November 28, 2017: “Pretense”

Pretense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only the foolish think they can fool God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 21, 2017: “Success”

Success

Success is always a measurement. 
It is not always as simple as the winning team scoring more points than the losing team.  In the movie Rocky, the hero is a tremendous success even though he lost the boxing match.  How can that be?  Because we are skillfully led to understand his life and dreams, we judge Rocky to be a success, and more than that, an inspiration.

Success breeds success, so the saying goes, and there is truth here.  We don’t like to fail.  We don’t study the lives of failures unless they ultimately succeed.  We read books and attend seminars to learn how others have succeeded because we desire success.

Success and Jesus
It is all well and good, but it is not really that simple.  For the Christ-follower success is measured in more ways than in the world’s judgment.  We forget this sometimes and become enamored with Christian leaders or artists or athletes who become famous.  It is natural for us to assume that money, fame, and excellence are surefire indications of success.  They are not, though, and we have to face it.  Our success begins and ends with the Lord Jesus.

The measurement we make is in our heart of hearts.

  • “Did we find the Lord’s plan?”
  • “Did we operate by His principles?”
  • “Did our work please Him?”

Our success is not measured in numbers or in profit; these are judgments of our effectiveness.  The measure of our success is our faithfulness to God.

  • Are we working at what He wants us to do?
  • Are we working in the place He wants with the people He wants?
  • Are we building upon the work of those who have gone before us?
  • Are we doing our absolute best to accomplish the job?
  • Do we cherish the people and respect the things God has provided for the work?
  • Are we loyal to those over us and respectful of those we lead?
  • Can the church count on us in the commitments we have made?

To be faithful is to succeed.
If we can answer yes to all of these questions, we have succeeded. If the numbers do not show increase, we will keep going.  We will not give up because we are trusting God for the increase—that’s His job!  Our job is to be faithful.

The Bible talks about three kinds of ministry:

  1. Sowing the seed,
  2. Watering the seed and the seedling, and
  3. Reaping the harvest.

The one who sows the seed is successful when the sowing is done.  The one who waters the seed and tends the plant is successful when the plant bears fruit.  The one reaps the harvest succeeds when the storehouse is full.  Each one has succeeded because he did what God asked him to do.

Because God is a Covenant Keeper, our success is guaranteed!  To feel the joy of our success, we have to measure our work by the proper standard.  Our story, too, will be an inspiration.

Scriptures:
Ephesians 5:8-10
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
1 John 3:21
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.
Psalm 118:24
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success.
Nehemiah 2:20
I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”
1 Corinthians 3:6-9
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.  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
James 3:18
Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
1 Corinthians 4:2-3
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
Matthew 25:23
“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!’
2 Corinthians 9:10-11
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
Galatians 6:8-9
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to succeed in this life, therefore, I want to be used by You to the fullest extent. You created me and placed me in these circumstances for specific purposes. Sometimes my assignment is one of sowing the precious seed. At other times You ask me to water the seeds others have sown. In the best of times I get to be a harvester, bringing in my sheaves with rejoicing. Help me to sow good seed and to sow it in tears. Help be faithful even when weariness would tempt me to ease up a bit. I know success will be mine. You told me that You have chosen me to bear much fruit and that it will be fruit that abides. Now, by faith in Your promises and with confidence in Your faithfulness, I will succeed today, or if there is some delay, tomorrow! In Your Name, Lord Jesus!

Song:
To Be Used of God
Words and Music: Audrey Mieir

1. I’ve a yearning in my heart That cannot be denied.
It’s a longing that has Never yet been satisfied.
I want the world to know The One who loves them so
Like a flame it’s burning deep inside.

Refrain:
To be used of God, To sing to speak to pray,
To be used of God, To show someone the way,
Oh how I long so much to feel The touch of His consuming fire,
To be used of God is my desire

2. When I think about the shortness Of my earthly years,
I remember all the wasted days The wasted tears.
I long to preach the Word To those who’ve never heard
Of the One who can dispel all fears.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 17, 2017: “Conspiracy”

Conspiracy

Soldiers, perhaps the same squad that performed the gruesome crucifixion, were scattered in front of the tomb.
One by one the sixteen soldiers of the Roman guard stirred from the deep sleep that had taken each of them. They groaned and stretched as if they were waking from an all-night drunk. But it was still the middle of the night. The full moon floated serenely overhead and the night sounds common to a garden graveyard could still be heard. Each soldier also jerked awake when he remembered what had happened just before this heavy sleep had struck the down. Shakily each one stood to his feet, looked for his sword and shield, and reconnoitered the tomb site.

The huge stone that took all sixteen of them plus a lever and fulcrum to roll into place was back where they found it. The sight of this sparked the memory of the tall soldier in white who had easily manipulated the stone. They were glad he was gone. The soldiers exchanged apprehensive looks. The tomb was standing open, a dark cavern holding unknown terrors. The officer knew it was up to him. He could command any of the guard to look inside and he would do it. But he was a Roman officer and he was honor-bound. He knew they were in deep trouble if the body was gone. And he knew that the open tomb could really mean nothing else. He would have to answer to his many superiors, so it was he who must investigate.

He signaled for a torch, ordering a soldier to thrust it into the darkness of the tomb’s mouth to illuminate what was inside. The officer tightened his grip on the sword in his right hand and the shield in his left and looked into the tomb. He could see that the body was gone. He commanded the soldier with the torch to move it around so he could see everywhere inside. He could see no one hiding in ambush. He exchanged his sword for the torch and entered the Tomb.

The stone slab where the body was supposed to be contained only the linen wrappings of the body. Why would thieves do this? Wouldn’t they need the protection of the anointed grave clothes when they carried the body away? And, another wonder, it was all so neat. The linens were not torn or disturbed in any way and the head clothes were folded neatly as if they were meant to be some sort of mute witness. But, witness to what? A robbery under the noses of sixteen Roman soldiers? None of this made any sense.

What to do?
Finally, the squad of defeated warriors could relax and try to determine what they should do next. When their superiors found out about this either their lives or their careers were in jeopardy. The youngest of them knew what he should do. With his eyes on his commander, he back away into the darkness and at a safe distance turned and ran into the night. A good idea has many companions. The others followed in quick succession until finally the officer stood alone holding the torch, its limited light offering little illumination to his dilemma. Slowly he picked up the scattered implements of battle and trudged out of the darkness of the night into a future even darker.

Report to the Leaders
Later some of the soldiers took the only action that made sense; they went to the Jewish leaders and told them all they had seen. To their amazement, the leaders looked more alarmed than the soldiers had been! Quickly they produced cash and a promise.

“Don’t tell anyone the truth; lie and say His disciples stole the body while you slept.”

“But there were sixteen of us!”

“No problem! Money is no object–Here’s more. Tell all your companions that if Pilate gives them any trouble, we will cover for you. This means more to us than it does to Rome.” The soldiers went away, richer for the experience.

Thus the conspiracy began that continues to this day:
“Suppress the truth about Jesus. Lie, murder, slander, persecute believers, do what must be done to keep the truth about Jesus sealed in a tomb. If the truth gets out, it will set people free.”

Scriptures:
Matthew 27:62-66 NIV
The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
Matthew 28:11-15 NKJV
… some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure. “So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
Acts 4:27
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, let me always contemplate the cross through the opening of the empty tomb. The Bible says Your death was “once and for all”—a never to be repeated event. There is no need to repeat it. Unlike the innumerable lambs sacrificed under the Old Covenant, You, Lord, are the Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world. However, Your victory over death is repeatable—each of us can share in Your new life! Help me walk in resurrection power today, countering the lies people tell about You. Help me live and tell the truth. As the ancient Christian confession proclaims, “Christ has died. Christ his risen. Christ will come again!” “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Christ Arose!
Words and Music: Robert Lowry
1. Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain:
Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

2. Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain

3. Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 16, 2017: “Relentless”

Relentless

To relent means to give up and that we will not do! 
The week is a work in progress.  Monday set up the obstacle course for the week and so far, so good.  Things we knew were coming lie before us and things we never expected have joined them.  Encouraging things have happened, too, another day of the work week dawns.  Some things we know how to handle and the work that must be done.  The job is to summon the resources to do that work: energy, experience, patience, tenacity, and a healthy dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit.  Other challenges are new so new resources must be found: new wisdom, (Remember to ask the Lord!) new skills, (The Holy Spirit is your teacher!) and new applications of proven principles. (Count on the faithfulness of God!)

There may even be new opposition. 
Satan may send his forces against you and the work God has given you to do in new ways, tactics you have never before faced.  Do not be ignorant of his devices.  When your opposition is rooted in the spirit realm, the Holy Spirit sets off a fire alarm in your heart.  When you hear that bell, you know that victory is as sure as that empty tomb on the first Easter morning.  The Lord’s record is “a gazillion gazillion and 0” and He is not about to lose this match.

What weapons shall we use in battle?
(Prayer is not a weapon; prayer is the battle itself!) We should learn from the victors whose story is told in the Revelation. They overcame the enemy

  1. by the blood of the Lamb and
  2. by the word of their testimony.

We can choose to be relentless today because the Blood of Jesus has broken the powers of the sin and death.  We are free because no shackles can withstand the power of the Blood and no prison walls can bind us when Jesus has torn them down.

We will not give up the fight!
Like young David who faced a giant in the serenity of his own testimony of past victories, (the lion and the bear) we face the battles this week offers in the serenity of God’s spotless record in our own lives.  Even in times when the enemy temporarily gained ground in a battle, we rested in the presence of the Lord knowing that the war was not over and that victory would be ours—and it was so!  The Blood of the Lamb (the whole story of Redemption and new creation) and the word of our testimony (our on-going story of redemption and new creation) form a one-two punch Satan has never figured out how to block.

With God on our side, we are equal to any task this week presents us.

  • We can lead beyond our natural leadership.
  • We can create better than our talent and skill would allow.
  • We can love others far beyond our natural affections and affinities.
  • We can pray when we don’t even know what to pray for.
  • We can communicate things we have never learned.

Why on earth would we ever relent?

Scriptures:
Proverbs 21:31
The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.
Luke 18:1
Then Jesus told his disciples … that they should always pray and not give up.
Galatians 6:9
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
1 John 5:3-5
This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
John 16:33
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Romans 12: 21
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Revelation 12:10-12
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!
Romans 8:31-39
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”   No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are with me in the relentless demands of life. You will never abandon me to chance. You will never be overmatched by my enemies. You will reveal to me Satan’s devices and schemes. Your Spirit will bring to my mind the truths I need to counter the enemy’s attacks. If the demands of life are relentless so are the blessings You shower on me. The Bible says that where sin abounds, grace does that much more abounds. I choose to walk in Your grace, Your relentless grace. With faith in Your name—Amen!

Song:
I Would Not Be Denied
Words and Music: C. P. Jones

Verse 1
When Pangs Of Death Seized On My Soul,
Unto The Lord I Cried
Till Jesus Came And Made Me Whole,
I Would Not Be Denied.

Refrain:
I Would Not Be Denied,
I Would Not Be Denied,
Till Jesus Came And Made Me Whole,
I Would Not Be Denied.

Verse 2
As Jacob In The Days Of Old,
I Wrestled With The Lord;
And Instant, With A Courage Bold,
I Stood Upon His Word.

Refrain

Verse 3
Old Satan Said My Lord Was Gone,
And Would Not Hear My Prayer,
But Praise The Lord! The Work Is Done,
And Christ The Lord Is Here.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 2, 2017: “Cupbearer”

Cupbearer

Nehemiah lived in the moment.
Each of can choose which moment we want to inhabit:

  • We can dwell on the past.
  • We can seize the present.
  • We can imagine the future.

Of course, this is all the stuff of the imagination. When it comes to the fundamental things—breathing, eating, sleeping, waking, working, playing—we are anchored to the present. But when the necessities are attended to, our minds race to the moments of our choosing: past, present, or future.

Nehemiah’s testimony is of a moment when the present became his passion. He received a report of conditions in his faraway homeland of Israel. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, the walls of the city lay in ruins, and the gates thereof were burned with fire. Like the city, those who had not been taken captive to Babylon, now conquered by Assyria, were living in misery.

The news broke the young man’s heart. He was too young to really remember the past, the glory days of the Temple, the secure city of David, and the peace of the kingdom but he listened to the stories of those who did. The reality of the present pressed in on him until he began calling out to God.

In the process the cupbearer to the king filled the cup of his heart with sorrow and repentance for the sins of those who had departed from the faith. Their disobedience, not his, had broken the Covenant with Jehovah. Their idolatry had offended God, not his. Yet he repented of the sins of others and cried out to God for restoration, also a promise of the covenant. In full remembrance of the past, he saw a present moment to be seized in faith.

He was the cupbearer for the King, Artaxerxes.
In this position, he was on intimate terms with the king, as much as was possible in a slaveholding society. He knew the customs and he knew his place in the schemes of things. Sensing that a future could be much better than the present, he acted, taking an historic risk of faith.

You can read his story in Nehemiah and Ezra. He spoke up and was heard. He formed a plan and built a team. He made the journey and rebuilt the wall and the gates so that Ezra could rebuild the Temple. They reestablished true worship in the land.

Look at the position you hold today. It may seem as unimportant as that of a cup-bearing servant. Look again. Perhaps there is moment waiting for you to seize it and make a difference today and in the future. See the past and learn from it but don’t live in it. See the future and pray for it, but it will always be just out of reach. See this moment and seize it for that is the only thing that makes sense.

Scriptures:
Nehemiah 1 NKJV
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have work for me to do today. You have placed me here to be of service to You and to the world. Help me seize the opportunities this day presents and do something worthwhile with them. Let me work with integrity in my heart, wisdom in my mind, and skill in my hands. At the end of this day, when I lay my head on my pillow to rest, may I look back on a day where something good was done through my efforts and Your grace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
Rise Up O Saints of God
Words: William P. Merrill (adapted SRP) Music: William H. Walter
1. Rise up, O saints of God! Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength to serve the King of kings.

2. Rise up, O saints of God! The kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood and end the night of wrong.

3. Rise up, O saints of God! The church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task; rise up, and make her great!

4. Lift high the cross of Christ!  Tread where his feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man, rise up, O saints of God!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

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 30, 2017: “Productivity”

Productivity

Created to Produce
Just as peace is not passive, productivity is not optional; we were created to produce.  Adam and Eve were commissioned to be fruitful, to multiply, and to manage the life systems and resources of the earth.  When they fell into sin, God did not rescind this commission from Adam and Eve, and therefore, from us.  The result of sin was that the processes of productivity became work:

  • Women would become mothers through pain.
  • The earth would become fruitful by the sweat of the human brow.

The need to create and the drive to produce remain in the human heart, though the means of this productivity has become a thing of pain.

Spiritual Productivity
As necessary as productivity is to life, there is also a spiritual dimension to it.  Just as we are called to be productive in material things, we are intended to produce spiritual fruit.  “Bearing fruit” is the most common biblical image for personal productivity.  Jesus introduced the vivid metaphor of the Vine and the branches.  He said He was the Vine and we were the branches.  In order to bear much fruit we must remain connected to Him, just a branches must have a functioning connection to the vine if they are to bear fruit.  “Fruit” in this context means more than winning souls; it means producing what God made us to produce.  Writers write.  Teachers teach.  Builders build.  Designers design, and so on.

Facing this Week
You face this week of work with a deep desire to be productive and most likely, a pressing need to do well on the job.

  • Job assessments are a measure of the worker’s effectiveness, his/her productivity.
  • Fathers and mothers work hard to provide for their families by the value of their productivity.
  • The mechanized, computerized fields the modern worker plows still depend on the willingness of the worker to sweat—to do the work!
  • Visionaries bring new businesses into the world and the pangs of this kind of birth can last for years of 90 hour weeks before the business grows up and becomes profitable.

The good news is this:  We were made to be productive!
The same Lord who saved us from sin and hell stands ready to empower us to produce in our daily lives.  The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells within us, to give us the wisdom, the creativity and the grace we need to succeed.  When we begin to understand the theology of work as worship, we open ourselves to the continuing enablement of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of life.

More than an inborn need and a daily requirement, productivity is a spiritual responsibility.  The scriptures have wonderful things to say about productivity:

  • Each of us has a productive path to walk, one laid down for us by the Lord Himself long before the wondrous week of creation. (Eph 2:10)
  • Being fruitful brings glory to God. (John 15:1-8)
  • Each of us has been hand chosen and ordained by the Lord Jesus to bear much fruit and fruit that lasts. (John 10:15,16)

Hard work is still hard work.
Bringing new life into the world is still a thing of pain.  Wringing a harvest from the earth still demands the sweat of the brow.  Hard work is the order of the day for most of us   Yet, the one who believes in Jesus is not alone in the delivery room, behind the plow, or at the office or workstation.  Jesus holds us close in each new venture.  He guides the plow and helps us pull the load as His Spirit gives us strength and wisdom, rest and refreshment as we work.

Scriptures:
Genesis 1:26-28 NKJV
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”…Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 3:17-19 NKJV
“Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life… In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”
John 15:1-8
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener… 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… This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Colossians 1:10
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…
Ephesians 2:9-10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
John 15:16-17
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, You are The True Vine and I am only a branch, but I am a branch that can bear much fruit. You have promised me this. As You said in John’s gospel, You have chosen me and ordained me that I should go and bear much fruit and that my fruit should remain. Without You I can do nothing but with You I can do much—great things! Extend Your Kingdom through the life I live each day. I want to tell Your story with my life and work. I want to share Your love with the whole world, starting with those I meet today. Thank You, Lord.

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

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

Refrain:
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright,
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

4 We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,
who the path of sorrow has trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples
may come to the truth of God,
may come to the truth of God.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 29, 2017 “Empty”

Empty

Empty Hearts
Yes, of course these hearts beat. But this is not about pumping blood. This is about life and these hearts are empty of life. These hearts belong to good people. People who work hard and do the right thing and go to church and mow their lawns and try to treat others they way they would like to be treated.

But something of their childhood dreams has eluded them. Perhaps they came to Florida to start over. Perhaps they came to sit in the shade and watch the sun go down. Perhaps they came to fish or to start a new business or a new marriage. But sunsets and fishing tackle haven’t filled their empty hearts. Church membership and a good job still leaves a hole in their heart where the joy leaks out. The new marriage or new business or the old fantasies of childhood have filled their lives with activity but have failed to make them happy. Think of it! Within 30-40 minutes of your church, there are unnumbered empty hearts.

Empty Lives
“What are his vital signs?” asks the paramedic over an unconscious man. Meaning, “How alive is he?” There are vital signs other than pulse and respiration rates. There is life —life itself, a spark in the eyes, a bubbling laugh, a sigh of satisfaction, the quick step of a man on a mission. These cannot be measured on medical instruments. Most people have nothing in their lives. They may be on the street, obvious in their poverty, or they may be living in the seaside mansion hiding their poverty behind wealth.

“Life does not consist in the things a man possesses.” Jesus said.

But “things, things, and more things” form the substance we try to use to fill our lives. But the hole found in empty hearts is in the empty lives too. The stuff won’t stay. It keeps draining out and leaving the life empty. Just think, unnumbered lives have just trudged through another day—hoping for the weekend and maybe some more stuff.

Empty Places
Meanwhile, at church, people stand and sing praises to their King—scores of them, or hundreds, or a thousand or more gathered at the appointed hour to sing and serve and seize life from their Savior. Their lives are brimming with the substance of the King’s domain—righteous, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Each has a calling—a function in life that fills him to overflowing and makes his life count for something. These hearts are full of gratitude, of praise, of adoration, of worship. Peace is found there and hope.

Yet, scattered between these worshipers, all around the edges and way up in the balcony are places where no one has put down a Bible or purse or a coat. No one stands there worshiping. The Word comes to these seats looking for a heart to invade but falls on fabric instead, the sound of the Words of Life dissipates in a cushion. Empty seats—so many spaces for someone to fill; some empty-hearted servant of the Lord who longs to be filled with the Spirit of God or some empty-lived servant of hell who never knew there was salvation.

  • Empty hearts—tradition and lack of knowledge has robbed them of joy—a tragedy.
  • Empty lives—sin has beaten the breath from their souls—a crime against God and man.
  • Empty places—a gift from God wasted—a catastrophe.

Lord, help us. Show us how to fill the empty places. Show us how to sense the empty heart and fill it with your Sprit. Teach us to recognize the empty life and bring it to you. Lord,countless empty souls are rushing to hell as fast as they can all around us. They are shooting each other and jumping off bridges. They medicate each other with contraband and betray their vows in little, musty rooms. They roam our streets like scavengers unable to get their fill and they stalk the halls of business like predators unable to get enough.

Lord, You are what they are looking for! Please, Lord, help us fill these empty places.

Scriptures:
Luke 12:15 NIV
Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
John 10:10 NIV
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 7:37-39 NKJV
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, let my heart be broken for the lost. Help me feel the pain in Your heart when we you such lost souls here, where I live. Sensitize my soul to their emptiness. Let the very sigh of empty places in our church disturb me, strike me to the heart. Show me how to fill our empty places. Show me how to fill the empty lives all around me, beginning with mine. Help me reach out to the empty hearts within my reach. I want to be ready with the word of witness, the compassionate touch in Your name, and the loving gesture at Your command. Let the spring of Living Water in me flow so strong that those who know me best will also know that Your life flows through me. For Souls, Lord for Souls! Amen.

Song:
People Need the Lord
Words and Music: Greg Nelson and Phil McHugh

1. Everyday they pass me by,
I can see it in their eyes.
Empty people filled with care,
Headed who knows where?

On they go through private pain,
Living fear to fear.
Laughter hides their silent cries,
Only Jesus hears.

Refrain:
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
At the end of broken dreams, He’s the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize, people need the Lord?

We are called to take His light
To a world where wrong seems right.
What could be too great a cost
For sharing Life with one who’s lost?

Through His love our hearts can feel
All the grief they bear.
They must hear the Words of Life
Only we can share.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 19, 2017 “Story-teller”

Story-teller

“This is the west, Sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”—from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” 1962 dir. John Ford

Each of us is a storyteller. I don’t mean that we are all liars, although many are. I mean we tell a story with our lives. What’s more, we live our lives based on a story that we believe is true.

What makes a story?
The elements of a story are three:

  1. Character,
  2. Conflict, and
  3. Conclusion.

The narrative structure of a story is also a three-part reality:

  1. Exposition,
  2. Development, and
  3. Finale.

If life were a play, we would say it this way:

  • Act One—the Beginning: childhood,
  • Act Two—the Middle: adulthood, and
  • Act Three—the End: eternity.

Apply these three trinities to the Jesus Story:

  • Act One—The Exposition:
    -The backstory of creation and the Nation of Israel
    -The Nativity
    -Theme: The Coming Redemption of Humanity
  • Act Two—Development
    -The earthly ministry of Jesus
    -The early church and the wisdom of the Apostles
    -Theme: Redeeming Love
  • Act Three—Finale
    -The End-time drama of Revelation
    -The absolute Victory of Christ over evil
    -The New Heaven and the New Earth
    -Theme: Redemption and New Creation

No Legend, This!
We live in a world of lies and legends. As Isaiah predicted, “Truth has stumbled in the streets.” We who tell a story that is neither legend nor lie have work to do. We don’t need filmmakers, or the news media, or atheists, or cynics, or comics, or celebrities, or gossips on social media. We need the love of Jesus in our hearts, the fire of the Spirit in our bones, and the truth of God in our souls.

Jesus said the contents of our hearts would come spilling out of our mouths.
Let’s fill our hearts with the Story of Jesus.

  • Let’s tell it with words of truth, deeds of mercy, tithes and offerings, prayers and supplications, and with praise and worship.
  • Let’s tell it to each other, to our children and grandchildren, to our neighbors and friends, to our enemies, to those passing and let’s tell it to ourselves in prayer every day.
  •  Let’s tell it as we work, rest, and play and let us dream of it when we sleep.
  • Let’s let the zeal of His house consume us until we disappear into the blinding, healing revelation of who Jesus is right now.
  •  Preachers, tell it when you take the pulpit. It is the power of God unto salvation for all!
  • Worship Leaders, tell it when you choose the songs.
  • Musicians, tell it with your voices and instruments.
  • Writers, write it; painters paint it; poets, set it to verse.

And let us be sure to tell the whole story, Act One, Act Two, and Act Three:

  • Jesus is our Savior.
  • Jesus is our Healer.
  • Jesus is our Baptizer in the Spirit.Jesus is our Soon-Coming King!
  • No other story rescues people from sin and destruction. No other story drains the heart of its despair and fills it again with hope and peace.

Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.

Storytellers We Must Be!

Scriptures:
Isaiah 59:14-15 NIV
So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
Romans 1:16-17 NIV
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Matthew 24:12-14 NIV
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 26:6-13 NIV
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Colossians 3:17; 23-25 NIV
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, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Romans 1:15 NKJV
So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel…

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have a story to tell—Your story! Like the Apostle, I am not ashamed of Your story for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Help me to tell your story with words and deeds, with thoughts and intentions of the heart, and with compassion and empathy for all I meet. Never let my humanity spoil the story. Never let me betray the truth with phony living. I invite the Holy Spirit to anoint me in all dimensions so that my life will be an open letter to the world, a moving narrative of Your life in me. For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Tell Me the Story of Jesus
Words: Fanny Crosby; Music: John R. Sweney

1. Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels in chorus, Sang as they welcomed His birth,
“Glory to God in the highest! Peace and good tidings to earth.”

Refrain:
Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.

2. Fasting alone in the desert, Tell of the days that are past,
How for our sins He was tempted, Yet was triumphant at last.
Tell of the years of His labor, Tell of the sorrow He bore;
He was despised and afflicted, Homeless, rejected and poor.

Refrain

3. Tell of the cross where they nailed Him, Writhing in anguish and pain;
Tell of the grave where they laid Him, Tell how He liveth again.
Love in that story so tender, Clearer than ever I see;
Stay, let me weep while you whisper, “Love paid the ransom for me.”

Refrain

4. Tell how He’s gone back to heaven, Up to the right hand of God:
How He is there interceding While on this earth we must trod.
Tell of the sweet Holy Spirit He has poured out from above;
Tell how He’s coming in glory For all the saints of His love.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved