December 17 “Bethlehem”

Bethlehem

As old as religion itself is the concept of “sacred space.”
The Old Covenant was permeated with the idea of places where God would meet with people who reached out to Him. The patriarchs built their altars of sacrifice and God met with them there. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness was a movable space, no less sacred for its portability. God’s presence was manifested there. When the singers and players made “one sound” to praise and honor the Lord, King Solomon’s splendid Temple was saturated by a cloud of God’s glory. The glory was so thick the priests could not stand up to perform their duties. This was the pinnacle of sacred space and would remain so until certain events would unfold in the vicinity of place called Bethlehem.

The City of David
Bethlehem was called the City of David. He was born there and anointed to be king there. The fields near Bethlehem were his fields before they were occupied by shepherds when Jesus was born. In them he killed the lion and the bear in preparation for his battle with Goliath. He never lost his love for Bethlehem. When King Saul pursued him and David was hiding in a cave, he remembered the sweet waters from a well in Bethlehem. His men risked their lives to bring him some. Later Ruth and Boaz would meet in the fields near Bethlehem to continue the Line of David which would eventually include both Mary and Joseph. When Rome called for a census Mary and Joseph had to make the journey to Bethlehem.

Big things happen in small places.
After the days of Ruth and Boaz, Bethlehem fell into a well-deserved obscurity. The Prophet Micah, however, exalts the little town to the pinnacle of prophetic importance.

Micah 5:2-5
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

This little town, these peaceful pastures and fruitful fields, will be the birthplace of Messiah, King of kings, Lord of lords. This town whose name means “house of bread” will produce the One who is called the Bread of Life, David’s Royal Son.

Sacred Space indeed.

Places of Worship Today
Just as Jehovah met with Abraham and the other patriarchs at their altars of sacrifice, the Lord meets with people today when they gather in the name of Jesus. Our praise makes that place a sacred space. Just as the glory of the Lord rested on the Tabernacles of David and Moses and filled the Temple of Solomon, we can know the Shekinah of God when we call upon His name in truth. In small numbers or large, the Lord inhabits and is enthroned upon the praises of His people.

Let us make our journey to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, to at last be filled with the Bread of Heaven. Let us make our way to Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Savior so that He can be born in us. The star is leading. The angels are singing. The journey is underway.

Scriptures:
Micah 5:2 NKJV
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.”
Matthew 2:5-8 NKJV
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.”
1 Samuel 16:1-5 NKJV
Now the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” But the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord .’ Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you.” So Samuel did what the Lord said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.
2 Samuel 23:13-17 NKJV
Then three of the thirty chief men went down at harvest time and came to David at the cave of Adullam. And the troop of Philistines encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem. And David said with longing, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David. Nevertheless he would not drink it, but poured it out to the Lord. And he said, “Far be it from me, O Lord , that I should do this! Is this not the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things were done by the three mighty men.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NKJV
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
Psalm 22:3 KJV/NKJV
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.
Matthew 18:20 NKJV
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, just as you blessed little Bethlehem with Your entrance into this world, You have blessed my heart with Your entrance there. Now, miracle of miracles, my heart is sacred space. Manifest Your glory there. Let me join the songs of angels today in worship as they sing before Your throne. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of His glory. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!” I gather with the saints in Your holy name to feast on the Bread of Life and drink from the Living Waters. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen.

Song:
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Words: Phillips Brooks; Music: Lewis H. Redner

1. O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep  the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth  the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

2. For Christ is born of Mary and, gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

3. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found 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 You 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 to 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 of 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, 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

November 29, 2017: “Justice”

Justice

A two-way street, justice is.
We all need justice but are often neglectful of the needs of others. The power of any government to administer justice will always been mixed with the power of people to neglect or even to corrupt it. Justice is the result of true worship—the flow of redemption from the heart of God to the repentant hearts of people.

The Psalmist presents the impending judgement of God in terms of joy:

Psalm 96:10-13
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns; The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.” Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord. For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth.

Joy in judgement—what a surprise! Joy in justice—what a delight!
In Jesus’ hands the scales of justice are filled with healing balm.

  • He is like the Good Samaritan who finds us beside the ruin of the road we have chosen and tends to our wounds while the self-righteous seek another lane to travel.
  • His medicine is grace ground from the dregs of the bitter cup he drank in the garden.
  • His innocence did little to dilute the rancid wine of our sin yet he drained that cup.
  • He stood before the courts of this world, innocent yet condemned to die.
  • He wore the thorny crown, bowed beneath the whip, carried the cross, and took the nails and the spear.
  • His Light split the darkness of the night before the third day for no tomb that man could ever build could ever hold Him.

This is the One Good Man who found us wounded and robbed by the side of the road. This is the One Good Man who treated our wounds and carried us to safety. He paid our expenses and promised to return.

This is the One Good Man who will come to judge the earth.

Justice and Mercy
Justice has a companion in the heart of God. He warns His people not to seek revenge and reserves any rights to vengeance to Himself alone. When we have been wronged, it is not for us to strike back, attempting in our own strength to makes things right through payback. We must follow the example of Jesus from the cross, forgiving those who have wronged us. It isn’t easy; it goes against human nature, but it is the Jesus way. We who have received mercy must also grant mercy to those who have wronged us. This is justice rooted in Calvary.

Today, let us walk the roads of this world with an eye toward the wounded and a heart that beats for justice.

Scriptures:
Psalm 98: 9
Let the rivers clap their hands; Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord, For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity.
Amos 5:24 NKJV
But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Luke 10:29-37 NKJV
But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for accepting the penalty for my sins and those of the whole world. Through Your amazing grace I stand before God as if I had never sinned! Like the Good Samaritan, You found me and dressed my wounds. You cared for my wounded soul until I was well and fully recovered. Now You are with me every day in mercy and grace. Help me see the wounded ones on the roads I walk today so that I can show mercy and be a healer. This is justice, too. For Your Kingdom, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Let Me Touch Him
Words and Music: Vep Ellis

1. Let me touch Him, let me touch Jesus;
Let me touch Him as He passes by
So when I shall reach out to others
They shall know him They shall live and not die

Refrain:
Oh to be His hand extended,
Reaching out to the oppressed.
Let me touch Him, let me touch Jesus,
So that others may know and be blessed.

2. I was straying so far from Jesus
I was lonely, had no peace within
Then the hand of my savior touched me
Now I’m reaching to others in sin

Refrain

3. There’s a river, a river flowing
From within and to cleanse my soul
And the flow sets my heart to glowing
Holy spirit, more than silver or gold.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

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 27, 2017: “Foundations”

Foundations

Sometimes how things seem to be is not how things really are.
Our daily perspective is earthbound and wrapped in time—swiftly passing ticks on a clock hidden somewhere beyond our reach. We grasp for the good moments but often they pass away before we can safely lock them into our hearts.

Our memories, good and bad, represent a tiny fraction of the days we have lived and the moments through which we have passed.

  • The beautiful moments we capture are like jewels in our mind, shining, sparkling, with only the slightest amount of light.
  • The horrid moments of our history lurk in the shadows of memory, obstacles we trip over in the dreams of the night.

Memories of People
Along the way, we have been opposed by some and assisted by many. Calling these two rolls brings both praise and repentance.

  • “Lord thank you for____________.”
  • “Lord help me forgive__________.”

Our story continues, a new chapter with the rising of every sun and the going down of the same. Each day is just a partial collection of memories, never the whole story, a chapter, not the complete narrative.

When Foundations Begin to Shake
Sometimes from this earthbound perspective, it seems the very foundations of life are trembling and about to fall. It isn’t true but the feeling is very real. Hear the words of the Psalmist:

“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

In such a moment, the poet wants to flee like a bird to the mountain and so do we. No longer earthbound, we seek a higher place of safety, a truer perspective far from the trembling foundations that threaten to collapse beneath us. What is the Lord’s answer to this heart-cry?

Remembrance.
What should we remember? Not the little library of stories that have happened to us, the bright jewels that cheer us and dark obstacles that hinder us. No we must call to mind a much bigger story—the Story of God!

  • He is the Creator of all things!
  • He is the lover of all His Creation!
  • He rules in Heaven and bends all the hosts of Heaven to our rescue and to our safety.

The foundations are safe. No one can pull down what God has ordained to stand and that includes us.

When it seems the foundations are shaking, remember Who God Is!

Scriptures:
Psalm 11
In the Lord have I taken refuge; how then can you say to me, “Fly away like a bird to the hilltop; For see how the wicked bend the bow and fit their arrows to the string, to shoot from ambush at the true of heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold the inhabited world; his piercing eye weighs our worth. The Lord weighs the righteous as well as the wicked, but those who delight in violence he abhors. Upon the wicked he shall rain coals of fire and burning sulphur; a scorching wind shall be their lot. For the Lord is righteous; he delights in righteous deeds; and the just shall see his face.
2 Timothy 2:14-19 NKJV
Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
1 Corinthians 3:9-15 NKJV
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Matthew 7:24-27 NKJV
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my Rock. I have heard Your words and I am building my house upon them. When the storm arises, as it is sure to do, You and I will stand strong. When the winds and rains and waves crash against us, we will not crumble, we will not fall. You have already taken the worst blast Hell can offer and it did not move You an inch. Thank You for Your proven strength in the storms I have to face. Lord, by Your Spirit, corral my memories, monitor my thoughts, and when my perspective slips toward despair, remind me of Who You are! –The God Who Keeps Covenant, unshakable, eternal, fixed in purpose and power, loving and true. You are my security, my foundation, and my mighty fortress. Amen and Amen.

Song:
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Words and Music: Martin Luther

1. A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

2. Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

3. And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

4. That word above all earthly powers, No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 26, 2017: “Gratitude”

Gratitude

If you want to go in, you have to find the gate.
There is a biblical way to approach Almighty God, a way He has commanded us to take.  Gratitude brings you before the King.

Psalm 100:4
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

As we seek to gain entrance to the presence of the Lord today, a day that He has made, let us do so with the most profound gratitude we can generate.

  • Dire problems may weigh heavily upon our spirits; lay them down at the door.
  • Doubts may plague our minds; set them aside.
  • Divisions may exist among brothers and sisters; call a truce.
  • Dependencies of all sorts may inhibit our concentration; depend on the Holy Spirit.
  • Destitution may have driven every choice we made all week; choose gratitude today.

There is only one way in.
His Name is Jesus, forever the Door to the Kingdom of God.  He is the Gate of Thanksgiving.  When we can count nothing else in life as a blessing, we can always look to Him and find reason to give thanks.  The writer to the Hebrews said that Jesus opened up a “new and living way” by the destruction of His own earthly life and body.  In the face of this unspeakable sacrifice, the veil in the temple ripped from top to bottom and the way to the heart of God was declared “Open!”

Let us be thankful.

Because Jesus bore our sins far away, we can enter the presence of the Holy One without fear. Without the atonement of Christ, our sins would not only disqualify us to enter His presence, our guilt would consume us to our destruction.  Because of Jesus we can stand before God as if we had never sinned.  The indictment against us has been nailed to His cross.

Let us be thankful.

Through Jesus we were emptied of the guilt of sin.  Now we have been filled with the precious gift of His Spirit!  We are being regenerated to life new and unending.  Old things pass away as all things become new.  There is power in us now to defeat the old nature of sin, and even when we do not, the Lord Jesus is there to forgive us for all our sins as we confess them to Him.  By the Spirit we can hear the voice of God deep within us.  We can obey His instructions and we can watch His power work through our humanity to help heal the world.

Let us be thankful.

This is the day for it!
The joy and the power of the presence of the King are on the other side of the Gate of Thanksgiving.  As Isaiah said, “Go through the gates!” Gratitude brings you before the King.

Let us be thankful.

Scriptures:
Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Isaiah 62:10 NKJV
Go through, Go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people; Build up, Build up the highway! Take out the stones, Lift up a banner for the peoples!
Mark 15:37-39 NKJV
And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Hebrews 10:19-24
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Romans 8:1-4
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,   because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Thank You for laying aside Your deity and becoming a human like us. Thank You for submitting to the facts of this life: infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood to show us how it should be done. Thank You for revealing God to us. We don’t have to wonder about God—all we need to do is look to You. Thank You for Your victorious walk through this life, conquering sin by the power of the Spirit. Thank You for submitting to betrayal and injustice, pain and death to win my forgiveness and redeem my life. Yes, I will enter Your gates with thanksgiving today—what else can I do? Amen.

Song:
Give Thanks
Words and Music: Don Moen
Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.
(Repeat)

And now let the weak say, “I am strong.”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us.”
(Repeat)

Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.

Give thanks.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 25, 2017 “Retreating”

Retreating

Retreat is not always a sign of defeat.
To avoid the appearance of a defeat, military commanders sometimes order a “strategic withdrawal” instead of a retreat. It is more than a trick of words; there is a real difference.  In terms of war, a retreat could mean the abandonment of territory gained in battle or previously possessed. A strategic withdrawal is a delaying action, saving the army to fight again another day.

In spiritual terms a retreat is usually considered a positive thing. It is much more like a strategic withdrawal. We are not surrendering to the forces arrayed against us. We are withdrawing from the front lines for a time of rest and recreation. In modern warfare this necessity has been so recognized as to need only its initials—“R&R.”

Sometimes it didn’t turn out so well.
In the American Civil War the regiment from the state of Maine commanded by Col. Joshua Chamberlin was placed in the center of the line on Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg because they had been severely reduced by their heroic rout of Confederate troops at Little Round Top. The center of the line was considered the safest place for them to rest. The next day General Robert E. Lee order one of the largest infantry charges on the whole war, led by General Pickett, on that very spot, the center of the Union line. The was no rest for the boys from Maine.

In World War II the same thing happened with the First Infantry Division. After months of continuous combat, they were sent to the center of the line in the Ardennes, thought to be safe from German assault. That is where the Battle of the Bulge began.

Retreating in the Bible
The Old Testament required equal parts of rest and worship for the Sabbath Day and for all the feast days prescribed for Old Covenant worship.  Perhaps the reason mankind has been ordered to rest by our Creator is our internal drive that some of us have to work.  This impulse needs moderation.  In others, the impulse to work seems to missing and they attempt to make life one long Sabbath.  In other words while some of us need for someone to built a fire under us, most of us need to let the fires within us become campfires warming us while we sit beside them and dream.  The fires within the believer, when they burn with the oil of the Holy Spirit, will provide warm and safety while we rest awhile by their light.

Jesus Himself knew how to retreat for a time during His earthly ministry.
There were times when He dismissed the crowds and went away alone to pray.  At other times, He left the disciples to find a place of solitude.  In the book of Acts, the apostles followed His example of the prayer retreat—a strategic withdrawal.  These prayer retreats preceded important decisions or discoveries:

  • Jesus spent the night in prayer before He chose the twelve disciples.
  • Jesus retreated to pray alone before He walked on water.
  • The transfiguration happened on a prayer retreat with Jesus, James, John, and Peter.
  • The Garden of Gethsemane was the last of their prayer retreats.
  • Peter went alone to the rooftop to pray and saw a vision that changed everything in his life and expressed the inclusive nature of the New Covenant.

In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus located daily prayer in a place of seclusion, free from distractions and interference.  That place of prayer is called different things in different versions: the closet, the secret place, your room, your inner room, your most private room and the point is obvious.

When we find that place of retreat, we yield no ground to the enemy, we acknowledge no permanent defeat, we put out no fires within us, and we fear no enemy out there in the dark.  In the Secret Place of prayer we stoke our fires, polish our weapons, nourish our inner selves, and we rest in the assurance of tomorrow’s victory.  This retreat is not defeat; it is a strategic withdrawal.

Scriptures:
Mark 6:45-46
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
Luke 6:12-13
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:
Matthew 14:22-24
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Luke 9:28-30
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.  As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.
Matthew 26:36-38
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Acts 10:9-10
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.
Matthew 6:6-7  NKJV
But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Just as I find my calling and vocation in You, I also find my rest in You. Help me avoid the “Messiah Complex” that says to rest from my labors is a sin, or at least an act of neglect. Lord, I know, that I am just a part of Your Kingdom and that things will go well as I rest–of course they will. Let my mind rest today. Send me interesting things to think about that will enrich and refresh me. Help me find activities that are wholesome and restorative. I know that Your great heart includes times of retreat and renewal–all in the heart of God! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Near to the Heart of God
Words and Music: Cleland Boyd McAfee

1. There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God,
a place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.

Refrain:
O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God,
hold us, who wait before thee, near to the heart of God.

2. There is a place of comfort sweet, near to the heart of God,
a place where we our Savior meet, near to the heart of God.

Refrain

3. There is a place of full release, near to the heart of God,
a place where all is joy and peace, near to the heart of God.

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