February 4: “Colt”

Colt

Kings don’t ride donkeys. Everyone knows that.
Kings ride proud, prancing steeds bedecked in armor and battle colors. The whole scene is an act of public theatre designed to impress the masses with the mastery of their champion over the finest examples of horseflesh.

Servants ride donkeys. They do not prance; they plod. They are naked beneath their load save a dirty blanket or two. The message the rider and donkey deliver is one of humility, poverty, and servanthood.

A Man and His Animal
In a village on the way to Jerusalem, near the Mount of Olives, a man tied his freshly weaned young donkey, just a colt, not far removed from his mother, to a post near the city gate. He had been waiting for this day, watching the colt mature into a proper beast of burden, as much a pet as an asset. This was a devout man who thought often about Messiah and who prayed regularly to be used of God in his homeland.

Jesus and Jerusalem
Jesus knew that when He arrived at the gates of Jerusalem an impromptu parade would break out. He would need an animal to ride to lift Himself above the throng and keep the procession from descending into chaos. In preparation for this event, Jesus sent two of His men into a nearby village. Their mission was to find a mount for Jesus to ride into the city. They were not aware of the purpose of their mission, just the mission itself. Jesus was specific in His instructions:

  • Go to the village.
  • Upon entering you will see a young, unbroken, donkey tied to a post.
  • Without asking anyone, untie it and bring it.
  • If anyone stops you and asks what you are doing, just tell them this:

‘The Lord has need of it.’

Evidently Jesus foresaw the owner of the colt and knew that God was already speaking to him. Without a word of protest the proud owner of the colt let these strangers take the unknowing beast. Amazing.

The Texas Cowboy
A story is told of a rough and tumble Texas cowboy whose mother was praying that he would become a follower of Christ. He knew that he was a maverick at heart and doubted anyone could control his behavior. Reluctantly, he attended a Sunday morning service. The preacher told the story of Jesus and the unbroken donkey colt. Before the invitation could be given the man ran to the altar to give his heart to Jesus. As the people rejoiced, his praying mother among them, he was asked what had moved him to accept Jesus. His answer came from his cowboy world, so familiar with horses, cows, mules, and donkeys. “If Jesus can ride an unbroken donkey, He can ride herd on me!”

The Power of Humility
As we shall see in the days ahead, the power of Jesus was not an act of public theatre designed to give an impression of regal standing. His power was so great that riding on a young colt became an act of royalty.

Scriptures
Mark 11:1-6
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.” So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go.
Zechariah 9:9 NKJV
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I invite You again today to be the master of my day, of my heart, of my life. I will join the procession of praise. I will engage with the multitudes who serve You today to advance Your Kingdom. Somehow, in Your astounding grace use me! Give me purpose and responsibilities and help me to never fail to answer Your call to service. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
All Hail King Jesus
Words and Music: Dave Moody

All hail King Jesus All hail Emmanuel
King of Kings Lord of Lords
Bright Morning Star
And throughout eternity
I’ll sing Your Praises
And I’ll reign with You throughout eternity

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 22 “Manger”

Manger

Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus were not alone for very long.
The first Christian worship service was about to happen in that stable with a manger as the central focus. The object of worship was not the manger but its contents—“the little Lord Jesus.” Perhaps this is the first lesson we should learn—it isn’t the building or the stage or the setting or the leaders or anything or anyone else who is at the center of our worship. It must be the Lord Jesus.

Shepherds
The shepherds were the first to arrive, the faces aglow with star dust and their hearts brimming with the praises heaven taught them. They had no gifts to bring beyond their joyful hearts but these were more than adequate. When they sought entrance to the stable there must have been something about them that allowed Joseph to grant them such a privilege. Otherwise no good husband would countenance such an intrusion at such a moment. Perhaps it was their testimony of angels for both Joseph and Mary could identify the symptoms of an angelic visitation. At any rate Joseph granted them passage.

They each one bowed to Mary and stretched their shepherd necks to see the child she was holding. The dim light in the stable seemed aided somehow by gentle illumination from undetermined sources as if there were star dust here as well. When they saw the little One, taking turns reluctantly, each shepherd began to weep. Past sins were remembered, repented of, and forgotten in the presence of this little One. Peace flooded each soul as tears rolled through deep smiles. Mary and Joseph somehow understood of all this, for they felt it, too.

Kings
Noises from outside broke the spell of this revere. Joseph investigated to find a large caravan crowding into the space around the stable. A bright star seemed to be leading them, filling the entrance to the stable with light reminiscent of angels. Three leaders of this entourage met Joseph and explained their quest. They seemed to Joseph to be in a hurry. When Joseph invited them to come in, they each retrieved gifts from their servants and cautiously entered the stable.

Quickly, wiping away their tears, the shepherds made room for the kings, feeling woefully unworthy. Each king, in a predetermined, well-rehearsed order, presented his gift with a little speech carefully written and recited. When the ceremony was completed, silence fell on this impromptu but long-planned congregation.

The Baby Jesus
In the silence, the Baby Jesus began to cry. His soft cries stuck the kings and shepherds like hammer blows to the heart. Here was the Good Shepherd. Here was the King of kings. Stiffened backs began to relax as others bent low by social circumstance began to firm. Shepherd’s staff or kingly crown became superfluous. Cautiously, kings and shepherds looked at each other as a carpenter and his wife looked on in wonder. One king, perhaps their leader, extended his hand to one of the shepherds. The shepherd responded in kind. The others followed their lead and social barriers crumbled. Economic definitions of worth were discarded in the presence of the wealth of heaven weeping in a manger.

Today, as in that first Christian worship service, True Worship humbles the mighty, exalts the lowly and equalizes everyone in the presence of Jesus.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:15-20 NKJV
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Matthew 2:9-12 NKJV
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, forgive us for  posturing when we should be praying. Help us to hear Your voice calling us to repentance and humility. Banish pride from our minds and haughtiness from our hearts. As we worship You in spirit and truth, do Your personal work in each heart. Bring down those of us who are mighty in our own eyes. Lift up those who have been cast down by life and circumstance. Heal those who see themselves as worthless. Teach us the lessons of the manger. For Your Kingdom, Lord. Amen

Song:
The First Noel
Words: Anonymous; Music: Traditional English Carol

1. The first Noel the angel did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Refrain:
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
born is the King of Israel.

2. They looked up and saw a star
shining in the east, beyond them far;
and to the earth it gave great light,
and so it continued both day and night.

Refrain

3. And by the light of that same star
three Wise Men came from country far;
to seek for a king was their intent,
and to follow the star wherever it went.

Refrain

4. This star drew nigh to the northwest,
o’er Bethlehem it took its rest;
and there it did both stop and stay,
right over the place where Jesus lay.

Refrain

5. Then entered in those Wise Men three,
full reverently upon the knee,
and offered there, in his presence,
their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 8, 2017, “Prosperity”

Prosperity

It is time for a biblical view of prosperity.
Some people preach prosperity from an earthly perspective: back accounts, possessions, prominence, etc. While these things are not evil in themselves, they must be severely managed for they have the power to destroy, not enrich us. It is well known but often forgotten than possessions can possess those who hold them.

The Bible is so clear on this:

  • Covetousness made the top ten list in those Ten Commandments we talk about.
  • King Solomon, who had everything to be had in his day, warned that it was all vanity and vexing to the spirit—like feeding on wind.
  • Jesus warns that is not found in the abundance of things we possess. Jesus councils us to be “rich toward God.”

Jehovah Jireh—The Lord Who Provides
God has revealed Himself to us in a series of Covenantal Names. In these names He explains who He is by what He promises to do. He provides, He heals, He gives victory—and so on. Jesus makes an amazing promise. He tells each of us that if we will put His kingdom and righteousness first in our lives, all our life-needs will be met—no conditions, no fine print loopholes—an ironclad promise.

Amazing.

No wonder we call grace “amazing!”

Prosperity of the Soul
The Apostle John gives us further details on this “Kingdom and Righteousness” guarantee. He measures prosperity of life in terms of the prosperity of the soul—the inner person. This is entirely consistent with the promise of Jesus. Our needs will be met as we put internal things—His Kingdom and Righteousness—first in our lives. Our external needs are met because our internals are in correct order:

  • God’s Kingdom—not ours, our anyone else’s, and
  • His Righteousness—not just right thinking but right living, not just high sounding words but life-giving deeds.

Giving and Receiving
True spiritual prosperity is more a matter of giving than receiving. It has been well said that the only things in life we can hold on to are the things we give away. This is expressed in the spiritual law of sowing and reaping. If we sow sparingly, we will reap sparingly. If we sow bountifully, that is how we will reap.

The disciples demonstrated their prosperity of soul when they encountered the lame man at the Temple gate begging for alms. They were broke in this world’s currency but they gave what they had and the man didn’t need his mat anymore. Their words ring through the ages:

“Silver and gold have I none but such as I have give I thee.”

This is the promised prosperity of soul that produces a life wherein needs are met. Lord, fill us up with true riches so that we can give them away!

Scriptures:
Acts 3:2-9 KJV
And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God:
Psalm 1:1-3 NKJV
Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
Psalm 72
Give the King your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the King’s Son; That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice. That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, and the little hills bring righteousness. He shall defend the needy among the people; he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor. He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, from one generation to another. He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, like showers that water the earth. In his time shall the righteous flourish; there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more. He shall rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. His foes shall bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts. All kings shall bow down before him, and all the nations do him service. For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper. He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy. He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight. Long may he live! and may there be given to him gold from Arabia; may prayer be made for him always, and may they bless him all the day long. May there be abundance of grain on the earth, growing thick even on the hilltops; may its fruit flourish like Lebanon, and its grain like grass upon the earth. May his Name remain for ever and be established as long as the sun endures; may all the nations bless themselves in him and call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous deeds! And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
Amen. Amen.
Psalm 122:6-9 NKJV
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, Prosperity within your palaces.” For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, “Peace be within you.” Because of the house of the Lord our God. I will seek your good.
Psalm 25:12-15 NKJV
Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses. He himself shall dwell in prosperity, And his descendants shall inherit the earth. The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, For He shall pluck my feet out of the net.
3 John 2-4 NKJV
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
Matthew 6:31-34 NKJV
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me a passion for the internal things—Your righteousness—that make such an external difference in my life. These things are holiness, integrity, purity of thought and intention, compassion for others and passion for Your presence. Lord, help me focus on Your Kingdom, to seek Your will and Your way in all things. I want to lead the way You led, through servanthood, not power and position. When I do these things, I am seeking Your kingdom and righteousness and You have promised to meet all my needs. Help me sow bountifully, giving freely of what I have been given. Miracles will follow me in Your name! Hallelujah!

Song:
Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God
Words and Music: Karen Lafferty

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Allelu, alleluia

Man shall not live by bread alone
But by every word
That proceeds from the mouth of God
Allelu, alleluia

Ask and it shall be given unto you
Seek and ye shall find
Knock and the door shall be opened unto you
Allelu, alleluia

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 4, 2017 “Tuning”

Tuning

On Stage
In the few minutes just before the concert, the stage is alive with the sounds of a symphony orchestra warming up. Each player has a routine involving mouthpieces and reeds, bows and resin, buzzing brass, and tapping tympani. They flex their fingers and lick their lips getting ready to make music. After the warm up comes the tune up. The oboist plays the standard pitch: “A.” All the other players listen carefully and then match the sound of their instruments to that standard.

The conductor strides to the podium to the applause of the crowd. He bows, accepting their acclaim. He shakes hands with the concert master, steps to the podium and lifts his baton to the air. He has the attention of everyone, concert-goer and concert-player alike. He gives his preparatory beat; the baton goes down and the music begins.

On the Platform
Warming up and tuning up are a part of life in church music, also. The worship leader doesn’t come to the platform (For some reason stages are often called platforms in church.) to the applause of the congregation nor does he/she shake the hand of the lead guitarist, but there is a warm-up-tune-up
routine.

Worship music requires an additional step—a spiritual warm up and tune up.
It is important that Christian singers and players get warmed up to the Lord and in tune with the Holy Spirit before they try to make the music of the Kingdom of God. There is a spiritual dimension to this type of music making that cannot be ignored. It is as important to the success of our spiritual music making as the musical elements are to the professional orchestra.

Heaven’s Standard Pitch
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries instrumental music came into its own. The symphony orchestra came to maturity as more than an accompaniment group for choirs, soloists, and opera.
The Age of Inventions—the Industrial Revolution—produced brass and woodwind instruments that could be effectively tuned with the strings. To help with the process of tuning, a standard pitch was developed. While the exact vibrations varied somewhat, A440 was the standard.

In the making of music in the courts of the King of kings, there is also a standard pitch—humility. Calvary, like the Industrial Revolution, has redesigned us from the flaws of sin and made it possible for us to make an offering to please the Lord—one of humility.

Proud hearts cannot tune.
Musically, a technical problem with an instrument or a shortcoming on the part of the musician can interfere with the tuning and spoil the performance. In the same way, on a spiritual level, attitudes and improper motivations can spoil the music of worship. In more than 40 years of leading Christian singers and players, I have found my greatest trials and challenges have come from the hearts of my musicians, not their voices and instruments. Now, I am teaching and writing and my primary mission is to teach the next generation of Worship Leaders. In this capacity, I find myself preaching a gospel of humility, humility with excellence. I am on a crusade against pride in the music ministry.

  • I have seen it ruin too many anointed ones.
  • I have seen it destroy too many creative communities within the church.

Proud hearts cannot tune. They cannot match the pitch of the Holy Spirit for they are at cross purposes with God. They are proudly building their own kingdom, not God’s.

Conflict and Resolution
Music moves in divinely determined patterns—that is one thing that makes it a comfort to us—no matter how far the song may go away from home, it will return there eventually. There are two terms that describe the roaming and returning aspects of a piece of music:

  • Dissonance is the clash of notes sounding together.
  • Consonance is the agreement of notes sounding together. This serves to resolve the conflict of the dissonance, relieving the tension.

Dissonance
Pride makes people sound bad together. O, their voices and instruments may be beautiful and well regulated, but their hearts are not in tune. God Himself is resisting them because of their pride. The dissonance of hearts must be resolved if the music is to attract the Lord and be blessed by His grace.

Consonance
Humility holds worship teams together. Conflicts happen, like dissconant chords in a song, but they are quickly resolved to consonance. A good musician learns how to step up and play the music demanded when the time comes for it to be played. A worship musician needs this skill, but also the ability step back and get out of the way. The neat thing about our humility is that when we step out of the way, Jesus can be more clearly seen.

When we are getting ready to make the Lord’s music, let’s tune our hearts to Heaven’s Standard Pitch.

Scriptures:
Psalm 57:7 NIV
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.
Psalm 33:1-3 NKJV
Rejoice in the Lord , O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
James 4:1-6 NKJV
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:”God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Malachi 3:1-3 NKJV
“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the Lord An offering in righteousness.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, tune my heart to Yours. Just as I would stay in rhythm with Your heartbeat, I want to stay in tune with Your mind. Alert me when my pitch falls lower than Yours or rises higher. Help me tune to the standard pitch of heaven—humility. When I am humble before You, I receive Your wonderful grace and assistance. When pride rears its ugly face in me, You oppose me. I want the music we make to be beautiful, so that You might be pleased and others may be healed in its sound.
Amen.

Song:
Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord
Composer: Bob Hudson
Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord.
Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord.
And He shall lift you up (higher and higher.)
And He shall lift you up.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved