December 7, 2017: “Mary”

Mary

Of course she was pretty, the flower of the village of Nazareth.
Mothers of sons had long had their eyes on her for a daughter in law. Young men of the village were in awe of her so they left her alone. Other girls wanted to be her friend. She was bright and thoughtful with a ready laugh. That tireless young carpenter, Joseph, always made time for her. They seemed to go together as if made for each other and no one was surprised when they announced their engagement. There was a sense of pride in Nazareth that their little town could produce such a fine couple. Their joy in each other radiated through the village. No one could see the clouds gathering and the storm that was just ahead.

A Disturbance of the Peace
Alone in her room late at night Mary was still awake, too happy to sleep! Her candle-lit room was suddenly invaded by a light the likes of which she had never seen. She shrank back but the light filled the room and there was no place to hide. In the center of the light a figure slowly emerged, a man, taller than any she had ever seen, and as imposing as the light was blinding. If there had been someplace to run, Mary would not have, for she was as fascinated as she was afraid. Music was sounding, distant but distinct, strange harmonies and melodies. From the center of the music came a voice, deep and thrilling, almost singing with the music.

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

The light, the music, the voice, the tall figure, it was more than Mary could process. “The Lord is with you…” was the part that lodged in her brain and it sent a shock of fear through her.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

“Favor with God.” What could that mean? The answer was not long in coming.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary thought of Joseph. She protested her innocence.

“How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

The words of the angel were specific and enigmatic at the same time.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Overshadowed!

He went on to tell her of her elderly cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy and ended his message this way:

“For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Mary could only whisper but all of heaven heard her:

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

He faded from view, the light and the lingering music dying away until the room was left untouched as if nothing at all had happened. But something indeed had happened. Mary suddenly inhaled a deep breath and held it. Her brown eyes were wide with wonder.

Overshadowed, she thought as she whispered, “For with God nothing is impossible.”

Scriptures:
Isaiah 7:14-15 NKJV
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
Luke 1:26-38
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your ways are higher than our ways. They are past finding out. Your plans for us are always only partially given; there are details that You alone can see. While these unseen things surprise us when they occur, You are never surprised. Help me learn from Mary. She kept herself from evil so that when Your plan for her was revealed she was able to receive it. She was guided by Your encounter with her; You changed her life. I have encountered You in prayer, in corporate worship, in Your Word, and in the holy fellowship of friends who follow You. Guide me, Lord. Help me be overshadowed by Your Spirit so that I might bear You to my world in my life. With You this is not impossible. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Into My Heart
Traditional Chorus

Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my Heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today. Come in to stay.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 6, 2017: “John”

John

Imagine for a moment Elizabeth sitting at the table with her husband Zacharias.
She is holding baby John. It is a quiet moment which Elizabeth appreciates. Her husband has regained his ability to speak and now he won’t stop. He is telling her, again, about that day at the Temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

“The angel—he said his name was Gabriel who stands in the presence of God, can you imagine?—told me that you would have a son and that we should name him John.”

“What did you say?”

“What could I say? I explained that we were both too old for such a thing to happen…” He stopped and patted her hand. She started to withdraw the hand, but then thought better of it—the man had seen an angel! She squeezed his warm hand. The baby wiggled a bit in her arms. He was a restless one!

“He told me such wonderful things! Just when I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t say anything! I went outside and the people were looking at me so strange, like I had seen a vision or something. Of course, I couldn’t explain so I gave up trying and left.

“Tell me again, what Gabriel said about our John.” Elizabeth had not grown tired of hearing these things.

“Oh, it was wonderful! He said John would be great in the sight of the Lord and he would never drink wine or strong drink.”

“Really?”

“Yes! And he would be filled with the Spirit from birth—we both know what that is like!—And, best of all, he will turn people to the Lord! Just what we have been praying for!”

“So, he will be a priest, like his father!”

“Perhaps, or a prophet. Gabriel said he would go in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

“He said something about fathers and children…”

“Yes, the words of Malachi, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.’ When you think about it, that is so important!”

John wiggled in her arms. “He’s hungry again! I never dreamed that we would have a family! At our age! We had better be filled with the Spirit!

“Oh, I remember when it happened to me—right after I agreed to name him John when we had him dedicated. Then I suddenly knew what was happening to us. It was like I was a prophet myself!–and I could talk again!”

Elizabeth could see he was about to get lost in the story. She quietly got up to leave the table and find some privacy. Zacharias continued to relive his prophecy.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The old man shook his head in amazement that he had a son at all and that his son was to be the forerunner of Messiah.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:8-26
So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:57-80
Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.” But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” So they made signs to his father — what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him. Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied…

Prayer of Praise:
The Prophecy of Zacharias
Luke 1:68-80
“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Song:
Prepare ye the Way of the Lord
Words and Music: Terry MacAlmon

Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way Of the Lord
For His judgments are true
And His mercies are new
So prepare ye the way Of the Lord

He that hath an ear
Let him hear what the Spirit says
To the churches

Make ready the pathway
Make straight the highway
Of the Lord

Behold I am coming
My Glory will be outpoured
Behold I am coming Says the Lord

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 5, 2017: “Elizabeth”

Elizabeth

The life of a priest’s wife was a quiet one and Elizabeth preferred it that way.
Especially now. For five months Elizabeth had hidden herself away. The last thing an old lady wanted to be was the center of attention. She and her husband Zacharias were deeply in love, now more than ever. All their peers we now parents and grandparents many times over. The absence of children in Elizabeth’s home formed a natural barrier to friendships. People were not unkind; they were just busy with their own lives and children and grandchildren.

She and Zacharias often sat quietly these days.
Since the day her husband had come home from his assignment in the Temple, he had been unable to speak so sitting quietly was the only option for them. He smiled a lot, though, especially as her body began to change. It was not unusual for a woman of her years to gain a little weight, but no one would ever guessed the cause. “But I know!” the old priest said to himself with a wry smile. Elizabeth turned her face away, still blushing because of this surprising turn of events.

Her name meant, “Oath of God,” and she had always believed the promises of God would come to them if they were faithful. Everyone who knew them, knew how faithful they were, how full of hope. They were such a pleasure to be around. These five months of seclusion and silence stirred interest among their friends. They had all heard the story of Zacharias’ extended stay in the Temple, of his immergence having lost his ability to speak. Rumor was he saw a vision. The truth was an angel of the Lord had appeared to Zacharias and told him that his wife would bear him a son. When he protested that she was too old, he was struck dumb.

A Visitor from Nazareth
Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, her young cousin, Mary, came for a visit. Neighbors caught a glimpse of the older woman as Mary approached the house. “She’s put on weight!” the gossips whispered before she and her visitor hurried indoors.

In the house, away from prying eyes, Elizabeth explained that the child within her leapt at the sound of Mary’s voice! As Mary marveled at this, a strange look came upon Elizabeth’s face. Mary recognized the look at once—the Holy Spirit! Mary had been overshadowed by the Spirit and she knew that now Elizabeth had been filled with the Spirit, too.

Two women, two miracles, two babies, God was at work. With the infilling of the Spirit, understanding flooded Elizabeth’s heart and she prophesied.

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Scriptures:
Luke 1:5-25 NKJV
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:34-45 NKJV
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like Sarah, wife of Abraham, Elizabeth received Your blessing, a promise fulfilled, long after the natural course of life would allow. Teach me this lesson, Lord. Help me never to give up, but cling to Your promises forever in this life. I will have faith in You not in circumstances. I will take joy in every sunrise as the dawn that brings Your promise closer. I will rest with each sunset, knowing that a night’s rest under Your watchful eye will bring the fullness of Your promise nearer. Fill me with Your Spirit so I can see clearly the promises Your supply. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Have Faith in God
Traditional Chorus

Have faith in God.
Have faith in God.
Have faith in God for the answer
Have faith in God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 4, 2017: “Zacharias”

Zacharias

The old priest looked forward to each time the Temple rotation of duties included him.
On this day, his role was to burn the incense on the altar in the Holy Place, the final chamber before the mysterious Holy of Holies. His ancient heart was strong as his pulse quickened with anticipation of this priestly privilege. A crowd was waiting in the antechamber for Zacharias to reappear, his duty done. Perhaps, like Moses coming down from Mt. Sanai, his face would glow with reflected glory. One could never tell when the repeated prayers of Israel would be answered in their time as in the days of old.

More than an Audience
Who were the people in the crowd? Perhaps there were a few tourists on their first trip to Herod’s new Temple but most of them were of the remnant, the remaining faithful who sought the face of God. They knew Jehovah was their only hope. True worship was their only counterplan to the evil structures of Roman rule: religious freedom wrapped in military force. “Pax Romana,” the Roman Peace, allowed ethnic religions as long as they did not threaten the Empire and its god, Caesar. Their religion called for a different King! Messiah was their only hope, the promises of Messiah their constant liturgy.

Meanwhile, in the Holy Place
Zacharias’ turn at burning the incense was anything but routine. From the outset of his duties, he felt a strange excitement, a deep anticipation that heightened all his senses. His heart was full of praise and petition. For some reason an old prayer of his, long ago abandoned as beyond hope, returned to his heart. He knew better than to refuse to pray a prayer brought to mind in this Holy Place so he repeated it, feeling a little foolish for the effort.

The Holy Place was an interior room lit only by oil lamps representing the Spirit of God. The shadows cast by the lamps began to flee before a new light source just the right of the Altar of Incense. Zacharias’ heart almost stopped as did his breathing. The light became a figure and then a man, no, larger than a man and more magnificent than any man. It was angel! Fear started the old man’s heart again and suddenly he couldn’t get enough air. The angel told him not to be afraid—they always say that! He told him his prayer was heard—Elizabeth will give Zacharias a son! That was the foolish prayer, long ago discarded but rediscovered today!

The old man protested the obvious facts of life; he shouldn’t have done that. The angel identified himself as Gabriel who stands in the presence of God. That should be enough credentials! He told Zacharias details about who his son would be and what he would do. In the process, Zacharias became voiceless.

When the old man tarried in the Temple, the restless crowd of the faithful outside wondered what it might mean. When he emerged, the people saw something that made them think he had seen a vision but he could not explain. When his duties were completed, Zacharias returned to his home and to his very surprised wife, Elizabeth.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:5-26 NKJV
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am a member of the Holy, Royal Priesthood of New Covenant believers. Help me be faithful at the altar or prayer. Like incense burned in the Holy Place of the Old Covenant, the prayers of the saints are precious to You. They are collected before Your Holy Presence. Help my prayers never to missing from that collection. Lord, if, like Zacharias, If I have given up praying for long-standing needs according to Your long-standing promises, resurrect them in my prayers today! You are not slack concerning Your promises. Your very name is “Faithful and True!” Help me be faithful and true in my prayers. For Your Glory and Your Kingdom! Amen.

Song:
God Answers Prayer
Traditional Chorus

God answers prayer in the morning.
God answers prayer at noon.
God answers prayer in the evening
So keep your heart in tune.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 3, 2017: “Emmanuel”

Emmanuel

At the center of life there is a longing.
If our possessions crowd every inch of space in the house, garage, and rented storage space, we can still see something we do not possess and long for it. It is just the way we are. At the dawn of man’s existence, fellowship with God was broken by sin. Adam and Eve “walked with God in the cool of the day.” This provocative description describes an intimacy of creature with Creator that we cannot really understand. Still, we can long for it, and we do.

  • The restlessness deep in each of us testifies to it.
  • The drive to learn, to understand, and to explore, is evidence of this longing.
  • The need to own more and more, to control events and people, and to organize the universe around our desires is the residue of an unfulfilled longing for fellowship with our Creator.

Ancient Israel Longed for Messiah, Sometimes.
They knew they were “God’s Chosen People.” They knew also that this was as much a curse as it was a blessing.

  • They had to fight their way through their Land of Promise.
  • There was an inconvenient connection between true worship of God and victory over their enemies. When their worship was true, their borders were safe. When they forsook Jehovah their borders were porous.
  • Their beliefs were spiritual not material, rooted in an invisible world of faith rather than in the tangible, visible world around them.

Why couldn’t they have good, solid idols to pray to like all the other peoples of the earth and practical, sensual rituals like the pagans around them? They had been short-changed—only one god—and he could not be seen! Their seasons of faithfulness were outnumbered by their many apostasies.

By the time of Jesus, Israel was a bundle of conflicting longings. Their leadership was divided into competing factions. Corruption connected religious leaders with political ones. Only a faithful remnant called upon the Lord.

A Sign from Heaven
There was a remnant who continued to seek the face of God. They had the Book of the Law, God’s own words to them. They had priests and prophets and a Temple to call them to faithfulness. Isaiah was a prophet whose writings defined their longings.

  • Someday God would give a sign—a virgin would conceive and bear a son. His name? Emmanuel—“God with us!”
  • This child, this Emmanuel, will not dwell in obscurity—He will be King!—A King with Us!
  • He will take the government on His broad shoulders and He will be called my many names: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace. His ever-increasing Kingdom would emanate from the throne of His Father, David and it will have no end.

This longing, fueled the prayers of the faithful through the dark nights of Roman tyranny and the depressing days of religious corruption. They must have reasoned to themselves, “When Emmanuel comes, surely we will walk with God again, in the cool of the day.”

Little did they know! Emmanuel—God with Us—would indeed walk this earth in holiness to redeem all who call upon in truth. “Unto us a Child is born!”

Scriptures:
Genesis 3:8 NKJV
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Isaiah 7:13-15 NKJV
Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.
Isaiah 9:2-7 NKJV
The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined. You have multiplied the nation And increased its joy; They rejoice before You According to the joy of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You have broken the yoke of his burden And the staff of his shoulder, The rod of his oppressor, As in the day of Midian. For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, And garments rolled in blood, Will be used for burning and fuel of fire. For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Matthew 1:22-25 NKJV
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus .

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like ancient Israel, my heart longs for You. You are, indeed, Emmanuel, God with Us! We do, indeed, walk together in the cool shadows of this day of Your amazing grace, sins forgiven, the Spirit in residence within, and a squad of guarding angels patrolling on every side. What else could I long for? Only more of You for all my loved ones and for all those I contact today. Help me point them to You! Help me love them with Your love. Somehow, let them see that You long to be their Emmanuel, too! Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
O Come, O Come Immanuel
Ancient Christian Chant

1. O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

2. O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go. Refrain

3. O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

4. O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave. Refrain

5. O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe for us the heavenward road
and bar the way to death’s abode. Refrain

6. O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light. Refrain

7. O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace. Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 2, 2017: “Caesar”

Caesar

Jesus was born into an Israel smothered in the might and mire of Rome.
She was no longer a free nation as in the days of David and Solomon; she was a vassal state of an evil empire. Roman soldiers patrolled the streets to keep the pax romana, the “Roman Peace.”

“Keep your local religion,” said the emperor, “but have no real king but Caesar. Keep your religion indoors and there will be no trouble. Take it to the streets with treasonous little messiah-bands and there will be trouble like you have never seen. The Canaanite tribes, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, all those who conquered you before, will pale to distant memory under the iron boot of Rome.”

The second Temple, only a shadow of the first, had been replaced by Herod’s Temple. This political gift to the people, shining golden in the sun, guarded a secret, secluded, empty, Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant had been lost centuries before. Now the Roman palace, Fortress Antonia, was attached to the Temple. King Herod was a puppet king of Rome’s choosing. His real job was to keep the cantankerous priests, “prophets,” and zealots from upsetting the delicate balance of tyranny and temple worship.

A Delicate Balance Indeed
Beneath both the tyranny and the temple worship was the threat and the hope of Messiah, a king of the Jews to challenge Caesar in faraway Rome.

  • Messiah was a minor threat to Rome not to be tolerated.
  • The promise of Messiah was a major hope for the remnant in Israel, those who sincerely prayed the psalms, gathered for the feasts and festivals, and called every day on Jehovah, the God Who keeps covenant. “How long, O Lord? How long?”

Among these faithful were an aging priest with a promise from God, Simeon, who duties in the Temple were performed to perfection, the precision of a well-rehearsed faith, and an elderly woman named Anna whose tender heart leapt like that of a bride at the thought of Messiah. Their daily faithfulness in prayer was a towering threat to Rome of which Caesar knew nothing.

Soldiers in the streets, a Roman Governor in charge, a puppet, wicked King on a pretender’s throne, a hollow religion in a golden Temple, this was the world into which Jesus would come. He would sound no trumpets at His approach—angels would sing to shepherds. He would convene no council—wise-men from the East would follow a star. He would ignore the rich and powerful and choose a carpenter and his espoused wife as His caretakers.

If Caesar had known it, he would have been sleepless in his royal chamber and uneasy on his throne for the King of kings was on His way!

Scriptures:
Luke 2:1-3 NKJV
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Luke 20:20-26 NKJV
So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
Matthew 2:1-2 NKJV
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Matthew 12:3-8 NKJV
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 22:15-22 NKJV
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your story is so amazing! You came into a world as politically confusing as our world is today—yet You came and brought truth to those who heard You. You came into a world as violent as this one, yet You gave peace to those who welcomed You. You came to our darkness bringing light and to our pain bringing joy. Help me today to continue Your mission: truth, peace, light, and joy to this deceived, troubled, dark and despairing world. Come into my heart as You came into the Roman world. Let there be peace on earth and goodwill to all. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
How Should a King Come?
Words: Carol Owens; Music: Jimmy Owens

1. How should a King come?
Even a child knows the answer of course,
In a coach of gold with a pure white horse.
In the beautiful city in the prime of the day,
And the trumpets should cry and the crowds make way.
And the flags fly high in the morning sun,
And the people all cheer for the sovereign one.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done.
That’s the way that a King should come.

2. How should a King come?
Even a commoner understands,
He should come for His treasures,
And His houses and lands.
He should dine upon summer strawberries and milk,
And sleep upon bedclothes of satin and silk.
And high on a hill His castle should glow,
With the lights of the city like jewels below.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done,
That’s the way that a King should come.

3. How should a King come?
On a star filled night into Bethlehem,
Rode a weary woman and a worried man.
And the only sound in the cobblestone street,
Was the shuffle and the ring of their donkey’s feet.
And a King lay hid in a virgin’s womb,
And there were no crowds to see Him come.
At last in a barn in a manger of hay,
He came and God incarnate lay.

Chorus:
And the angels cried: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Earth was silent so heaven rang: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Men were dumb so the angels sang: “Glory! Glory to God!
Peace on earth good will to men, Glory! Glory to God!
Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
“Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God!”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 1, 2017: “Incarnation”

Incarnation

Mystery of mysteries! Wonder of wonders! God in human form; how can it be?
Greater than any natural wonder found anywhere on this earth or in the cosmos is the wonder of the Christchild!—The Creator God, Himself confined to swaddling clothes and lying in a manger! Theologians call this mystery, the Incarnation.

The Apostles marveled at this truth:

  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld His glory as the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John
  • “…He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…” Paul

The Incarnation—“The Word Made Flesh”
What does it mean? The implications are staggering:

  • The eternal One entered into time.
  • The One who existed everywhere all at once, now existed only there and only then.
  • The One whose life was impervious to all destructive forces took on a human body that was subject to hunger, weariness, temptation, age, and death.
  • The One who knew everything limited Himself to only what a human can know. We who know so little cannot begin to imagine what it was like for the Son to lay aside omniscience to know only what an infant knows, to understand only what a child understands, to realize only what a teenager realizes, to operate only on the knowledge of a typical young man of the village.

The Apostle Paul calls this humility but there is no word strong enough to express such condescension. He is our example of humility, a goal so high we can never reach it on our own.

The Indwelling Spirit
With the Incarnation, Jesus knew only what people of His day knew except—and it is a colossal exception—that He was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit knew all, just as He knows all today. Jesus walked through this life as a human being filled with the Holy Spirit—the perfect example of the life He would provide New Covenant believers to come.

The Incarnation Continues
As we begin our journey through the Christmas story we must remember that, unlike Calvary, the Incarnation is not a “once and for all” truth. It is meant to be repeated in each of us every day. In our humble, holy lives, we too must empty our hearts of pride, rid our methods of power that corrupts, and look for ways to serve not rule.

  • May the artist incarnate eternal truths into works of his/her imagination.
  • May the craftsman invest the presence of the Divine into functional works of his/her skillful hands.
  • May the ultimate reward of both artist and craftsman be the smile of the Lord Jesus felt deep in the heart.

How is this done? Through our humility and the Spirit’s ministry! “Let this same mind that was in Christ Jesus be in You!” Paul demands. We have the Spirit abiding within to help us and we have the “Word made flesh” to guide us.

These December devotions are exercises in incarnation.  I will attempt to lift the characters from the printed page and breath ordinary life into them.  Join me every morning in December!

Scriptures:
Philippians 2:5-11 Amplified Bible
Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being. And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross! Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, That in (at) the name of Jesus every knee should (must) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, And every tongue [frankly and openly] confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11 NASB
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
John’s Testimony of Christ
John 1:1-5; 1 John 1:1-3; John 1:10-14
From 7 Days of Prayer and the Book of Common Prayer
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. 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. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 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. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I marvel at Your condescension! You left heaven to come rescue the likes of me. Forgive me for ever counting Your love and grace as worthless. Holy Spirit, focus my heart on the manger! Help me sing with the angels, praise with the shepherds, worship with the kings and wonder with all creation at the mystery in the manger! Be born in my heart, O Holy One, as You were in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. Help me incarnate Your eternal truth into my time-locked life. Walk in my footsteps. Speak through my voice. Humble me, humble me, humble me, so that Your life and love may be all that is seen and heard in me. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Down from His Glory
Words: William E. Booth-Clibborn; Music: Eduardo Di Capua

1. Down from His glory, Ever living story,
My God and Savior came, And Jesus was His name.
Born in a manger, To His own a stranger,
A man of sorrows, tears and agony.

Refrain:
O how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all.
The great Creator became my Savior,
And all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him.

2. What condescension, Bringing us redemption;
That in the dead of night, Not one faint hope in sight,
God, gracious, tender, Laid aside His splendor,
Stooping to woo, to win, to save my soul.

Refrain

3. Without reluctance, Flesh and blood His substance,
He took the form of man, Revealed the hidden plan,
O glorious mystery Sacrifice of Calv’ry,
And now I know Thou art the great I Am.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 30, 2017: “Messiah”

Messiah

No one saw it coming.
They all knew Him—Jesus, the son of the carpenter Joseph of blessed memory. The young man had earned the respect of the community because of his cheerful disposition, his obvious adoration and care for His mother, Mary, the loveliest widow in the village whom no man dare approach. The quality of His carpentry was without peer. His character was beyond question. He had never lost His temper, or cheated anyone, or showed disrespect to the elders. There was not the slightest shadow of scandal, unlike Mary and Joseph when they were young.

Now He was home and the Sabbath found Him just where He should be—in the Synagogue.
The Rabbi asked Him to read the scriptures for the day and handed Him the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. In the shadows, his brother James wondered if they were now to hear of the exploits of Jesus’ latest foray into the regions around Galilee. Rumors of miracles at His hand and strange new teachings had preceded His return to Nazareth.

Jesus stood to read and with steady hands Jesus turned through the scroll until He reached the place marked for today. He began to read without looking at the text. These were words He memorized as a child long before. He had taken them to the highest hill in the village where he liked to go and think. He had meditated on them as he lay quietly at night waiting for sleep to visit. They had often been the first thoughts of the morning after He prayed the Shema, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ And ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ He began reading.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me…”

There was still some restlessness in the congregation but the slight pause in Jesus’ reading stifled the extraneous noise. This had to be heard by those who knew Him best.

“to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted…”

The thoughts of the sharpest thinkers among them began to race ahead of Jesus’ words. Surely he means Messiah—everyone knows this prophecy concerns the Messiah! When He comes He will do these things. We must wait for Him…

“…He has anointed me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind…”

Rumors say that such things had happened in the crowd that came to hear him preach out in Galilee. God must be praised for such miracles!

“..to set at liberty those who are bruised and oppressed by evil…”

Surely Jesus isn’t taking credit for what God has done! He needs to let God be God and not interfere with Romans or the Elders. It is not wise to speak of oppression. Finally we have peace, such as it is—but this is not the time of rebellion…

“…to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

That wasn’t the end of the passage but it was where Jesus stopped. He closed the scroll, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

In the silence, hearts beat so loud you could almost hear them. Breathing did not stop but it slowed to a deep stillness. This was the carpenter’s son, a tradesman himself! He was a fine young man to be sure but he always was a little strange. Had his mind snapped? Had the acclaim of the crowd shaken his good sense? Awakened his long-suppressed pride? Tradition called for Him to comment on the passage…

“…Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Riot
The silence did not immediately relent. Heads began to turn as hometown worshipers looked at each other. They began to whisper.

“Is this not Joseph the carpenter’s son?”

No one knows what Jesus expected of His friends, patrons, and fellow citizens of Nazareth. Quickly He sensed their unbelief, their skepticism, their suspicion. His whole life He had ignored their snubs and their whispered abuse of Joseph and Mary. He wanted them to understand what He had read and prophesied—the time was now! Messiah had come! Things were about to change forever and they could be witnesses to it all. They could testify to the world of the life He had lived before them. They could finally reinterpret the rumors and believe the truth about Joseph and Mary as prophecies fulfilled. But they would not listen. They would not believe.

Every face He looked at represented a story about Him.

  • Things He made were in their homes, tables, chairs, cabinets, all crafted with care by His hands.
  • Some of the men plowed their fields with plows He built or them.
  • He saw men with whom He had played as children.
  • A few still owed Him money for His work.

There was not a stranger in the synagogue that day.

“ You say to me, ‘Physician, heal yourself—do the same things here that you did Capernaum.’ The saying is true that a prophet never finds honor in His own country.”

Using Bible stories of people who missed their opportunities He scolded them from a broken heart, not an angry one.

Like lightning, the crowd turned violent. They rose as one and seized Jesus, dragging Him out of the synagogue smashing pots and jars, spilling their contents into the streets and smashing the ancient laws of behavior on the Sabbath. Though He did not resist them they wrestled Jesus through the narrows streets, out the town gates, and to the brow of that same contemplative hill. The time had come, but not for this.

Somehow Jesus stopped and silenced the mob. Those who held Him simply let Him go. Perhaps it was His eyes, so gentle to them day by day, now shining with wrath—like the wrath the Temple merchants would see in a short while—but whatever it was, something disarmed the mob.

Jesus stood there, staring deep into each set of familiar eyes. No one could return His stare for long. Gradually a lane cleared before Him. Quietly, peacefully, Jesus walked through the mob. No one tried to stop Him but no one could take their eyes from Him either. The Bible closes the incident like this:

“Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.”

An Opportunity Missed
The people of Nazareth missed their opportunity. Unbelief settled into the village, even into the home of Mary, His mother. Jesus moved His residence to Capernaum. From this point Nazareth could be called the Capitol of Irony. In Nazareth:

  • Gabriel announced the coming of Messiah to the virgin Mary.
  • Joseph and Mary established their home and business upon their return from Egypt.
  • Jesus grew from childhood to manhood, learning a trade as He learned about the Kingdom of God at the local Rabbinical school.
  • Jesus was violently rejected by the people who thought they knew Him.

When we gather to worship Him, Jesus walks among us—an opportunity to be seized.

Scripture:
Luke 4:16-30 NKJV
So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’” Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way..

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may I never underestimate You! You are the Lord, Messiah, Redeemer, Revealer of God’s Heart. May I always treasure every opportunity to be with You in morning prayer and weekly worship. May I hear Your voice and Your message. May I ever experience Your anointing to be all I will ever need. May Your miraculous provision be mine each day and may I always be sensitive to Your Holy Presence. You are Emmanuel, God with Us, with ME! May I live and move and have my being in You! Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Pass Me Not
Words: Fanny Crosby; Music: W. Howard Doane

1. Pass me not, O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry;
while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.

Refrain:
Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry;
while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.

2. Let me at thy throne of mercy find a sweet relief;
kneeling there in deep contrition, help my unbelief.

Refrain

3. Trusting only in thy merit, would I seek thy face;
heal my wounded, broken spirit, save me by thy grace.

Refrain

4. Thou the spring of all my comfort, more than life to me,
whom have I on earth beside thee? Whom in heaven but thee?

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 29, 2017: “Justice”

Justice

A two-way street, justice is.
We all need justice but are often neglectful of the needs of others. The power of any government to administer justice will always been mixed with the power of people to neglect or even to corrupt it. Justice is the result of true worship—the flow of redemption from the heart of God to the repentant hearts of people.

The Psalmist presents the impending judgement of God in terms of joy:

Psalm 96:10-13
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns; The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.” Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord. For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth.

Joy in judgement—what a surprise! Joy in justice—what a delight!
In Jesus’ hands the scales of justice are filled with healing balm.

  • He is like the Good Samaritan who finds us beside the ruin of the road we have chosen and tends to our wounds while the self-righteous seek another lane to travel.
  • His medicine is grace ground from the dregs of the bitter cup he drank in the garden.
  • His innocence did little to dilute the rancid wine of our sin yet he drained that cup.
  • He stood before the courts of this world, innocent yet condemned to die.
  • He wore the thorny crown, bowed beneath the whip, carried the cross, and took the nails and the spear.
  • His Light split the darkness of the night before the third day for no tomb that man could ever build could ever hold Him.

This is the One Good Man who found us wounded and robbed by the side of the road. This is the One Good Man who treated our wounds and carried us to safety. He paid our expenses and promised to return.

This is the One Good Man who will come to judge the earth.

Justice and Mercy
Justice has a companion in the heart of God. He warns His people not to seek revenge and reserves any rights to vengeance to Himself alone. When we have been wronged, it is not for us to strike back, attempting in our own strength to makes things right through payback. We must follow the example of Jesus from the cross, forgiving those who have wronged us. It isn’t easy; it goes against human nature, but it is the Jesus way. We who have received mercy must also grant mercy to those who have wronged us. This is justice rooted in Calvary.

Today, let us walk the roads of this world with an eye toward the wounded and a heart that beats for justice.

Scriptures:
Psalm 98: 9
Let the rivers clap their hands; Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord, For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity.
Amos 5:24 NKJV
But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Luke 10:29-37 NKJV
But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for accepting the penalty for my sins and those of the whole world. Through Your amazing grace I stand before God as if I had never sinned! Like the Good Samaritan, You found me and dressed my wounds. You cared for my wounded soul until I was well and fully recovered. Now You are with me every day in mercy and grace. Help me see the wounded ones on the roads I walk today so that I can show mercy and be a healer. This is justice, too. For Your Kingdom, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Let Me Touch Him
Words and Music: Vep Ellis

1. Let me touch Him, let me touch Jesus;
Let me touch Him as He passes by
So when I shall reach out to others
They shall know him They shall live and not die

Refrain:
Oh to be His hand extended,
Reaching out to the oppressed.
Let me touch Him, let me touch Jesus,
So that others may know and be blessed.

2. I was straying so far from Jesus
I was lonely, had no peace within
Then the hand of my savior touched me
Now I’m reaching to others in sin

Refrain

3. There’s a river, a river flowing
From within and to cleanse my soul
And the flow sets my heart to glowing
Holy spirit, more than silver or gold.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 28, 2017: “Pretense”

Pretense

Actors act; believers behave. Fakers fake it; those who are real, really are.
Jesus walked in truth through a world of deception.

  • Once, the world was “good” in the eyes and judgment of the Creator.
  • Now, it was bad, corrupted by the contents of the human heart.
  • Once, the True Religion of the Covenant with Jehovah was pure and powerful, running like a well-tuned clock ticking off the hours of prayer through the day and the night, the seasons of the year, and the generations to come.
  • Now, it was putrid and pitiful, reeking of the power-grabbing machinations of Herod and Caiaphas. They had turned the Covenant with God into a power structure for sinful leaders, smart in the ways of men but ignorant of the ways of God.

A World of Pretense
They misjudged Jesus, thinking of Him as unlearned and unsophisticated, an opponent scarcely worthy of their superior skill. So they pretended.

Luke 20:19-20
And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people — for they knew He had spoken this parable against them. So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.

They were defeated before the game even began.
Jesus saw through their pretense like a clean window made of the clearest of glasses. Their wicked hearts were laid open to His perusal. He found hate, ambition, deceit, violence, and duplicity coursing through their veins, sourced in and pumped by those wicked hearts.

They thought they had Him this time; they would ask a question that had no correct answer.

Should faithful Jews living under Roman occupation serve God or Caeser?

With the simple toss of a Roman coin, He answered the unanswerable question:

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Stunned, there was only one course left to them, something that had never tried before; “they kept silent.”

We laugh at them, but we should also learn from them.
Let us keep silent in prayer so that the holy light of the Holy Spirit can search our hearts. Because we are human, pretense may lurk in our hearts, too. The world doesn’t need any of our preening pretense; the world needs to see real followers of Christ—people who walk in His steps, people with a different vocabulary, a cleaner sense of humor, a higher sense of honor and a genuine sense of purpose. Life isn’t a show; it is a real life drama. We do not “present” ourselves to this world, we occupy it. We do not “strut and fret our hour upon the stage,” as Shakespeare said that actors must do. We live a larger life than a play within a proscenium, a theatrical stage. Our story is one of eternity, a grand narrative of good conquering evil, light destroying darkness, and life defeating death.

Actors act; believers behave. Fakers fake it; those who are real, really are.

Only the foolish think they can fool God.

Scriptures:
Luke 20:19-26 NKJV
And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people — for they knew He had spoken this parable against them. So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
Psalm 139:23-24 NKJV
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 19:7-14 NKJV
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, save me from pretense! Help me be real as I walk through the events of this day. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O God my strength and my Redeemer. May my choices reflect the values of Your Kingdom. May my actions spring from Your love in my heart. May my story be yet another chapter in Your grand narrative, the story of God’s love come to earth, God’s compassion reaching to the wounded hearts of men. Lord Jesus, save me from pretense! Amen and Amen!

Song:
Cleanse Me
Text: J. Edwin Orr; Music: Maori Melody

1. Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin and set me free.

2. I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, when once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.
3. Lord, take my life and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self, and pride;
I now surrender; Lord in me abide.

4. O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival—start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply the need;
For blessing now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved