feels like he or she is socked in by heavy fog.
I have two dangerous experiences with heavy fog:

  • A Ferry across the Mississippi In the early 1950’s my family and I were taking the car ferry across the big river from Helena, Arkansas to see mother’s family in Mississippi. Before we reached the eastern bank of the river a heavy fog enveloped us. The captain of the boat could not locate the landing on the Mississippi side. I was just a little guy but it really frightened me. I’m sure the fear I saw on the adults’ faces was part of my fear. I remember fingers of light, the searchlights on the ferry, reaching into the dense cloud trying to locate the landing. We missed it several times. Each miss required another trek upstream against the power of the mighty river, to make another run. Now I understand that the night was filled with fog and the river was packed with large sets of barges pushed downstream by towboats. A collision in the fog would have been a disaster.
  • A Fog on I-40 Decades later after a Christmas trip home to Arkansas, we made the long trek back to North Carolina. We started out at midnight intending to drive all night and part of the day to get home. (I was a young man in those days!) At Little Rock a heavy fog settled over everything. The visibility was zero. Driving the speed limit with zero visibility is not easy, even for a young man. I prayed and noticed a big truck in my lane. Without getting too close to him, I could barely make out his running lights. I held that position all the way across the Grand Prairie of Eastern Arkansas. When we crossed the Big River at Memphis the fog stayed behind and the rest of the trip was under a starry, winter sky.

When it seems God is hidden…
And so it seemed to be for the Psalmist.

“How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?”

The pain in this question is not some misty fog, easily penetrated by even a candle’s slender flame. His pain is real, substantial and, dare we say it?—unjust. Yes, the truth is—the righteous suffer.

  • Even if our God is Jehovah Who Provides, sometimes we go without.
  • Even when we serve Jehovah Rapha, The Lord who Heals, we still get sick and some of us live with disease.
  • Even when we are sure of His presence, sometimes it seems like He isn’t there at all.
  • There are times when we cannot feel the peace of Jehovah Shalom, or the victory of Jehovah Nissi, or the nearness of the Hosts of Heaven than surround Jehovah Saboath, or even the precious nearness of the One called Emmanuel.

This fog is real, too.
It is no mist or misunderstanding. Wrong has happened instead of right. Others have sinned and we are hurting for it. I cannot explain this fog. Like you, and like that boat on the river and that truck guiding me through the winter night, I can only go on,

  • step by step,
  • mile by mile,
  • chugging upstream for another try at a landing,
  • calling out to Him all the while
  • trusting God all the time for a safe journey and a secure landing, even when it seems He is far away, hidden from all my senses.

Let us hear the words of the Psalmist from deep in the fog, “Praise be to the Lord forever!
Amen and Amen. “

The Lord-Who-Provides will provide. Like the lights on that big truck we have a dependable light to follow. The Lord-Who-Guides will guide us. Like the brave captain of the Mississippi River ferry boat, our Captain will see us safely across any river, through any fog.

Scriptures:
Psalm 89:46-52 NIV
How long, O Lord ? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all men! What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave? O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David? Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked, how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations, the taunts with which your enemies have mocked, O Lord, with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one. Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.
1 Peter 2:19-22; 4:12-19 NIV
For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. … So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Psalm 139:7-12 NKJV
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
Psalm 51:10-12 NKJV
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Philippians 4:11-13 NKJV
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my Light, my Guide, my Captain. There is no fog so dense as to hinder Your radiance, Your leadership, Your command. Though life may threaten me, You will keep me safe. When It seems You are hidden from me, I know that it is just a feeling. Your name is Emmanuel—God with Us and it is always true. When darkness closes in, I know I will see a light—Your light—to guide me.. You said You will never leave or forsake us and it is true, no matter how thick the fog may be. Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Jesus Is the One
Words and Music: Adgar Pace and Gertie Rast

1. When the day is dark before you,
And the clouds are hanging low.
There is One who watches o’er you,
Ev’rywhere that you may go.

Refrain:
Jesus is the One, Yes, He’s the only One,
Let Him have His way until the day is done;
When He speaks you know, the clouds will have to go,
Just because He loves you so.

2. Oh, if you are sad and lonely,
Life is but an empty tomb.
Breathe a prayer to Jesus only,
He will drive away the gloom.

Refrain

3. When you come to cross the river,
He will be your Friend and Guide.
You can live with Him forever,
Over on the other side.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

Related Article: “The Rock Is Still Solid”

June 19, 2017 “Warrior”

Warrior

Two Wonderful Songs
There once was a medley of two songs that spoke of the Lord Jesus in a unique but totally accurate way: “Lift High the Lord Our Banner” and “Mighty Warrior.” I was a worship leader in those days who liked to use a full choir and orchestra as a worship team. I was also trained as a band director and I loved marches. These two songs were presented in a Grand March style. One might say “My heart was stirred by a noble theme!” I was in heaven as two parts of my heart (marches and praise) came together in my ministry.

It was more than the wonderful music—it was the truth—a rare truth that I had never celebrated before. Jesus is the “Lord Our Banner” and He is the “Mighty Warrior!”

We often sang about Jesus as Friend, Shepherd, Savior, Soon-Coming King, Lover of My soul, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We declared Him to be Holy, Worthy, Wonderful, and Sweet. I could not remember many songs who declared the Lord to be the Mighty Warrior—we had songs about His victory but very few about His combat.

Despite our lack of songs to the point, Jesus is the Mighty Warrior—He Is the Lord Our Banner!
In the early church, when the leaders we now call the “Church Fathers” were organizing the Christ-centered theology we enjoy today, the general understanding of the Atonement was Christ as the Victor over evil in all its forms. The term for this atonement theology is “Christus Victor.” When the late Bob Webber first told me about Christus Victor, it sounded like good preaching to me—it sounded like “Church!”

I have never forgotten an article I read in Billy Graham’s “Decision” magazine called “The Day Christ Rule from a Tree.” That was Christus Victor—

  • Jesus, while dying on the cross, reached through the streets of Jerusalem and tore the veil in Temple in two from the top to the bottom.
  • In death He was reigning.
  • While He was atoning for our sins, He was waging war or all sin.
  • While His holy blood was flowing down the cross to the thirsty earth, healing power was spreading to the world.
  • When somehow He was mysteriously separated from the Father and feeling forsaken, He was forging a bond of fellowship that would supersede race and wealth and language for all people who would turn to Him in faith and repentance.

We came pretty close to this when we sang the simple song of the Jesus Movement, (late 1960s and early 1970s) “He Is Lord.” His Lordship is a current, after-the-battle reality. He is Victor!

He is Victor because He is the Mighty Warrior!
Hell has no way to defeat Him; counter charge after counter charge is beaten back without a dent in the defense. We walk in His shadow and do battle in His might.

  • When we wield the Sword of the Spirit—He is the double blade!
  • When we shelter behind the Shield of Faith—His Promises prove true!
  • When we wear the Helmet of Salvation—He guides our thoughts!
  • When we buckle up the Belt of Truth—His veracity is on the line!
  • When our feet are shod with the preparation of the Gospel—it is His story we tell!

He did not lie to us—there will be trouble of all kinds, temptations of every description, and an unending parade of enemies—we live in a world that opposes us. However, He also said that we should be of good cheer for He has overcome the world! He is the Mighty Warrior, the Lord Our banner!”

Scriptures:
Psalm 45:1-6 NIV/NLT
My Heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the King, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet. You are the most handsome of all. Gracious words stream from your lips. God himself has blessed you forever. Put on your sword, O mighty warrior! You are so glorious, so majestic! In your majesty, ride out to victory, defending truth, humility, and justice. Go forth to perform awe-inspiring deeds! Your arrows are sharp, piercing your enemies’ hearts. The nations fall beneath your feet. Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. You rule with a scepter of justice.
Joshua 5:13-15 NKJV
And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Ephesians 6:10-18 NIV
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
John 16:33 NIV
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Captain of the Hosts of the Lord! Your weapons are polished and ready; spiritual are they and not the weapons of the flesh. Mighty are these weapons to the pulling down of strongholds and anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ. Like David shunning the armor of King Saul, I will not wage warfare today with the weapons of men: chaos, deceit, destruction, and violence. In Your name I will face my foes, just as did David. I will march in perfect order; I will assault lies with Truth; I will rebuild and restore and I will wage peace. My sword will stay in its sheath while Your Sword—the proclamation of the Word of God—does its work. “Mighty Warrior, dressed for battle! Bring me to attention!” Amen.

Songs of the Mighty Warrior:
Lift High the Lord Our Banner
Words and Music: Macon Delavan

Lift high the Lord, our banner. Lift high the Lord, Jesus King
Lift high the Lord, our banner. Lift high your praise to Him sing

For He is wonderful, For He reigns on high.
For He is marvelous, The Lord draweth nigh.

Mighty Warrior
Lyrics and Music: Debbye Graafsma

Mighty warrior, Dressed for battle, Holy Lord of all is He
Commander in chief, Bring us to attention, Lead us into battle
To crush the enemy

Satan has no authority Here in this place. He has no authority here
For this habitation Was fashioned for The Lord’s presence,
No authority here

Mighty warrior, Dressed for battle, Holy Lord of all is He
Commander in chief, Bring us to attention, Lead us into battle
To crush the enemy

Jesus has all authority Here in this place. He has all authority here
For this habitation Was fashioned for The Lord’s presence,
All authority here

Mighty warrior, Dressed for battle, Holy Lord of all is He
Commander in chief, Bring us to attention, Lead us into battle
To crush the enemy

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
For more on Pride: “The Invisible Mountain”

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

Worship Songs should teach us “More about Jesus!”

June 18, 2017 “Forgiven”

Forgiven

She was used to the company of men.
She could read their smiles. It is likely that some of the men gathered for dinner in the home of a Pharisee named Simon saw her come in. If they noticed her at all, they quickly turned their faces away; they did not smile at her. The man she wanted to see was a stranger among the smelly men reclining around the table laden with lavish food. The oil lamps sent wavering shadows here and there across the room, but from the man she came to see, a constant inner light seemed to glow from deep inside Him.

She had seen that light even in the bright sunlight on the Jerusalem streets. She had followed Him, welcoming the anonymity of the crowd. She held back, always in the second or third rank and always with her head and face covered, while her keen eyes watched Him closely.

In one glorious moment, His shining eyes met hers.
He looked deep into her heart, the way no man had ever looked at her. His unbroken gaze was like a torch shining into the dark cavern of her wounded soul. She tried to look away but she could not. Though she did not understand why, she knew this was a life-changing moment for her, that she could never be the same. She knew that her livelihood was now a thing of the past. She would find a way to live that would meet His approval; she didn’t know how but she knew she could and would.

The Smile of Jesus
As they continued to look at each other, a broad smile came across the face of Jesus. This thrilled her to the depth of her being. It was as if He knew what had happened inside of her, as if He knew of the shame that had suddenly overcome her, as if He knew of the choice she had made. It seemed He was saying that all was forgiven. For the rest of her life, she would make all her choices in the light of that smile—life was about pleasing Him, not others and not herself.

He went on this way; there were others to talk to, to touch, and some who needed the power of His gaze and the forgiveness of His smile. She seemed frozen to that spot, transfixed by the new life inside her. She forgot about her scarf and head piece, letting them drop, her face and hair shining in the sun. She breathed deeply looked intently at a future she had never imagined before.

A few hours later she heard that He was dining in the home of Simon the Pharisee, a home she knew well. Entering by the servant’s entrance she invaded the dinner gathering, her heart bursting with gratitude. Without hesitation she found her way to Jesus. At first, she stood behind Him weeping. Then she fell at His feet and began to wash His feet with her tears and lovingly dry them with her hair. She took perfume and anointed those feet, kissing them.

Recovering from the shock of this intrusion, Simon, knowing full well who she was, seized the moment to prove that Jesus was obviously not a prophet or He would know who she was as well.

With a parable Jesus gently instructed Simon and all the other proud sinners about the forgiveness of sins.

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven —
for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

So it is today. If our record of sins is large or small, if we have met Jesus eye-to-eye in faith and repentance, the record has been cleared, and we, too, must minister to Him. As we do, we too, can feel His smile.

Scriptures:
Psalm 104
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. He forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities; He redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness; He satisfies you with good things, and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s. The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed. He made his ways known to Moses and his works to the children of Israel. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. He will not always accuse us, nor will he keep his anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us. As a father cares for his children, so does the Lord care for those who fear him. For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust. Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more. But the merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever on those who fear him, and his righteousness on children’s children; on those who keep his covenant and remember his commandments and do them. The Lord has set his throne in heaven, and his kingship has dominion over all. Bless the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty ones who do his bidding, and hearken to the voice of his word. Bless the Lord, all you his hosts, you ministers of his who do his will. Bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion; bless the Lord, O my soul.
Luke 7:36-50 NIV
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 11:4; 17:3-4 NIV
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'”… “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my Savior, Healer, Baptizer, and soon coming King, I worship You today! I marshal all my strength to this purpose. As I think of “the glory due Your name,” I must add my voice to that of nature and all creation in song of praise from creation to Creator. When I consider Your mighty throne, I join the songs of angels attending there, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” I hear the Song of the Redeemed, roaring from the heavenly gallery, as angels must fall silent. They cannot sing this song of thanksgiving for they have not known Your mercy as has the church. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Thank You, Lord, for Saving My Soul.
Traditional Chorus

Thank You, Lord, for saving my soul.
Thank You, Lord, for making me whole.
Thank You, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation so rich and so free.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
For more on Pride: “The Invisible Mountain”

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 17, 2017 “Loving-kindness”

Loving-kindness

A Hand to Hold
On the Path of Life, like a young child crossing a dangerous street, we have a hand to hold every step of the way.

Sometimes a truth is so powerful that we have to use more than one word to express it, linking an adjective with noun so that it must always be so modified. Loving-kindness is such a term. The kindness of God will always be a kindness marked

  • by love, not convenience or contract,
  • by mercy, not onus or obligation, and
  • by grace, not innovation or influence.

The Love of God is marked by kindness of a holy covenant—a solemn, unbreakable relationship that resounds with the joy of hope. As is the requirement of all biblical covenants it is sealed in blood, the Blood of the Lamb. The binding force that holds God’s love for us to His kindness toward us is the precious, sinless, powerful and spilled-out Blood of Jesus. His innocent life’s blood poured to the thirsty earth, carried our sins far away from us and bound our life to the life of God. There is no greater, no stronger bond than this. We can always trust the love of God to be kind and the kindness of God to be loving.

Kindness
We can always be sure that God’s ultimate purposes for us add up to kindness. His plan for our lives is one of usefulness and productivity, of relationship and deep joy. This is a kindness that supersedes circumstances for they are not always kind.

  • When there is pain, He gives strength until the healing comes.
  • When there is trouble, He supplies peace until the resolution comes.
  • When we experience need, He gives creativity until the need is met.
  • When it is night, He gives us a song until the morning.
  • When there are tears, He is the arm around our shoulders until the tears are all shed.
  • When there is reason to fear, He is the Rock on which we can stand in faith.
  • When we are guilty, He listens for our cry of repentance.

The kindness of God is a loving kindness.

Loving
The love of God is a reality, an unchanging, constant force in our lives. He never stops loving us, even when we are wrong and in rebellion against Him. We can understand a little about the love of God by considering the sun. It is constant as the earth and all the planets with their moons swirl around it. From our earthly vantage point, clouds may hide the sun so that it does not hurt our eyes, but even a hidden sun can still burn our skin. Clouds do not block the sun and its light; they only dim our perception of it. Our orbit is secure, our atmosphere is safe to breathe, and our clocks never cease to click off the hours.

And so it is with the love of God. Sometimes it is what we might call a “tough love,” when God lets us have our own way or permits injustice to come our way. This tough love draws us back to Him when we have done stupid things. The injustices we endure we count as the fellowship of His sufferings so that we can also share the joys of His resurrection.

How can this be? It is because His Love comes to us in Kindness and His Kindness toward us is always Loving.

Like a young child crossing a dangerous street, we have a hand to hold every step of the way.

Scriptures:
Psalm 63
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water. Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory. For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; my lips shall give you praise. So will I bless you as long as I live and lift up my hands in your Name. My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips, When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches. For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice. My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast. May those who seek my life to destroy it go down into the depths of the earth; Let them fall upon the edge of the sword, and let them be food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all those who swear by him will be glad; for the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.
Psalm 40:11-13 NKJV
Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord; Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me. For innumerable evils have surrounded me; My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; They are more than the hairs of my head; Therefore my heart fails me. Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me!
Psalm 92:1-5 NKJV
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, And Your faithfulness every night, On an instrument of ten strings, On the lute, And on the harp, With harmonious sound. For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands. O Lord, how great are Your works! Your thoughts are very deep.
Philippians 3:10-11 NIV
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have known Your loving-kindness and I can testify that is better than life. Life outside of Your covenant is random, dangerous, and beyond understanding. There is no place to look for guidance. There are no voices to sing encouraging songs to us in the night. There are no kind faces to look our way in simplicity—everyone is up to something. But life with You, Lord is not that way. With Your loving-kindness to shine Your face upon me. You sing to me in the darkness hours. You guide my every step. Yes, I can face today with courage based in Your loving-kindness! Amen and Amen.

Song:
The Love of God
Words and Music: Frederick Martin Lehman

1. The love of God is greater far Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled And pardoned from his sin.

Refrain:
O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—The saints’ and angels’ song.

2. When hoary time shall pass away, And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall;
When men who here refuse to pray, On rocks and hills and mountains call;
God’s love, so sure, shall still endure, All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—The saints’ and angels’ song.

Refrain
3. Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 16, 2017 “Arrogance”

Arrogance

Arrogance is a child sitting on a pretend throne.
It is a haughty look with the tongue extended. It is a nose in the air and a reeking scent of a superiority supposed. Arrogance is the overcoat for pride, the stage business of the polished actor in a fiction, and the polite conversation of those can only speak of themselves.

The poet says this:

The wicked arrogantly persecute the poor,
but they are trapped in the schemes they have devised.

Arrogance Is Wicked.
The only brand of arrogance you can get is wicked; there is no holy version to be had.

  • Arrogance is a faulty weapon that is guaranteed to misfire eventually. It will blow up in the face of the most skillful marksman. The arrogant set traps into which they themselves eventually step to the terrible injury and bondage they planned for others.
  • The arrogant are blind to the good and they rejoice in the prospect of their own advancement at any cost. They see others as devices to use and throw away.
  • They are quick to receive the credit they have earned and just as quick to steal the credit others have earned.

The fuel of the arrogance machine is pride—something God hates, something God opposes.

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. NIV
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. NKJV
James 4:6

God’s Opposition
The opposition of God—His resistance—is a serious matter, but the arrogant are blind to this. They have deceived themselves so thoroughly that they think they will win against God. They will outlast the eternal; beat the courts of heaven, escape from the long arm of the Lord. How can brilliant people stake their lives on such foolish conceits? The temporary plight of the righteous is to work for and with the arrogant. We are confident of their end—eventually, but what about until then?

We must have confidence in the Path of Life!
As we walk with the Lord through this life we are doing good: (Not “doing well” which is a state of being; “doing good” is the productive life.)

  • we are sowing good seed;
  • we are watering the good seed others have sown;
  • we are letting the candle of our life shine;
  • we are standing in our assigned place in the line of battle; and
  • we are building our lives on the Rock, Christ Jesus.

The real books are kept in heaven, not it the boss’s office. We are assisted each day by grace of God Himself—“He gives grace to the humble!”

We cannot imagine how much good we are doing when we are doing good. But this we do know: In due time we shall reap if we faint not.

Scriptures:
Psalm 10
Why do you stand so far off, O Lord, and hide yourself in time of trouble? The wicked arrogantly persecute the poor, but they are trapped in the schemes they have devised. The wicked boast of their heart’s desire; the covetous curse and revile the Lord. The wicked are so proud that they care not for God; their only thought is, “God does not matter.” Their ways are devious at all times; your judgments are far above out of their sight; they defy all their enemies. They say in their heart, “I shall not be shaken; no harm shall happen to me ever.” Their mouth is full of cursing, deceit, and oppression; under their tongue are mischief and wrong. They lurk in ambush in public square sand in secret places they murder the innocent; they spy out the helpless. They lie in wait, like a lion in a covert; they lie in wait to seize upon the lowly; they seize the lowly and drag them away in their net. The innocent are broken and humbled before them; the helpless fall before their power. They say in their heart, “God has forgotten; he hides his face; he will never notice.” Rise up, O Lord; lift up your hand, O God; do not forget the afflicted. Why should the wicked revile God? Why should they say in their heart, “You do not care”? Surely, you behold trouble and misery; you see it and take it into your own hand. The helpless commit themselves to you, for you are the helper of orphans. Break the power of the wicked and evil; search out their wickedness until you find none. The Lord is King for ever and ever; the ungodly shall perish from his land. The Lord will hear the desire of the humble; you will strengthen their heart and your ears shall hear; to give justice to the orphan and oppressed, so that mere mortals may strike terror no more.
Galatians 6:7-10 NIV
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Isaiah 66:1-2 NIV
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.
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.
1 Corinthians 3:5-8 NIV
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, when I think of the foolishness of pride, I am ashamed that it has ever found root in me. Forgive me for ever seeking to elevate myself—that is Your part of the Covenant. It is my job to stay on task, to get lost in the work You have given me to do and not concern myself with who gets the credit. I live in a competitive world, Lord, and the pressure to “win” is great, both from without and within. Remind me today that life is not a game—it is a mission within a relationship. Your reward is my goal and so many times no one sees this trophy but the two of us. That is more than enough. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song
Just as I Am
Words: Charlotte Elliot; Music: William Bradley

1. Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2. Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3. Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4. Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

5. Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

6. Just as I am, thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

For more on Pride: “The Invisible Mountain”

June 15, 2017 “Useless?”

Useless?

No way! It is only an illusion, a cheap trick by a cheaper magician.
Each of us has immense value and usefulness to God. Sometimes this fact of faith is easy to forget. Why?
Because we know, also, that we are broken—all of us—not just the derelict on the street corner trudging to the cover of a bridge for the night. Pride would lift us up and say that he is broken but we are whole and healthy.

Check again. We are all broken. The difference is only a matter of degree.

“Great!” You might be saying, “Where is the encouragement in that bit of news?”

While the feeling of uselessness is a powerful one, that does not make it accurate. It is a story only half-told. There is more, another act to be seen in this drama.

The Poet expressed the feeling for us:

“I am as useless as a broken pot.”

This is emotion not information.

Clay pots were the creation of the potter.
His skillful hands and whirling wheel shaped the shapeless wet clay into a useful form. Baked in the oven, the soft clay hardened into stone as the useless thing became useful in the potter’s shop.

God, of course, is the Potter of our lives and His skills range far above those of the human potter. In the earthly shop, a broken earthen pot cannot be mended; it is good only to be thrown away. Not so in our Potter’s Shop! He specializes in the reconstruction of broken pots!

Earthly “wisdom” would tell us that we are beyond repair, ruined forever.
This is the cynical, earth-bound, deterministic lie that we who have been repaired must expose. Lies like this discourage us from another attempt at reform. Our record of unsuccessful self-reform programs is dismal.

There is another brand of wisdom we need to consult, “the wisdom from above.” In our brokenness we have come to the wrong shop. We need to keep walking until we find the Potter’s Shop where Jesus works. We will find work going on here that we can’t find anywhere else—the work of restoration. Jesus rebuilds broken pots, making the useless useful again.

This is information, not emotion.

Look around you and you will see many people living useful, productive lives.
Be assured they have not always been so busy and beneficial. They were once broken to one extent or another but Jesus repaired them.

His shop is open for business today.

Scriptures:
Psalm 31
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Incline your ear to me; make haste to deliver me. Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me. Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, for you are my tower of strength. Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth. I hate those who cling to worthless idols, and I put my trust in the Lord. I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy; for you have seen my affliction; you know my distress. You have not shut me up in the power of the enemy; you have set my feet in an open place. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly. For my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed. I have become a reproach to all my enemies and to my neighbors, a dismay to those of my acquaintance; when they see me in the street they avoid me. I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot. … Yet I said in my alarm, “I have been cut off from the sight of your eyes. “Nevertheless, you heard the sound of my entreaty when I cried out to you. Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.
2 Timothy 2:20-22 NKJV
…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.
Acts 9:15-16 KJV
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
Jeremiah 18:1-7 NIV
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
James 3:13-18
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, to this day Your strong, carpenter’s hands bear the scars of our sin; yet they are still healing hands! You have handled me skillfully, tenderly restoring my marred and broken life. Today Your work in me will continue. I want to be pliable in Your hands, malleable beneath the gentle hammer of Your grace. I am grateful that You haven’t given up on me! With Your on-going repairs I can be a vessel unto honor, fit for Your use, Master Jesus! Amen.

Song:
The Broken Vessel
Words and Music: Andrea Crouch

1. The Potter saw a vessel, that was broken by the wind and rain
And he sought with so much compassion to make it over again.
O I was that vessel, that no one thought was good
I cried Lord, You’re the potter and I am the clay make me over again today.
Then God picked up the pieces of my broken life that day
And He made me a new vessel, and washed all my sins away.

2. My friend if your broken and scattered by the storms of life
And You’ve looked in vain for the answers for all your turmoil and strife.
Just look to the Savior Who’ll save your soul from sin
And cry Lord you the potter and I am the clay make me over again today
Then let God pick up the pieces of your broken life today
He will make you a new vessel and wash all your sins away.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

How to stay “Useful” to God? “Strange Place for a Tree.”

June 14, 2017 “Mysteries”

Mysteries

Where reason and faith collide, there is a mystery found.
We do not choose to live by reason alone for without faith it is impossible to please God. Nor do we walk about the earth believing only things that we cannot prove, for reason is also a precious gift from God.

The Christ-follower believes many things without proof for that is the essence of faith: finding evidence of things hoped for but unseen. We also believe many things that are observable facts: evidence of things present and seen. The Path of Life is a way of believing both by facts and by faith and—by mysteries. Each one is like a small beam of light through a prism.

The Unexplained
In a teaching song, the Chief Musician Asaph, declares his intention of giving not only the facts of history but the mysteries as well. Israel’s history was filled with the unexplained:

  • A burning bush that was not burned up and from which Jehovah’s voice was heard,
  • Walking sticks that turned into snakes and back again,
  • Horrible plagues striking Egyptians but not the Israelites among them,
  • The Red Sea crossing and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army,
  • The smoking summit of Sinai and the Law of God, and
  • Manna from heaven and water from rocks.

Asaph teaches the facts that must be believed, even the ones that can only be seen as mysteries.

Celebrating the Mysteries
For those of us on the New Covenant journey through the wilderness, there are mysteries to be believed, and not only believed, but enjoyed and celebrated in words of praise, worship and awe:

  • The Bible is the Inspired Word of God—it isn’t just a book or a library of books. It was inspired in its writing and preserved as the hands of man have handled it through history. When we read it in faith, we sense its truth by the Spirit and we are changed.
  • The Trinity—3 is 1 and 1 is 3. Can you do the math? I cannot. But if we could, the nature of God would fold right into the science of mathematics and that cannot be—God is bigger than math.
  • The Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Christ—the facts of life cry out against these things yet we believe them. We don’t understand, but we believe.
  • The Dual Nature of Christ—fully God and fully man—our finite minds demand He be one or the other but the Scripture attributes both natures to Him so we believe it.
  • Salvation is in Christ alone by faith and not by works—We accept His salvation as we accept the mysteries of His birth, life, atoning death and triumphal resurrection.
  • The Universal Church—this is an organization of the Spirit and not of man’s doing. It is not a denomination; it is not a culture group; it is not a political force; it is a mystery hidden from the heroes of the Old Covenant and revealed at the Table of the Lord.
  • The Return of Jesus—among ourselves we may debate the details, but we must embrace the mystery of the Second Coming of Christ. All wrongs will be righted, all things will be made new in a New Heaven and a New Earth ruled by the Lord Himself in a New Jerusalem.

Try as we might, we can only catch tantalizing glimpses of these mysteries. Each one is like a small beam of light through a prism. They are beyond the reach of reason. By faith we believe and there is but one response, that of the angels, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Scriptures:
Psalm 78: 1-7
Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will declare the mysteries of ancient times. That which we have heard and known, and what our forefathers have told us, we will not hide from their children. We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, and the wonderful works he has done. He gave his decrees to Jacob and established a law for Israel, which he commanded them to teach their children; That the generations to come might know, and the children yet unborn; that they in their turn might tell it to their children; So that they might put their trust in God, and not forget the deeds of God, but keep his commandments…
1 Timothy 3:16 NIV
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
Romans 16:25-27 NIV
Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NIV
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.
Ephesians 3:2-6 NIV
Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 14:2-3 NIV
For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the mysteries! How plain life would be if everything were explained and nothing remained to boggle the mind. But that is not the case: mysteries abound! I praise You for Your ways that are higher than mine, that they are “past finding out.” I know that we will spend eternity together as You unfold to us the mysteries we pondered in this life, an endless revelation of Your glory. Today I will smile at the mystery of Your shining sun and laugh as every breeze brushes my face. I will not fear the mysterious thunder or the preceding flash of fire. I will walk without fear because of the mystery of Your nearness. In Christ alone! Amen.

Song:
Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise
Words: Walter Chalmers Smith; Music: Traditional Welsh Ballad

1. Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

2. Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
thy justice like mountains high soaring above
thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

3. To all, life thou givest, to both great and small;
in all life thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
and wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.

4. Thou reignest in glory; thou dwellest in light;
thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
all laud we would render: O help us to see
’tis only the splendor of light hideth thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

Explore the great mystery of “The Presence.”