December 2 “Caesar”

Caesar

Jesus was born into an Israel smothered in the might and mire of Rome.
She was no longer a free nation as in the days of David and Solomon; she was a vassal state of an evil empire. Roman soldiers patrolled the streets to keep the pax romana, the “Roman Peace.”

“Keep your local religion,” said the emperor, “but have no real king but Caesar. Keep your religion indoors and there will be no trouble. Take it to the streets with treasonous little messiah-bands and there will be trouble like you have never seen. The Canaanite tribes, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, all those who conquered you before, will pale to distant memory under the iron boot of Rome.”

The second Temple, only a shadow of the first, had been replaced by Herod’s Temple. This political gift to the people, shining golden in the sun, guarded a secret, secluded, empty, Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant had been lost centuries before. Now the Roman palace, Fortress Antonia, was attached to the Temple. King Herod was a puppet king of Rome’s choosing. His real job was to keep the cantankerous priests, “prophets,” and zealots from upsetting the delicate balance of tyranny and temple worship.

A Delicate Balance Indeed
Beneath both the tyranny and the temple worship was the threat and the hope of Messiah, a king of the Jews to challenge Caesar in faraway Rome.

  • Messiah was a minor threat to Rome not to be tolerated.
  • The promise of Messiah was a major hope for the remnant in Israel, those who sincerely prayed the psalms, gathered for the feasts and festivals, and called every day on Jehovah, the God Who keeps covenant. “How long, O Lord? How long?”

Among these faithful were an aging priest with a promise from God, Simeon, who duties in the Temple were performed to perfection, the precision of a well-rehearsed faith, and an elderly woman named Anna whose tender heart leapt like that of a bride at the thought of Messiah. Their daily faithfulness in prayer was a towering threat to Rome of which Caesar knew nothing.

Soldiers in the streets, a Roman Governor in charge, a puppet, wicked King on a pretender’s throne, a hollow religion in a golden Temple, this was the world into which Jesus would come. He would sound no trumpets at His approach—angels would sing to shepherds. He would convene no council—wise-men from the East would follow a star. He would ignore the rich and powerful and choose a carpenter and his espoused wife as His caretakers.

If Caesar had known it, he would have been sleepless in his royal chamber and uneasy on his throne for the King of kings was on His way!

Scriptures:
Luke 2:1-3 NKJV
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Luke 20:20-26 NKJV
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: 22 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.
Matthew 2:1-2 NKJV
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Matthew 12:3-8 NKJV
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 22:15-22 NKJV
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “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.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your story is so amazing! You came into a world as politically confusing as our world is today—yet You came and brought truth to those who heard You. You came into a world as violent as this one, yet You gave peace to those who welcomed You. You came to our darkness bringing light and to our pain bringing joy. Help me today to continue Your mission: truth, peace, light, and joy to this deceived, troubled, dark and despairing world. Come into my heart as You came into the Roman world. Let there be peace on earth and goodwill to all. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
How Should a King Come?
Words: Carol Owens; Music: Jimmy Owens

1. How should a King come?
Even a child knows the answer of course,
In a coach of gold with a pure white horse.
In the beautiful city in the prime of the day,
And the trumpets should cry and the crowds make way.
And the flags fly high in the morning sun,
And the people all cheer for the sovereign one.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done.
That’s the way that a King should come.

2. How should a King come?
Even a commoner understands,
He should come for His treasures,
And His houses and lands.
He should dine upon summer strawberries and milk,
And sleep upon bedclothes of satin and silk.
And high on a hill His castle should glow,
With the lights of the city like jewels below.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done,
That’s the way that a King should come.

3. How should a King come?
On a star filled night into Bethlehem,
Rode a weary woman and a worried man.
And the only sound in the cobblestone street,
Was the shuffle and the ring of their donkey’s feet.
And a King lay hid in a virgin’s womb,
And there were no crowds to see Him come.
At last in a barn in a manger of hay,
He came and God incarnate lay.

Chorus:
And the angels cried: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Earth was silent so heaven rang: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Men were dumb so the angels sang: “Glory! Glory to God!
Peace on earth good will to men, Glory! Glory to God!
Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
“Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God!”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 2, 2018: “Serving”

Serving

Witnessing miracles impresses the mind but does not change the heart.
Consider for a moment what the Twelve had seen: countless healings, confused opponents, conquered demons and two miraculously catered lunches in the wilderness. Think of the teachings of Jesus they had heard; lessons on greed and sharing, pride and humility, leadership and servanthood, punishment in hell and rewards in heaven, and still they didn’t get it. Their hearts remained unchanged, carnal not spiritual. Two of the fisherman brothers made the most amazing statement to Him.

“Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

We know from other accounts that their mother had great ambitions for them. She could not know that James would be the first of them killed for the sake of Christ and that John would outlive all the rest. She must have transferred her ambitions for her sons to the brothers. Jesus answered:

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

Pause for a moment to let the audacity of their request sink into your heart. We need to fall before the Lord seeking what He wants us to do for Him, not the other way around! There was no shame in their carnal hearts, not even enough class to cloak their conceit.

“Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

Amazing. But their conceit went even deeper in response to Jesus’ rebuke and challenge.

“You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

“We are able” was their astounding reply. Jesus assured them that they would indeed share His baptism of death in the service of Life and that their futures were in God’s capable hands. The other disciples heard all of this and were much displeased with their colleagues and secretly glad that they had not earned such a rebuke and prophecy. Jesus called them all together as He often did when their hearts drove them apart.

No Lordship Options
At this moment Jesus announced a binding rule of leadership for those who would follow Him. According to unredeemed human nature, Gentiles ruled by lordship—raw power, rank manipulation, and rancid self-serving.

“Yet it shall not be so among you.”

There is no wiggle room here, no plan B, no alternative in case of emergencies. Human-powered leadership is not the Jesus-way, not ever, not then, not now, not at all. We must not cry out to Jesus for help as we lead and then proceed in a manor abhorrent to Him. To ask God to bless ungodly leadership methods is as foolish and arrogant as the pride of James and John.

“…but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.”

Jesus, of course, was the supreme example of this kind of leadership. It cost Him His life and gave us ours.

Scriptures:
Mark 10:35-45
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am embarrassed for James and John yet I must confess that I am prone to similar conceits. Save me from pride and ambition for the glory of my own name. I reserve the depths of my heart for Your glory, my ambitions for Your service. Help me be a servant leader today. Reveal to me the disgust You have for leaders who would seek to advance Your Kingdom by their own power, politics, and personalities. These things are abhorrent to You. You treasure humility and servanthood. When I obey You not just in the ends sought but in the means You taught, then I can expect Your power to flow in my life. Lord, make me like You! Amen.

Song:
Oh, To Be Like Thee
Words: Thomas O. Chisholm; Music: William 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 wear.

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 own 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 wand’ring 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 th’ 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

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 24, 2017: “Reign”

Reign

The Birth of Christ was both an ending and a beginning.
It was the ending of the Old Covenant for Jesus would be the final Lamb. It was the beginning of the New Covenant for Jesus would be the Mediator of it—Redeemer, Life-giver, Lord of Life, Master of death, hell, and the grave, Healer, Baptizer, and King of kings forever. The prophet was specific in his measurement of the scope of Messiah’s Kingdom—

  • The government shall will be upon His shoulder.
  • Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
  • Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom…forever!

What Mary Pondered
Dr. Luke tells us that the testimony of the shepherds when they returned from their mission through Bethlehem to tell everyone about Jesus caused her to think deeply about events unfolding before her. This tells us much about her. She was no shallow person caught up in events beyond her control. She was invested in the plan of God. Surely this was the effect of two things which she was the first to experience:

  • Jesus was living in her and,
  • she had been “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit.

In these ways, Mary was the first of those to be called Christians, those who live life with the giver of life inside and who are informed and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit within. Simeon would recognize this in the days to come when he prophesied over Jesus: Mary’s heart would cause her to feel things more deeply than others.

It is little wonder that this lady has fired the imaginations of believers throughout history. While there is no occasion to elevate her to the level of divinity, there is much we can ponder in our hearts as we think of her.

Soon all the worshipers were gone.
All was quiet and the Child was asleep. Mary and Joseph took turns sleeping and keeping watch through the night. They had so much to think about. As the morning broke, Mary slept and Joseph studied the sleeping faces he loved so much. How could one man’s heart hold so much love? When she awoke to feed Jesus, Joseph considerately turned his back. They slowly began to talk about all that had happened. They laughed at the clumsy shepherds so full of joy and glowing with angel-shine. They were in awe of the wise men and their amazing gifts, giving thanks to God for his provision. Having rehearsed all these marvels, they began to think about what might lie ahead for Jesus, sleeping now between them.

Just how will he be a king?
The only mental pictures they had of rulers were the King in Jerusalem and the Emperor in Rome. How would Jesus fit into those frames? Surely He would not rule the way they do.  Would they someday trade this stable or the house in Nazareth for a palace? Ponder though they might, they could not imagine themselves in the trappings of earthly power.

They knew the truth of the Scriptures, the prophecies of old had become their life circumstances. Somehow, little Jesus, their son, would be King of kings. He would reign. How could such a wonder be true? It must be both an ending and a beginning.

Scriptures:
Isaiah 9:6-7 NKJV
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
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.
1 Timothy 6:13-16 NKJV
I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.
Revelation 19:11-16 NKJV
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Revelation 19:6-7 NKJV
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!
Luke 2:19-20 NKJV
But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, King of kings, Lord of lords, there is none beside You. Your throne is the throne of all creation and You rest easy on it. Multitudes of angels in joyful assembly attend to Your throne with constant worship. “Thousands at Your bidding speed while they also serve who stand and wait.” Wonder of wonders, I am included in the human throng of redeemed worshipers who stand before Your throne! How can it be? And yet it is true. Rule in my heart. Reign in my life! May I always walk in Your grace as I dwell within the realm of the splendor of Your holiness. Hallelujah! The Lord Reigns! Amen.

Songs:
Joy to the World
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: G.F. Handel

1. Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room, and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

2. Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3. No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.

4. He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love, and wonders, wonders of His love.

Jesus Shall Reign
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Anonymous

1. Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run,
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.

2. To him shall endless prayer be made, and praises throng to crown his head.
His name like sweet perfume shall rise with every morning sacrifice.

3. People and realms of every tongue dwell on his love with sweetest song,
and infant voices shall proclaim their early blessings on his name.

4. Blessings abound where’er he reigns: the prisoners leap to lose their chains,
the weary find eternal rest, and all who suffer want are blest.

5. Let every creature rise and bring the highest honors to our King,
angels descend with songs again, and earth repeat the loud amen.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 18, 2017: “Inn”

Inn

All they needed was accommodations—a room for the night.
With seven words, Dr. Luke introduces a most fruitful image into the Christmas story: “…there was no room for them in the inn.” This bit of history has birthed so much fiction:

  • If there was an inn there had to be an innkeeper and he had to have a wife.
  • The manger meant there was a barn or someplace unfit for the birthplace of a king.
  • If there was no room for them then the people at the inn were so caught up in their own lives they missed the most important thing.

It is the firm conviction of this writer that these sketchy histories exist precisely for the purpose of firing our imaginations. As we fill in the missing details, the story becomes more real to us.

So there was an inn in Bethlehem.
The end of the torturous journey for a young woman “great with child” was a first century version of a No Vacancy sign. There was a stable out back where beasts of burden rested tired limbs and aching backs. It would have to do for an exhausted Joseph and a sore, weary Mary. No one knew better than she that her time was near.

Joseph, the planner, the builder, the careful, caring husband did his best to make his wife comfortable. It was a losing cause. Her discomfort was beyond the reach of his skills and the possibilities of the primitive conditions. She did not blame him, of course. None of it was his fault. It was part of the blessing for which they had been chosen. Joseph had prepared for this moment by listening to the advice of his mother and Mary’s. Knowing this, he and Mary waited. He fed and watered the donkey.

They were ready.
The extra blankets they had brought along were put to good use, propping Mary up and shielding off the chill of night. None of the guests at the inn knew about them or cared. The innkeeper did not visit to check on them. He was too busy with his paying guests to worry about this unfortunate couple. The animals were quiet and the wind stopped at the frail door to the stable. They were so alone.

But they were not alone.
Unseen by them, angels stood at every corner of the stable. Each heavenly guard stood at an unusual alert. This was no routine assignment. Angels knew of the miracle that escaped the notice of the people at the inn. The One Who Sits on the Throne had somehow abandoned glory for this humble inn and its barn. He was soon to be born. The mystery of human life that fascinated angels was about to unfold before them—birth!—new life! An infant, helpless but full of potential, would enter the world. The clock of mortality would start ticking for the little one, measuring a life fading even as it begins.

As the pains become sharper and more frequent, Mary held Joseph’s hand. Together they grew strength with each whisper of the name, “Jesus.”

Luke 2:1-7 KJV
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Bethlehem was prophesied; the back room of an inn was a surprise. The joy of Your birth is clothed in irony and pain. Christmas today retains this uneasy duet of hope and sadness. We rejoice in the songs of the season and think deeply of those we have lost who in Christmases past rejoiced with us. It is a time of having and losing, of smiles and tears, of hope and uneasy doubt. Lord, help me adjust to the situation the way it is and find the comfort You provide. Assure me that angels are ever on guard and that Your name is the most powerful prayer I can pray. Jesus! Amen.

Song:
What Child Is This?
Words: W. Chatterton Dix; Music: Greensleeves

1 What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Refrain:
This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

2 Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Refrain

3 So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Refrain
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 18, 2017: “Escape”

Escape

Escape is not always a cowardly thing.
Sometimes heroes are the ones who lead an escape.  Jesus is certainly such a hero.  Through his courage and action, we can escape:

  • the judgment our sins demanded,
  • the wrath of God which is surely coming on the earth, and even
  • death itself.

There are other things we cannot escape:

  • the responsibility for the call of God on our lives,
  • the consequences of a lifestyle of sin,
  • the pain we cause others who are counting on us if we fail to follow through with our ministries, and
  • that wonderful/horrible day when we stand before the Lord and give an account of what we did and did not do with His grace in our lives.

There is a great danger that each of us must learn how to escape. 
The more serious we are about fulfilling the plan of God for our lives, the greater this danger looms.  Faithful ministers of the Gospel are especially susceptible to this danger.

Because we love Him so much and the work before us is so important and the needs of the people around us are so pressing, we can acquire the idea that we are indispensable to the work of God.  This leads to illegitimate feelings that we must learn to escape:

  • If we stop praying for a minute it is a sin for the Bible clearly says to pray without ceasing.
  • If we take a day off and do nothing to advance the Kingdom, we are sinning because we are not redeeming the time and our harvest is in jeopardy.
  • If we relax our high-speed, multitasking brains for an hour or two, we may miss the return of Jesus because the Bible says “ in such an hour as you think not, the Son of Man cometh.”

This behavior pattern is called a messiah-complex.
How we escape the messiah complex?  We established that Jesus is our hero, our rescuer, our Messiah.  Escape begins when we realize that He is the one upon whose shoulders the government of the Kingdom of God rests—not us!  Jesus is the Messiah—we are not! The man or woman of God must learn a new level of trust in God Almighty.  The Bible says He never sleeps.  Might that be true so that we can sleep?  In fact, God set the example of resting—taking time off!—on the last day of the creation week.  If are going to be rested and ready to worship God on the Lord’s Day, we need to set aside time to rest up, to escape from the pressure of work for a few hours.

One of the reasons we are given minds capable of learning all sorts of things is to give us interests beyond our work.  We should never let the enemy of our souls accuse us wasting time when we are following those interests.  God remembers that we are human beings.  He knows our minds need rest and our bodies need exercise.

Go ahead today and escape or a while from the cares of this life.
Have some fun.  Learn something new that means absolutely nothing to your work.  The Kingdom of God remains secure, resting squarely on the broad shoulders of the Messiah—and that isn’t you!

Scriptures:
Hebrews 4:9-11
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Isaiah 9:6-7 NKJV
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Proverbs 11:9
With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous escape.
Psalm 68:20
Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.
Luke 21:34-36
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 NKJV
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Psalm 103:14 NKJV
For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 91:1-2
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, today is the Sabbath, the day You ordained for rest. Free me from any tiny bit of a Messiah complex. You are the Lord; I am Your servant. You do not count my rest-time as time wasted. Tomorrow, Sunday—the Lord’s Day—is the day when I will spend every ounce of my heart, soul, mind, and strength to the joy of expressing my love for You. In preparation for the day of worship, I will enjoy a day of rest and/or diversion. These things, too, are gifts from You. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Rock of Ages
Words: Augustus Toplady; Music: Thomas Hastings

1. Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

2. Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

3. Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

4. While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment th

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 16, 2017: “Relentless”

Relentless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why on earth would we ever relent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 13, 2017: “Anticipation”

Anticipation

Anticipation is hope harnessed to a particular outcome.
It is faith focused on a deep desire, and charity channeled in a chosen direction. Delay creates anticipation; we must wait for the outcome, the desire, and the direction. Anticipation keeps our waiting time from being a waste of time. As we preview the anticipated outcome our faith grows and the direction we have chosen is confirmed.

We do not wait for things in a spiritual void; we have promises to hold on to, prophesies to believe, and a covenant to cling to. Quietly, deep in our spirit where His Spirit abides, a voice speaks, “Hold on! It’s coming! God has promised!” The voice comforts and encourages us, building a stronger anticipation. Further delays are processed through this three-fold filter of faith, hope, and love so that setbacks are never seen as final.

As another week begins, let us anticipate God’s faithfulness.
Fresh from our Lord’s Day expressions of thanksgiving, praise, and adoration, we are confident that God will continue to be true to His Word this week. There may be sleepless nights this week, even tear-filled nights, but in the morning we will dry our eyes in confidence that the tears of the night will soon be only a memory as the faithful sun rises in the east and the Faithful and True Son rises in our hearts.

We will sow good seed this week, precious seed. Plowing the fallow ground of our own hearts is not easy work for the rocks are plentiful and they lie in surprising places. As a descendent of Adam, this sweat of our brow is necessary if we are to ever have a harvest. We will also water the seed others have sown in relationships and Kingdom work this week. This relational work is as important to the anticipated harvest as is the sowing of the seed. When the harvest comes, those who have sown in tears and those who have gone forth weeping, bearing precious seed shall doubtless join those who have faithfully watered the seed and tended the field and all shall come rejoicing bringing their sheaves with them.

The farmer plows and plants his field in anticipation of the harvest.
The harvest is his hope, his field of faith, and his labor of love. We also,

  • sow the good seed of the Word of God in our own hearts,
  • sow good deeds of mercy into the lives of others,
  • abundantly water the work of the Lord in the lives of our brothers and sisters, and
  • scatter the good seed of the Gospel in every field we enter and upon every path we walk.

We joyfully anticipate the harvest, not because we are great farmers, but because the field is the Lord’s and the seed is precious, powerful, and perennial.

Scriptures:
1 Corinthians 13:13 KJV
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Psalms 30:5 NKJV; 126:5-6 KJV
Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning. Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
1 Corinthians 3:6-8 NKJV
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
Galatians 6:7-10 NKJV
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
2 Corinthians 9:6
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my confidence is in You and Your faithfulness. The only sure thing the world can offer me is pain. You, Father, offer me much more—abundant life—guaranteed by Your character. Let me echo the theme song of the Old Covenant, “Lord, You are good and mercy endures even to my generation!” I enter this day full of anticipation of good and perfect gifts from above. I anticipate victory in every conflict, endurance in every trial, wisdom in every dilemma, and joy in every circumstance. Your Word will light my path. Your voice will sound in my spirit and Your peace will be my song. In short, I anticipate Grace today! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 10, 2017: “Shame”

Shame

The shame was ours not His.
The cross was a thing of shame, meant by ancient authorities to punish the evil doer with a slow and painful death and also to shame the guilty one and all who were his. Shame is a punishment all its own. It is as heavy as a cross and bites as deep as a Roman whip. The deeds at Calvary completed a three decade+ process of humiliation for the Son of God.

  • He emptied Himself of divine qualities to become a helpless infant.
  • He learned as child learns, this One Who at one time knew everything.
  • He worked with wood, doing business with the villagers, this One Who created everything.
  • He suffered the rejection of the children of Joseph and Mary, bitter preparation for a nation soon to reject Him, this second person of the Godhead.
  • Life flowed through Him so that the dead lived again, the crippled walked again, the deaf and dumb sang again, and all manner of sick and oppressed folk laughed again.
  • They crowned Him King crying “Hosanna!” and then cried “Crucify Him,” when public opinion changed.
  • His closest followers, except for the women, listened to Him but did not hear Him. They watched and prayed with Him in the Garden and then they slept.
  • The Soldiers came to begin the final act of this theatre of shame: trials, scourging, and a cross.

He deserved none of this, this deep, deep shame. Yet He bore it all. In the Garden while His friends slept, He drained the cup of shame to the dregs and called it God’s will. Our shame was laid upon Him to the full.

Why should we bear our shame still?
This divine obliteration of shame is a proven historical event. It is appropriated by faith by anyone who will simply repent, confess, and believe. Why then, do so many trudge through this life with a cross of shame on their shoulders? I see two types of shame; let’s call shame by other biblical terms like “sorrow.” Paul speaks of a “godly sorrow that leads to repentance” and of a worldly sorrow that leads to death.

  1. There is a godly shame that leads to repentance, forgiveness, and regeneration—a new life free from the record of the past.
  2. There is a pathological shame that grips the soul and never lets go until life is choked out completely.

The difference is Jesus and His cross and His empty tomb. He carried our well-deserved shame with Him into that tomb and he left it there! He came out in resurrection power holding in his nail-scarred hands the touch of healing and forgiveness and redemption for us. Today those strong carpenter’s hands can cut away our binding fetters of guilt and shame.

Believe it. Accept it. Live in it. Just as the shame He endured was ours, not His, the acceptance and innocence that replaces our shame is His not ours—but it is His gift to us.

Believe it. Accept it. Live in it

Scriptures:
Proverbs 3:11-12 NKJV
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor detest His correction; For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.
2 Corinthians 7:8-11 NKJV
For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Romans 9:33 NKJV
As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
Isaiah 53
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.
Psalm 69:8-9; 17-21
Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach, and shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my own kindred, an alien to my mother’s children. Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up; do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me. Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me.” “Hide not your face from your servant; be swift and answer me, for I am in distress. Draw near to me and redeem me; because of my enemies deliver me. You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor; my adversaries are all in your sight.”
Hebrews 12:1-3 NKJV
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me to never forget the shame that You endured. It was mine, not Yours, yet You bared Your back to the soldiers and their whips, You shouldered the cross and carried it up the hill. You endured the violence of the words and nails of Golgotha. From the cross You quoted the psalms You learned as a child, yield Your abandoned spirit to the Father. Let me never forget the three-day silence of the Tomb as You raided hell’s headquarters, wresting the keys of death, hell and the grave from Satan’s grip. When You stepped from that tomb, you left my shame inside. Help me never to pick it up again. Thank You, Lord Jesus!

Song:
At the Cross
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Scottish Folk Tune

1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?

Refrain:
At the Cross, at the Cross where I first saw the light
And the burdens of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day.

2. Was it for crimes that I have done, he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree!

Refrain

3. Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died for his own creature’s sin.

Refrain

4. Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt mine eyes to tears.

Refrain

5. But drops of tears can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away; ’tis all that I can do.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 31, 2017 “Responsibilities”

Responsibilities

The Big “I”
Did you ever notice how many times the letter “i” is found in the word, responsibilities?—4 times!  Excessive, don’t you think?  No wonder we tend to think that fulfilling all our responsibilities depends on us.  Since we do not form theology on numbers and letters, it is good to sort out the relationship between us and the things for which we are responsible.

Responsibility vs. Power.
Many people seek power; others accept responsibility.  These are not the same thing.  Power is the partner of pride. Responsibility is the ally of humility.  There cannot be a wider gap between two attitudes.  The Jesus way is to accept responsibility; the devil’s way is to seek power.  The Scriptures make it clear:  God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

The sources of human power range from physical prowess, to political position, to financial force, to intellectual influence.  All this power is rooted in a fallen, but still able, human capacity to desire, plan, and produce.  Personal power is essentially selfish and self-sustaining using any means available.  Pragmatism, not principle, pushes the protagonist from deed to deed, drama to drama without concern those who get stepped on from scene to scene.

Responsibility only gets headlines when connected to crimes.  Indeed, the life of responsibility in the things of both time and eternity begins when one accepts responsibility for one’s sins.  We do not blame parents, or teachers, or culture; we accept the blame ourselves.  With godly sorrow comes repentance and then, amazingly, forgiveness from the Throne of God and of the Lamb.
Soon, this new creature, forgiven and filled with the Spirit of God, seeks not power, but responsibility.

Jesus, Use Me!
The old song said it well…

Jesus, use me.  And, oh, Lord don’t refuse me.
Surely there’s a work that I can do.
And even though it’s humble, Lord help my will to crumble,
Though the cost be great, I’ll work for you. (Jack Campbell)

Salvation brings a desire to serve.  All of life is redefined according to the teaching of Jesus:

  • The desire to come in first becomes the desire to put Jesus first.
  • The desire to be a star becomes the desire to be a servant.
  • The desire to lead becomes the desire to be led by the Spirit.
  • The desire to be in the driver’s seat becomes the joy of being a passenger, liberated from watching the road and seeing the world rush by the window while the sky lingers in the distance.

Taking Up Our Cross
Just as Jesus carried the cross, we shoulder the will of God for our lives, the set of responsibilities we are privileged to carry in the will of God for us.  Sometimes there is pain because we are sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings.  Sometimes there is breathtaking joy as we see the work of the Spirit of God being done in the arena of our calling.  All the time there are our responsibilities, not burdened with “I’s”, but joyfully blessed with His—His strength, His wisdom, His victory, and His approval.

Scriptures:
James 4:6 NKJV
“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
2 Corinthians 7:10-11 10 NKJV
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Mark 8:34-38
… “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
Mark 9:35
… Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Mark 10:41-45
…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.”
Romans 8:12-17
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation…(to live) by the Spirit … because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children… heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Matthew 25:21
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Philippians 3:10-11
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want my life to count for You—I want what I do in my time on earth to matter in eternity. . Help me follow Your example and shun power while welcoming responsibility. Help me be the kind of person others can depend upon. Give me broad shoulders so I can carry the load You want me to carry. Give me a careful mind so I can remember the right things and forget the things best forgotten. Give me a caring heart so that I can be sensitive to others and to Your Spirit. Defend me against distractions that would get me off the job You have given me to do. Keep me focused on You and the work of Your Kingdom today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
Jesus, Use Me
Words and Music: Jack Campbell

Refrain:
Jesus, use me, o Lord, don’t refuse me,
Surely there’s a work that I can do.
Even tho’ it’s humble Lord help my will to crumble,
Tho’ the cost be great, I’ll work for You.

V. 1 Dear lord I’ll be a witness, if You will help my weakness.
I know that i’m not worthy, Lord, of You.
By eyes of faith I see You, on the cross of cal-v’ry,
Dear Lord, I cry, “let me Your servant be”

Refrain

V.2 He’s the Lily of the ValleyThe Bright and Morning Star
He’s the Fairest of ten thousand to my soul’
He’s the beautiful Rose of Sharon, he’s all the world to me,
But best of all He is my coming King

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved