November 12, 2017: “Adore”

Adore

Adore is a strong word.
We sing it wistfully every Christmas when somebody slows down “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Each time we do it seems to be new all over again:

“O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

“Adore” goes beyond affection to a deep desire, beyond interest to a consuming passion.  Webster’s Dictionary defines it:

  1. To worship or worship honor as a deity or as divine,
  2. To regard with loving admiration and devotion,
  3. To be very fond of…

Notice how the definitions lose intensity as they are listed.  On this Lord’s Day the ministry before us is to “worship and honor as divine.” Our liturgy (the words we say or sing) will be filled with truth about Jesus.  Our job is to add the passion so that the worship can have both truth(the Word of God and our undivided minds) and spirit(the power the Spirit and our deepest passion.) Today’s worship service will not be about the music, or the musicians, or the singers, or the preacher, or the technology—it will be totally dedicated to honoring the One True God, and Jesus is His name.

Hopefully.

Sometimes churches get off track and some of those others things take center stage.  It shouldn’t happen, everyone knows that, but it does happen.   It happens when we try to use worship to some other ends, like church growth, or outreach to certain groups.  Worship is not a means to an end, it is our purpose on the Lord’s Day!  As we worship in spirit and truth we disciple others and evangelize the lost because His presence and His Spirit makes all that happen.  Our job is to keep everything centered on Jesus!

Worship Anyway!
What should you do when you are attending a service and you sense the emphasis is wrong, the music is not sing-able, the technology is a distraction and it just doesn’t feel like worship?  What should you do?

Worship anyway!

Close your eyes and concentrate on the words.  If you find them unusable, start quoting scripture that tells you about the Lord.  This is when it would be good to have some psalms memorized!  Don’t open your Bible and read; that would be a rude political statement and that certainly isn’t worship!  If you run out of scripture just start telling the Lord how much you love Him!  Adore Him in some way—that is why you came.  That is what the day is for.

Remember that the physical precedes the spiritual.
The Sacrifice of Praise happens when we adore the Lord as a determined act of the will, not because the music makes it easy or our emotions lead us in that direction.  You will find that if you open up your heart and enter in to praise with the best you have to give, your physical effort will be blessed by the Holy Spirit and your worship will be pleasing to God.

So, indeed, come, let us adore Him today. Not because it is easy, but because we really do worship and honor the One, True, and Living God!  We adore the Lord!

Scriptures:
Mark 12:29-31 NKJV
Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Psalm 31:23-32:1
Love the LORD, all his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.
Psalm 116:1-2
I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
Psalm 97:10-12
Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. Rejoice in the LORD, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name.
1 Peter 2:4-5; 9-10
As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Chronicles 21:24
But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”
Hebrews 13:15-16
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Psalm 51:15-17
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I will go to Your house today for the single purpose to adore You. My affection for You will be more than affection: it will be adoration. My praise of You will be more than praise; it will be my passion. My desire for Your nearness will be more than desire; it will be desperation. I need You, Lord, so I gather with the saints to hear a word from You, to feel Your healing touch, and to give You what I have to give even if it is only a broken heart and wounded spirit. These things, the Scripture says, You do not despise. Accept my adoring praise today and share Your presence with me and all my brothers and sisters. With love and adoration, I am Yours. Amen.

Songs:
Let Us Adore/Adeste Fideles
Words and Music: Julius Chajes / G.F. Handel and Traditional

Let us adore (Let us adore)
the ever-living God (the ever-living God)
and render praise (and render praise)
unto Him, (unto Him,)
Who spread out the heavens (Who spread out the heavens)
and established the earth. (and established the earth.)
And Whose glory (and whose glory)
is revealed in the heavens above (in the heavens above )
And His greatness (and His greatness)
is manifest throughout all the earth
He is our God and there is none else.
_____________
O come, let us adore Him.
O come, let us adore Him.
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord.

For He alone is worthy.
For He alone is worthy.
For He alone is worthy,
Christ, the Lord.

We’ll give You all the glory.
We’ll give You all the glory.
We’ll give You all the glory,
Christ, the Lord.

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

November 5, 2017: “Due”

Due

A three-letter word can have a powerful impact.
When used in the sentence from Psalm 29, the impact is one of definition and perspective. Our worship must be defined and measured by the glory due unto the Name of the Lord.

Psalm 29:1-2 NKJV
Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones,
Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

We must not define our worship by what pleases us, reflects our nature and preferences, or satisfies our humanity. We must not measure our worship by our standards or those of the surrounding culture. We must define our worship by the details of His wonderful name. We must measure our worship by the standard of the glory due God Himself. When something is due someone, it means they have earned it. It is theirs by right.

This changes everything about what we do on Sundays.
It takes the focus off us and places it back on the One who should be the object and the subject of public worship. Public services should be about giving unto the Lord before it is about receiving from Him. It should be about pleasing Him, not about pleasing ourselves. We should come before His presence with the Sacrifice of Praise, seeking to experience the revelation of His glory. We should not be presenting targeted music to targeted audiences in order to draw them in. “The glory due His name” leaves no room for a diffusion of our passions; they must be spent on the pursuit of the manifestation of His divine presence. The results of worship are blessings to be enjoyed but the blessings we receive are not our motivation. The truth of “it is more blessed to give than receive” is born out in true worship. We bless God and He blesses us in response.

When Jesus Walks among Us
In Luke chapter four, Jesus was asked to read the scriptures in His hometown synagogue. It was a tough audience filled with friends and family, fellow businessmen and former customers, and people who hadn’t forgotten the shadow over the marriage of Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus.

Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah of the ministry of the Messiah—an amazing list of benefits He would bring into the lives of those who worshiped Him. With the rapt attention of the worshipers, he initiated the Good News of the New Covenant.

Luke 4:21-22 NKJV
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Nothing less than a riot ensued. His friends took Him to the brow of a hill to throw Him off. He stared them down and walked through the mob like the Israelites through the Red Sea.

When Jesus Walks among Us
Jesus’ quote of Isaiah describes the thing Messiah will do when He visits His people. The list is amazing:

Luke 4:18-19 KJV

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor;
he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and
recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

When we give Him the glory due unto His name, Jesus walks among us in power:

  • To preach the gospel to the poor,
  • To bind up the broken hearted,
  • To set captives free,
  • To give sight to the blind,
  • Set those who free who have been deeply injured, and
  • Preach the Day of the God’s visitation.

This visitation of God among His people is the need of every generation gathered in the house of God. This is what the world needs from the church.

What prevents these blessings from being the routine? God’s promises are true and His character is beyond question. Surely the fault must lie in our worship, our public presentation focused on people rather than God.

What can we do?
We can recalibrate our theological instruments by the standard of the Glory due His name! We can recommit to biblical methods and principles in our planning and leading of worship. True Worship begins in the heart of each worshiper and extends to the healing of the nations.

Scriptures:
Psalm 29 NKJV
Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, Give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; The God of glory thunders; The Lord is over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; The voice of the Lord is
full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars, Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon. He makes them also skip like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth, And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!” The Lord sat en
throned at the Flood, And the Lord sits as King forever. The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace.
Revelation 4:8-11 NKJV
And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, sayi
ng: “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.”
Revelation 5:9-14 NKJV
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, today, I will not measure my praise by my comfort or by what pleases me. I will lend all my humanity to the prospect of giving unto You the glory due Your name. I will hold nothing back. I will give You glory. I will give You praise. I will honor You for You are worthy. I will tune my heart to heaven’s music and fix my mind on the revelation of who You are by the Spirit. Your name will be my song; Your holiness it’s majestic tune and angel voices will harmonize with me. This and more is what is due unto Your Holy Name. Praise the Lord! Amen.

Song:
Come Now O Royal Priesthood

Words and Music: Stephen Phifer

1. Come now, O Royal Priesthood, bring the Sacrifice of Praise,
The fruit of lips that sing His Name, the song of ancient days.
Made holy by His Righteousness, made regal by His Grace,
Come now, O Royal Priesthood, bring the Sacrifice of Praise.

Refrain:
O sing unto the Lord Your King
And make the Courts of Heaven ring!
Let the measure of your praises be “the glory due His Name.”
Come now, O Royal Priesthood, bring the Sacrifice of Praise!

2 .Come now, O Holy Priesthood, bring the Sacrifice of Love;
The first commandment now obey, affections fixed above,
Where Jesus reigns in majesty on a Throne of Truth and Trust.
Come now, O Holy Priesthood bring the Sacrifice of Love.

Refrain:
O sing unto the Lord Your King
And make the Courts of Heaven ring!
Let the measure of your praises be “the glory due His Name.”
Come now, O Holy Priesthood, bring the Sacrifice of Love!

3. Come now, O Holy Nation, for the King is calling you
To stand for Him and live for Him, a people brave and true;
Ambassadors of Heaven with Heaven’s work to do.
Come now, O Holy Nation for the King is calling you!

Refrain:
O sing unto the Lord Your King
And make the Courts of Heaven ring!
Let the measure of your praises be “the glory due His Name.”
Come now, Holy Nation, for the King is calling You!

4. Come now, O Purchased People, come and follow close your King
for He has bought your souls from hell and given cause to sing.
The debt of love we owe to Him compels the love we bring.
Come now, O Purchased People come and follow close your King!

Refrain:
O sing unto the Lord Your King
And make the Courts of Heaven ring!
Let the measure of your praises be “the glory due His Name.”
Come now, O Purchased People, come and follow close Your King!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 22, 2017 “Extol”

Extol

What is the difference between exalting the Lord and extolling the Lord? 
Since dictionaries tend to use “exalt” as a synonym for extol, finding the meaning can be confusing.  However, a comparison of how the words are used in the Psalms reveals the distinction:

  1. Extolling the Lord is the accumulated exaltation of the Lord.  The word “extol” (and its KJV equivalent “bless”) is usually given in the context of the corporate worship of the people of God.
  2. Individually, each of has the capacity exalt the Lord—to honor Him with the highest place in our hearts, to tell of His excellence, to sing of His grace and in many other ways acknowledge His greatness.
  3. When the people of God gather and we all begin to exalt Him, our praise accumulates as together we begin to extol.

OT:5549 calal (saw-lal’); a primitive root; to mound up (especially a turnpike); figurative, to exalt; KJV – cast up, exalt (self), extol, make plain, raise up.
OT:1288 barak (baw-rak’); a primitive root; to kneel; by implication to bless God (as an act of adoration),  KJV – X abundantly, X altogether, X at all, blaspheme, bless, congratulate, curse, X greatly, X indeed, kneel (down), praise, salute, X still, thank

Let us extol the Lord!
Today we will gather in the House of the Lord to mount up our praise, to exalt the Lord together!  The volume of sound in the room will mount up.  In the spirit realm, the value of the sacrifices of praise of the people of God will mount up to the heavens.  Just as the instrumentalists and the singers became “one, to make one sound” in praising and thanking the Lord, when King Solomon dedicated the Temple, the unity of personal exaltation of God becomes a corporate unison of bodies, souls, and spirits, as we join the hosts of heaven to extol the Lord.  Heaven and earth meet at His footstool to worship Him in Spirit and Truth.

This is one celebration we dare not miss!  This is a gathering in the Spirit.

  • Here we are seated together in heavenly realms for our exaltation has mounted up and the pleasing aroma of our collected sacrifices of praise has accumulated into a sweet smelling savor to God Himself.
  • Jacob’s ladder has been extended from eternity’s throne room into our moments and days.  Angels now ascend and descend with armloads of grace.
  • The Lord we extol presides over this gathering, His precious Spirit quickening yielded hearts and melting cold ones.
  • The focus is on the One Who Sits Upon the Throne, the Lamb, Slain Before the Foundation of the World who has formed for Himself a people out of every tribe and tongue and nation, a Kingdom of Priests and Priesthood of Kings to sing His praise.

And we have a place there. 
We have a verse to sing in the eternal song, a harmony to add, a grateful tear to shed, splashing at our feet, running together with all the grateful tears of the Redeemed and flowing together into the full tide of the River or Life.

How wonderful it is to join the throng, to sing the songs of time and eternity, to exalt God with all our might, and to see our sacrifice of praise mount up with all the others until it is high praise indeed.

Scriptures:
Psalm 34:1-3
I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.
Psalm 95:1-2
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
Psalm 109:30
With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD; in the great throng I will praise him.
Psalm 111:1
Praise the LORD. I will extol the LORD with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly.
Psalm 145:9-12
All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Psalm 147:12-14
Extol the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion, for he strengthens the bars of your gates and blesses your people within you. He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.
Psalm 149:1-6 NKJV
Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise in the assembly of saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. Let them praise His name with the dance; Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp. For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation. Let the saints be joyful in glory; Let them sing aloud on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand …This honor have all His saints. Praise the LORD!
Hebrews 12:22-24
… you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are worthy of all praise. Help me add my song to the song of the multitudes around Your throne. Amazingly, my heart-song has a place in this symphony! You have called me out of darkness into Your marvelous light expressly so that I might praise You with the saints gathered in grace. This is no solo; this is the ensemble of the ages, the choir and orchestra of the Redeemed! Together, from steadfast hearts, we sing and make the music of praise and worship. This amalgamated song of heaven and earth rises above exaltation to status of High Sounding Praise as we extol You! Bless the Lord, O My soul! Amen.

Song:
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
Words: Charles Wesley; Music: Lowell Mason

1 O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace!

2 My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim,
to spread thro’ all the earth abroad the honors of your name.

3 Jesus! the name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease,
’tis music in the sinner’s ears,’tis life and health and peace.

4 He breaks the power of cancelled sin, he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean; his blood availed for me.

5 To God all glory, praise, and love be now and ever given
by saints below and saints above, the Church in earth and heaven.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 15, 2017 “Praise!”

Praise!

Everything that exists in time has a beginning, a middle and an ending.
Worship is no exception. Praise is the starting place for a service of worship. Psalm 100 states that praise is the gateway to the courts of the Lord. We enter His gates with praise and thanksgiving.

If your worship leader understands his/her ministry, the praise part of the service today will enable you express your gratitude to God for His faithfulness to you. There should be an opportunity to boldly and joyfully proclaim the praises of God, perhaps with the ancient words of a biblical psalm or with a classic hymn of praise with four stanzas: one for the Father, another for the Son, still another for the Spirit, and a fourth for the Kingdom of God. You may be led in a contemporary song that extols the majesty and love of God or the supremacy of the Lord Jesus. However it is done, praise is the starting point.

There are many reasons for this:

  • Praise focuses our minds on God and not on us.
  • Thanksgiving humbles us before our God.
  • Exaltation of the Lord Jesus establishes His heavenly Kingdom here on earth.
  • The Lord responds to our praise with His presence and His sovereignty.
  • The praise of the Church is heard by the spiritual wickedness arrayed against us.
  • The greatness of God is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.
  • If there is un-confessed sin in our hearts, humility leads to repentance.
  • Praise renews the mind and clears away any confusion we may have collected during the week.

Tempo is not the Issue.
Songs of praise do not have to be fast songs. Sometimes a slower song that really exalts the Lord can be an excellent starting place for a worship service. Many times, though, our bodies need a little help getting into a worship state of being. In times like these a little bit or rhythm can help us release our praise. A catchy tune can help us recall the words of scripture so we can enter into the service.

It is an act of obedience.
Praise has another strategic advantage: it is not a matter of feeling. Praising God is not an involuntary or emotional reflex, it is an act of obedience. The Bible says the Lord is pleased by the Sacrifice of Praise. King David set the example in a terrible, judgment-filled moment of crisis when he refused to offer a sacrifice to the Lord which costs him nothing.

Today, become a proactive praise-er.
Go ahead and praise God whether you like the music or not. Lift your heart, your mind, your hands, and your voice in praise as act of obedience. Don’t wait for a feeling. Let your praise be a costly sacrifice. It may cost your comfort, your position, your pride, your dignity, or even your embarrassment, but if you praise the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you will find yourself through the gates and into the presence of the Lord.

Scriptures:
Psalm 22:3,
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. KJV … You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.
Psalm 147:1
Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
Psalm 103:1
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Psalm 100:4-5
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 generation
James 5:13
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.
2 Samuel 24:24
I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
Psalm 51:17
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Romans 12:1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Ephesians 3:10-13 10
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Hebrews 13:15-16
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, if I learn anything at all from the scriptures it is that You are worthy of praise. Your excellence is beyond our understanding so what we must do is celebrate it. Thank You for making praise and thanksgiving the gateway to Your presence. How fitting and pleasant it is for Your people to give thanks for all You have done and to praise You for Your excellent greatness. You found us in the darkness of our messed-up lives and brought sweet healing light to our souls. Now You have called us out of darkness for the purpose of proclaiming Your praise. This I will do today! Amen and Amen!

Song:
Praise Him! Praise Him!
Words: Fanny Crosby; Music: Chester G. Allen

1. Praise Him! praise Him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!
Sing, O earth, His wonderful love proclaim!
Hail Him! hail Him! highest archangels in glory,
strength and honor give to His holy name!
Like a shepherd, Jesus will guard His children;
in His arms He carries them all day long:

Refrain:
Praise Him! praise Him! tell of His excellent greatness!
Praise Him! praise Him! ever in joyful song!

2. Praise Him! praise Him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!
For our sins, He suffered and bled and died;
He our Rock, our hope of eternal salvation,
Hail Him! hail Him! Jesus the crucified.
Sound His praises! Jesus who bore our sorrows,
love unbounded, wonderful, deep, and strong:

Refrain

3. Praise Him! praise Him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!
Heavenly portals loud with hosannas ring!
Jesus, Savior, reigneth forever and ever;
crown Him! crown Him! prophet and priest and King!
Christ is coming, over the world victorious,
power and glory unto the Lord belong:

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 11, 2017 “Joy!”

Joy!

The joy of the Lord is not so elusive as we might think.
So close to life itself, this joy rushes into us when we inhale and remains in us even as we exhale. It courses through our veins and arteries with our life’s blood, nourishing each cell of our being with the energy and oxygen of spiritual life.

Because He has sent us His Spirit to abide in the deepest part of us, His joy has come too. We don’t have to work it up. We don’t even have to feel it. This joy dwells in a place deeper than feelings, a place of covenant and constancy where the promises of God run round the clock, the machinery of God’s faithfulness, without vibration or hum or even blinking lights and whirling gages. His grace operates in the deep place where there is great strength and greater peace.

Joy in the center.
When the joy of the Lord seems far away, this is where it has gone—to the center of us, where Jesus abides, the Father watches, and the Spirit empowers. If there is no joy today, dive deeper into Him. He will meet you in the Secret Place. He said the Father is already there and the Spirit is ready to take you to Him.

How is this done? In these well-known ways:

  • Pray the prayer He gave us.
  • Honor Him.
  • Seek His Kingdom and His forgiveness.
  • Forgive those who have wronged you.
  • Trust Him with every detail of the day ahead.

He will guard you when the trials come and deliver you from any brand of evil or any class of evildoer this day may hold. Go so deep into Jesus that you see His throne towering above all other authorities and hear His voice more clearly in your heart than any other voice.

Jesus is Lord.
He rules. He reigns. Nothing confuses Him. No rebel has deposed Him. His saints still sing His glory and angels still attend Him. “Thousands at His bidding speed” as well as those others who also serve Him as they stand and wait.

Take your place among those who love Him. As you stand before Him, He dwells within you. And with Him, His joy—the strength you need for this day.

Scriptures:
Psalm 16:11
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 126:5-6
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
John 15:9-11
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete
Nehemiah 8:10
This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 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.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the gift of joy. Thank You for joy that is deeper than happiness, finer than comfort, and more permanent that any pain I might experience. You said this amazing joy is Your joy, the joy You saw coming as You endured the whip and the chains and the curses and the shame. You saw the joy that awaited You when all the pain was past, when all Your blood spilt and all Your work completed. Clear in Your vision You saw the joy of the believer’s embrace, of broken fellowship restored, and of paradise reclaimed. This was the “joy set before You.” You endured the shame of the cross and found in this peculiar joy the strength to overpower death. Lord, I take joy in Your victory today and that joy, indeed, is just the strength I will need. By Your Spirit, Lord Jesus, Amen.

Song:
Joy of My Desire
Words and Music: Randy Rothwell

Joy of my desire, all consuming fire;
Lord of glory, Rose of Sharon, rare and sweet.
You are now my peace, Comforter and friend,
wonderful, so beautiful, You are to me.

I worship You in spirit and in truth.
Lord, I worship You in spirit and in truth.
There will never be a friend as dear to me,
there will never be a friend as dear to me,
there will never be a friend as dear to me,
as dear to me as You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 8, 2017 “Celebration”

Celebration

People were created to celebrate. 
We celebrate at the slightest provocation.  Occasions for celebration run from private gatherings in honor of intimate events like the birth of a child to big family events like graduations and weddings to huge public celebrations like championships, inaugurations and coronations.  Human beings love to celebrate even when there is nothing to celebrate like young people celebrating nothing more than the weekend.

In the words of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof,

God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor.
How much more can we be joyful when there’s really something to be joyful for?

Is there a deeper significance to this human need or desire?  Without doubt—public worship should be a celebration.

Old Covenant Celebration
The spirituality of the Old Covenant was marked by frequent and fervent celebrations:

  • The Sabbath was a weekly celebration of God’s covenantal faithfulness.
  • Three festivals marked each year with celebrations related to the provision of God through the hard work of His people.
  • Every seven years the land itself had a celebration of rest.
  • Every 50th year was supposed to be a year-long celebration called the Year of Jubilee.
  • The book of Psalms commands singing and playing music, rejoicing and dancing before the Lord in celebration of “His abundant goodness.”

New Covenant Celebration
In the Gospel narratives, celebration is at the heart of New Covenant spirituality as Jesus presented worship in Spirit and Truth.

  • Jesus and the disciples celebrated the Old Covenant feasts.
  • Jesus instituted the New Covenant feast of the Lord’s Table.
  • The Father of the prodigal son celebrated greatly at the return of his repentant child.
  • Jesus said the angels in heaven celebrated over one lost sinner who repented.
  • The book of Revelation describes a great celebration with Jesus as Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride.

Celebrate the Lord’s Day!
Each Lord’s Day worship service should have a strong element of celebration in it.  Even if the Spirit is calling the church to solemn prayer, to “weep between the porch and the altar,” the prophet Joel said, we should also “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise,” as the Psalmist said.

On this Lord’s day, let us gather together to celebrate the Lord’s abundant goodness.  Let us rejoice and be glad.  Why?  Because we were made for this purpose and because the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!

Scriptures:
Exodus 23:14-16
“Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; No one is to appear before me empty-handed. “Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.”Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.
2 Samuel 6:12-13
Now King David was told, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing.
Psalm 30:11-12 NKJV
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
Psalm 100 NKJV
Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands.  Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.
Psalm 145:3-7
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.   They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
Matthew 26:18-19
He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'”   So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
Luke 15: 10; 21-24
…I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Hebrews 12:22-24 NKJV
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, on Your day I choose to celebrate! I will lift my voice with those of my brothers and sisters in the House of God! Together we will join the celebration around Your Throne in Heaven where un-numbered angels meet in joyful assembly with the saints we know and love who have preceded us to the Heavenly Zion. I will celebrate with the Song of the Redeemed that angels do not know and cannot sing. I will let the rhythms of celebration move my body, the truths we are celebrating inform my mind, and the Spirit of the Living God animate my spirit so that my whole human existence will be lost in celebration—You deserve nothing less! Hallelujah! Amen!

Song:
Celebrate Jesus!
Words and Music: Don Moen

Celebrate Jesus, celebrate!
Celebrate Jesus, celebrate!
Celebrate Jesus, celebrate!
Celebrate Jesus, celebrate!

He is risen! He is risen!
And He lives forevermore!
He is risen! He is risen!
Come on and celebrate
The resurrection of our Lord!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 6, 2017: “Champion”

Champion

Satan marshaled the might of Rome against Him with a tax, and a cruel journey, but could not stop Him. The Champion was determined to abandon Heaven for earth. Bethlehem closed its doors but could not shut Him out. A stable was enough.

The Champion was born.

All the pits and perils of boyhood came against Him but, at age 12, Jesus emerged a man, a man about His Father’s business. As a youth, Jesus was tempted as every young man is tempted, yet without sin.

The Champion was in training.

Then, as Satan slinked in the Spirit-shadows of the Jordan, Jesus plunged beneath the
waters of obedience. The Heavens opened as if to take the Champion back where He
belonged. Instead, the Spirit came upon Him as a dove and the Father’s voice was heard.

The Champion was ready.

Forty days later, He was hungry, tired, thirsty. Satan made his move.
“Eat,” he said.
“Jerusalem,” he said.
“Worship me,” he said.
“It is written. It is written. It is written,” Jesus said, and the tempter could not stay.

The Champion was in command.

For three years Satan threw everything he had at the Champion: sin, sickness, demons,
religion, politics, pride, faithless friends, hostile crowds, lies, twisted truths. Jesus handled every pitch.

The Champion prevailed.

Then one night in a garden, sweat became blood as companions slept through the Champion’s prayers. A friend’s kiss betrayed and soldiers came, one last attack by a defeated Devil. But this time, Jesus let them come. “This is the hour.” they heard Him say.

The Champion submitted to His Father’s will.

Fists, spears, shouts, thorns, a whip, trials, soldiers, nails, a cross and a sponge of sour wine on a stick. A sudden cry to His Father –“It is finished!”

The Champion was dead.

Earthquakes, lightning, thunder, darkness in the middle of the day. Weeping, fresh linen, burial spices, a borrowed tomb, a huge stone.

The Champion was buried.

Roman guards. It was over. All was secure. Hell rejoiced, flames made demon shadows dance. Captive souls despaired for their Champion. Unseen by the soldiers, a force they could never have stopped entered the tomb and the linen collapsed, empty.

The Champion was alive.

Into hell’s shadowy celebration came a figure of light. A path cleared before the shining One as He strode the paving stones of perdition with silence following him close. Jesus the Champion, stood before Satan with a nail-scarred hand outstretched.

Suddenly keys—those of death, hell and the grave—sprang from Satan’s grasp into the hands of the Champion. Prison doors surrendered to the Champion’s keys. Demons scattered like rats as Jesus led the righteous souls to the Father’s Throne Room.

The Champion had won.

Heaven took Him back. The Father proclaimed His name far above every other name. And still, the enemy roars seeking whom he may devour. But those who know the Champion do not fear. For Satan is a toothless terror. Soon the Champion will bind Him forever.

The Champion rules heaven and earth

Until then, the Champion prevails, Master of storm and sea; of sickness and circumstance; faithful to rescue those who call upon Him in faith; true to His nature and to His Word for He is Jesus—Champion of the Ages!

Soon a trumpet will bring the Champion back. We will see our loved ones again and be with Him forever for in His triumph He makes each of us a champion—A Champion for our Age!

Scriptures:
Philippians 2:5-11 NKJV
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Revelation 5:9-14 NKJV
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my victorious King, You have won the battle for my soul, for the souls of people everywhere. Help me walk in that victory today. I step forth into this day fully armed with Your might. My head is covered by salvation and I wear the shoes of a gospel prepared. My belt is truth and my heart and lungs are protected by Your righteousness imputed to me. I hold in my hands the shield of faith, impervious to any satanic strategy and I brandish the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Your victory is mine today! Because You are the Champion, I am, too! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Victor’s Crown
Words and Music: Robert Gay

Oh the glory of Your name, the splendor of Your name
And none can compare with the power of that name
You are Jesus. You are Lord. You are God

You have won the victor’s crown.
You have triumphed over sin and death
Your name is lifted high and rings through all the earth
Every demon spirit of hell trembles when Your mighty
Name is heard

And we Your church proclaim Your victory in the world.
Oh the glory of Your name, the splendor of Your name
And none can compare with the power of that name
You are Jesus. You are Lord. You are God!
You are Jesus, You are Lord. You are God!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 26, 2017 “Magalene”

Magdalene

She had not slept, really.
O there were periods of unconsciousness, of fitful, restless nothingness, but no real sleep. It was still dark as she looked in on the Lord’s mother. This Mary from Magdala would have to awaken the Mary from Nazareth. They had to go to the tomb.

As she gently shook Mary’s shoulder, the older woman’s deep breathing shallowed into a sigh. She turned and smiled at the younger woman. Mother Mary’s eyes were as red as any in this company of care-givers. They had fed Jesus, clothed Him, boarded Him, listened to Him and loved Him through His amazing life, and amazingly, through an agonizing death. They had clothed Him one final time in the linen of the grave.

Without speaking they prepared for their journey. Mary Magdalene’s thoughts raced through her tired brain. Random words of scripture confronted her. Since she was a little girl, like all the girls in Magdala, Mary had prayed the Psalms, memorizing them. Throughout her life, at the oddest times, words from the Psalms would suddenly spring to the front of her mind. For a woman who had fallen into a life of sin, these sudden bursts of scripture were a nuisance. But since Jesus delivered her, she welcomed them.

This morning it was this:

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; My body also will rest secure, because You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay.

She would not let herself think of Jesus, still and cold, in that dark stone tomb. The words continued to assault her.

“You will not abandon me to the grave.”

She knew something of the grave. She had lived her own living death, like a tomb guarded by seven demons. They forced her, controlled her, used her. She remembered when Jesus found her. When she heard the voice of Jesus, quiet and clear, slicing through the hellish din of her seven tormentors, they screamed in agony at His presence but were powerless before Him. At his calm command they fled Mary’s soul. As light seeped into her darkness, she saw Jesus’ face for the first time. Her empty soul flooded with one question:

What would this strong man demand of her?

In His face she saw no reason to fear. She emerged from her private tomb into a world of peace and light, of rest and security. It was all in His face! He would not force her. He would never use her. His Lordship over her would be a reign of peace, not terror, of disciplined joy, not shackles and bruises and broken promises.

Now He was in His own tomb. Her memories shrank into the reality she had to face. The voice inside spoke again.

“…nor will You let Your Holy One see decay.”

In the darkness of her soul, her thoughts began to break down. It was all an illusion, the foolish dreams of foolish women who had believed the words of a man. As long as Jesus was in that tomb, Mary’s sins were still in her soul. The emptiness of the tomb-life was nothing compared to the emptiness she felt at the foot of the cross.

“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

Silently, shrouded in black against the pale dawn sky, the women arrived at the tomb. The earth began to shake. An angel in shining raiment appeared and rolled the heavy stone away. Each feminine heart stopped as each woman ceased to breathe—a brief moment of death for each of them.

“Do not be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come see the place where He lay.”

Their hearts started beating again as they resumed breathing, a brief moment of resurrection for each of them. The angel told them to go and tell the men.

As they went, Jesus met them. He even called Mary of Magdala by name. She fell at his feet as Jesus swept away the darkness of her soul. It was not all a foolish dream.

“Do not cling to me, Mary. But go and tell the others.”

She obeyed. But she would always cling to Him, in prayer as she found Him in the ancient psalms, and in life as His presence was with her always. There were no broken promises from this man!

Scriptures:
Mark 16: 10; 1-9
Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away — for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples — and Peter — that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
John 20:11-18
But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord,* and that He had spoken these things to her.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, let this day have a touch of “Resurrection Day” in it. I will cling to You as Mary Magdalene did. You are my hope, my strength, my victory, my cause for rejoicing. May I never forget all that You have done for me and may I always remember Your unfailing promises to me. Let me live today like it is Easter morn! Amen and Amen.

Song:
He Arose
Words and Music: Robert Lowry

1. Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain:
Up from the grave he arose; with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

2. Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain

3. Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 25, 2017 “Consistency”

Consistency

What Really Counts
Like a drowning man reaching for a lifeline, we who struggle with consistency, stretch every muscle and tendon to grasp the ability that eludes us—the ability to be consistent in the things than count.

  • It isn’t that we don’t know their importance; we know it deeply.
  • It isn’t a lack of concern for the future or the lack of vision for tomorrow; we are obsessed with thoughts of the future and plagued by a plethora of visions.
  • It isn’t even a lack of the ability to concentrate for we can get so deeply involved in some things that all other considerations fade to black.

The hindrance to consistency in the things that count, is not a lack of things to do, but an over abundance of things to do.  Not knowing where to start, we don’t start at all.

Yet, the world at large and Kingdom of God in particular belong to the consistent.
Those are valued most are those who stay on schedule, meet deadlines, and whose daily disciplines prepare them both for the planned and the unplanned events of the day.  We admire those people and want to have plenty of them around.  We marry them, work for them, and depend on them. We depend upon the very consistency they possess but cannot share with us.  We must be a terrible drain on them.

We won’t give up.
We will keep on making new starts, attempting new strategies, and buying new planners, calendars, and cell phone apps.  We will by new Bibles, devotionals, and prayer books.  For a while, each new attempt succeeds.  Each new device enables, and we are consistent at last.  Then something derails us:

  • Illness,
  • Financial setbacks,
  • Shifting living circumstances,
  • Extra stress at work or at home, and, scariest of all,
  • A cloud of depression blots out the life-giving sunlight we need to keep going.

With the unexpected, the discipline is broken.  We don’t give up easily.  We try to recover the discipline, but too many times, the planner goes into the box with all the others.  The food plan is violated.  The exercise routine is interrupted.  The new Bible goes on the shelf, another addition to the collection.  The devotional gets way out of date and the prayer book gathers dust.  We are practically right back where we started.

Except for this: during the time of consistency we actually produced stuff!

We did our work.
We prayed.  We lost weight and gained strength.  Consistency always yields progress.  Even as discipline evaporates in the face of whatever knocked our life’s train off the tracks, the train is in in a different place than where we started.

The train has cargo that still can be delivered to its destination.  There is a record of appointments kept, schedules completed, and consistent dependability.  It may feel like we are right back where we started, but we are not.  Our season of consistency has been a season of peace and productivity.

Starting Over
When life has knocks us to the ground, we really have only one choice—get up and start again!  There is no shame in a new start.  They all count and they all mount up to something that would not exist even we hadn’t started again.  No one else can do our work, write our poems, sing our songs, speak our words, or hold the hurting people in this world with our arms.

When we seem to lose the disciplines of life, we have to find them again and make another new start.  There is no other option.  Even if we only do it in fits and starts, we still make a contribution to the world for good.

Scriptures:
2 Corinthians 4:7-10
…we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
Philemon 3:12-14
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
2 Peter 1:5-9
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
Galatians 5:22-26
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus help me be true to You today in everything I say and do, think about doing and intend to do. Sometimes my intentions don’t ever become deeds. Forgive me for falling short of what You want me to do. Thank You for distracting me from doing things that would displease You. Lord, You know me and all my struggles. Forgive me for the times I have failed and help me remember the times I have been consistent and finished the work You assigned. As I behold You today, strengthen me and steady me so that my consistency might be established in You. For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Living for Jesus

Words: Thomas O. Chisolm; Music: C. Harold Lowden
Thomas O. Chisholm
C. Harold Lowden

1.  Living for Jesus a life that is true,
striving to please him in all that I do,
yielding allegiance glad hearted and free
this is the pathway of blessing for me.

Refrain:
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to you,
for you in your atonement did give yourself for me.
I own no other master my heart shall be your throne:
my life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for you alone.

2.  Living for Jesus, who died in my place,
bearing on Calvary my sin and disgrace:
such love constrains me to answer his call,
follow his leading, and give him my all.

Refrain

3.  Living for Jesus wherever I am,
doing each duty in his holy name,
seeking the lost ones he died to redeem,
bringing the weary to find rest in him.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved