November 1, 2017: “Sowing”

Sowing

A fundamental life process is that of sowing and reaping.
We do this in two ways: unconsciously and intentionally.

  • Without thought we are creatures of habit performing our little life rituals day in and day out: eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, working, resting and so forth. Each habit we possess actually sows some sort of seed into our days and nights. They produce results which, like the habits themselves, remain unnoticed because that is just how we are and how we live. Though this all happens without conscious thought on our part, the results are very real. Our life habits, acquired in childhood and adolescence, determine our health and wellbeing when age catches up to us.
  • Intentionally we sow a different kind of seed, one we have chosen with a specific harvest in mind: savings for retirement, investments in the market or in real estate, education in our chosen field, and such like. Sowing spiritual seed falls into this category.

Sowing and Reaping
This principle is so deep in God’s creation that it is sometimes overlooked by even the most careful of us. Nevertheless it is always at work bringing an element of cause and effect into spirituality. If we do certain things, certain things will happen. It is true in personal relationships.

  • Lifelong friendships with our adult children are the harvest of the love and interest we showed them when they were small. The productive habits, pleasing personalities, and admirable character traits we see in them as adults are the harvest of good seeds the Lord helped us plant in them when they were small. Good seed produces a good harvest.
  • In ministry as the years pile up, we reap a harvest of good things in the lives of those we have touched along the way. If you see a long term pastor presiding over the congregation God has given him/her through years of faithful sowing, you are observing a harvest of blessing even while he/she continues to sow the good seed. A phone call or a text message from former parishioners to check on the pastor always brings a deep joy to the “sower who went forth to sow.”
  • A teacher knows this, too, as former students recognize them in stores and call them out with smiles. We are all former students of teachers who affected us greatly, sowing good seed into our lives. It is good to intentionally reward them with a note of thanks.

The Good and Precious Seed
The promises of God to one who would sow good seed are nothing short of astonishing. Here is just one:

Psalm 126:5-6 KJV
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

Two things to see in these verses:

  1. Sowing in tears,
  2. Sowing precious seed.

Sowing in Tears
Sowing and reaping is not for cowards; this is tough stuff. The fallow ground does not break itself up; it only yields to the iron blade of the plow. To sow in tears has two meanings:

  1. Times of sorrow when the seed is stolen or hindered before completing its cycle of blessing, and,
  2. Sowing with a passion do deep our tears water the seed we sow.

In each case, somehow our amazing Lord promises us a harvest of joy—eventually.

Sowing Precious Seed
At this point intentionality takes control. We choose the seed we sow. When select truths to live by from the Word of God. Despite the odds or the wisdom of men, we choose to obey the voice of the Spirit. We explore the Bible for good seen to sow into the lives of those around us, all the while knowing for certain that a harvest is promised. “We shall reap if we faint not.”

Scriptures:
Genesis 8:22 NKJV
“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease.”
Matthew 13:3-9 NKJV
Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Galatians 6:6-10 NKJV
Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. 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.
Psalm 126:4-6 NKJV
Bring back our captivity, O Lord, As the streams in the South. Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have provided me with precious seed. Help me be faithful today in the sowing of that seed. Help me be kind and encouraging to others even when they are not kind to me. Help me live by the truth of Your Word throughout this day as a constant conscious act of sowing the precious, good seed. Send Your sharp plow of the Spirit to break up the fallow ground in my heart so that I can sow even more seed. I want to sow to the Spirit today and not to the flesh so that of the Spirit my reward will be everlasting. Whether in tears or in joy, help me sow without ceasing today. For Your Kingdom, Lord. 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,
Tho’ 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

October 31, 2017 “Responsibilities”

Responsibilities

The Big “I”
Did you ever notice how many times the letter “i” is found in the word, responsibilities?—4 times!  Excessive, don’t you think?  No wonder we tend to think that fulfilling all our responsibilities depends on us.  Since we do not form theology on numbers and letters, it is good to sort out the relationship between us and the things for which we are responsible.

Responsibility vs. Power.
Many people seek power; others accept responsibility.  These are not the same thing.  Power is the partner of pride. Responsibility is the ally of humility.  There cannot be a wider gap between two attitudes.  The Jesus way is to accept responsibility; the devil’s way is to seek power.  The Scriptures make it clear:  God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

The sources of human power range from physical prowess, to political position, to financial force, to intellectual influence.  All this power is rooted in a fallen, but still able, human capacity to desire, plan, and produce.  Personal power is essentially selfish and self-sustaining using any means available.  Pragmatism, not principle, pushes the protagonist from deed to deed, drama to drama without concern those who get stepped on from scene to scene.

Responsibility only gets headlines when connected to crimes.  Indeed, the life of responsibility in the things of both time and eternity begins when one accepts responsibility for one’s sins.  We do not blame parents, or teachers, or culture; we accept the blame ourselves.  With godly sorrow comes repentance and then, amazingly, forgiveness from the Throne of God and of the Lamb.
Soon, this new creature, forgiven and filled with the Spirit of God, seeks not power, but responsibility.

Jesus, Use Me!
The old song said it well…

Jesus, use me.  And, oh, Lord don’t refuse me.
Surely there’s a work that I can do.
And even though it’s humble, Lord help my will to crumble,
Though the cost be great, I’ll work for you. (Jack Campbell)

Salvation brings a desire to serve.  All of life is redefined according to the teaching of Jesus:

  • The desire to come in first becomes the desire to put Jesus first.
  • The desire to be a star becomes the desire to be a servant.
  • The desire to lead becomes the desire to be led by the Spirit.
  • The desire to be in the driver’s seat becomes the joy of being a passenger, liberated from watching the road and seeing the world rush by the window while the sky lingers in the distance.

Taking Up Our Cross
Just as Jesus carried the cross, we shoulder the will of God for our lives, the set of responsibilities we are privileged to carry in the will of God for us.  Sometimes there is pain because we are sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings.  Sometimes there is breathtaking joy as we see the work of the Spirit of God being done in the arena of our calling.  All the time there are our responsibilities, not burdened with “I’s”, but joyfully blessed with His—His strength, His wisdom, His victory, and His approval.

Scriptures:
James 4:6 NKJV
“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
2 Corinthians 7:10-11 10 NKJV
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Mark 8:34-38
… “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
Mark 9:35
… Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Mark 10:41-45
…Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Romans 8:12-17
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation…(to live) by the Spirit … because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children… heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Matthew 25:21
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Philippians 3:10-11
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want my life to count for You—I want what I do in my time on earth to matter in eternity. . Help me follow Your example and shun power while welcoming responsibility. Help me be the kind of person others can depend upon. Give me broad shoulders so I can carry the load You want me to carry. Give me a careful mind so I can remember the right things and forget the things best forgotten. Give me a caring heart so that I can be sensitive to others and to Your Spirit. Defend me against distractions that would get me off the job You have given me to do. Keep me focused on You and the work of Your Kingdom today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
Jesus, Use Me
Words and Music: Jack Campbell

Refrain:
Jesus, use me, o Lord, don’t refuse me,
Surely there’s a work that I can do.
Even tho’ it’s humble Lord help my will to crumble,
Tho’ the cost be great, I’ll work for You.

V. 1 Dear lord I’ll be a witness, if You will help my weakness.
I know that i’m not worthy, Lord, of You.
By eyes of faith I see You, on the cross of cal-v’ry,
Dear Lord, I cry, “let me Your servant be”

Refrain

V.2 He’s the Lily of the ValleyThe Bright and Morning Star
He’s the Fairest of ten thousand to my soul’
He’s the beautiful Rose of Sharon, he’s all the world to me,
But best of all He is my coming King

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 27, 2017: “Destiny”

Destiny

“Our Heavenly Father” is not a puppeteer.
We do not dangle from controlling strings attached to His manipulating fingers. The essence of the life we have received from God is choice; we choose our destiny.

This is not to say we control it for any day can bring things

  • which we did not foresee,
  • for which we did not plan and
  • with which we must deal.

Yet with each surprise, we have a choice to do the right thing or to do the wrong thing. That choice is one of destiny. When we choose to live in relationship with Almighty God through His Son Jesus Christ, we walk the path He has chosen for us—our destiny. The Bible calls this, “The Path of Life.”

A Light and a Lamp
For this pathway there is a light illuminating the way ahead. The Word of God is a headlight searching the way before us, revealing hazards, sharp turns, and dangerous ravines on either side of the path. The truth of this path is not a temporary, passing truth; it is a truth that has always been true and a Word that will never cease to be true—the substantial stuff of destiny.

As if this headlight were not enough, we carry a torch, a lamp for each step. We need never to stumble for every footfall is made in the footprints of Jesus, marked by the scars in His feet. He has walked this way before us showing us how to live. The steps we take today may not be the same we took yesterday and tomorrow’s steps may be different yet again. Each step we take in the will of God is a current truth, the application of an eternal Word for the present moment. He is the torch in our hands, the lamp for our feet. He is our choice, our destiny.

Within the Mind of God
We cannot imagine how the mind of God works, independent of time, unlimited by space. He is not playing some cosmic game of chess with each of us the inanimate pieces which only move when he moves us. This game of grace is like a chess game with each piece an independent agent with a mind of its own. We have a choice but He is still the master of the game.

When we choose our destiny—His will for us for life and for each passing moment—He works everything in our lives toward our good. He sets us on a path of blessing, power, and creativity full of good works, choices to make each day that He has laid our for us from eternity past. A puppeteer He is not and puppets we are not. He is master of all time and space and he holds a plan for each of us, a destiny we can choose today.

And so it was in the Garden called Gethsemane.
Jesus chose His destiny, the arrest, the trials, the torture, the cross, the tomb, and finally, the firstborn from among the dead. His chosen destiny opened up a new and living way for each of us, a destiny we can choose every day.

Scripture:
Psalm 16:11
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 119:105
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Psalm 139:1-6; 13-16
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me…All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
1 John 1:5-7
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
John 15:16-17 NKJV
You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.

Prayer:
Lord, I do not understand everything about my freewill and Your will for me. I know that You have made with a will of my own and You have always had a plan and purpose for my life. I am not a puppet but the greatest life I could ever live is the one I would live in the center of Your will. In a very real sense, we are a team, You and I. I am the junior partner for all the power is Yours. Still You have blessed me with human ability as well as human will and You wish to utilize my humanity to do the work of Your Kingdom. What a joy to find Your will and do it! Amen.

Song:
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Traditional

1 I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

2 Though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

3 My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

4 The world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 26, 2017: “Authenticity”

Authenticity

Authenticity cannot be faked.
That seems elemental but it needs to be said. We live in a world of images where what seems to be real, may not be real at all, and what is real may make so little noise that it is overlooked. In some organizations the truth gets handled rather than simply told. Theatrical gestures are used to signal some inner reality that may be completely missing. Great care and fuller resources are spent on the way a presentation looks and sounds rather than what is actually being said. This world is so image-mad that connoisseurs accept a well-done work of art regardless of the message it contains.

As we stand before the Lord this morning, it is impossible to fake Him out. He knows the deepest things about us. We hold no secrets from Him. As we pray, God looks deep into our hearts. What does He see?

God is never fooled.
In short, He sees what is there. Many wicked things can hide deep in the human heart, stealthy things that avoid the radar of our introspection. To others we can talk a good game. We have memorized our lines and we know how to present ourselves, not as we are, but as we wish to be. Because God is God, He cannot be successfully lied to. We can fool ourselves and our public appearance of spirituality may fool others, but God is never fooled. None of us has enough wool to pull over His eyes.

You cannot pray a lie.
Private prayer becomes a season of self-revelation as the Holy Spirit rejects lie and after lie as we try to pray them. This is a process called “The Refiner’s Fire,” from the words of the Prophet Malachi. Its purpose is to “purify the Sons of Levy” (NT believers) so we offer worship to God that is worthy—read that—“authentic.” The fires of His Holy Presence bring hidden things to light where we can deal with them.

Scriptures:
Malachi 3:1-4
… I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness … as in former years.
2 Corinthians 7:1
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
Matthew 6:6
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Luke 12:1 NKJV
For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You came to this earth as the authentic representation of who the Father is. You walked the same earth I walk, enduring the same types of temptations I face, yet without sin, the authentic human life. Now through Your death and resurrection and Your gift of the Holy Spirit, I can live an authentic human life. I am forgiven by faith in Your blood and I am empowered by Your Spirit, so let my life radiate with authenticity. My life will tell Your story and my works shall be works of praise. Search me, O God, and know my heart today! Amen.

Song:
Cleanse Me
Words: J. Edwin Orr Music: Maori melody

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

2. I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

3. Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 17, 2017: “Competing”

Competing

Competition is an unavoidable part of life.
Two competing quotes:

“Winning isn’t everything; it is the only thing.”  Coach Vince Lombardi (among many others!)
“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Jesus Christ

Today each of us goes to our place of work.  In the vast majority of those places workers will compete.  When the competition begins, the need to win becomes paramount.

  • Fathers and mothers compete against the conspiracies of the media, the marketplace, and the mania of the post-modern milieu for the future of their children.
  • Salespersons compete against others in the marketplace and even with other personnel.
  • Those in the medical profession compete against the onset and spread of disease.
  • Teachers and administrators compete against ignorance.
  • Physical therapists help disabled people compete against impairment.
  • Mental health professionals compete against sicknesses of the mind and soul.
  • Christian ministers compete against sin and its destructive forces arrayed against society.
  • Christians compete against their own inclinations to wander away from God and the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
  • The Church competes with the powers of darkness in high places, in the name of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, in the warfare of worship and with the irresistible force of radial obedience.

The list could go on and on.

This is not a game; this is war.
The coach’s quote above and the words of Jesus differ in one really significant way.  Lombardi was talking about professional football—a game.  Jesus was talking about eternal life, not at all a game.   Today we do more than take our places in the work force, we take our positions in a line of battle.

  • The enemy never takes a day off.
  • His propaganda outlets never cease broadcasting.
  • His agents in the field are tireless.

He has formed an evil empire that roars and stalks the innocent like a universal pride of lions, hungry, always hungry, seeking those unguarded ones to devour them.

When wars are lost, suffering breaks upon the defeated peoples far exceeding the pain of the war itself.  If we lose our families, our marriages, our children, or our country, it doesn’t matter what trifles we traded them for.  It will be a bad bargain.  No matter how difficult the battle may be, the defeat will be worse.

But we will not lose.  Jesus is victor!
You take your place in the line of battle with spiritual weapons for this spiritual warfare.  They are mighty through God, not through electricity, or pyrotechnics, or computing, or fossil fuels, or even nuclear power.  Our weapons are mighty through God to the destruction of strongholds and every device or deception that exalts itself to obliterate the name of Jesus.

Enter today’s competition assured of victory because winning this war is the only thing that matters!

Scriptures:
Mark 8:36-38
What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
Philippians 3:12-14
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
2 Corinthians 10:3-6
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Colossians 2:14-15
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he (Jesus) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Mark 8:34-38
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I step into this day confident of Your overcoming grace. You have face all my enemies and defeated them. The competition wasn’t even close! You know my heart, Lord, how sometimes it strays from what is right. Temptation draws me away, competing for my attention. As You told us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Your blood has cleansed my heart and Your Spirit dwells within. That makes me a winner no matter what the contest today. Help me prevail in today’s competition and to do so with a smile for my co-workers and especially for those who compete with me in unholy ways. Help me overcome evil with good. I want to walk in Your victory today, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Victory in Jesus
Words and Music: E.M. Bartlett

1. I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.

Refrain:
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

2. I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory.
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea;
About the angels singing,
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 12, 2017 “Leadership”

Leadership

The leader is also a member of the team.
This simple truth is so often lost in the way we do things today. The church should be led by player-coaches who are active in the contest, not just watching from the dugout.

The astounding words of Jesus about leadership only make sense when the leader realizes that the Kingdom of God has only one King.

  • Jesus wears the crown.
  • Jesus sits on the Throne of Majesty.
  • Jesus is the center of the adoration of heaven.
  • His fullness fills all in all.

The local leader must also be one who is being led. He/she must not just crack the whip, the leader must take up the traces and pull his/her part of the Lord. Leading and commanding are not the same things at all.

Top Down? Inside Out?
From heaven, the church is a top-down organization; here on earth it is an inside-out organism. In these matters the contrast between the Old and New Covenants is stark:

Under the Old Covenant:

  • The Holy Priesthood represented God to man and man to God.
  • The word of the patriarch, the judge, the king, the prophet was meant to be obeyed, not explained.
  • Most of the time leaders ascended to leadership through family connections.
  • Unquestioned power drives the Old Testament leader.
  • Violence in the maintenance the authority of the King was to be expected.
  • The leader lived a separate life in the tabernacle, the temple, the palace, the prophet’s chamber, or in the wilderness.
  • The Holy Spirit came upon leaders for specific tasks in times of need, but found no dwelling place in their hearts.

With the New Covenant:

  • All of us are Holy-Royal Priests unto the Lord; we are a Kingdom of priests.
  • The words of a New Testament leader are judged by all as the Holy Spirit affirms His voice in the voice of the leader.
  • Leaders are chosen by the will of God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
  • The power of God, not the power of politics, empowers the New Covenant leader.
  • Maintenance of position is never done by violence, abuse, or coercion.
  • The Holy Spirit abides in the heart of the Leader at all times as a permanent anointing to live as well as to lead.

Today, if you take the reins of leadership, do so in a New Covenant manner.
You are not a ruler. You are not a king or queen. You are a priest, a servant, a shepherd, and a follower of Christ. Lead the way He led—in the power of the Spirit, from a humble soul, according to the truth of God, and always—always—from a loving heart.

Scriptures:
John 12:26; 15:20 KJV
If any man serve me, let him follow me… The servant is not greater than his lord…
Mark 9:35; 10:42-45
“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 23:10-12
The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
2 Timothy 2:24 KJV
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men…
John 14:16-18 NKJV
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth… He dwells with you and will be in you.
Acts 15:28
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, sometimes leading the way You told us to lead goes against my instincts. It seems unnatural until I obey and do what You said to do. In that moment I sense Your joy in me and my human instincts shrink back into the place where Your Spirit sent them. Your Word makes spiritual sense, even when it defies human nature. Help me lead Your way. Lord, I pray for all my leaders. Help them to lead me well according to Your example and teaching. Help us to serve those we lead. Rebuke us when we act like lords and kings. Help us seek out the lower place, the supporting role, and to be quick with the encouraging word. Teach us to take joy in the success of others. Lead us not into the temptations of pride and position and deliver us from the evils of selfish ambition. For Your glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Make Me Like You
Words and Music: Jamie Owens Collins

Make me like You, Please make me like You.
You were a servant; make me one, too.
O, Lord, I am willing, do what You must do,
To make me like You, Lord.
Please make me like You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 11, 2017 “Joy!”

Joy!

The joy of the Lord is not so elusive as we might think.
So close to life itself, this joy rushes into us when we inhale and remains in us even as we exhale. It courses through our veins and arteries with our life’s blood, nourishing each cell of our being with the energy and oxygen of spiritual life.

Because He has sent us His Spirit to abide in the deepest part of us, His joy has come too. We don’t have to work it up. We don’t even have to feel it. This joy dwells in a place deeper than feelings, a place of covenant and constancy where the promises of God run round the clock, the machinery of God’s faithfulness, without vibration or hum or even blinking lights and whirling gages. His grace operates in the deep place where there is great strength and greater peace.

Joy in the center.
When the joy of the Lord seems far away, this is where it has gone—to the center of us, where Jesus abides, the Father watches, and the Spirit empowers. If there is no joy today, dive deeper into Him. He will meet you in the Secret Place. He said the Father is already there and the Spirit is ready to take you to Him.

How is this done? In these well-known ways:

  • Pray the prayer He gave us.
  • Honor Him.
  • Seek His Kingdom and His forgiveness.
  • Forgive those who have wronged you.
  • Trust Him with every detail of the day ahead.

He will guard you when the trials come and deliver you from any brand of evil or any class of evildoer this day may hold. Go so deep into Jesus that you see His throne towering above all other authorities and hear His voice more clearly in your heart than any other voice.

Jesus is Lord.
He rules. He reigns. Nothing confuses Him. No rebel has deposed Him. His saints still sing His glory and angels still attend Him. “Thousands at His bidding speed” as well as those others who also serve Him as they stand and wait.

Take your place among those who love Him. As you stand before Him, He dwells within you. And with Him, His joy—the strength you need for this day.

Scriptures:
Psalm 16:11
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 126:5-6
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
John 15:9-11
“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
Nehemiah 8:10
This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the gift of joy. Thank You for joy that is deeper than happiness, finer than comfort, and more permanent that any pain I might experience. You said this amazing joy is Your joy, the joy You saw coming as You endured the whip and the chains and the curses and the shame. You saw the joy that awaited You when all the pain was past, when all Your blood spilt and all Your work completed. Clear in Your vision You saw the joy of the believer’s embrace, of broken fellowship restored, and of paradise reclaimed. This was the “joy set before You.” You endured the shame of the cross and found in this peculiar joy the strength to overpower death. Lord, I take joy in Your victory today and that joy, indeed, is just the strength I will need. By Your Spirit, Lord Jesus, Amen.

Song:
Joy of My Desire
Words and Music: Randy Rothwell

Joy of my desire, all consuming fire;
Lord of glory, Rose of Sharon, rare and sweet.
You are now my peace, Comforter and friend,
wonderful, so beautiful, You are to me.

I worship You in spirit and in truth.
Lord, I worship You in spirit and in truth.
There will never be a friend as dear to me,
there will never be a friend as dear to me,
there will never be a friend as dear to me,
as dear to me as You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 9, 2017 “Tasks”

Tasks

Tasks—things we have to do—there is no shortage of these for most of us.
Make a list of them and keep in front of you all day so you can check them as you get them done.  That makes for a successful day.  A successful day today makes for a successful week this week, so let’s get to it!

Wait.

Just as the sun rises on a new day and a new week, the compassion of the Lord rises upon us each day, new and freely flowing.  Before the day and the week get rolling, the supreme task awaits our faithfulness—prayer.

It is a simple choice:

  • Do we rush into the day because the day is rushing into us?
  • Or do we wait for the power of Christ to envelope us as we pray?

The Paraclete
The list of things to do today doesn’t change; it will be there calling, demanding our time.  What will change is us.  Will we attempt today’s tasks in our own strength or will we be assisted throughout the day by the paraclete, the Holy Spirit, our Helper who “comes along side?”

This is no small difference.

  • It is the difference between unfinished tasks and completed ones.
  • It is the difference between who we are and who we want to be.

Will the world in which we operate have to deal only with us, our sparkling personality, piercing intellect, and irresistible compassion? Or will the world have to deal with the real us—humble before God and greatly assisted by the power of heaven.  There is a huge difference!  Daily prayer connects us to the power source we need to get our tasks properly taken care of.

An essential part of prayer is the prayerful reading of the Word of God.
This is different from studying the Bible.  This is an act of prayerfully consuming the truth of God.  Daily reading of scripture as a part of faithful prayer builds spiritual understanding, strength, and endurance.  If food meals are omitted for some earthly reason, (not fasting before the Lord) it won’t be long until physical and mental weaknesses will prevent us from checking off the tasks on our list.  Our spiritual insight, strength, and stamina operate the same way; we need daily intake of the Words of Life.

There is no reason to “go it alone” today. 
The God Who Keeps Covenant has promised to be with you in every meeting, at every task, and in every relationship.  Task Number One—Prayer—opens your heart to Him on this new day.  Through the open door of your heart, God will pour in grace sufficient for any task.  Just as His mercies were new this sunrise, our commitment is renewed today in prayer—Task Number One.

Scriptures:
Mark 1:35
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Luke 11:1-2 KJV; Matthew 6:5-13
And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them…
“…when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Lamentations 3:22-24
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
John 14:15-18 NKJV
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever –the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
Ephesians 6:18
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Psalm 55:16-17
But I call to God, and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.

Prayer:
The Lord’s Prayer
From the Book of Common Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are Yours, now and forever.  Amen

Song:
Sweet Hour of Prayer
Words: W.W. Walford; Music: William B. Bradbury

1. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
that calls me from a world of care,
and bids me at my Father’s throne
make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
my soul has often found relief,
and oft escaped the tempter’s snare
by thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

2. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
the joys I feel, the bliss I share
of those whose anxious spirits burn
with strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
where God my Savior shows his face,
and gladly take my station there,
and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

3. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
thy wings shall my petition bear
to him whose truth and faithfulness
engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since he bids me seek his face,
believe his word, and trust his grace,
I’ll cast on him my every care,
and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 27, 2017 “Anyway”

Anyway

One of the first pastors I worked for was a pilot licensed to fly small planes.
I was in awe of this of course. Once he tried to assure me that it was no mysterious gifting. He said you could teach a chimpanzee to fly a plane but what you could not teach him was how to adjust to the changing situation.

Situations do change, either to our delight (“Finally!”) or to our dismay (“I never saw this coming!”). And sometimes things do not change with similar results: “I knew I could count on this!” or “I am beating my head against a wall!”

Jesus described life as shifting sands. He was correct. Those who make their daily choices based on what happened the night before are at the mercy of the winds and sands and desert mirages—images they see shimmering on the horizon that aren’t real at all.

Jesus offered us an alternative—solid Rock!
He is the Rock that stands unaltered by the winds of the moment. He is the Rock that laughs at the waves incessant casting of themselves upon Him only to break up and slink back out to sea, take a breath and try again. He is the Rock and the foundation of our lives, when we build upon Him.

How do we do that?
It isn’t a mystery but it is beyond the abilities of chimps:

  • Listen to Him (Read His Book—the Bible is the story of Jesus from beginning to new beginning!)
  • Take Him as Lord and Savior and follow Him.
  • Receive His Spirit as your abiding Helper. You cannot do this on your own.
  • Spend time with Him, both just you and Him, and with the church He is building.
  • Do what He has called you to do, in His time, in His way and in His love.
  • Join His family. You can’t follow Him without being a part of the “Called-Out-Ones.”

So, what does all this mean?

  • If the politics of the day are crazy, we will be sane anyway.
  • If the world is cruel, we will be kind anyway.
  • When the world is full of prejudice, we will love anyway.
  • When the economy is falling, we will rise both to give and to receive anyway.
  • When the media tells lies, we will tell the truth anyway.
  • When the moral climate is polluted with filth, we will breathe the clean air of heaven anyway.
  • When people swear using the name of God in vain, we will praise His name anyway.
  • When the earth is shaking, we will stand anyway.
  • When the world is crashing, we will fly anyway.

Jesus teaches us to fly and the Holy Spirit leads us to adjust to the changing situation.

Scriptures:
1 Corinthians 2:12 NIV
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11 NKJV
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed — always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
Matthew 7:24-27 NIV
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
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.
Colossians 3:15-17; 23-25 NKJV
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
Philippians 4:8-9 NIV
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, “Pilot me!” the old song said. It is a good prayer. Take the controls, Lord. You know the flight plan. You know the plane and the instruments. You take account of the changing things: fuel, winds, altitude, and emergency landing strips if needed. No detail of this trip escapes Your notice. You know every mile of this journey before it slips beneath us on the ground. When this day surprises me, I will continue on anyway. When things confuse me, I will keep believing You anyway. Help me trust You, Lord, and help me to obey what I know to do even as situations change around me. For Your glory, Lord. Amen

Song:
Trust and Obey
Words: John H. Stammis; Music: Daniel B. Towner

1. When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

2. Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Refrain

3. Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

Refrain

4. But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Refrain

4. Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 20, 2017 “Opportunity”

Opportunity

What Constitutes an Opportunity?
Sometimes an opportunity is an event, a moment that must be seized for it will quickly pass. At other times an opportunity presents itself as a gathering of individuals who need what we can do as much as we need what they can do. Together we have an opportunity we would not have separately.

On the Lord’s Day when we came together as the church to honor the Lord with acts of worship, our multiplied praises afforded us an opportunity to sense the presence of the Lord in a communal way. Every hour of every day the church is a community of faith, bound together in the name and power of Christ by the Holy Spirit. On the Lord’s day when we come together in one place, our awareness of the Monday-Saturday reality of our community is heightened. If we could all remember what an opportunity this is, we would treasure our time together in public worship.

Opportunities Each Day
Today, as the week continues different kinds of opportunity will come to us individually:

  • We will renew relationships with co-workers, those we like and those we don’t like as well as those who like us and those who don’t like us.
  • There will be work for us to do, opportunities to demonstrate our craftsmanship and skill. Work is also an opportunity to honor the Lord as we do our work in the name of the Lord, with all our energy, and as unto the Lord and not unto men.
  • As we work our way through the week, conversations will turn to spiritual things. These times are opportunities to speak the truth of God into people’s lives. We must be gentle and let the weight of the Word have its effect.
  • When people come to us with their problems, we have the opportunity to minister the healing power of Christ to them as we lovingly listen to their stories. The Holy Spirit will give us the right words to say.
  • Temptations may confront us. Times of trial are opportunities to obey the Lord and not our fleshly appetites.

It is likely this week will bring us

  •  “second miles” to walk with someone,
  • “cloaks to surrender to a someone who has already borrowed our shirt,
  •  enemies to pray for and do good deeds for, and
  • even a cheek or two to turn when we have already been struck once.
  • Needy people will cross our path and we will feel prompted to help.

All of these events are opportunities to please the Lord.

The Lord’s Prayer
In the prayer Jesus gave us, there is an overriding awareness of the opportunities the day will bring:

  • “Your will be done…”
  •  “Give us this day…”
  •  “Forgive us…as we forgive…”
  • “…the time of trial…
  •  “…deliver us from evil…”

Opportunities Today
Each day presents us with opportunites to do God’s will, to depend upon Him, to forgive others, to resist tempation, and to live holy lives in an evil world. We cannot know what the week will bring except for this: we know it will be filled with opportunities to please the Lord. What joy it will be to feel His smile as we worship, work, and witness in His name and by His power.

Scriptures:
Colossians 3:16-17; 23-24
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Colossians 4:2-6
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Ephesians 5:15-20
Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Galatians 6:7-10
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me keep my eyes open today for the opportunities You send my way. There will be good words for me to say, meaningful deeds for me to perform, ordinary duties for me to attend to, and people You put in my path for me to bless. Just as every hour is filled with minutes, this day will be filled with opportunities to life up Your name with my life. How the world needs to see You! I pray that you will be visible in me today. This is my great opportunity! For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Make Me a Blessing
Words: Ira B. Wilson; Music: George S. Schuler

1. Out in the highways and byways of life,
many are weary and sad; are weary and sad
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
Making the sorrowing glad.

Refrain:
Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,
Out of my life May Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

2. Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;
Tell of His pow’r to forgive;
Others will trust Him if only you prove
True ev’ry moment you live.

Refrain:

3. Give as ’twas given to you in your need;
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed;
Unto your mission be true.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved