December 28 “Answers”

Answers

As a child Jesus possessed no divine powers. He performed no miracles or signs or wonders.
Yet, the mind of Christ was like no other, even in the formative stages. All children ask questions but we can only imagine the kinds of questions the boy Jesus asked. He was an excellent playmate as other children loved to participate in the childhood adventures He could dream up. He was easily and deeply touched by the pain of the other children and would rush to comfort them. Even adults would receive his solace. A community within the community grew around Him as the parents of His friends welcomed Him into their homes. He was a good influence on their children. The rumors of His illegitimate birth were almost forgotten in the presence of His excellent nature. Mary and Joseph had other children, each one special in his or her own way.

Each year this community within the community would make the journey south to Jerusalem for the annual feast of Passover. The ceremonies had special significance for Joseph and Mary since they, too, had been called out of Egypt.

The pilgrimage was a joyful one, a moving celebration of the first order. They sang the songs of ascent, from the Psalms:

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”
“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.”
Our feet have been standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem!”
“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing.”

In the journey the children from these close-knit families often mixed with the families of their friends. The safe assumption was that they were all present and accounted for.

The ceremonies at the Temple were impressive and instructive.
Perhaps no one noticed that the lad Jesus lingered in the outer court of the temple. He had caught the attention of a small cadre of priests. His questions were not those of an ordinary boy. The number of priests grew as each priest was challenged by Jesus’ mind.

The boy was sincere. He really wanted to know and to understand the mysteries that plagued them all. This went on for three days. The priests took care of Him, sure that soon His parents would come looking for Him. This had become a conversation none of them would ever forget. Some of these very priests, in a matter of two decades, would have to decide about this young man as he stood before them on trial for His life, a threat to all their power.

Finally, Joseph and Mary found Jesus safe in the Temple entertaining the leaders of the land. In her maternal frustration, Mary rebuked her son. Didn’t she realize what He realized? He had a work to do for His Father in heaven. Quickly with deep embarrassment, Joseph and Mary collected Jesus and shepherded Him back home, back to the normal routine. But it would not be so. A corner had been turned for all of them. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:41-52 NKJV
His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Songs of Ascent
Psalm 121: 1-3
I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Psalm 122:1-2
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Our feet have been standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Psalm 125:1
Those who trust in the Lord Are like Mount Zion, Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to march in the procession to Your House! I want to ascend the Hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place. Give me clean hands and a pure heart. I remove any idols from my life and fill my mouth with truth! You are worthy of all my praise. Let me think deeply about You, not just now on Your holy throne, but then—in Your earthly life—Your childhood, Your teen years, Your young adulthood. Thank You for entering this life to show us how it should be lived. Help me to grow as You did “in favor with God and men.” Amen.

Song:
Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming
Traditional German Carol

1. Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming As men of old have sung.
It came, a flower bright, Amid the cold of winter
When half-gone was the night.

2. Isaiah ’twas foretold it, The Rose I have in mind:
With Mary we behold it, The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright She bore to men a Savior
When half-gone was the night.

3. This Flower, whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God, From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also available at KingdomWinds.com.

December 15 “Prophetess”

Prophetess

The Bible refers to Anna as a Prophetess.
In the days of the Christmas story, the Temple had a women’s court. Women could not be priests or Levites of course, but they could pray. When a woman of faith prays, heaven listens.  Heaven also speaks. This elderly saint had no family from her long-departed husband so her full attention went to prayer and fasting. The life she chose in her advanced age was one of service to God; the scripture makes this plain. God is faithful to reward those who serve Him from a pure heart.

The Presence of the Lord
Years after Anna had gone on to her reward in Heaven, Jesus would come to these same outer courts and find commerce and politics but not consecration and prayer. He would call it a Den of Thieves. Even though this was surely the case in Anna’s day, she ignored the money-changing and power-grabbing and focused her heart on God. She disciplined her frail body with fasting and empowered her heroic spirit with prayer. Since God is faithful, we can be sure that He granted her the sweetness of His presence. In the midst of chicanery Anna found Shekinah.

The Word of the Lord
Anna arose to pray, as did her counterpart Simeon, seven times each day. Like him, she had memorized the psalms and much of the prophets. She used the holy words to call upon God for a Redeemer. Her treble voice graced the long hours of the night like a song on the wind in a meadow. Indeed, it was as if she felt a wind even within the sheltered walls of the Temple. She felt the winds of the Spirit of God stirring in her heart. Messiah was near—very soon to “suddenly arrive” at the Temple as Malachi predicted. The ancient words of God sounded in her hearing as if freshly spoken.

A New Covenant
Anna and Simeon knew the prophecy of Jeremiah and they were longing for Messiah. Perhaps they sensed that Messiah would bring a New Covenant. Jesus, the Christ, would indeed bring a New Covenant, one made in His own blood. He would be the final Lamb. A new type of worship would be instituted in His victory over death. Instead of worship in time and place, New Covenant worship would consist of spirit and truth. These two saints can be seen as the incarnations of Truth and Spirit:

  • Simeon, the priestly prophet preaching through his prayer-dreams for the truth of God to bring repentance and restoration, and
  • Anna, the praying prophetess, calling on God in effectual, fervent prayer—prayer in the Spirit—that, even then, availed much.

Unseen by the public and ignored by the leaders, this little woman prayed in the Temple for their Redeemer to come.

When a woman of faith prays, heaven listens.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:36-38 NKJV
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 NKJV
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Isaiah 44:6-8 NKJV
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them. Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.'”
Isaiah 59:19-21 NKJV
So shall they fear The name of the Lord from the west, And His glory from the rising of the sun; When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him. “The Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” Says the Lord. “As for Me,” says the Lord, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord , “from this time and forevermore.”
Isaiah 60:16-18 NKJV
You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. “Instead of bronze I will bring gold, Instead of iron I will bring silver, Instead of wood, bronze, And instead of stones, iron. I will also make your officers peace, And your magistrates righteousness. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, Neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; But you shall call your walls Salvation, And your gates Praise.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, teach me Anna’s secret! I want to renew my commitment to prayer and to the things of the Spirit of God. I will tune out the noise of this secular age and the clamor of commerce all around me. Help me feel the winds of the Spirit in my heart as she did there in the Temple. Your Spirit is at work. When people of faith pray, You still listen! You still speak when You find us listening in prayer. Help me to dwell in Your presence and to occupy myself with Your mission. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
I Will Sing of My Redeemer
Words: Philip P. Bliss; Music James McGranahan

1 I will sing of my Redeemer and his wondrous love to me;
on the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.
Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With his blood he purchased me;
on the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and made me free.

2 I will tell the wondrous story, how my lost estate to save,
in his boundless love and mercy, he the ransom freely gave.
I will praise my dear Redeemer, his triumphant power I’ll tell:
how the victory he gives me over sin and death and hell.

3 I will sing of my Redeemer and his heavenly love for me;
he from death to life has brought me, Son of God, with him to be.
Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With his blood he purchased me;
on the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and made me free.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 5 “Elizabeth”

Elizabeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song:
Have Faith in God
Traditional Chorus

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 4 “Zacharias”

Zacharias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song:
God Answers Prayer
Traditional Chorus

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 3 “Emmanuel”

Emmanuel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song:
O Come, O Come Immanuel
Ancient Christian Chant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 22, 2017: “Rank”

Rank

In the military, rank really counts. 
A soldier, sailor, airman, or marine has to know where he or she stands in the chain of command.  Over the years a cliché has been used to describe warriors of the lowest degree, “the rank and file.”  In the modern versions of the military in the USA there is a clear difference between “enlisted personnel” and the officers’ corps.

Among each group there are progressive strata of authority available to the individual with each rank adding a stripe to the uniform and another level of responsibility to the duties of that individual.  Likewise, the officers’ corps features a progression through ranks with appropriate insignia and increasing responsibilities.

How does this apply to spiritual combat in the Army of the Lord? 
Of course rank is not as formalized in the church as in the military but it certainly is a reality.  Each of us needs to understand where we function in the “chain of command,” from Jesus down to us, and on to those we lead.  Ideally, leaders in the church rise to that position of responsibility because of the call of God on their lives.  This ideal should be present at every level of leadership and follow-ship in the church—each one should be serving in the area of his/her calling.

This may be all too rare, but is the way that Jesus taught. He turned the seeking of rank on its head, proclaiming that leadership in the Kingdom of God was really servant hood. It is interesting to note that in their letters, the Apostles claimed to be servants not masters, private soldiers not generals.

Rank and Privilege
With the calling of God on each person as the central factor, the effects of rank in the Army of God are quite different from the effects of rank in the military organizations today.  In the world, “rank has its privileges.”  The general or the admiral is considered more important than the private soldier or able bodied seaman.

Not so in the Kingdom of God! Every warrior in the Army of the Lord is equal in importance, if not in rank!  We do not have equal responsibility but we are of equal worth.  This is a significant difference!

  • Some of us have the responsibilities of officers, that is, we are leaders, planners, and evaluators.
  • Others have the responsibility level of enlisted personnel, that is, we carry out the plans of the officers.
  • Each of us, leader or follower, planner, or implementer, holds an equal place in the heart of our Commander, the Lord Jesus.

Paul used the soldier-commander model to encourage young Timothy to a life of faithful spiritual warfare, warning him not to become entangled with “civilian” activities that would take his mind and heart away from the war at hand.  He gave Timothy a lofty but entirely manageable life’s goal: “to please your commanding officer.”

To do this, Timothy had to live a specific life:

  • He had to live life “by the Book,” that means, according to the Word of God.
  • He must seek to please the Lord and not men.
  • He must wage warfare with spiritual weapons, not those of men.

Today for a warrior of any rank, this remains a good three-fold set of life principles:

  1. Live by the Book;
  2. Please the Lord; and
  3. Depend on the Holy Spirit.

In the Army of the Lord, this, not rank, is what really counts.

Scriptures:
Titus 1:1
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ
James 1:1
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
2 Peter 1:1
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
Jude 1
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James,
Mark 10:42-45
… 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.”
Mark 1:27-28
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching-and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Jesus’ Teaching: Matt 9:38; 11:25; 12:8; 20:16; Luke 13:29-30

  • Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
  • Jesus said, I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth
  • For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath
  • So the last will be first, and the first will be last. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.

Revelation 22:9
Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”
1 John 5:1-5
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.  This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.  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.
2 Timothy 2:3-5
Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs-he wants to please his commanding officer.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my commanding officer. At the same time, You have given me responsibilities that put others under my leadership. I want to shoulder these responsibilities and succeed in every mission. Help me lead as Your words command, not in forced power but in shared responsibilities. Give me spiritual vision to see the field of battle. Give me strategic wisdom to know what should be done. Help me prepare the spiritual weapons in Your arsenal and use them well. You are Jehovah Nissi, the Lord Our Banner, Our Victory. I will raise Your name high for all my soldiers to see. In Your victory, Amen.

Song:
Onward, Christian Soldiers
Words: S. Baring-Gould; Music: Arthur Sullivan

1. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before!
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle, see his banner go!

Refrain:
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before!

2. At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On, then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise!

Refrain

3. Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod;
We are not divided; all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

Refrain

4. Onward, then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song;
Glory, laud, and honor, unto Christ the King;
This thro’ countless ages men and angels sing.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 20, 2017: “Utility”

Utility

u·til·i·ty noun 1. the state or quality of being useful; usefulness: 2. something useful; a useful thing. 3.  a public service


The Kingdom of God is a practical place.

Each of us is highly esteemed by the Lord; He has deemed us worthy of Calvary.  Yet, not one of us is simply an ornament on the Tree of Life or a decoration on the face of the earth.  Each of us has purpose.  We are here for a reason.  We have a utility to provide to the Lord and to our fellow human beings.  We are called to be useful.

As an infant we simply existed, cooing and crying, smiling and grimacing at the pleasures and pains that came our way.  We did not make the world go round.  We made no significant contribution to society, added nothing to the wealth of the family or the nation, and provided no profit or product demanded by anyone—except those who loved us!  As a beloved child we made our parent’s world go round, made precious contributions to their lives, held great potential for society’s benefit, were an asset to the home and the country and produced joy in the hearts of those who held us dear.  Even as infants, each of us possessed utility.

As we grew to become kids, teens, and young adults, we added skills and personality to our preciousness and started being useful to those beyond our family.  The early teen years pulled us away from our parents to the passing parade of people our age who might be friends.  One of the ways to make friends is to possess utility.  We make them laugh.  We are good listeners.  We help them in many ways.  In turn, we share interests and activities, problems and fun.  Friends are friends because they are useful to each other.  The pattern for life is set.

For the believer, the spiritual element of usefulness becomes a determining factor. 
We sense that we can be useful to God.  We suspect deep in our hearts that God has a plan for our lives, something He wants us to do, a specific way He wants us to serve Him and our fellow human beings.  If our progress from child to adult is a proper one, this sense of calling will become the ruling sentiment—the controlling idea—behind our choices, from friends to fun, and from ambitions to amusements.

All is not lost.
What if those early teen years were misspent?  What if the opportunities of youth were wasted, stolen by the temptations of a shallow, live-for-the-moment culture?  All is not lost.  Redemption is the most amazing part of amazing grace.  Today, we can be useful to the Lord.  Our words can speak His truth.  Our lives can demonstrate His Kingdom.  Our skills can be anointed by His Spirit to extend His Kingdom wherever we go.

You are not an ornament on the Tree of Life; you are a branch in the Vine, useful for producing fruit.  You are not a decoration on the face of the earth; you are a vessel of honor in the Master’s house, “useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”

Scriptures:
2 Timothy 3:15-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work
Philemon 8-11
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul-an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus- I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
2 Timothy 2:20-21
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work
1 Peter 4:9-11
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Romans 12:4-8
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
John 15:1-8 NKJV
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, a great source of beauty in Your creation is the beauty of usefulness, of practical utility. What is more efficient and productive than a healthy branch in a thriving vine? Thank You for drafting me into the Vine! Thank You for Your calling on my life, a call to be useful and productive . This, indeed, is a beautiful life. You spoke the words and John recorded them; let me hear them again today, “You have not chosen me but I have chosen you to go and bring forth much fruit and that your fruit should remain.” Help it continue to be so today and all this week! For Your Glory! Amen.

Song:
Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated
Words: Frances Ridley Havergal; Music: Henri A. Cesar Malan

1. Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in endless praise,
let them flow in endless praise.

2. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

3. Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

4. Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

5. Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.

6. Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 25, 2017: “Holding”

Holding

Holding and hoarding are not the same. 
When we hold something, we treasure it, tend it, protect it, and let it perform its function.  To hoard something means to collect things compulsively and then neglect those things to their own destruction.  Things we hold, we can access readily when we, or others, need them.  Hoarded objects, emotions, or ideas pile up in random stacks, stuffed drawers, and messy cabinets so that specific things known to be in the “collection” can never be found when needed by us or anyone else.

As believers in Jesus, there are wonderful treasures filed neatly in our inner selves, things that we hold dear:

  • The Word of God,
  • The sweet presence of Jesus,
  • The abiding comfort of the Holy Spirit,
  • The divine embrace of the Father,
  • The spirit-deep assurance of salvation,
  • The confidence in the Covenant that is called, “faith,”
  • The call of God on our lives,
  • The two families we belong to, one of blood and name and the other of faith, and
  • The hope of the life to come.

When someone is rich in the wealth of the world, that wealth can be measured by adding up the holdings of that individual.  As Christ-followers, the list above is only a partial list of our holdings.

Tending our Holdings
The things we hold in our hearts are not all the same.  There are different ways we must tend to them.  Some things we hold on to as treasure while other things need to be thrown out with the trash.

May we never hoard things like these:

  • Wounds to the body, soul, or spirit.  These should be held long enough for Jesus to heal them.  Then we can let them go so completely that all that is left of them are memories.
  • Sins that lie hidden in our hearts.  These holdings spread death in the center of our life.  They must grow so abhorrent to us that we lay them before the Lord in repentance so that he can deliver us.  These holdings are fit only for the Savior since He has already borne their cost.
  • Ambitions that life has given us, selfish motives, and wicked dreams.  These things need to be replaced with the “dreams and visions” that come with the infilling of the Holy Spirit.  We need to let go of our own glory and seek to hold in our hearts the Glory of God.

Other holdings we possess are designed to flow through us to others:

  • We cling to the love of God, and as we do, His love flows through us to the people around us.  In this way we obey both of the top two commands: love God, love people.We hold truth dear and build our lives upon it.  As w
  • We live out the Jesus story, building our house upon the Rock, we are re-telling the Jesus story to anyone who is paying attention.  The truth of God flows through us even as we hold it fast in our hearts.
  • Praise and worship flow through us.  We treasure the presence of the Lord each day and then, like an Old Covenant priest carrying the Ark, we carry the Lord’s presence out into our world.  On the Lord’s day, we join our passion to that of the Holy-Royal Priesthood and the Glory of the Lord is revealed in public worship.

As this day begins, check your holdings. 
If you find unworthy things in your inventory, do not hoard them!  Cast them out and cast yourself on the mercies of God.  Treasure the eternal, beautiful things in your well-ordered heart.  From the abundance of your heart’s holdings, your life will speak eloquently of the Glory of the Lord.

Scriptures:
Matthew 5:8
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
2 Corinthians 4:7-8 NKJV
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
Luke 6:43-45
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Mark 12:29-31
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.   Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’   The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
1 John 4:20-21 NKJV
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
Matthew 7:24-27
“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.”
Philippians 3:12 NKJV
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, as Paul said, You have laid hold on me—thank You! This is my peace and security. Help me to lay hold of You and of all the treasures You have hidden in Your Word, in the church, and in all of creation. There are wonderful, beautiful things I can hold in my heart to regulate my emotions. There are equally splendid things I can hold in my mind to focus my thoughts. There are spiritual ideals I can live my life by to be a good and productive person. Because of Your Spirit within, these amazing things are within my grasp! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand
Words: Jennie Wilson; Music: Franklin L. Eiland

1 Time is filled with swift transition,
Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Refrain:
Hold to God’s unchanging hand,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand;
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

2 Trust in Him who will not leave you,
Whatsoever years may bring,
If by earthly friends forsaken
Still more closely to Him cling.

Refrain

3 Covet not this world’s vain riches
That so rapidly decay,
Seek to gain the heav’nly treasures,
They will never pass away.

Refrain

4 When your journey is completed,
If to God you have been true,
Fair and bright the home in glory
Your enraptured soul will view.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 24, 2017: “Experiment”

Experiment

It is the duty of an infant human being to experiment.
They are at this duty constantly.  At first the world is a blur of colors, a din of noise, and a baptism of sensations.  Gradually, by constant experimentation with all these stimuli, the child begins to discover the order of things.  That lovely sound, a voice—mother’s voice!  That strange pain inside—hunger!  Cold and warmth and light and dark, quiet and rhythmic pounding are all put together into a world that starts to make sense.  What are those things?—Ah! Toes!  And these things?—fingers! And where do they go?—mouth!  The life of the infant is a constant process of experiment and discovery.

As the child grows, this voyage of experimentation and discovery continues as play—the duty of the child.  Coupled with the gift of imagination that is unbounded by the inconvenience of logic or material realities, the child experiments with activities and images, words and feelings, all the while learning and discovering.

The same is true for older children and teens.  Their experiments get more daring and even can be dangerous as they age, but true to the mission of a child, they continue as random scientists seeking to understand the world in which they find themselves.

Spiritual Experimentation
Of course, this is all a picture of the life of the believer.  We are challenged to experiment in the ways of the Spirit.
We must discover a method for private prayer.

  • When should we pray, morning or evening? Both?
  • How should we pray, talk to God? Pray the Scriptures? Pray in the Spirit? All of the above?
  • How many types of prayer are there?
  • What does it mean to pray without ceasing?

We experiment with the Bible to determine how we should best consume its nourishment.

  • Morning? Evening?
  • Old Testament/New Testament?
  • Gospels/Acts/Revelation? (The Jesus Story!)
  • Apostolic letters?
  • Should we memorize verses?
  • What is the difference between Bible reading and Bible study?
  •  Experience tells us not to read in sequence for we will bog down in Leviticus for sure.

There is much in daily living that requires experimentation and discovery.

  • How do we turn the other cheek? Go the second mile? Pray for our enemies?
  • How do we discover the will of God for a certain task, opportunity, or life-long vocation?
  • How can a husband love his wife as Christ loves the church?
  • How can a wife submit to her husband without losing herself?
  • How can parents raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
  • How can children honor their fathers and mothers?
  • How do we learn what pleases God?

The Lab of Life
Life’s questions are many, but the Lord has them all covered.  He has given us a laboratory called “life” and an experimentation manual called “The Bible.”  Now He wants to enjoy watching us do our work, the work we were designed for from the beginning, the work of experimentation and discovery.

Life is a treasure field with riches buries within it; some close to the surface and many hidden way down deep.  It is the glory of God to conceal wonderful things and it is our glory to find these treasures.  So, get to the lab today.  Do the work.  Find the treasure and don’t forget to keep good records.

Scriptures:
Matthew 13:44
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Proverbs 25:2
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.
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 John 4:1-3 4:1
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Be joyful always; pray continually;  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.  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.
2 Corinthians 13:5-6 NKJV
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified.
Romans 12:1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the God of mystery who has revealed Himself in the written Word (the Bible) and the Living Word (Jesus.) There are mysteries in You that call to me. Help me understand more of You as I prayerfully read Your Word. Your Spirit dwells within me to prompt me to explore, to experiment, to examine the things of life so that I might understand. Holy Spirit quicken my heart and strengthen my resolve to discover the wonders of You and Your creation. For Your Glory, Lord. Amen.

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 21, 2017 “Laughter”

Laughter

Laughter comes so naturally to us that we never have to learn to do it.
Tiny babies will giggle, and chuckle, and even guffaw without ever being taught how. We laugh with them, not because we see the infantile humor they see—that always seems to mystify adults—but we laugh because laughter is contagious.

Everybody loves to laugh. It releases tension built up inside of us and it relieves fears and worries. We need to laugh some every day if we are to be healthy, whole human beings. We even justify unusual behavior by saying we are just “doing it for laughs.” Surely God smiles when we have a good laugh.

What is laughter? It is part of a human phenomenon called primal speech—sounds that express our feelings but not in words. Primal speech includes: wailing, sighing, groaning, and expressions of amazement like, “Oh!” or realization like, “Ah!” or a pleasant taste like, “Ummm!” One reason why music is so important to people is that musical sound operates in the soul like non-verbal speech saying things we feel deeply but things for which we have no words.

The Best Medicine
Laughter is perhaps the greatest form of primal speech ranging an internal laugh signified only by a smile, to a chuckle deep in our chests, to a chortle in our throat, to a loud, continuous howl.
According to the scripture, laughter is one of the best medicines God has given us. Not only is it healthy, laughing is fun! The relaxation that results from a good laugh is part of the Sabbath rest the Lord has given to us. Responding to something funny is refreshing. Even in times of great stress, the sense of humor of those who bear the burden with us serves to relieve the tension.

It is impossible for us to follow the command of the Lord to rest without engaging in pleasantries, laughter chief among them. The Bible has much to say about laughter and joy.

  • Remember Sarah’s incredulous laughter at the prospect of having a child and her astonished laughter when Abraham’s son came along? It was so important, she named the boy, Isaac, which means, ”laughter.”
  • In the Book of Psalms commands to be joyful abound.
  • Solomon’s writings declare there is a time to laugh and that cheerfulness is like a feast.
  • Jesus Himself said that those who mourn will soon be laughing. Surely He also laughed as children played at His feet and in His lap.

Good humor is more than an ice cream company—it is a requirement if we are to ride out the unsettling waves of life as time rolls them in.

Find something to do today that will bring joy to your heart, put a smile to your face, and coax a chuckle, chortle, giggle or guffaw out of you. As laughter escapes your soul, peace will come in to occupy the space where once was fear, or, sadness, or grief. This is the medicine each of us needs today.

Scriptures:
Genesis 21:6-7
Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
Psalm 126
When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. 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.
Ecclesiastes 3:4
…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
Luke 6:20-21
Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Proverbs 17:22
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 15:15
All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Prov 15:30
A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Romans 12:12
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Habakkuk 3:17-18
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Psalm 100:2
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Psalm 68:3
But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, when man was crafted by the Creator out of clay of Eden, one of the gifts You gave us is the gift of laughter. It is fun but it is not frivolous. A good laugh is like a good medicine, lightening a heavy moment, brightening a dark day, and soothing a withering soul. Part of this gift is the ability to see what is funny so we can laugh about it. From the absurd to the ironic to the silly, funny happens. Thank You, Lord! Help me take several doses of this medicine today! Amen!

Song:
Joy Unspeakable
Words and Music: Barney E. Warren

1 I have found His grace is all complete,
He supplieth every need;
While I sit and learn at Jesus’ feet,
I am free, yes, free indeed.

Refrain:
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Full of glory, full of glory;
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Oh, the half has never yet been told.

2 I have found the pleasure I once craved,
It is joy and peace within;
What a wondrous blessing, I am saved
From the awful gulf of sin.

Refrain

3 I have found that hope so bright and clear,
Living in the realm of grace;
Oh, the Savior’s presence is so near,
I can see His smiling face. [

Refrain

4 I have found the joy no tongue can tell,
How its waves of glory roll;
It is like a great o’erflowing well,
Springing up within my soul.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved