June 30, 2017 “Space”


“I can’t be everywhere—Gimme a break, will ya!”
Thus cries our humanity when life’s demands come at us too many, too fast, and too much.
So locked into the space time continuum are we that cannot imagine being everywhere all at once.

Sacred Space
One of the great mysteries of God is that He is everywhere and yet still there are places where His presence dwells in a deeper way. Theologians call this “Sacred Space.” The Bible records that God has chosen certain places to be His “dwelling places.”

The first of these, the Tabernacle of Moses, was a mobile unit, made for a journey through a wilderness. In short order it could be collapsed, folded up, and transported by Levites, the family of Levi who were chosen for the task. At the next location it could be unpacked, unfolded, and reassembled quickly. What was supposed to be a one-way trek through the wilderness turned into a generation-long ordeal and a metaphor for life’s journey to heaven.

Their signal to stay put or to move out, was the Presence.
A shimmering pillar of cloud rose from the Tabernacle through the day and at night it became a shining tongue of fire. This was the glory of God, the effect on earthly things of a heavenly visitation. When the presence rested, so did the nation. When it began to move, the Levites went to work; it was time to move out.

God’s Dwelling Places
The Tabernacle of Moses was God’s dwelling place in the earth. He was everywhere, it was true, but in a deeper sense, He was in that place. Today we call this the “Manifest Presence of God.”

Within several generations after the people finally found the exit lane out of the wilderness, the whole business was moved indoors—into the Temple of Solomon and the other temples that replaced it. The presence of the Lord was in one sacred space. His Dwelling place was no longer a mobile unit. Old Covenant worship could be described as “worship in time and place.”

Then came Jesus—a New Covenant—a better covenant!—The Dwelling Place of God was mobile again! This new worship would be “worship in spirit and truth” not in time and place.This Sacred Space was designed to move, to shimmer in the sun and dance a flaming dance in the darkness.

We are the Temple! The God who is everywhere has taken up residence in His People—the church—you and me! When we worship Him (enter His gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise, giving Him the glory due His name) His manifest presence is His gift to us. Jesus, who walks with us every day, walks among us when we worship, the Sun of Righteousness rising among us with healing in His wings!

Our redeemed hearts are now His dwelling Place. Together we are the tabernacle for this wilderness—a cloud of promise in a dry and desert place and a fire of hope through a dark and desperate night.

Psalm 132
Lord, remember David, and all the hardships he endured; How he swore an oath to the Lord and vowed a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: “I will not come under the roof of my house, nor climb up into my bed; I will not allow my eyes to sleep, nor let my eyelids slumber; Until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” “Place” “The ark! We heard it was in Ephratah; we found it in the fields of Jearim. Let us go to God’s dwelling place; let us fall upon our knees before his footstool.” Arise, O Lord, into your resting-place, you and the ark of your strength. Let your priests be clothed with righteousness; let your faithful people sing with joy. For your servant David’s sake, do not turn away the face of your Anointed. The Lord has sworn an oath to David; in truth, he will not break it: “A son, the fruit of your body will I set upon your throne. If your children keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their children will sit upon your throne for evermore.” For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired her for his habitation: “This shall be my resting-place for ever; here will I dwell, for I delight in her. I will surely bless her provisions, and satisfy her poor with bread. I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her faithful people will rejoice and sing. There will I make the horn of David flourish; I have prepared a lamp for my Anointed. As for his enemies, I will clothe them with shame; but as for him, his crown will shine.”
Exodus 40:33-38 NIV
Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out — until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 NIV
The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.
John 4:21-24 NIV
Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
2 Corinthians 6:16 NIV
What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Ephesians 2:19-22 NIV
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your indwelling presence. My heart is a sacred space. If there is holy fire within me, Your Spirit is the flame. If there is a commanding compassion within me, Your love is the compulsion. The walls of this sacred space are walls of grace. The covering is the New Covenant in Your blood. The floor is that level ground at the foot of the cross. Your ancient covenantal promise is true, “Will dwell in them and walk in them. I will be their God and they shall be my People!” I am blessed. I am blessed! Amen.

O the Glory
Words and Music: Steve Fry

O the glory of Your Presence,
We, Your Temple, give You reverence.
Come and rise to Your rest and be blest by our praise
As we glory in Your embrace,
As Your presence now fills this place!

Jesus, all glorious, create in us a temple,
Called as living stones where You’re enthroned.
As You rose from death in power,
So rise upon our worship!
Rise up on our praise and let the hand that saw You raised,
Clothe us in your glory, draw us by Your grace!

O the glory of Your Presence,
We, Your Temple, give You reverence.
Come and rise to Your rest and be blest by our praise
As we glory in Your embrace,
As Your presence now fills this place!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 29, 2017 “NightWatch”


We cannot imagine the world before electric lights. It was, shall we say, dark.
Each time the sun slipped over the western rim of the world, a gathering darkness crept across the land from the east. Only the thin flames of candles, the withering wicks of oil lamps, and an inconstant, silvery moon challenged the night. The stars, more than we can see these nights, decorated the darkness but did little else.

With darkness came fear and with the fear came the night-watch.

Someone had to stay awake through the night; it was filled with danger.
Evil people did evil things in the dark. In the military, in industry, in cities and in towns, watchmen take this job: police, firemen stationed near the alarm, emergency personnel on duty around the clock, and other folks who have trouble sleeping.

Mark Twain paints a poignant scene of the 19th Century night in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Huck and Jim are running downstream aboard a raft on the huge Mississippi River. They traveled at night, keeping time by the lights on the shore. Most of the candles and lanterns went out after midnight and when they started reappearing it signaled the approach of dawn. Some candles burned through the night, “Where there is sick folk, maybe.” Huck said.

Setting the Night-Watch is an ancient practice.
In the scriptures the watchman makes a powerful metaphor for an important aspect of pastoral leadership and priestly leadership in the home. There had to be a constant awareness while the town or the home was unaware and vulnerable to the villains and villainy of the dark hours of night. Someone would sleep in daylight so those who slept in darkness could do so in safety.

Still today, the darkness is real and it is an encroaching darkness. Parents and Pastors must be vigilant on the NightWatch for the darkness wants to steal the light in our homes and churches.

The problem is: we are only mortal and cannot go long without sleep.

Who can be our Night-Watch? The Lord and His friendly angels, of course.
We can rest and wake up rested. We can dream and wake to follow those dreams. Families can bond together and the Family of God can enter into that rest because Jesus and His mighty angels have the NightWatch.

Psalm 119:145-152
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes. I call to you; oh, that you would save me! I will keep your decrees. Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. My eyes are open in the night watches, that I may meditate upon your promise. Hear my voice, O Lord, according to your loving-kindness; according to your judgments, give me life. They draw near who in malice persecute me; they are very far from your law. You, O Lord, are near at hand, and all your commandments are true. Long have I known from your decrees that you have established them forever.
1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
John 3:19-21 NIV
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
John 1:3-5 NIV
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
Isaiah 60:1-3 NIV
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Revelation 22:3-5 NIV
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Romans 13:11-14 NIV
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Isaiah 21:11-12 NKJV
“Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?” The watchman said, ‘The morning comes, and also the night.

Evening Prayers from the Book of Common Prayer:
Against Perils
Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in Your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of Your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For the Presence of Christ
Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know You as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of Your love. Amen.
For Rest
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give Your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for Your love’s sake. Amen.

All Through the Night
Traditional Lullaby

1. Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night;

2. Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and vale in slumber sleeping,
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping,
All through the night.

3. Angels watching, e’er around thee,
All through the night
Midnight slumber close surround thee,
All through the night

4. Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and vale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping,
All through the night

5. While the moon her watch is keeping,
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping,
All through the night

6. O’er thy spirit gently stealing,
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling,
All through the night.


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

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 28, 2017 “Heard”


Americans have a constitutional right to free speech.
Implicit in this right is the hope to be heard. Why would one speak if there is no hope of being heard?

A High School Revelation
In my junior year of high school, I was not a good student. I only studied what interested me—band and English. The rest of my classes were a waist of my 16 year-old time. So, I had to see the counselor. She was a nice lady and I enjoyed talking to her; I could really string her along and she probably knew what I was doing all the time.

The summer before I turned 16 I started seriously seeking God’s will for my life. I felt it had something to do with music and writing (band and English!) but I was sure the rest of it—chemistry, Algebra II, American History—had nothing to do with it. When I was blowing smoke about how I didn’t enjoy those classes, etc., the nice lady interrupted me and asked, “Well, Steve, what do you want to do with your life?”

In one of those moments one lives in for the rest of one’s life, I knew with exceptional clarity why I was on the earth. At the same moment I thought it and said it:

“I want to tell somebody something!”

We both sat back and there was a moment of silence. I remember nothing else about that conference but I have never forgotten that revelation.

A Course of Action
Now I had a course of action. It was simple. If I was going to tell somebody something:

  1. I was going to have to find something out!
  2. I was going to have to learn how to speak and to write.

That was my plan: learn important things that people needed to know and develop the skills to tell them what I had learned.

Though absolutely unspoken in this crucial scene, there was an expectation that I would be heard. If not what was the point?

All of Us
This isn’t just for me. All of us are called to tell somebody something—and we should expect to be heard! I see three “somebodies” for each of us:

  1. We need to speak to ourselves. Internal dialogue is a fact of life for each of us. We tell ourselves things all the time. We must be so careful to speak to ourselves with the voice of faith and not of fear, of righteous things and not rotten things. Why? Because we are heard—down deep where only our voice and the voice of the Spirit are heard.
  2. We need to speak to others. “We’ve a story to tell to the nations,” we sometimes sing and it is true. It may seem that we are not heard, but of this we can be certain—the Holy Spirit is anointing the ears of those we speak to as well as the lips with which we speak.
  3. We need to speak to God in praise, prayer and worship. The Lord loves the sound of our voice! Another song says, “He’s as close as the mention of His name.” He is our most devoted listener!

Think of the wonder of it:

  • The silent cry of the believer’s breaking heart echoes through heaven.
  • The tears we shed capture His attention.
  • Our prayers are collected for His keeping.

When we pray, we are telling someone something—The Lord Himself!–and we can be sure that we are heard!

Psalm 6
Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger; do not punish me in your wrath. Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak; heal me, Lord, for my bones are racked. My spirit shakes with terror; how long, O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me for your mercy’s sake. For in death no one remembers you; and who will give you thanks in the grave? I grow weary because of my groaning; every night I drench my bed and flood my couch with tears. My eyes are wasted with grief and worn away because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all evildoers, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be confounded and quake with fear; they shall turn back and suddenly be put to shame.
Psalm 10:16-18 NIV
The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
Psalm 102:18-22 NIV
Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord; “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord .
Isaiah 6:8-9 NIV
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go and tell this people:
Acts 5:17-21
Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.” At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.

Lord Jesus, You are such a communicator Your friend John called You the Word! Through the power of the Holy Spirit You are heard throughout the world and it has been so since You walked this earth. When I speak Your Word, I will be heard! Like You said in your parable of the seeds and the soil that not everyone will hear but there will be some who will welcome my message to the changing of their lives. If I speak, I will be heard! May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight! Amen.

We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations
Words and Music: H. Ernest Nichol

1. We’ve a story to tell to the nations
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
A story of truth and mercy,
A story of peace and light, a story of peace of light.

For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
And the dawning to noonday bright,
And Christ’s great Kingdom shall come to earth,
The Kingdom of love and light.

2. We’ve a song to be sung to the nations
That shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
A song that shall conquer evil
And shatter the spear and sword,
And shatter the spear and sword.


3. We’ve a message to give the nations
That the Lord who reigneth above
Hath sent us His Son to save us,
And show us that God is love,
And show us that God is love.


4. We’ve a Savior to show to the nations
Who the path of sorrow hath trod,
That all of the world’s great peoples
Might come to the truth of God,
And show us that God is love.


Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 27, 2017 “Good”


Not a Comparison—a Quality
Good—not in a comparative sense of good-better-best—but in a quality sense, a character sense of good-not-evil. It is the song of the ages: “The Lord is good and His mercy endures forever, to all generations” and it is the underlying theme of all worship. We sing the power of God, the mercy of God, the love of God, the Great Faithfulness of God and well we should for He is all those things and more. When we sing His Goodness, we sing all of that all at once. It is a great yet simple summation.

It must not go unspoken for it is our hope for today, for this week, for this chapter in our life’s story.

No Expiration Date
Suppose there were an expiration date on the Goodness of God, a cosmic clock ticking, or a digital clock clicking and His mercy was running out. If this ridiculous scenario were filmed, there would be a panic that would make a run on the bank seem a sweet summer outing.

But it cannot happen.

  • The coffers of kindness are full to overflowing.
  • The mercy mills are still turning.
  • The Gospel is still Good News.
  • The love of God lights the sky again today.
  • There is no shortage of goodwill toward men, even if there is a lack of peace on earth.

Isaiah provides the order of the day: “Arise! Shine! For your light has come and the glory of the Lord shines on you!”

  • God’s Word is good; no academic assaults on His veracity succeeded overnight.
  • God’s Promises are good; no council of brilliant men has found a way to negate them.
  • God’s Love is good; no political force can institute evil in its place.
  • God’s Mercy is good; no nefarious schemers can void it with small print.
  • God’s Peace is good; no military might can make a dent in it.

God is good and He does not change.
Today we put on God’s Goodness as armor for the battle. We cloth our minds with His truth and brace our backs with faith in His name. We cannot know what the day will hold, but we know that He knows and He is Good. His mercy is in effect all around us, forcing all things to work together for our good.

When events fall out against us, when people who should be helping us hurt us instead, when it seems all of creation is our enemy, we will remember the song of Jehoshaphat’s Singing Army:
“Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”

We will sing again the anthem of the Temple:

“He is good; his love endures forever. “

And as we sing the song of the ages, we will step out under a cloud of Goodness and Mercy, falling fresh upon us today.

Psalm 106:1-5
Hallelujah! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever. Who can declare the mighty acts of the Lord or show forth all his praise? Happy are those who act with justice and always do what is right! Remember me, O Lord, with the favor you have for your people, and visit me with your saving help; That I may see the prosperity of your elect and be glad with the gladness of your people, that I may glory with your inheritance.
Psalm 34:8 NIV
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
1 Peter 2:1-3
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Psalm 100:4-5 NIV
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
2 Chronicles 5:12-14 NIV
All the Levites who were musicians …stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the Lord . Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever. “Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.
2 Chronicles 20:21-22 NIV
After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the Lord ,for his love endures forever.” As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.
Jeremiah 33:10-11 NIV
“This is what the Lord says: ‘You say about this place, “It is a desolate waste, without men or animals.” Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither men nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, “Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever.” For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,’ says the Lord.
Lamentations 3:22-26 NIV
Because of the Lord ‘s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Lord Jesus, I honor Your inherent goodness. You inherent goodness was proven by more than thirty years of sinless life on this earth, normal human life for You laid aside Your Godhood. Your goodness, thus tested, is my portion today. I walk into this day with confidence in it. I will lay my head on my pillow tonight in peace because of it. Through You can resist evil today. Through You can do good today, good thoughts and good deeds and I can be good. Thank You that Your mercy and goodness has never expired. They are new with today’s sunrise and will cover me through the coming night. I have hope because You are good. Amen.

The Steadfast Love of the Lord
Words and Music: Edith McNeill

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning, new every morning,
Great is Thy faithfulness, O Lord,
Great is Thy faithfulness.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 26, 2017 “Fanfare”


As a band and orchestra conductor and arranger, I have to admit I love fanfares.
As a clarinet player I must confess I envy the role my brass-playing friends get to play in these short and to-the-point compositions. Usually all the rest of us get to do is play trills and chord tones.

A fanfare is a short, loud, brassy piece of music designed to get the attention of people who are not listening. Fanfares are used to call people to attention to something about to happen or to someone who is about to make an entrance.

Most people know there is song that must be played when the President of the United States enters a room, “Hail to the Chief.” How many also know the introduction to this piece is a fanfare called “Ruffles and Flourishes?” The fanfare announces the approach so that people can stand for the song.

The fanfare is not a modern invention.
It is an ancient practice for brass instruments and their ancient forerunners, ram’s horns, to be used to call people together for important information. It is easy to see how the development of instruments and the use of instrumental music progresses through the Old Testament. Famously, Psalm 150, which might be called the last word on worship from the Old Covenant, commands that the entire orchestra be employed in the praise of God. By the time of Jesus brass instruments which were capable of a more controlled sound were in common use in worship.

Listen for the fanfares!
I realize this may be of little interest to non-musicians so let me get to the spiritual point. As we rush through life randomly selecting what to listen to and what to ignore, we need to listen for the fanfares God sends our way.

It may be a sunset or a sunrise, or a cloud formation, or a rainbow. It may be the fragment of a song from long ago or a phrase someone uses that sounds like someone we love and miss. It may be the thunder that announces the approaching storm. It may be the sound of the surf before we get to the beach. It could be our loved one’s car turning into the driveway.

On the Lord’s Day it is the Call to Worship.

There are so many beautiful, promising fanfares in life announcing so many important events and the entrance of so many important people.

Soon a certain trumpet will sound and the dead in Christ will rise first and we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them and so shall we ever be with the Lord!

That is a fanfare and an entrance I don’t want to miss!

Psalm 33:1-3
Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous; it is good for the just to sing praises. Praise the Lord with the harp; play to him upon the psaltery and lyre. Sing for him a new song; sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.
Exodus 19:18-20 NIV
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.
2 Chronicles 5:12-14 NIV
All the Levites who were musicians …stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.
Psalm 150 NIV
Praise the LORD .Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.
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 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Lord Jesus, I will listen closely today to the sounds around me. I know I will hear some kind of fanfare—a signal from You to pay close attention to something You want to say. I look forward to these surprises for they will lead me deeper into Your heart. And, Lord Jesus, today might just be the day when the heavens will vibrate with the sound of the Great Trumpet call! I will see You and join You in the air, forever changed! I’m listening, Lord! Even so, Come Lord Jesus! Amen.

In the Twinkling of an Eye
Words: Fanny J. Crosby; Music: William J. Kirkpatrick

1. When the trump of the great arch angel
its mighty tones shall sound,
And the end of the age proclaiming,
Shall pierce the depths profound;
When the Son of Man shall come in His glory,
to take His saints on high,
What a shouting in the skies from the multitudes shall rise,
Changed in the twinkling of an eye.

Changed in the twinkling of an eye.
Changed in the twinkling of an eye.
The trumpet shall sound, the dead shall be raised.
Changed in the twinkling of an eye.

2. When He comes in the clouds descending,
and those who loved Him here,
From their graves shall awake and praise Him
with joy and not with fear;
When the body and the soul are united,
and clothed no more to die,
What a shouting there will be when each other’s face we see,
Changed in the twinkling of an eye.


3. O the seed that was sown in weakness
shall then be raised in power,
And the songs of the blood-bought millions
shall hail that blissful hour;
When we gather safely home in the morning
and night’s dark shadows fly,
What a shouting on that shore when we meet to part no more,
Changed in the twinkling of an eye.


Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 25, 2017 “Glorious”


“Glorious” is easy to define and difficult to describe.
It means, “full of glory,” John’s famous testimony of Jesus. But what is glory?

  • The Hebrew words are “tip’ret” and “kadowd” meaning: “beauty; ornament; distinction” And “weight, but only figuratively in a good sense, splendor or copiousness”
  • The Greek word is “doxa” which “signifies an opinion, estimate, and hence, the honor resulting from a good opinion.”

To be glorious is to be filled with beauty, distinction, honor, and significance.

Jesus, today, at this moment is glorious and worthy of our praise.
He is no longer pinned to a cross. The Lord is glorious on a throne of majesty, dominating Heaven’s architecture, the focus of thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly and an ever-increasing gallery of sanctified saints, witnesses from earth to His heavenly glory.

The Lord is glorious, bearing that glory in scars.
Look closely at His hands and feet and his riven side and you will see His glory, the glory of blood, innocent blood, shed for the sins of all of us, and the glory of nail-scars, wounds by which we are healed.

The Lord is glorious in majesty.
Here is a reason to play our instruments in a fitting and orderly way! Here is a theme for a new song and for an old song, songs for all the generations to sing. Here is a cadence to which we, as the Army of God, can march, singing into battle, “The Lord is Good and His Mercy Endures Forever!” Here is a beat we can dance to letting our joy overflow into witness. Because Jesus is glorious in majesty, we have to “make His praise glorious,” too!

The Lord is glorious in truth.
Opinions fly around like aimless insects, buzzing here and there. But His truth is marching on! He has never been wrong so He never has to amend His words! His truth is for all, no matter from what continent or climate, culture or circumstance, generation or gestalt. Read it. Believe it. Obey it. It works.

The Lord is glorious in love.
God is love, the Scripture says and Jesus has revealed the details of that love to us. The love of God is glorious in mercy, compassion, kindness, and long-suffering. It is also stern and demanding, full of justice and equity. The glorious love of the Lord is not always to be felt, but it is always there making all things work together for good to those who have covenanted with Him with this New Covenant in His blood. His ways are past finding out, it is true, but His love is not past finding; glorious it is and readily at hand.

The Lord is glorious in His faithfulness.
He is there for us because He promised to be. He is coming for us because He promised He would. Our joy is to seek Him now and to prepare to meet Him then. As we are faithful to Him we enjoy of a foretaste of what is to come. A trumpet will sound and we will be ready for a glory never before seen!

Jesus Is Glorious!
Splendor and majesty are before Him. Justice and peace are the foundations of His throne. A River of Life flows from a spring beneath that glorious throne. Let us enter that River today, ankle-deep with thanksgiving, knee-deep with praise, waist-deep with worship, and let us swim in the glorious grace of His fullness, a river indeed that one cannot cross.

Let us make His praise glorious—it is only right that we do so!

Psalm 145
I will exalt you, O God my King, and bless your Name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless you and praise your Name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; there is no end to his greatness. One generation shall praise your works to another and shall declare your power. I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty and all your marvelous works. They shall speak of the might of your wondrous acts, and I will tell of your greatness. They shall publish the remembrance of your great goodness; they shall sing of your righteous deeds. The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is loving to everyone and his compassion is over all his works. All your works praise you, O Lord, and your faithful servants bless you. They make known the glory of your kingdom and speak of your power; That the peoples may know of your power and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your dominion endures throughout all ages. The Lord is faithful in all his words and merciful in all his deeds. The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down. The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving in all his works. The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he hears their cry and helps them. The Lord preserves all those who love him, but he destroys all the wicked. My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord; let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.
Psalm 66:1-4 NIV
Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.”
Isaiah 12:4-6 NIV
“Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord , for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
John 1:14 NIV
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NKJV
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Isaiah 60:13 NKJV
“The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, The cypress, the pine, and the box tree together, To beautify the place of My sanctuary; And I will make the place of My feet glorious.

A Song of Creation
The Book of Common Prayer
Glorify the Lord, all you works of the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him forever.
In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him forever.
I. The Cosmic Order
Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord, O heavens and all waters above the heavens. Sun and moon and stars of the sky, glorify the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him forever.
Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew, all winds and fire and heat. Winter and Summer, glorify the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him forever.
Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold, drops of dew and flakes of snow. Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him forever.
Glorify the Lord, O nights and days, O shining light and enfolding dark. Storm clouds and thunderbolts, glorify the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him forever.
Let us glorify the Lord: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, Praise him and highly exalt him forever.
A Song of Praise
Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; you are worthy of praise; glory to you. Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; we will praise you and highly exalt you forever.

Glory to the Lamb
Words and Music: Larry Dempsey

Glory! Glory! Glory to the Lamb!
Glory! Glory! Glory to the Lamb!
For He is glorious and worthy to be praised,
The Lamb upon His throne
And unto Him we lift our voice in praise.
The Lamb upon His Throne!
Glory! Glory! Glory to the Lamb!
Glory! Glory! Glory to the Lamb!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 24, 2017 “Crisis”


Imagine you are aboard a boat in the Gulf of Mexico, out of sight of land.
The boat loses power and starts sinking. That would be a crisis. Immediately you would set your Crisis Plan into motion and go through the steps to save your life or maybe even the boat itself.

Wait. You don’t have a Crisis Plan? What are you doing out in a boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico without a Crisis Plan?

Pardon the cliché but each of us is like a boat on the big water, out of sight of land.
As long as the boat keeps the water out and keeps moving, we feel safe even if we don’t know where we are going. Any disturbance of that delicately balanced scenario could create a crisis: heavy seas, high winds, loss of power, a hole in the hull, a sudden squall, a great white whale…anything.

And then we need a plan.

The Poet had a Crisis Plan: he would call on God.

“Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you;
hide not your face from me in the day of my trouble.
Incline your ear to me; when I call, make haste to answer me”

Not bad. Not bad at all!

OK, what then?

I suppose God would provide the details of the plan from that point. He’s good at that since nothing surprises Him.

The sea we sail on is a dangerous one. The forces of nature must be dealt with as they arise. Comfort in the journey is only found when we have confidence in the craft, the captain, the cargo, and the course.

The Craft
Old songs called the Church, “The Old Ship of Zion” and that is a viable metaphor. If we looked to the Bible we might see the Ark of Noah as a meaningful picture of salvation—“the Ark of Safety,” I heard the old-time preachers say. Choose your craft, but the Salvation we enjoy is made for the crisis. It is more than a fair weather vessel. We have seen up close how others in the same boat have weathered the most severe storms to stay on course if not on schedule. And we have, too.

We are ready for any crisis on this journey:

  • The Captain is Jesus—nothing else needs to be said.
  • The Cargo is life-changing truth—impervious to shifting forces or internal decay.
  • The Course is the heavenly realms—just over in the Glory Land!

So we need not fear the crisis for we have a proven plan—call on Jesus!

Our captain is up to the crisis. Our craft is built for heavy seas and our cargo is safe. We will stay on course, as the old song says, “He leads whate’er betide!”

Psalm 102
Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you; hide not your face from me in the day of my trouble. Incline your ear to me; when I call, make haste to answer me, For my days drift away like smoke, and my bones are hot as burning coals. My heart is smitten like grass and withered, so that I forget to eat my bread. Because of the voice of my groaning I am but skin and bones. I have become like a vulture in the wilderness, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake and groan; I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house-top. My enemies revile me all day long, and those who scoff at me have taken an oath against me. For I have eaten ashes for bread and mingled my drink with weeping. Because of your indignation and wrath you have lifted me up and thrown me away. My days pass away like a shadow, and I wither like the grass. But you, O Lord, endure forever, and your Name from age to age. You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to have mercy upon her; indeed, the appointed time has come. For your servants love her very rubble, and are moved to pity even for her dust. The nations shall fear your Name, O Lord, and all the kings of the earth your glory. For the Lord will build up Zion, and his glory will appear. He will look with favor on the prayer of the homeless; he will not despise their plea. Let this be written for a future generation, so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord. For the Lord looked down from his holy place on high; from the heavens he beheld the earth; That he might hear the groan of the captive and set free those condemned to die; That they may declare in Zion the Name of the Lord, and his praise in Jerusalem; When the peoples are gathered together, and the kingdoms also, to serve the Lord. He has brought down my strength before my time; he has shortened the number of my days; And I said, “O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days; your years endure throughout all generations. In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; They shall perish, but you will endure; they all shall wear out like a garment; as clothing you will change them, and they shall be changed; But you are always the same, and your years will never end. The children of your servants shall continue, and their offspring shall stand fast in your sight.”
Genesis 7:6-8 NIV
Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood.
Mark 4:35-41 NIV
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Lord Jesus, I want to stay on course today. You have given me a load to carry, a job to do, a mission to accomplish. Today is a part of all that. Chances are I will be surprised by something today but You will not be. Save me from panic. Give me flexible strength today so I can bend with the winds of circumstance. You are my strength. I do not sail these seas alone. If a crises arises, You are the Master of the winds and waves. You are the Captain of this ship. You will see me through. You will make all things work together for me, for I am called according to Your purposes. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

I Must Tell Jesus
Words and Music: Elisha A. Hoffman

1. I must tell Jesus all of my trials;
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me;
He ever loves and care for His own.

I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.

2. I must tell Jesus all of my troubles;
He is a kind, compassionate friend;
If I but ask Him, He will deliver,
Make of my troubles quickly an end.


3. Tempted and tried, I need a great Savior,
One who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus;
He all my cares and, 2017 sorrows will share.


4. O how the world to evil allures me!
O how my heart is tempted to sin!
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus;
Over the world the victory win.


Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 23, 2017 “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.

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.

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.

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!

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!


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,


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

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 22, 2017 “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.

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.

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.

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”


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.

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.

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.

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

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.


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