August 10, 2017 “Act!”

Act!

A Sign in the Clouds
Just after one of our Florida afternoon rains, a vivid rainbow followed me home from a trip to the store. It was complete from end to end. A second rainbow, fainter than the first and much shorter and thinner, timidly smiled just to the south of the larger one. What a sight!–all the colors of creation spread like a painter’s palette resting in the clouds.

These heavenly signs were worth looking at. I kept turning to see the rainbow as I made the rights and lefts required by the small town streets of Bartow on my way home. The unusually bright rainbows stayed with me until I parked the car to stand, staring at the sky for as long as I dared.

A neighbor lady, out for her daily walk, was concentrating on something private and paying no attention to the artwork over her head. I thought she might be discomfited by my standing in the yard, so I waved to her and pointed to the sky. “Don’t miss the rainbows!” I said. She hurried on without looking.

A Sign of the Covenant
The rainbow is the sign of a covenant God made with man, never again to destroy the earth by floods. Of course the rainbow is only an optical illusion, a clever trick done with water drops and sunlight. I tried to imagine the first rainbow after the great flood. If it had never rained before the flood, there could not have been a rainbow before. Only Noah and his family saw the first one. The same voice that instructed Noah to that point of the adventure,  told him of the meaning of the sign.

The sign of the covenant was a symbol, a presentation of light and color bearing a message.  The rainbow is an illusion but the covenant and promises are real. God has been faithful to His promise even as the “days of Noah” have returned.

Two Parties in Agreement
An explanation of the ancient customs of the covenant is far beyond these paragraphs. Two parties, one greater than the other, agree to perform acts for their mutual benefit. The rainbow is the perfect representation of such an amazing thing as a covenant between God and man—beautiful, ethereal, real but untouchable.

The Poet acts in an appropriate way when He demands action from God.

“It is time for you to act, O Lord…”

We are offended by the poet’s presumption. How can we demand anything of God? He is the greater partner in the Calvary Covenant. What right do we have to question Him?

These are modern concerns. The Poet, is exercising the ancient right of a covenant partner to call the other party to action according to the covenant. This is not pride or presumption—it is an ancient form of faith, a proper petition based on love and the expectation of God’s actions. The God-Who-Keeps-Covenant will act in our behalf.

Yelling at God
As we read deeply into the psalms we find many complaints from the poets. They don’t just complain about things; they complain to God. It is almost as if sometimes, they are yelling at God. Can this be right and proper?

The Lord “remembers our frame,” that we are only human beings. Sometimes we need to complain and the only One we can complain to is God. We can even yell at Him if we chose the time and place and do so in a very painful expression of faith. This not a public event—it is not for the worship service—it is private, intensely so.

How can this be? Won’t we offend God?

He does not turn away from us in our pain and He can handle anything we have to say to Him. He knows what is in us before we speak. When the air is clear of our complaint we will hear His gentle words of promise again— all the colors of grace in the bright rainbow after the storm–He will act!

Scriptures:
Psalm 119
I have done what is just and right; do not deliver me to my oppressors. Be surety for your servant’s good; let not the proud oppress me. My eyes have failed from watching for your salvation and for your righteous promise. Deal with your servant according to your loving-kindness and teach me your statutes. I am your servant; grant me understanding, that I may know your decrees. It is time for you to act, O Lord, for they have broken your law. Truly, I love your commandments more than gold and precious stones. I hold all your commandments to be right for me; all paths of falsehood I abhor.
Genesis 9:8-16 NIV
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you — the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you — every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
Psalm 142:1-4 NIV
I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me. Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.
2 Corinthians 1:20-22
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Peter 1:3-4
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your promises are sure, irrevocable, unchanging. Down here on earth it seems everything is subject to change. For all we can discern with our human intelligence, there seems to be a random element to creation. I cannot reconcile Your sovereignty with this randomness. When it comes my way, I will pour out my complaint to You in prayer and You will hear me. I know that nothing lies outside of Your sovereignty. You will act in my behalf! No matter how violent the storm, I know the beauty of Your Loving-kindness, like a full, double rainbow, will guide me safely home. Amen.

Song:
Hear My Cry, Oh Lord
Words and Music: Marvia Lee Providence and G.E. Peters

Hear my cry, Oh Lord, Attend unto my prayer.
From the end of the earth, Will I cry out to Thee.
When my heart is overwhelmed, Lead me to the Rock,
That is higher than I… That is higher than I…

For Thou hast been, A shelter for me.
And a strong tower, From the enemy.
When my heart is overwhelmed, Lead me to the Rock,
That is higher than I… That is higher than I…

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 9, 2017 “Advancing”

Advancing

Let’s collect some clichés:

  • Time marches on.
  • The times they are a changin’.
  • You can’t stop progress.
  • Life is passing you by.
  • This train has left the station.
  • If you are standing still, you are going backwards.

All of these timeworn phrases express a cynical view of the relentless advancement of the years.

There is another phrase that is filled with faith and optimism:

The Kingdom of God is advancing.

Two Inevitable Spirals

  • The Outpouring of the Spirit: There is nothing the enemies of God can do to stop the unfolding of God’s plan in the earth.  What God has promised, He will do.  He has promised a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the days of the New Covenant (Joel 2:28-32) and it is happening.  Each passing day advances the cause of the Kingdom—to seek and save lost things and destroyed people–by the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the power of the Spirit.
  • The Great Falling Away: The apostle Paul warned of a downward spiral that will happen at the same time as the upward spiral of the Kingdom of God.  “The great falling away,” he called it. (2 Thess 2:1-12) He also warned that events would advance toward the revelation of the Man of Sin and lead to the final conflict between God and Satan.  Long before that moment of revelation, the spirit of iniquity, of lawlessness would advance through the world.

In a very real sense, each day offers us a choice. 
Which cause will we advance today?

  • Will we pray, read the Word, love God, love people, listen to God’s voice, and obey the Spirit as we interpret the world around us?
  • Or, will we yield to temptation, fulfill the lust of the flesh, feed the pride of life, and look for leverage with the lustful eyes as we advance the cause of error, waste, and destruction in the world around us?

The choice is ours.  Will we yield our bodies as instruments of righteousness or implements of violence?

The enemy is advancing. So is the Kingdom of God.
It is not difficult to detect the advancing forces of iniquity, deception, and violence in the world.  The advancing forces of righteousness, truth, and healing are more difficult to see.  Righteousness does not make headlines.  Deeds of mercy seldom go on trial to grab the attention of the nation.  Truth telling is most often done quietly, one-to-one, in the dynamics of personal relationships.

As spiritual people following the Lord Jesus, we need to look for the advancing cause of the Kingdom of God and join the quite parade of mercy.  Let us hear the drumbeat of the Spirit and get in step.

Scriptures:
Joel 2:28-32
‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 NKJV
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Romans 6:12-14  NKJV
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.  And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Ephesians 5:15-16; Col 4:5-6 NKJV
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Today I want to advance with You. Let me share Your inevitable progress toward the consummation of all things. Shield me from the snares of the enemy; show me his devices; uncover his subterfuge. Give me strength for ascent of Zion today as I climb the Hill of God to stand in the Holy Place. Give me endurance to run the race with patience. At the end of this day that You have made, let me be in a different place than when it began. Help me find higher ground! Amen.

Song:
Higher Ground
Words: Johnson Oatman, Jr.; Music: Charles H. Gabriel

1. I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Refrain:
Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

2. My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

Refrain

3. I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

Refrain

4. I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 8, 2017 “Before…”

Before…

“Before-and-after” photographs are interesting.
They document a fundamental change:

  • The 100 pounds lost,
  • The beauty makeover, or
  • The building from foundation to finish.

Each Christ-follower has at least one of these before-and-after photos in his/her mind. It is the mental record of a fundamental change Jesus made in the life of the one who now follows Him.  Most of us have more than one such mental photo, perhaps even an album of them, so gracious is the Lord toward us—how loving, kind, sometimes stern, sometimes demanding—but always for our good.

The Poet adds his photo to the album:

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.”

“Before…but now…” A lifetime between those words can be found!

  • Before Jesus saved me, I was lost and on my way to hell.
  • Before Jesus forgave my sins, I was laden with guilt and the consequences of sin.
  • Before I heard and believed the Word of God, I was confused about life.
  • Before I found my place in the Family of God, I was alone in this world.

What a difference Jesus, the Life-changer makes!

  • Now I walk the Path of Life with joy and victory every day and eternal life on the horizon.
  • Now I am forgiven. I stand before God as if I had never sinned.
  • Now I see and speak the truth about life. I have a light for my path and a clear blazing torch showing me each step to take.
  • Now I know why I am in this world. I know what God wants me to be and to do. I am connected the True Vine—Jesus Himself—and I joyfully bear fruit every day.

How wonderful for each of us that the moment between “before” and “after” came! If life were a film, it would be the end of the flashback and the beginning of the story of today. Past is not prelude. Turning points do happen. These are the moments that define our lives.

The Bible is replete with before-and-after stories:

  • Abraham and God’s call to go
  • Moses and that burning bush,
  • King David and the dead man by the Ark,
  • Isaiah and the King, high and lifted up,
  • 12 ordinary men and the invitation of Jesus to come and follow Him,
  • James, the son of Mary and Joseph, seeing Jesus after the resurrection,
  • Paul in route to Damascus and the Lord Himself,
  • Peter on a rooftop praying, and
  • the whole Jerusalem church opening their hearts to the rest of humanity.

And now we add our before-and-after biography of Grace to the record!

Here is the proof of the Gospel. Here is the history that is His Story. Here are the facts after the faith. Here is our hope for today and our confidence in tomorrow.

Scriptures:
Psalm 119:65-72
O Lord, you have dealt graciously with your servant, according to your word. Teach me discernment and knowledge, for I have believed in your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and you bring forth good; instruct me in your statutes. The proud have smeared me with lies, but I will keep your commandments with my whole heart. Their heart is gross and fat, but my delight is in your law. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is dearer to me than thousands in gold and silver.
Psalm 119:105 NIV
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Genesis 12:1-4 NIV
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.
Exodus 3:4 NIV
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
2 Samuel 6:9 NIV
David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?”
Matthew 4:19-20 NIV
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
1 Corinthians 15:7-8 NIV
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Acts 10:9-10 NIV
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.
Acts 15:19 NIV
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me never forget what I was before You found me: lost, hopeless, and confused. Now I am found, full of hope, and sure of my place in the world. To say You have made the difference is a vast understatement. You are the difference. Before, my sins stood between us, but then You nailed them to the cross. Before, I was a disaster headed for destruction, but now I am a new creation. Before, I put my hope in lies but now I know the truth and it has set me free. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Since Jesus Came into My Heart
Words: Rufus H. McDaniel; Music: Charles H. Gabriel

1 What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart!
I have light in my soul for which long I had sought,
Since Jesus came into my heart!

Refrain:
Since Jesus came into my heart,
Since Jesus came into my heart,
since Jesus came into my heart,
floods of joy o’er my soul like the sea billows roll,
Since Jesus came into my heart.

2 I’m possessed of a hope that is steadfast and sure, Since
Jesus came into my heart!
And no dark clouds of doubt now my pathway obscure,
Since Jesus came into my heart!

Refrain

3. There’s a light in the valley of death now for me,
Since Jesus came into my heart!
And the gates of the city beyond I can see,
Since Jesus came into my heart!

Refrain

4 I shall go there to dwell in that city, I know
Since Jesus came into my heart!
And I’m happy, so happy, as onward I go,
Since Jesus came into my heart!

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 7, 2017 “Tabernacle”

Tabernacle

Constancy
The wilderness nights were never completely dark for the Israelites as they made their torturous way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Just so, the daytime skies were never cloudless without shelter from the sun.

  • Each night, camping in the wilderness, the Shekinah Glory of the Lord lit the sky above the Holiest room in the Tabernacle they had built as the dwelling place of God.
  • Every day the Shekinah appeared as a pillar of cloud.
  • On the days when the cloud was still, they remained in camp.
  • On the days when the cloud began to move, they broke camp and followed it.

There was no council meeting to decide what to do. No opinion poll was consulted. No vote was taken. Everyone knew the drill and they obeyed. Collect the morning’s manna, pack up the stuff, and move.

A Dwelling and the Act of Dwelling
The word, “tabernacle” is both and noun and a verb: It refers to a tent-like dwelling and it means to dwell in or take up residence in.

The Poet asks the question, “Who will enjoy the tabernacle of God?” In other words, “Who will dwell where God dwells? And, “In whom will God set up His tabernacle—His tent—His Dwelling-place?”

There are no questions more fundamental to the Path of Life than these.

If living is separated from its source—our Creator God—it becomes death, a living death. Such is the condition of the human race: separated from God by the sinfulness deep in our nature–this is called iniquity in the Bible, meaning “lawlessness”—and by the sins we commit. God cannot “tabernacle” with sin and iniquity. His proximity to wickedness would destroy the hapless sinner.

Because of the Blood
The Lord could shine each night and tower each day above the Israelites in the wilderness because blood had been shed at each passageway in the Tabernacle leading to the secluded room called the Holy of Holies, This was the Holiest Place where no sin could dwell. The New Testament principle, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin,” has always been the case.

Today there is a New Covenant—the Jesus Covenant—made in His sinless blood for all the sins of mankind and for humanities fallen sinful nature. Through Him our sins are cast away forever.

Our Tabernacle
In the dark, wilderness night of human experience, a bright pillar of fire shines. In the baking wilderness days of the journey of mankind out of slavery in search of a Promised Land of Liberty, a shining pillar of a cloud beckons those who will see. There is a Dwelling Place for a Holy God in an unholy world—a Tabernacle for our wilderness. His name is Jesus—God with us!

  • He is our Dwelling Place and He Dwells within us!
  • He is the Gate of Thanksgiving.
  • He is the subject of the praise in the Courts of Praise.
  • He is the Table of Bread and the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place.
  • His Spirit is the oil in the Golden Lamps burning there.
  • His human body was the torn veil, riven in two when He cried “It is finished!” from the cross.
  • He is the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Word of God and the Rod of Aaron that came to life—the Anointing of the Spirit.

Through Jesus, our nights are never completely dark and our days always have a sheltering sky as we walk the Path of Life.

Scriptures:
Psalm 15
Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? who may abide upon your holy hill? Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart. There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend; he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor. In his sight the wicked is rejected, but he honors those who fear the Lord. He has sworn to do no wrong and does not take back his word. He does not give his money in hope of gain, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things shall never be overthrown.
Hebrews 8:1-6; 10:19-22 NKJV
Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. … who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Revelation 21:1-7 NKJV
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my Dwelling Place, my fire by night and my guiding cloud by day. I will rest in the warmth of Your Covenant and walk in the covering of Your Loving-kindness. You dwell at the center of the church and of my life. Around me are my brothers and sisters, and my spiritual fathers and mothers in the faith; I am not alone. I have yet to cross the Jordan to enter into the Land of Promise above but I know that is my destiny. As I move or rest, Your promises remain in force and You are always faithful. Here on earth I find Your Dwelling Place and soon I will find an eternal dwelling place with You in heaven. Behold! The Tabernacle of God is with us!” Thank You, Lord Jesus!

Song:
In the Presence of Jehovah
Words and Music: Geron and Becky Davis

In the presence of Jehovah,
God Almighty, Prince of Peace.
Troubles vanish. Hearts are mended,
In the presence of the King.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 6, 2017 “Sing!”

Sing!

It was just another day in the Temple Courts.
The priests and Levites were in their places helping worshipers prepare and present their sacrifices. The blood of many lambs and goats and pigeons splattered on the smooth paving stones. It was noisy and out of order. If people had come to pray, God was the only One who could have heard them. The solemn ceremonies from Sinai had become big business and small politics. Profit not prophesies was the indecent order of the day.

Enter Jesus
Into this melee came a man with fire in His eyes, a whip in His hands, and a trumpet for a voice.
This Temple was His Father’s House and Jesus declared it thus. Tables were overturned. Wooden cages broke open and doves escaped to the skies. Animals broke free from the merchants who had hoped to sell them. The whip in Jesus’ hand found its mark time and again scattering coins and merchants trying to recover them. The random noise in the Temple courts now had a focal point—Jesus of Nazareth!—the gentle teacher and tender healer, the forgiver of sins and encourager of the depressed. They had heard his gentle words and now they saw the fire of judgment in His every move.

What was His issue?

“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’
but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’

Jesus was quoting Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah’s word for prayer was the Hebrew word meaning hymn. What was His issue?

  • They were selling, not singing.
  • They were profiting, not praying.
  • The nature and purpose of the place of public worship had been desecrated.

God Wants His People to Sing!
Singing praise to God is a joyful mandate, not a pleasant option. To my knowledge singing is the only art demanded of all people by the Word of God. It isn’t a generational command; it is issued to all ages. It isn’t limited to a particular musical system or style or selection.

There are two requirements for the songs we sing to God: Spirit and Truth:

  • They must be sung from the heart, emanating from deep in the human spirit as empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit.
  • They must speak the truth about God and about us.

This is the setting or the Lord’s Day: the People of God sing to the Lord.
Oh, there will be a preacher because we have a story to tell. There will be masters of ceremony because we have been conditioned to expect them. There will be worship leaders singing and playing to lead us because we need them. There will be announcements even though we don’t need them. Hopefully all this will happen “decently and in order.”

How can we know what is decent and orderly? Ask these questions:

  • Is this music about Jesus or about me?
  • Does this music allow me to praise, worship, and praise from my heart?
  • Does the presence of the Lord fill the house and my heart?

The point of it all is to minister to the Lord with our personal sacrificial songs of praise, worship and prayer.

Don’t let another opportunity to sing to the Lord with the saints of God pass you by!

  • Whether you know or like the chosen songs—sing!
  • If you think you have a wonderful voice—sing!
  • If you are sure you have a terrible voice—sing all the more!
  • Forget about what people might think of you—sing great stuff about Jesus!
  • When the song is a praise song—sing your praise!
  • When the song is a prayer song—sing your prayer!
  • When it is time to wait on God in silence—sing silently!

It is the Father’s house, but the song is ours to sing!

Scriptures:
Psalm 66
Be joyful in God, all you lands; sing the glory of his Name; sing the glory of his praise. Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! because of your great strength your enemies
cringe before you. All the earth bows down before you, sings to you, sings out your Name.” Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people. He turned the sea into dry land, so that they went through the water on foot, and there we rejoiced in him. In his might he rules for ever; his eyes keep watch over the nations; let no rebel rise up against him. Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to be heard; Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip. For you, O God, have proved us; you have tried us just as silver is tried. You brought us into the snare; you laid heavy burdens upon our backs. You let enemies ride over our heads; we went through fire and water; but you brought us out into a place of refreshment. I will enter your house with burnt-offerings and will pay you my vows, which I promised with my lips and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble. …Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. I called out to him with my mouth, and his praise was on my tongue. If I had found evil in my heart, the Lord would not have heard me; But in truth God has heard me; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld his love from me.
Isaiah 56:6-7 NIV
…all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. (OT:8605
‎tephillah (tef-il-law’); intercession, supplication; by implication, a hymn)
Jeremiah 7:8-11 NKJV
“Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the Lord.
Luke 19:45-46 NKJV
Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my heart is steadfast—I will sing and make music! Thank You for the gift of music and song. When I am sad, singing lifts my spirits. When I am happy, singing multiplies my joy. When we sing together, hearts bond and alliances are strengthened. Broken bonds are mended. In this glorious moment, the past retreats to the past and the future draws nearer. I know that my flesh sometimes resists singing. Help me overcome this resistance. By faith I will sing with the saints and perhaps in our song we will hear the echoes of angels singing before Your throne! In Jesus’ Name! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Sing!
Words and Music: Israel Houghton

Now is the time for all people from every land to come together
Now is the moment for worship, we enter in withholding nothing.
He’s worthy, exalted, He’s high and lifted up!

Sing, sing unto the Lord. Open up your heart;
make a joyful noise in the sanctuary.
Sing, sing unto the Lord. Lavish Him with love;
Let the praises ring in the sanctuary, sing!

Gotta open up your mouth and give Him praise
Open up your heart and give Him praise
Lift up holy hands, unashamed in the sanctuary.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 5, “Rewards”

Rewards

Confession time:

  • I like winning better than losing.
  • I am more fond of good outcomes than bad ones.
  • When dreaming big dreams leads to accomplishing great things, I really like it.
  • I love it when there is progress to report in a progress report.

To work well but without reward is the definition of misery.

The Craftsman’s Rewards
I have a life-long friend from my college and teaching days named Dennis who is a wonderful singer, actor, teacher, choral director and Christian gentleman. In his retirement he works with wood producing, among other things, beautiful wooden cases for clocks. I visited his shop one summer and found it to be full of rewards. I don’t mean trophies and plaques on the wall. I mean precision equipment of all kinds and stacks of expensive, beautiful wood from the best of trees. A case for a clock was in the works with smooth wood and careful craftsmanship. Another couple of clocks, as yet undelivered, could be seen here and there. I knew that his sharp mind contained plans for the next creation.

Where were the rewards? I saw them!

  • A proven record of past achievements,
  • the presence of a current project, and
  • the promise of future work were his rewards.

Work and reward; work and reward.
It is the rhythm of life. God, the some Creator who said “It was good” at each stage of a grand project eons ago, made us this way.

Science calls this the Law of Cause and Effect. The Bible term is the Law of Sowing and Reaping. It is not at all complicated—we reap what we sow. If we do “this thing,” this “other thing” will be the result. This is one of the first things we learn in life—“Don’t touch the stove top!” “Get away from that electrical outlet.”

If we do not learn this law:

  • We will gain weight when we eat too much an exercise too little.
  • We are likely to stress over debt when we misuse our credit cards?
  • We will find it difficult to be pure in heart if we constantly feed on impurity.
  • Our children may walk away from God, if we do not walk with Him before their eyes.

On the other hand—while we are thankful—we should not be surprised when the rewards for sowing good things come our way:

  • Except for the prospects of disease or injury, healthy living leads to long life.
  • We can be generous on all occasions because it is more blessed to give than receive.
  • We can live unspotted in this wicked age, because we feed on the good things of God.
  • We can successfully hand deliver the True Faith to the next generation.

Best of all is the reward when we stand before Jesus and give an account.
We can hear Him say,

Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things,
I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

There is no greater reward than this!

Scriptures:
Psalm 91
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, abides under the shadow of the Almighty. He shall say to the Lord, “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.” He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter and from the deadly pestilence. He shall cover you with his pinions, and you shall find refuge under his wings; his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day; Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day. A thousand shall fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not come near you. Your eyes have only to behold to see the reward of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord your refuge, and the Most High your habitation, There shall no evil happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.You shall tread upon the lion and adder; you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet. Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my Name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honor. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.
Revelation 22:12-13 NIV
“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
Galatians 6:7-10 NKJV
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 NIV
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
Matthew 25:21-22
Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are fair in all Your ways. Your promises, so ancient in their words, still ring true today. We will reap if we faint not! When we sow in tears, this will bring a harvest of joy! From creation’s season to this one, You have blessed the cycles of this earth: seed time and harvest, the seasons of the year, and rhythm of the work week and the Blessed Sabbath, a day to rest from sowing and tending and even harvesting. You are with me in the fields reminding me of Your promises. You are coming soon and Your reward is with You. Thank You, Lord of the Harvest! Amen.

Song:
Bringing in the Sheaves
Words: Knowles Shaw; Music: George A. Minor

1.Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain:
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,

2. Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain

3.Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 4, 2017 “Fields”

Fields

“Field” is an extremely useful noun.
Literally, there are corn fields, hay fields, bean fields, and cotton fields back home. There are football fields, baseball fields with infields and outfields, and there are soccer fields. Tragically, the list of literal fields must include battlefields.

Figuratively, there are fields of study, fields of medicine, law, and science, fields of influence, mission fields and fields of personal interest. Ironically, all of these figurative fields can also be playing fields, fields of produce, and battlefields.

The Poet reports that in his day the enemies God had plans to steal, “The Fields of God.” This is still true and it is no limited strategy for the fields of God are wide and varied. God created human beings to be productive people with many fields to till and harvest.

Just What Is the Father’s Business?
Perhaps we have been too narrow in our understanding of God’s business, that business that sent the 12 year-old Jesus to the Temple to interview the priests. Some might say this, with the intention of shutting down the conversation, “The business of God is souls.” This is absolutely true beyond any “fear of successful contradiction” as a pastor I knew liked to say. Do we really think “souls” is the sum total of God’s business? Does the Lord have just this one field?

The Lord had many fields.
Many years ago I did some teaching on ministry through the arts. I talked about bearing fruit in terms of creating beautiful works of art. Unknown to me, the pastor’s secretary was a painter. She had never connected her art to the concept of bearing fruit for God. “That was always just winning souls!” She told me. Her field of interest was painting and it was God’s field, too.

Dramatically, Jesus calls us to the harvest fields in these last days. Exactly which fields are they?

More than the traditional concepts of witnessing: going door-to-door, passing out tracts, presentational services and events, the Fields of God are where He has planted us! Our interests, our vocations and avocations, our callings and skills, our craftsmanship and creativity, our planting and harvesting, our hobbies and games, our arts and endeavors, our passions and our compassion—even our battles and competitions can be the Fields of God.

  • Many have been successfully stolen by the enemy—let’s take them back.
  • Others have been corrupted by sin—let’s reform them by the Book.
  • Some fields have grown fallow and unused—let’s plow them up and plant them again.
  • Dusty and dry, some of our own fields need a fresh rain—let’s ask the Lord to send rain.
  • Here and there one of our fields may suffer from neglect—let’s pay attention and do the work!

Then, like the word, “field,” we can be extremely useful to God.

Scriptures:
Psalm 83
O God, do not be silent; do not keep still nor hold your peace, O God; For your enemies are in tumult, and those who hate you have lifted up their heads. They take secret counsel against your people and plot against those whom you protect. They have said, “Come, let us wipe them out from among the nations; let the name of Israel be remembered no more.” They have conspired together; they have made an alliance against you:… Who said, “Let us take for ourselves the fields of God as our possession. O my God, make them like whirling dust and like chaff before the wind; Like fire that burns down a forest, like the flame that sets mountains ablaze. Drive them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm; Cover their faces with shame, O Lord, that they may seek your Name. Let them be disgraced and terrified forever; let them be put to confusion and perish. Let them know that you, whose Name is Yahweh, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.
John 4:34-38 NIV
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Malachi 3:10-12 NIV
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.
2 Corinthians 10:13 NIV
We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9 NIV
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Hosea 10:12 NIV
Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am headed out into the fields today! You have called me to work in these specific fields. I will sow good seed in them. I will water and care for the young plants. I will tend the vines in Your Vineyard You have given me to tend. I will gently harvest the fruit of these fields. Every day is an adventure in Your fields of labor! I will be joyful in the tilling, patient in the toiling, and fluent in the telling. I will not become weary in all this well-doing for I know I shall reap bountifully if I sow bountifully and do not give up! O Lord of the Harvest, thank You for calling me into the fields! Amen and amen.

Song:
The Call for Reapers
Words and Music: James Oren Thompson

1. Far and near the fields are teeming
With waves of ripened grain;
Far and near their gold is gleaming
O’er the sunny slope and plain

Refrain:
Lord of harvest, send fir reapers!
Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry.
Send them now the sheaves to gather.
Ere the harvest-time pass by.

2. Send them forth with morn’s first beaming;
Send them in the noontide’s glare;
When the sun’s last rays are gleaming,
Bid them gather everywhere.

Refrain

3. O thou whom the Lord is sending,
Gather now the sheaves if gold;
Heavenward then at evening wending.
Thou shalt come with joy untold.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 3, “Restraint”

Restraint

A Necessity
If human life depends the discovery of fire, and human industry flows from the invention of the wheel, human civilization is made possible by restraint.

If people were simply really smart animals with no spirit within and no soul to organize an inner life, we would be creatures of instinct alone. We might still be able to do remarkable things like animals can do—

  • perform long distance migrations like hummingbirds and butterflies,
  • build intricate construction projects like ants and wasps,
  • form complex societies like chimps and wolves, and
  • adapt to absolutely hostile environments like mammals who live in the water.

But none of these accomplishments would reflect the gift of a free will. We would simply be following pre-programmed instincts installed by the Creator and passed from generation to generation.

Captives to Instinct
We can see no evidence of any initiative of the part of animals to reform their conduct—they are captives to their instincts. Any restraint they my show, such as a lion crouching in the high grass stalking a calf straying from the heard, is merely a temporary tactic to complete the kill. It is never an action prompted by a stricken conscious laden with guilt over the lion’s innate taste for blood. Wild animals have been domesticated, but we should not be surprised if we see just a glimpse of the wolf in a friendly beagle.

The Will and the Restraint
For reasons known only to Him, God wanted people to have a free will—the ability to choose our own actions. When the world was a perfect place called the Garden of Eden, the first two people were also perfect. They enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God. This unrestrained voluntary righteousness did not last into a second generation.

The spiritual history of the world is one of possessing restraint or lacking it. The truth is that each of us cannot follow our every impulse. We cannot taste everything that looks like it tastes good. We have been given a mind and will that are intended to help us exercise restraint. In society restraint is called “the Law.” In the individual it is called “discipline.” In both arenas, a will informed with the truth can rule a soul and body filled with impulses and drives.

A Faulty Vision
When the will falls into sin, the mind operates on faulty information. In this post-modern society, young people are taught that they are simply really smart animals. It is unreasonable to expect purity of thought and deed—but it is profitable. Whole industries plan, promote, and profit from the lack of restraint in all things. This dim vision of who people really are makes morality a personal design springing only from base instinct. Thus, we have only the responsibilities we choose to have and there is no judgment to face when this life ends. We can cast off any restraint that does not suit our plans

A Better Vision and a Reason for Restraint
The Poet knew nothing of 21st Century life, but he faced the same challenges in ancient Israel. His wisdom still speaks to us today:

“I restrain my feet from every evil way, that I may keep your word.”

Because Jesus took on all the temptations we can ever expect to face and never gave into a one of them, His remarkable restraint is at work again in us.

Another Poet links the desire for restraint to a commanding vision for living.

“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.”

The Christ-follower resists temptation because he/she knows that

  • Jesus will empower;
  • Jesus will be pleased; and that
  • Jesus will reward.

This vision of a Judgment Day filled with joy inspires restraint of all kinds:

  • Daily discipline,
  • Dynamic worship,
  • Determined, powerful prayer, and,
  • Delayed gratification—perhaps the greatest restraint of all!

Scriptures:
Psalm 119:97-104
Oh, how I love your law! all the day long it is in my mind. Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies, and it is always with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my study. I am wiser than the elders, because I observe your commandments. I restrain my feet from every evil way, that I may keep your word. I do not shrink from your judgments, because you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste! they are sweeter than honey to my mouth. Through your commandments I gain understanding; therefore I hate every lying way.
1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Hebrews 2:16-18; 4:14-16 NIV
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Proverbs 29:16-18 NIV
When the wicked thrive, so does sin, but the righteous will see their downfall. Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul. Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, restrain me! Put spiritual steel in my backbone so that I stand straight and tall in an bent and puny world. Help me restrain my eyes for seeing what should not be seen, my ears from recording what should not be heard, and my will from longing for what does not please You. Keep my sword in its sheath when the battle is not Yours. Put a Holy Ghost muzzle on my mouth when my words would injure or discourage. Keep me from the enticing bed of ease and give me Sabbath rest every night. Restrain the nagging remnants of my old self that sometimes plague me. Grant me an overpowering vision of You, Your Kingdom, Your People; a vision that justifies restraint. In Your Holy Name, Amen.

Song:
Show Me Your Ways
Words and Music: John Fragar

Show me Your ways That I may walk with You
Show me Your ways I put my hope in You
The cry of my heart Is to love You more
To live with the Touch of Your hand
Stronger each day Show me Your ways

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 2, 2017 “Waiting”

Waiting

Do you know anyone who is good at waiting?
Waiting occupies the time between the moment a need is realized until it is met.

  • It could be a few seconds, like waiting for the thunder after the lightning struck nearby.
  • It may be a matter of minutes as in waiting for your food to arrive after the waiter has taken your order.
  • We wait for days for an order we placed online to arrive in the mail.
  • It certainly is a careful accounting of weeks and months until a new baby arrives.
  • Perhaps we wait (and work) faithfully for years building the credits to be awarded the degree.

We wait seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, years—and sometimes, a lifetime.

It would be accurate to suppose that any moment in anyone’s life is a moment spent waiting on something.

A Skill Learned in Childhood
Just when a child is old enough to communicate what he/she wants, he/she has to learn how to wait. Even as adults, we are never quite happy about “waiting our turn” if what we are waiting for promises to be pleasurable.

On the Path of Life, waiting takes its place alongside the other essential skills required by the prospect of getting from here—life on earth—to there—life in the glories of heaven:

  • Learning skills: reading, writing, listening, speaking—and waiting;
  • Spiritual skills: believing, confessing, praying, praising, reading the Word—and waiting;
  • Interpersonal skills: loving, being lovable, supporting, being supported, honoring; receiving honor—and waiting;
  • Financial skills: giving, receiving, saving, investing, spending, selling, buying—and waiting.

I need not go on.

A Skill Demanded by Adulthood
I don’t mean a certain age, though sometimes age and adulthood arrive simultaneously. What I really mean is spiritual maturity. Waiting is an exercise in faith, a demonstration of confidence in God, a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in advance of answered prayer.

Since waiting is something we all must do, let’s put a smile on our heart as we wait on God.

  • Parents of prodigals—God has heard your prayers and is at work in their rebellious, trouble hearts.
  • Pastors of troubled churches—keep preaching the Word, loving God and feeding the sheep. Jesus still brings down walls of hostility.
  • Worship Leaders and Lead Worshipers—keep praying and leading in prayer, praising and leading in praise. The Lord has promised to pour out His Spirit in the Last Days.
  • Students—keep on studying; salesmen keep on selling; managers keep on managing and workers keep on working.

Waiting is not passive inactivity. Waiting is the work life demands—the planting, watering and tending that brings the harvest.

Scriptures:
Psalm 130
Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication. If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand? For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared.  I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope. My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy; With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
Hebrews 6:13-15 NIV
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
Psalm 27:13-14 NIV
I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Psalm 37:1-7 NIV
Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Jude 20-21 NIV
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
Titus 2:11-14 NIV
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Romans 8:23-25 NIV
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me to wait in faith believing! When answers to prayers are delayed, I will wait in faith believing. When needs persist, I will trust in You and wait in faith believing. When it seems the enemy will win, I will wait for Your victory in battle. As I praise You, give me confidence. As I obey You today, going about my work as if everything is just fine, each completed task draws me closer to Your answer, Your provision, Your reward. I will wait upon You and You will renew my strength! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Waiting on the Lord
Words and Music: Charles F. Weigle

1. Waiting on the Lord, for the promise given;
Waiting on the Lord, to send from Heaven;
Waiting on the Lord, by our faith receiving,
Waiting in the Upper Room.

Refrain:
The Power! The Power!
Gives victory over sin and purity within;
The Power! The Power!
The power they had a Pentecost.

2. Waiting on the Lord, giving all to Jesus;
Waiting on the Lord, till from sin He frees us;
Waiting on the Lord, for the heavenly breezes
Waiting in the Upper Room!

Refrain

3. Waiting on the Lord, longing to mount higher;
Waiting on the Lord, having great desire;
Waiting on the Lord, for the Heavenly fire;
Waiting in the Upper Room.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 1, 2017 “Vines”

Vines

June 1975.
I had just moved into my first pastoral office as Youth Pastor and Minister of Music at First Assembly of God in Camden, AR. The room was a converted Sunday School classroom in a creaky old wooden building. Across from my desk was a patio-type couch. I knelt there with my Bible open praying from John 15. The chapter begins with the good news that Jesus is the True Vine and we are the branches. This was the part that I wanted to claim.

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you,
that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain…

We find Two Vines in the Scripture: Israel and Jesus.

Israel

The Nation of Israel is depicted as a vine planted by the Lord in the earth for two specific purposes—

  1. to Worship the One True God in the midst of pagan cultures, and
  2.  to bring Messiah into the world to make salvation possible for all people.

The nation stands today, countless generations removed from Abraham, as a strong people group even after being conquered and scattered time again—a geographical and political miracle and a testimony to the God Who Keeps Covenant.

The Poet pens a lament at a season when it seemed God had abandoned the Vine He had planted. They were overrun:

Jerusalem besieged,

  • The Walls of Jerusalem broken down,
  • The Gates burned with fire,
  • The Temple violated and destroyed, and
  • The craftsmen, musicians, priests and Levites lead away to Babylon as captives

The psalm is a plea for God not to abandon His Vine forever.

Pagan, like the World
This terrible calamity blighted the Vine of Israel because they had themselves become as pagan as the world they lived in. They had violated their part of the Covenant with Jehovah in the most serious way possible—to worship other gods.

While it felt as if God had abandoned the Vine of Israel this proved not to be the case. There was a remnant of true worshipers left in Israel, both among the people left behind and those carried away to Babylon. The remnant prayed. God heard. The Vine was restored. Jesus came into the world.

Jesus

In the New Testament Jesus refers to Himself as the True Vine. He explained that we were the branches. What does that mean? It means God is still at work in the world!

When we turned to Him in repentance, faith, and confession of His Lordship, we become a branch in the True Vine—vitally and functionally connected to Him. We have the same two-fold mission as the nation of Israel—to worship God in spirit and truth and to go into all the world to tell others about Him. In addition to these two points of mission we have a third—to make disciples.

We are meant to bear much fruit and fruit that remains. How can we succeed in this?

  • With disciplined prayer in the Secret Place,
  • With dynamic worship in the Sanctuary and
  • With determined, holy, obedient, and productive lives of service to God and man.

We will be a well-tended branch in the Vine, “safe and secure from all alarms” and free to produce much fruit.

He is the Vine, we are the branches. Without Him we can do nothing. With Him we can do what He calls upon us to do.

Scriptures:
Psalm 80
Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim. … stir up your strength and come to help us. Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angered despite the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have given them bowls of tears to drink. You have made us the derision of our neighbors, and our enemies laugh us to scorn. Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. You have brought a vine out of Egypt; you cast out the nations and planted it. You prepared the ground for it; it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered by its shadow and the towering cedar trees by its boughs. You stretched out its tendrils to the Sea and its branches to the River… Why have you broken down its wall, so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes? … Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine; preserve what your right hand has planted…And so will we never turn away from you; give us life, that we may call upon your Name. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
John 15:1-17 NIV
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, True Vine of my life! Thank You for grafting me into Your heart! I look back over my life since that 25 year old man knelt at that patio couch in that office and prayed for a fruitful life and I see that You have answered that prayer abundantly. I want to keep bearing the fruit You and I produce! Keep my creativity flowing. Guard my days and nights so that I am healthy and productive. May those who know me but not You sense that the fruit of my life is You. There is no secret of success—You are the reason! You are the True Vine and I am a branch firmly connected to You! All for Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Freely, Freely
Words and Music: Jimmy and Carol Owens

1. God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name,
I’ve been born again in Jesu’s name.
And in Jesus’ name I come to you
To share His love as He told me to. He said

Refrain:
Freely, freely you have received;
Freely, freely give.
Go in my name and because you believe,
Others will know that I live.

2. All power is giv’n in Jesus’ name,
In heaven and earth in Jesus’ name.
And in Jesus’ name I come to you
To share His love as He told me to. He said

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved