July 13, 2017 “Vanities”

Vanities

In Children’s church we sang this:

Oh be careful little eyes what you see;
Be careful little eyes what you see.
There’s a Father up above and He’s looking down in love,
So be careful little eyes what you see.

We weren’t done. We went on to warn our little ears, hands, feet and mouths, convincing each of us of the extreme havoc we were capable of producing, little though we may have been.

Now, as adults, it is still good advice.

The Poet says it this way:

“Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.”

The Eyes Have It.
Of our five senses: smell, hearing, touch, taste, and sight, the eyes provide us with more information than any other ability. We even transfer the concept of sight to the recognition of invisible things—we “see” things in our minds. When we understand something we have heard we say, “Now, I see.”

  • We “see” math problems and their solution.
  • We “see” music on the page.
  • We “see” the ideal of freedom enough to treasure it and fight those who would take it away.
  • In worship, we “see” the Lord High and Lifted Up and we are changed even as we contemplate His glory.

The Power of Reflection
Everything that meets our eyes is a reflection of light. This is the process of vision: rays of light bounce off an object and speed to our eyes which pass the report on to the brain which interprets it at speeds faster than light. Like a camera, the brain records what we have seen for future reference.

Just as we can “see” in so many ways, there are many things to be seen. Many of them are wonderful things like those listed above plus the wonders of nature delivered in living color to our eyes every moment.

But many other things are what the Bible calls vanities.

How can we tell a vanity from a wonder of nature or a wonderful truth? It really isn’t difficult. The wonders of creation speak to us of the Creator. The high and wonderful things we “see” in our minds—faith, hope, love, peace, joy, truth—are reflections of the character and promises of God.

Just as objects reflect light, vanities are reflections of our own fallen humanity.
When we look deeply into vanities, deeper than the colors and shapes, the designs and delights, we see our own face, our own selfishness, ambitions, drives, and lusts. Even when the Blood of Jesus has cleansed us from these things, the contemplation of them—setting these vanities before our eyes—can reawaken them and lead us into temptation.

We must turn our eyes away from the world’s vanities to the truly beautiful things of the Kingdom of God. We must absorb the glory of the Glory reflecting all around us as well as the “invisible” things we see in the Word. As we do, His glory will do two essential things:

  • Cleanse our hearts like a holy flame to make us more like Him and
  • be reflected from us to others. When He shines in us, others can see Him!

This is important stuff—So, be careful little eyes what you see.

Scriptures:
Psalm 119
My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word.  When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes.  Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.  My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.  Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law.  I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your ordinances before me. I cling to your decrees, O Lord; let me not be put to shame.  I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding. Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.  Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.   Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.  Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.  Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.  Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.  …  I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts.  I will also speak of your decrees before kings, and shall not be put to shame; I find my delight in your commandments, because I love them.  I revere your commandments, which I love and I will meditate on your statutes.
Ecclesiastes 12:8-14 NKJV
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “All is vanity.” And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs. … Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Philippians 4:8 NIV
Finally, brothers, whatever is true … noble … right … pure… is lovely… admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.
Hebrews 12:2-3 NIV
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Mark 9:47-49 NIV
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…
Psalm 101:2-3 NIV
I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is so much that You do for me but this is my responsibility. I will set no evil thing before my eyes to contemplate—to do so is to invite trouble and sin into my life. Help me be so caught up in You that I take no note whatsoever of the vanities of this world around me. Help me to do as the Bible says, to concentrate on the good things, the proven things of this life and the one to come. Help me hear the message of King Solomon: Life is full of vanities but the whole of being a human is to worship God and keep Your commandments! Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Be Careful Little Eyes
Traditional Children’s Song

O be careful little eyes what you see
O be careful little eyes what you see
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little eyes what you see

O be careful little ears what you hear
O be careful little ears what you hear
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little ears what you hear

O be careful little hands what you do
O be careful little hands what you do
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little hands what you do

O be careful little feet where you go
O be careful little feet where you go
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little feet where you go

O be careful little mouth what you say
O be careful little mouth what you say
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little mouth what you say.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 7, 2017

Cities

The word “city” is rooted in the same source as “citizen,” “civic,” and “civilization.”
In ancient villages the work was much the same from generation to generation; progress was not high on the agenda. Skills were passed down by elders to younger folk. Except for the occasional trip to a nearby city, the long work days bound people together in community, reinforced by the Sabbath and the various holidays.

In ancient cities, and today, civilization is on the move. Progress is the agenda—improvement is the traffic in the busy streets. More of this, more of that, more time to do more things, more money, more, more, more.

All the while the civilized city dweller dreams of the country, the quaint village, the beach town and the beach itself, the mountain lodge with vast windows to look upon vast vistas of created things so far from the city.

The Psalmist explores the cities in his world and compares them to the City of God—Zion.
Zion began as a mountain—the Hill of the Lord—and became King David’s temporary tabernacle housing the Ark of the Covenant, and then Solomon’s Temple where the Shekinah of God rested in a little room, secure behind a heavy veil. Then it was a city—the City of David—where holy history, present power and promised prosperity trafficked together in the narrow streets.

The Psalmist speaks of the advantages of citizenship in Zion. “This one was born in Zion.” This fact granted immediate status, one greater than birthplaces with different names, to the People of God.

There were walls, and city gates, and law enforcement, and politicians whose job it was to keep the peace in and the enemies out. But the true security of Zion was the veracity of their covenant-keeping God. He was their Lawgiver, their gate, their walls against profane insurgents.

The city is also a biblical metaphor for the church.
The source word for church means, “the called out ones.” Because each Christ-follower has an inner light set ablaze by the Abiding Spirit of God, we become a shining City on a Hill that cannot be ignored when collect together to worship.

But what has this to do with Zion?

If you read every passage in the Bible that refers to Zion, as I have done, you will likely agree with my conclusion: What does “Zion” mean? It is the dwelling and ruling place of God.

  • So Heaven is Zion, uncompromised, untainted, unassailed and we spiritually ascend to Mt. Zion as we worship in Spirit and in Truth.
  • The church on earth is a part of Zion when Jesus takes residence in her and when she gives the reins of power over to Him.

Blessed is the one who is born again in Zion!

  • This is a civilization based on Truth.
  • Our citizenship is registered in heaven.
  • Our civic duty is to worship and serve the Lord.
  • There are no ghettos or darkened streets or alleyways.
  • The Peace of Christ rules in every boardroom.
  • The Plan of God is seen in every yearly projection.
  • The Power of God flows through every connection and line.

I know this is a millennial vision of a time yet to come. But can’t we have a little of it in the church today?

Scriptures:
Psalm 87 NIV
He has set his foundation on the holy mountain; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, O city of God: “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me — Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush — and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.'” Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, the Most High himself will establish her.” The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”
Psalm 9:11 NIV
Sing praises to the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.
Psalm 46:4 NIV
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
Psalm 48:1-3;12-14 NIV
Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain. It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth. … is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King. God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress. …Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation. For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.
Psalm 50:2 NIV
From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.
Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God…
Matthew 5:14-16 NIV
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, as we pray each day for Your Kingdom to come and Your will to be done on earth, help us to remember the City of God is here—Your Glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle! We are her citizens, responsible keepers of the City. Just as surely as Zion is in heaven, it is also here on earth. Let me about the business of Your City today, the commerce of grace, the industry of hope and the keeping of the Peace of Christ. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
Words: John Newton; Music: Joseph Haydn

1. Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God.
God, whose word cannot be broken, formed thee for his own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded, thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

2. See, the streams of living waters, springing from eternal love,
Well supply thy sons and daughters and all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river  ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the giver, never fails from age to age.

3. Round each habitation hovering, see the cloud and fire appear
For a glory and a covering, showing that the Lord is near.
Thus deriving from their banner light by night and shade by day,
Safe they feed upon the manna which God gives them when they pray.

4. Savior, since of Zion’s city I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity, I will glory in your name.
Fading are the world’s best pleasures, all its boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion’s children know.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 16, 2017

Integrity

We live in a world of veneer.
Too many leaders present a front, a thin covering of fine grain material designed to make them shine. Beneath that false surface they are really made of cheap stuff, unreliable material with no inner strength.

This world of veneer endangers the Kingdom of God. For entertainers, stage lights and TV lights catch this shiny veneer and make it sparkle and the money rolls into the coffers, probably cardboard with a veneer of gold tinfoil. The platform lights in the church house can do the same thing to a local pastor making him/her the point of it all. We are in danger of imitating the world to the point of becoming like it.

The poet Wordsworth saw this in the 19th century:

The World Is too much with Us
The world is too much with us, late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Today, we must strip away the veneer of showbiz and self-promotion. We must bare our degraded souls to the surgery of the Sword of the Spirit which can divide our sham from our sincerity, our pretense from our piety and make us true from the inside out.

The Spirit always moves from the inside out.
He changes us at the inmost level of our being, revealing in the cold light of scripture the base motives that prompt our most holy looking postures. At the horror of such iniquity deep in our hearts, we must repent of such wickedness. Then, with a cleansing flash of grace, the Sword of the Spirit cuts away our sin and our guilt making us new again, new from the inside out.

No longer showing a thin veneer to the world, we offer others a true life, one that is fine from the core to the surface. When the pressure comes, the counter pressure of integrity gives us inner strength and, far from being crushed, we sail through the pressure with grace and peace.

Jesus is that core.

  • Yes, He was crushed at the cross. His heel bruised by the Devil, His body lay in a tomb for the requisite number of days.
  • And, yes, He rose again, no longer crushed by the weight of our sins, for He bore them far away from us, never to be remembered against us again.
  • Yes, He crushed the Serpent’s head and now Satan may hiss and slither, but he cannot reach the core of us—Jesus our Strength and Redeemer.

From that core, a new reality forms, clear through to the surface of our lives, where people see us and hear us and touch us.

In a world of veneer, the solid item is easily seen. Upon close inspection the world sees the integrity of Jesus in us because the surface of our lives, like the core, reflects the image of Christ.

Scriptures:
Proverbs 10:9; 11:3; 13:6; 20:27
The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. Righteousness guards the man of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner. The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being.
Psalm 25:20-21
Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.
Psalm 51:5-7
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Ephesians 3:14-19 NKJV
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height –to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, you are real. I do not adhere to a philosophy; I am in relationship with a divine Person! You said that you would come and live in those who believed in and followed You and it is true. Holy Spirit, You dwell in my inmost part, I invite you to do Your work—conform me to the image of Christ from the deepest part of me that no one but You sees to the surface of my life that everyone sees. Life will cut into me like a saw. When that happens, I pray that all who witness my trial will see that I am the same from the inside out—I pray that they see You in me. I don’t want to be veneer. I desire integrity in all of my life. Grant this prayer, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Oh to Be Like Thee
Words: T. O. Chisholm; Music: W. J. Kirkpatrick

1. Oh! To be like Thee! Blessed Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, thy perfect likeness to bear.

Refrain:
Oh! To be like Thee! Oh! To be like Thee!
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou Art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine on image deep on my heart.

2. Oh! To be like Thee! Full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
seeking the wandering sinner to find.

Refrain

3. Oh! To be like Thee! Lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer, others to save.

Refrain

4. Oh! To be like Thee! Lord, I am coming,
Now to receive the anointing divine,
All that I am and have I am bringing,
Lord, from this moment all shall be Thine

Refrain

5. Oh! To be like Thee! While I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love,
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and heaven above.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 15, 2017

Regret

Repentance
Regret is a precursor to repentance, but when our sins are removed from us as far as the East is from the West, regret often remains. Although painful, this type of regret is in reality a blessing. When we remember the pain we have caused by doing wrong, the lives our sins have altered beyond repair, and the ripple effects of our selfishness continuing in the circumstances of others, we are cautioned never to act that way again.

We think, “God help me to never do that again!” or, “If I had it to do over again…”

The truth is, we have it to do over again—constantly.
Based upon the undying regret of sins past, we must resolve never to repeat them. We cannot change the past but we can affect the future. As marvelous as forgiveness of sins is from the hand of the Lord Jesus, the power to break the patterns of behavior that led us into sin is more marvelous still. This power is the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit—regeneration, the theologians call it. The past is forgiven and a different future is in store for us.

Part of that future is the blessing of regrets that remind us the past can be future if we are not constantly dependent upon the Spirit of Christ, who is the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of New Life, the Spirit of Holiness, and the Spirit of power.

  • The Spirit of Christ is the victory over evil and death.
  • The Spirit of Truth is the revealer of all truth and the One who quickens us to understand spiritual things.
  • The Spirit of New Life is the resurrection power of God making all things new.
  • The Spirit of Holiness is the Refiner’s Fire and Fuller’s Soap to purify the Sons of Levi.
  • The Spirit of Power is the inner strength in the abiding, covenantal presence of the Holy Spirit, to resist the Devil and witness to the Gospel.

Lest We Forget
So drastic is the change with the entrance of Christ into a life, it would be easy to forget the way we lived, the way we were, before Jesus saved us. Regret is the gift of God that keeps our feet on the ground.

  • When we see a face that reminds of someone we have harmed,
  • when we hear a phrase that reminds of some unkind thing we have said, and
  • when we hear a true story that is a reenactment of one that happened to us long ago, before we became the hero of such stories,
  • then we remember who we once were and how we once lived.

Remembering and regretting, we breathe a prayer of thanksgiving and without hesitation, send to heaven a plea like the old song, “Keep me true, Lord Jesus. Keep me true.”

Scriptures:
2 Corinthians 7:8-11

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it…because your sorrow led you to repentance… See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
Colossians 2:13-15
When you were dead in your sins and in … your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Romans 6:3-4
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Malachi 3:1-4
“…suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.

Prayer:
Lord, don’t let me forget, on this side of heaven, where I was when you found me and how I was before you came into my heart. Turn this regret into the Gates of Thanksgiving for me! I as remember the dark time before Your light shone around me, let me also recall how different my life has been since then—light instead of darkness, peace instead of turmoil, faith instead of fear, and your constant nearness. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Lord! I do not regret a mile I have walked with You!
Amen.

Song:
Keep Me True
Traditional Chorus

Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true.
Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true.
There’s a race that I must run.
There are vict’ries to be won.
Every hour, by Thy power, keep me true!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved