December 21 “Star”


Everyone stares at the stars.
It is human nature to lift our heads, tilting them till we almost fall over backwards, to see the endless fields of stars above. If we venture out beyond the city lights, the velvet sky becomes darker and the stars shine brighter. More of them come out to greet us. The Milky Way shimmers overhead as we outline the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper and marvel at Orion’s Belt. On summer nights we lie on our backs to stare at the stars, hoping to catch one of them plunging toward the earth in fire.

Wise men study stars.
It is an obsession. In ancient times they had only the naked eye while modern times added lenses, telescopes, radio waves, and now computers to aid their vision all toward the single purpose of seeing more stars more clearly. Whether astrologers (mystics) or astronomers (scientists) they charted the stars as they appeared to move across the heavens. This helped them see the differences between stars and planets. When it became known that the earth was turning beneath them and not the stars moving above them, this did not diminish their fascination.

Stars seem to have meaning.
Both the mystics and the scientists assigned meanings to the stars and their alignment as if the dim light they threw to earth was intended to deliver messages to mankind. A Hebrew prophet employed this passion as he pointed to the coming of Messiah. Balaam said this:

Numbers 24:17 NKJV
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel…”

It was enough to provide hope to certain Wise Men in pagan lands, far from Israel.

Wise Men from the East
Few details of these visitors are given in the scriptures so tradition has filled in the blanks.

  • Were there three of them? There were three gifts.
  • Were they kings from three countries or three leaders from one country which seems more logical?
  • We even have their names: Caspar, Balthazar, and their leader, Melchior. True or not, this is very helpful to those of us who would tell their story.
  • How could these Gentile leaders be more sensitive to heavenly signs than the leaders of God’s people in Jerusalem? How did they know the Hebrew Scriptures? One likely explanation is that they had copies of the Law and the Prophets left over from the Babylonian captivity of Israel.

However it happened, they saw a star, a new one, not on any of their carefully drawn charts.
Their hunger for the One True God was sharpened by the appearance of this star. As it moved, it drew them to follow. Schedules were changed, priorities were reshuffled, and significant gifts were selected all to allow a quest for the child to be born. This was a star to be followed. Thus a caravan struck out for the western horizon, a newborn King to find and worship.

Numbers 24:17 NKJV
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,
Luke 1:78-79 NKJV
Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Matthew 2:1-11 NKJV
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
2 Peter 1:16-21 NKJV
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Revelation 22:16-17 NKJV
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

Lord Jesus, You are the Dayspring from on High. You are the Bright and Morning Star. You are the Star of my quest. To You I bring my finest gifts. To You I bow in adoration. It is Your Story that I tell. Help me never to look to lower lights but to be always guided by You. You have called me out of darkness into Your marvelous light. I will arise and shine for You, my Light, have come. Deep darkness lies upon this earth, but You shine on Your people giving us light. I organize my life and this day around my quest to follow You, Star of wonder! Amen and Amen.

We Three Kings
Words and Music: John H. Hopkins

1. We three kings of Orient are;  bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,  following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.

2. Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.


3. Frankincense to offer have I; incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising, voices raising,  worshiping God on high.


4 Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.


5 Glorious now behold him arise; King and God and sacrifice:
Alleluia, Alleluia, sounds through the earth and skies.


Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

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July 24, 2017 “Press”


Divine guidance brings with it certain sensations.
An unseen but tangible hand presses the small of our back to keep us going. Two unseen hands equally tangible throw us a “stop sign,” like a third base coach to a runner who wants to score, and stops us in our tracks.

Divine guidance: Sometimes a hand from the back pressing us forward and at other times a hand in the front telling us to slow down or even to stop.

The Poet says it this way:

“You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.”

The NIV translates the verse like this:

You hem me in — behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Psalm 139:5-6

These hands that hem us in are gentle hands, the hands of our best best Friend. There is wisdom here that sees beyond the obvious and knows what lies around the next curve in the road.

A Hand on Our Back
All of us need a push from time to time. Like a parachutist on his/her first jump we freeze in the door of the plane. Our Instructor pushes out into the freefall of faith, a sensation we could never feel in the safety of the aircraft and an on-rushing vision of creation we could never have seen through any window.

When the Lord tells us to do something, there is a natural hesitation to obey. This is good. We are warned in the Scripture to count the cost before beginning a new enterprise. It is proper to think things through, to plan, to gather resources and information and to build a team. Sometimes such careful analysis can lead to careless paralysis. At this point we feel that welcomed push in the small of our back, the gentle hand of a Savior leading us to greatness—and not just any greatness—but greatness in His eyes.

A Hand before Us
There is this thing in life called momentum and it must be accounted for. It is closely related to its cousin, inertia—the resistance to a change in motion. These things are of this world, a part of God’s creation. As hard as it is to get something rolling, if gravity and inertia get hold of it, it can be even more difficult to stop or even slow down. Just as that beginning parachutist needs the nudge from the back, he/she also needs the braking power of the chute itself!

Too many well-intentioned souls have crashed to the ground when momentum carried them through a stop sign. When that runner in baseball rounds third base to head for home plate, if he runs through the two-handed stop sign of the third base coach and he is called out at the plate, not only has he made an out, he is in big trouble with the team. The coach and the whole team can see the whole play in the field the runner cannot see. And so it is with the Christ-follower who does not slow down or stop when the hands in front give the sign. He knows when it is time to score and when it is time to slide safely into third base, 90 feet away from home.

We can rejoice with the touch of the Master’s hands on our backs to get us going and keep us on track and in front of us to slow us down when disaster looms. Loving hands are these and wise, hands to be trusted to guide us safely home.

Psalm 139
Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways. Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether. You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it. Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,” Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well. My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them. How deep I find your thoughts, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.… Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts. Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

Lord Jesus, that You for Your guiding hand. When I drift off course, even when I don’t know it, I feel Your hand edging me back to the proper coordinates. If during the course of this day, I wander to the left or the right, I know I can count on your guiding hand. If I get ahead of myself or of Your plan, hold me back! Your hands are gentle and firm and loving. I am so grateful that You have “hemmed me in behind and before and laid Your hand upon me.” Thank You, Lord!

I’ll Go where You Want Me to Go
Words and Music: Mary Brown

1. It may not be on the mountain’s height, or over the stormy sea;
It may not be at the battle’s front my Lord will have need of me;
But if by a still, small voice He calls to paths I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in Yours,
I’ll go where You want me to go.

I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord,
O’er mountain, or plain, or sea;
I’ll say what You want me to say, dear Lord,
I’ll be what You want me to be.

2. Perhaps today there are loving words which Jesus would have me speak;
There may be now, in the paths of sin, some wand’rer whom I should seek.
O Savior, if You will be my Guide, though dark and rugged the way,
My voice shall echo the message sweet,
I’ll say what You want me to say.


3. There’s surely somewhere a lowly place in earth’s harvest fields so wide,
Where I may labor through life’s short day for Jesus, the Crucified.
So, trusting my all unto Your care, I know You always love me!
I’ll do Your will with a heart sincere,
I’ll be what You want me to be.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved