December 17 “Bethlehem”

Bethlehem

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

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

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

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

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

Sacred Space indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

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

October 14, 2017 “Pleasures”

Pleasures

We are all pleasure seekers.
For some, the pursuit of pleasure is the announced purpose for living their lives. Others hide their pursuit of pleasure behind “loftier” goals but at the heart of their activities, they want to enjoy life as much as the above-board pleasure seekers. Still others find pleasure in service to others, subjugating their pleasure to the needs of those who cross their paths. The criminal mind finds pleasure in pain and the mentally ill apparently find pleasure in misery.

However we find it, pleasure and the pursuit of pleasure are primal human drives.

Often, Christians are conflicted about pleasure; we hide it behind holier words like joy, happiness, rejoicing, fulfillment, fullness, etc. But what we really are talking about is pleasure. We are afraid of pleasure because we live in a pleasure-mad world from which we must be separate.

The pleasures of sin are a constant temptation.
These pleasures are deadly and deceptive. To taste of these delights is addictive and destructive and, above all, displeasing to the Lord. We want with all our hearts to please Him, not just to gain heaven and shun hell, but because we love God and are so thankful for salvation.

We hear the words of Jesus and the apostles and we suspect that pleasure is just a trap.

  • “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matt 16:24)
  • If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away… (Matt 5:29)
  • The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but … they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. (Luke 8:14-15)
  • (in the last days people will be) lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…(2 Tim 3:4)
  • … the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. (1 Tim 5:6)
  • At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. (Titus 3:3)
  • When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)

Realistically, though, pleasure itself is not at all bad.
We are made in the image of God and the Bible clearly records that God takes pleasure in things:

  • He enjoyed the acts and results of creation.
  • He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day.
  • He was greatly pleased by the sacrifices of worship and thanksgiving of those who believed in Him.
  • In heaven He has surrounded Himself with beauty in architecture, music, and pageantry.
  • He pleased to forgive our sins when we turn away from them in repentance and turn toward Him in love.
  • Jesus joyfully received the praise of children, the gratitude of those He touched, the hospitality of Martha, and the amazing gift of Mary, the two sisters who made Him welcome in their home in Bethany.
  • Jesus surely enjoyed striking fire in the hearts of the two on the road to Emmaus.

Since this is the image by which we have been formed, take this day of rest to find the pleasures of righteousness:

  • in God’s creation,
  • in great music,
  • in meaningful narratives,
  • in the company of loved ones,
  • in the solitude of the sea or the deep woods,
  • in the astonishing white snowfall and the warmth of the fireside,
  • in the joy of being husband and wife,
  •  in family laughter and fun, and in the holy presence of Jesus.

Feel Him laughing and listening, watching and wondering with us. It is good that we find pleasure in God and His creation. These pleasures are not a trap—they are gifts to enjoy.

Scriptures:
Genesis 1:31
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.
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.
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.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, you knew pain when You walked this earth and You also knew life’s pleasures. Like any other infant Your first human sensations were the pleasure of Mary’s touch, her voice, and her tender love. As a child You laughed and played; we can only imagine the sound of Your little-boy’s laugh when You were having fun. As a young man You enjoyed the tutelage of Joseph in the carpenter’s shop. You learned the pleasure of working with Your hands and of work well done. In the Gospels we see a man whom children sought out. You made them laugh and You laughed with them. As You walked closer and closer to Calvary, pleasure drew farther and farther from You. There was no pleasure there or in the hollow tomb. But I am sure that when You broke the bounds of death, there was a smile on Your face. Help me know the resurrection pleasures of new life in You today. In Your Holy Name, Amen.

Song:
Feelin’ Mighty Fine
Words and Music: Mosie Lister

1. I woke up this morning feeling fine
I woke up with heaven on my mind
I woke up with joy in my soul cause
I knew my Lord has been raise
Well I knew i was walkin’ in the light
cause I’d been on my knees in the night
And I’d pray till the Lord gave a sign
and now I’m feeling mighty fine

Refrain:
Well I’m feeling mighty fine
I’ve got heaven on my mind
Don’t you know I want to go
where the milk and honey flow
There’s a light that always shines
down inside this heart of mine
I’ve got heaven on my mind
and now I’m feeling mighty fine

2. We’re walking with Jesus all the time
we’re walking and talking as we climb
We’re traveling a road to the sky
where I know I’ll live when I die
He’s been telling me all about that land
and he tells me that everything is grand
And he says that a home will be mine
and now I’m feeling mighty fine

Refrain

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

September 17, 2017 “Presenting…”

Presenting…

Today’s worship service includes a special presentation.
In honor of the occasion, a valuable gift will be given to the honoree.  In recognition for outstanding services rendered far above all we could ever ask or think, a small but important token of esteem will be presented.  Though small the gift may be, it represents the best the giver has to give, the finest tribute available.

What is the occasion?  Who is the honoree and what has He done to deserve this honor?  What is the precious gift?

The occasion is the promised entrance of King Jesus.
The King of kings and Lord of lords has announced plans to inhabit the praises of His people.  In fact He has pledged to rule upon their worship and take their worship hall and their hearts to be His very Throne Room.

The gift for this special presentation is—your heart of praise!

There is more planned today than just the singing of songs.
The time has been designated as a worship service. This will be your opportunity to make your presentation to the Lord.

  • No one else can present your worship.
  • Without your voice the “Song of the Redeemed” is incomplete.
  • The “glory due His name” requires your contribution.

The Reasonable Service of Worship
You have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light for this purpose: to present to the Lord spiritual sacrifices because He has made you His Holy, Royal Priest.  He has lavished mercy on you without restraint.  In view of His mercy, it is your reasonable service of worship to present your whole self to him as a living sacrifice of praise.

There will be time in the service for you to present your requests to Him, but before you do that, present your praise to Him, your worship, your love, your deepest commitment.  He deserves no less a gift.

The Alabaster Jar—the Costly Sacrifice
As the service begins, go to the top shelf of your life and find your alabaster jar, your finest tribute—your time, attention, love and affection.  It has been hidden away long enough.  Break its container and let the aroma of it fill the house and mix with the combined scent from all the other alabaster jars as they are broken all around you.

This is the glory due unto His name! 
This is what we gather together in His house to do.  Think of it—Jesus will be pleased by your presentation!  In your heart you will hear Him say as He did to Mary of Bethany, “You have done a beautiful thing to me!”

Scriptures:
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.
Psalm 56:13
I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.
Matthew 2:10-12
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
Matthew 5:23-24
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Mark 14:3-7
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.  “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.
1 Peter 2:4-10
As you come 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… 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.
Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Romans 12:1-2 NKJV
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are worthy of my praise! You have earned my worship today. Your faithfulness is more certain than the sunrise. Your loving-kindness shines through the darkest night—like a moon that does not wax and wane. Your promises are recorded for all to see and so is their effect—as sure as gravity pulls a river to the sea, Your Word rolls through my life as an increasing tide of grace. So today, on Your Day, I will present my thanksgiving to You; swing the Gate wide to take me into Your presence! I will proclaim my praise—take it to be Your Royal Throne! I will bow my heart in worship and adoration—take my worship to be Your holy nearness. In view of Your mercies, this is my reasonable service of worship. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated
Words: Frances Ridley Havergal; Music: Henri A. Cesar Malan

1. Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in endless praise,
let them flow in endless praise.

2. Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

3. Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

4. Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

5. Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.

6. Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 10, 2017 “Sunday”

Sunday

Sunday is the Lord’s Day.
He gives us seven days, but claims one of them as His own.
It is not a bad deal. Life as an endless stream of days would be unbearable. We need the organizational point of the Lord’s Day each week. It is a chance to end things and start them up again.

Perhaps the slaves-turned-landowners who crossed the River Jordan into Canaan’s Land needed a day to knock off work and take up worship and rest. Without this grace, they would have worked themselves to death.

Just like we sometimes do.

In Isaiah the Lord calls it, “My Holy Day.”
It is not rightfully ours to spend as we please. Early Christians, in honor of the Lord’s resurrection, expanded the Sabbath, the seventh day, to Sunday, the first day of the week. The Sabbath Day of the Old Covenant converged with the Resurrection Celebration of the First Day to become the New Covenant Lord’s Day.  On Sunday we gaze at the cross through the door of an empty tomb.

The seeds of sanity, rest and worship, are sown in this weekly break from our routines:

  • Rest for weariness or to avoid it, and
  • Worship to renew us and reconnect us to the Lord and His family.

The Lord’s Day is a day to rise above our musical preferences to sing the music of others.
It is a day to thank God for His faithfulness and to honor His work in our brothers and sisters as we hear the testimonies of both

  • the young and the old,
  • the victor and the vanquished, and
  • the sick and the healed.

The Lord’s Day is a time to praise and worship the Lord, to seek His face in intercession and to hear His Word.

On the Lord’s Day we focus our hearts on Jesus.
In response to our attention, He lavishes us with love and truth and peace. His Holy Spirit expands our hearts so we can know Jesus better and experience more of His strength. When we close out the clamor of the week in Lord’s Day worship, our hearts can hear the worship going on in heaven as we encounter His holy presence on His Holy Day.

Offering ourselves to Him gives the Lord opportunity to retune our internal instruments to face another week proving His good, pleasing, and perfect will.

There is no day like the Lord’s Day. Let us gather together in His presence. Let us give Him the glory due His name, for as He promised, in giving we receive.

On Sunday we gaze at the cross through the door of an empty tomb.

Scriptures:
Exodus 20:8
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Matthew 12:11-12
“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:27-28
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
John 20:1
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
Acts 20:7
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread
Revelation 1:9-11 NKJV
I, John… was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,”
Isaiah 58:13-14
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Prayer:
Dearest Lord Jesus, today we will give You thanks. We will give You the glory due unto Your name. This day is Your Day not ours. It is Your holy day and we will not profane it. We focus on You. We seek Your face. Like the woman in the crowd we press through to touch You. We need Your healing virtue. We need a Word from You, Lord. We need to sense Your nearness and rest in Your mercy. You have called us out of darkness into Your marvelous light so that we might give You praise. And this we do, today, Your Day! Amen.

Song:
This Is the Day

Traditional Scripture Chorus

This is the day (This is the Day)
That the Lord has made (That the Lord has made)
I will rejoice (I will rejoice)
And be glad in it (And be glad in it)
This is the day that the Lord has made.
I will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day (This is the Day)
That the Lord has made!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 3, 2017 “Passion”

Passion

Today, like every other day, is a day for passion.
The scripture tells us to gather all our inner feelings and concentrate them on actions that express love for the Lord. There is no reason to hold back, to keep a measure of our love in reserve. When the moment comes, we must release the joy pent up in our hearts.

Judging Our Passion
Our opening acts of praise in the worship service to come must be full-throated, hot-hearted, and mentally captivating. No less praise will do. Why?

  • The measure of our praise is not that of our passion for God, or our knowledge of God, or even our faith in God.
  • The standard we are given in the Scriptures has nothing to do with our feelings, our knowledge, or even with the level of our faith.
  • The standard, the measuring rod is this: “the glory due unto His name.”

Ps 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.

An Unchanging Standard
All other measures are changeable as passions heat and cool, knowledge is gained and forgotten, and faith swells and shrinks in our hearts. His worthiness goes on and on and on and on forever. Our praise is a matter of justice—the praise due unto His name! He is worthy of nothing less than our very best praise—our best music, our finest words, our most sincere gratitude and our most humble hearts. Any part of our mind held back for lesser considerations is a sacrilege, a selfish, careless oversight to be corrected at once as we martial all our mental resources to consider and express the wonders of Who God is.

On the Lord’s Day, when you have joined the Saints of God in the House of God and the call to worship sounds, lift your eyes beyond the music and the lights, the singers and players of music and their leaders, and tune your heart to heaven’s songs.

  • Some of them are recorded for us in the Bible. Others are works of the Spirit through His troubadours. The Spirit speaks through songs in every generation.
  • Surrender to the spirit of the song and join the songs of angels, thousands of them in joyful assembly.
  • You will also be singing with loved ones who have gone before you, gathered as a special choir of the redeemed in a gallery made just for them. You will take your seat with them someday and today you may add your voice to theirs in worship.

Lord, send a heavenly fire to ignite a passion for You in each of our hearts today!

Scriptures:
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…
Colossians 3:1-3
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Mark 12:30
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Isaiah 58:1
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Psalm 47:1
Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth!
Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 150
Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.
Psalm 103:1
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are worthy of my praise, my passion! I will lift my hands to You, my heart to You, my voice to You! You deserve my passionate praise. You have earned my utmost worship. Let me somehow join the worship around Your throne: angels in joyful assembly, saints gathered before You, heavenly beings flying and crying before You. I want to hear heaven’s music and sing along. Lord, strike a fire in my heart and let it burn through this day, burn with passion for You. You deserve nothing less than this! It is “the glory due Your name!” Amen and Amen.

Song:
I love You, Lord
Words and Music: Laurie Klein

I love you, Lord And I lift my voice
To worship You Oh, my soul rejoice!
Take joy my King In what You hear.
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 27, 2017 “Contentment”

Contentment

How can the true believer be content when spiritual and physical needs are present everywhere we look? 
This is an important question that can bridge the gap between two widely separated points of truth in the Bible.

  • The Word of God consistently warns against sloth, laziness, and a lack of compassionate actions on behalf of those in need.
  • At the same time, regular seasons of rest are commanded and peace is a gift from Jesus.  How can we find the dynamic center between two passages such as these?

Amos 6:1
Woe to you who are at ease in Zion…

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… disobedience.

So what should we do? 
Work until we drop or take it easy in Zion and risk the wrath of God?

To find an answer, let’s think of the rhythms of creation:

  • God spoke and it came into being;
  • the evening and the morning marked the days;
  • the sun was to rule the day and the moon was to govern the night; and
  • Some creatures prowl the night and sleep during the day while others go about their lives in the opposite pattern.

God built rhythm into the universe. 
A form of classical music composition illustrates this for us.  The classical sonata is a form that dominated Western music for centuries.  It is a three-part work:

  1. Exposition, the introduction of themes and other musical elements,
  2. Development, the composer’s opportunity to create  extensive variations on the themes announced in the exposition, and,
  3. Recapitulation, the final restatement of the music themes, a literal “return to the head.”

Worship, work, and rest, are three movements of the sonata of life.
Each day and each week there must be time for each movement of the sonata:

  1. Daily worship and Lord’s Day worship in the company of the church, state our life’s themes:  the Lordship of Christ, the truth of God, the ever-flowing love and grace of God.
  2. Our work is the development of these truths in the context of our lives.
  3. Our rest is the comforting recapitulation of the truths we live by as each day and each week come to a close.

The result of this music is contentment.
We are not content because all the work is done, but because, all is secure in Jesus.  With tomorrow’s sunrise, His loving-kindness will be new again. His power-flow into and through our lives will reach its peak to meet the demands of the day.  We will make our music and with it change the world.

Scriptures:
Colossians 3:15
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Romans 13:11-14 NKJV
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
Ephesians 5:14 NKJV
Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
Philemon 4:12-13
… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
1 Timothy 6:6-9
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
Hebrews 13:5-6
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”   So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
2 Corinthians 13:11
Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me navigate these waters. Help me know when to work and when to rest. As in all other things, Your Spirit leads me. I see that I should honor Your Day—the Lord’s Day—as a day of both rest and worship. I know that You have never cancelled the Sabbath Principle. Remind me that with Your Anointing, there is rest inside the work that we do at Your Command because we are merely the earthen vessel and Your Spirit is the power within us. Help me embrace the mystery of contentment with godliness when the need before me is so great and there is so much work to be done. Help me to “labor to enter into that rest.” For Your Kingdom, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Wonderful Peace
Words: W.D. Cornell; Music: W.G. Cooper

1. Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight
Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm;
In celestial-like strains it unceasingly falls
O’er my soul like an infinite calm.

Refrain
Peace! Peace! Wonderful Peace,
Coming down from the Father above;
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray,
In fathomless billows of love

2. What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace,
Buried deep in the heart of my soul;
So secure that no power can mine it away,
While the years of eternity roll.

Refrain

3. I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace,
Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control;
For I’m kept from all danger by night and by day,
And His glory is flooding my soul.

Refrain

4. And I know when I rise to that city of peace,
Where the Author of peace I shall see,
That one strain of the anthems the ransomed will sing,
In that heavenly kingdom shall be:

Refrain

5. O soul, are you here without comfort or rest,
Walking down the rough pathway of time?
Make Jesus your friend ere the shadows grow dark;
O accept this sweet peace so sublime.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 26, 2017 “Sinai”

Sinai

When God visits the earth, creation responds. It was so at Mt. Sinai.
One hundred fifty miles and three months out of Egypt, through the Sea and into a wilderness called Sinai, which some scholars think means the “Wilderness of Sin,” or perhaps the “shining moon god,” the Israelites camped for a year at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

It was a year of adjustment.

  • They were people who had been ruled faced now with learning to rule themselves in covenant with God.
  • They were slaves learning to breathe free.
  • They were household servants now living in tents, homeless, but free.
  • They were normal human beings who had witnessed the acts of their supernatural God.
  • They were people whose status quo was gone and whatever was next was not yet revealed, and
  • they were travelers sitting still with a homeland none had ever seen shining like a mirage on the horizon.

It was a year of God’s faithfulness:

  • When they needed food it rained from heaven or flew in belt-high.
  • When they needed water it flowed from a rock, stricken at the Lord’s command.
  • When they were attacked by the Amalekites, God gave them victory through Joshua, a foretaste of their covenantal future.
  • When they murmured in their tents, God gave them Moses, a leader who was also an intercessor.

The Shadow of Sinai
They saw the seasons of the year march onto and off of the huge mountain of Sinai. As the sun ran its course each day changing the seasons, the shadow of Sinai passed over them. Soon it was all routine, the new normal, and the people began to complain—Egypt was better than this.

Moses was the most anxious of all the Israelites. He was the one to handle the complainers and to answer the question, “Now what?” His only answer was to wait.

Then God touched the mountain.
There was lightning, thunder, smoke, and a roar from the mountain. This was no natural storm, stuck on the heights of Sinai; this was the same presence of God that had ruined Egypt. This was the force that split the Red Sea. It was the source of their daily manna and the refreshing water from the rock. Their God was back and He wanted something.

What did Jehovah want? He wanted them. He wanted them to love Him, depend on Him, listen to Him, learn His ways but their hearts were as hard as Pharaoh’s heart had been. The sin that dwelt there separated them from their God.

God came to Sinai with a plan, a plan of redemption through which the people could commune with Him daily. It was an earthly copy of His Heavenly Throne room, His dwelling and ruling place. He would take up residence with them, not just with them, but in them, in the very center of them. They would be His People and He would be their God. They would be a Kingdom of Priests to the rest of the world.

The Blueprint
God knew what no one else knew—this plan of worship, this blood covenant would be a blueprint for a better covenant to come, a covenant in the Holy Blood of Jesus. No wonder the mountain trembled and smoked. No wonder lightning walked the heights and thunder rolled down the mountain into the plain below.

When God visits the earth, creation responds. It was so at Mt. Sinai—and at Mt. Calvary.

Scriptures:
Psalm 68
Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. … God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom; but the rebels shall live in dry places. O God, when you went forth before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth shook, and the skies poured down rain, at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel. … the Lord will dwell there forever. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands; the Lord comes in holiness from Sinai. …They see your procession, O God, your procession into the sanctuary, my God and my King. The singers go before, musicians follow after, in the midst of maidens playing upon the hand-drums. Bless God in the congregation; bless the Lord, you that are of the fountain of Israel. … Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord. He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice. Ascribe power to God; his majesty is over Israel; his strength is in the skies. How wonderful is God in his holy places! the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people! Blessed be God! your praise from age to age.
Exodus 19:1-19 NIV
In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt — on the very day — they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ … On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
Exodus24:15-18 NIV
When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Hebrews 8:5; 12:18-22 NIV
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, never let me stray from the mountain! You touched Mt. Sinai and it trembled, just as I did when You touched me. You gave Your life on Mt. Calvary and that is where I found new life. You dwell at the summit of Mt. Zion, Your ruling place; my destination when I worship You in Spirit and in Truth. In truth, though different locations on earth and in heaven, these mountains are really one in the same: the Mountain of Your Great Love. Lord, do not let me stray from the mountain! Amen.

Song:
See His Glory
Words and Music: Rich Cook

See His glory; see His glory.
See His glory come down.
Praise His name. Heaven Reigns!
See His glory come down.
See His glory come down.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 23, 2017 “Gates”

Gates

Ancient Gates
Ancient cities crumbled into ruins with their ancient gates still standing guard, the only remaining testament to the greatness of the city. It requires little imagination to stand under the naked arch of an ancient gateway and visualize the traffic that once crowded through the fortified entrance to the city. With the sunrise the gates were opened to commerce and soon after dark they were closed to danger. High walls protected against the enemies, real and imagined, out there somewhere in the dark who wanted the city and all it contained for themselves.

Gates, themselves, were keepers. They kept people and things out and they kept them in. Important zones were protected by gates. They opened for the right people and closed to the wrong people. Gates were strong points made even stronger by the gatekeepers stationed near them to man the mechanisms that made the gates operate. Armed soldiers patrolled the approaches to the gates, inside and out, ever on the alert for the saboteur or the spy. Lookouts manned the heights above the gates to scan the horizon for enemies who might try to violate the security of the city.

Contemporary Gates
There are real gates, still today. Adjacent countries have borders with armed guards at the check points. These are the gates—of entrance and exit points for the neighboring citizens.

As metaphors, gates are even more numerous. There are behaviors, compromises, substances, and seeming innocent images or presentations that can all act as gateways to sin, disease, and addiction. As we walk the Path of Life, the Spirit warns us where to step, which fork in the path to take, and with whom we should choose to walk.

Ancient Gates Still in Power
The good news is that there are still Ancient Gates guarding significant places. The Poet reveals them to us:

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

“His gates” means that God has gates. There is a way to approach Him and a way not to approach Him. Three words describe “His Gates:”

  • Gratitude,
  • Praise, and
  • Humility.

We should approach the Gates of His presence with thanksgiving and praise springing from a humble heart. Pride and self-centeredness will close the Gates to us.

When we gather to worship, our greatest desire should be to see these Holy, ancient doors open in response to our thanksgiving and praise. Why? Because above all other considerations, we need for the King of Glory to come in! He is the answer to all the world’s problems from the most private pain to the most public pandemic. If we are faithful to tend His Gates, if we guard the City of God from lesser, frivolous pursuits in public worship, if we lift up our heads, these organs of speech designed in Eden for the praise of Heaven, The Lord Will Come In!

And He will make all the difference.

Scriptures:
Psalm 24
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein. For it is he who founded it upon the seas and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep. “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? and who can stand in his holy place?” “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, who have not pledged themselves to falsehood, nor sworn by what is a fraud. They shall receive a blessing from the Lord and a just reward from the God of their salvation.” Such is the generation of those who seek him, of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Lift up your heads, O gates; lift them high, O everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. “Who is this King of glory?” “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.” Lift up your heads, O gates; lift them high, O everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. “Who is he, this King of glory?” “The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.”
1 Peter 5:5-7 NIV
Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Psalm 51:17 NIV
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Isaiah 57:14-15; 66:1-2
And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” For this is what the high and lofty One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.
Psalm 84:10 AMP
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand [anywhere else]; I would rather be a doorkeeper and stand at the threshold in the house of my God than to dwell [at ease] in the tents of wickedness.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Today I will process with the People of God through the ancient Gates of Thanksgiving. I will lift my voice in the Courts of Praise. I will bow at the Altar of Repentance in deep humility. In the midst of the congregation I will enter the Most Holy Place to pray and hear Your Word in the light and power of the Holy Spirit. Then we, the saints and I, will pass through the Riven Veil to wait before Your Holiness. You will meet my every need, here at the summit of Mt. Zion. How is all this my destiny? Because when we, the church, lift up the ancient Gates of Praise, You, the King of Glory, came in! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Jesus, We Crown You King
Words and Music: Stephen Phifer

1. Jesus, we crown You the King of all kings.
Jesus, we crown You the King of all kings.
You’re the joy of all Creation, make the morning stars to sing!
Jesus, we crown You, Lord, We exalt You.
Jesus, we crown You the King of kings.

2. Jesus, we crown You the Lord of all lords.
Jesus, we crown You the Lord of all lords.
On a thrown of greatest splendor You are worshiped and adored!
Jesus, we crown You, Lord, We exalt You.
Jesus, we crown You the Lord of Lords.

3. Jesus we crown you the Prince of all Peace.
Jesus we crown you the Prince of all Peace.
For You ride on every tempest, make the wildest storm to cease!
Jesus, we crown You, Lord, We exalt You.
Jesus, we crown You the Prince of Peace.

King of kings, Lord of lords. Prince of Peace, Mighty God
We crown now, as we sing. Jesus we crown You King of kings!

You’re the joy of all Creation, make the morning stars to sing!
Jesus, we crown You, Lord, We exalt You.
Jesus, we crown You the King of kings.
King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of Pease,
Mighty God! King of kings!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved