November 20, 2017: “Utility”

Utility

u·til·i·ty noun 1. the state or quality of being useful; usefulness: 2. something useful; a useful thing. 3.  a public service


The Kingdom of God is a practical place.

Each of us is highly esteemed by the Lord; He has deemed us worthy of Calvary.  Yet, not one of us is simply an ornament on the Tree of Life or a decoration on the face of the earth.  Each of us has purpose.  We are here for a reason.  We have a utility to provide to the Lord and to our fellow human beings.  We are called to be useful.

As an infant we simply existed, cooing and crying, smiling and grimacing at the pleasures and pains that came our way.  We did not make the world go round.  We made no significant contribution to society, added nothing to the wealth of the family or the nation, and provided no profit or product demanded by anyone—except those who loved us!  As a beloved child we made our parent’s world go round, made precious contributions to their lives, held great potential for society’s benefit, were an asset to the home and the country and produced joy in the hearts of those who held us dear.  Even as infants, each of us possessed utility.

As we grew to become kids, teens, and young adults, we added skills and personality to our preciousness and started being useful to those beyond our family.  The early teen years pulled us away from our parents to the passing parade of people our age who might be friends.  One of the ways to make friends is to possess utility.  We make them laugh.  We are good listeners.  We help them in many ways.  In turn, we share interests and activities, problems and fun.  Friends are friends because they are useful to each other.  The pattern for life is set.

For the believer, the spiritual element of usefulness becomes a determining factor. 
We sense that we can be useful to God.  We suspect deep in our hearts that God has a plan for our lives, something He wants us to do, a specific way He wants us to serve Him and our fellow human beings.  If our progress from child to adult is a proper one, this sense of calling will become the ruling sentiment—the controlling idea—behind our choices, from friends to fun, and from ambitions to amusements.

All is not lost.
What if those early teen years were misspent?  What if the opportunities of youth were wasted, stolen by the temptations of a shallow, live-for-the-moment culture?  All is not lost.  Redemption is the most amazing part of amazing grace.  Today, we can be useful to the Lord.  Our words can speak His truth.  Our lives can demonstrate His Kingdom.  Our skills can be anointed by His Spirit to extend His Kingdom wherever we go.

You are not an ornament on the Tree of Life; you are a branch in the Vine, useful for producing fruit.  You are not a decoration on the face of the earth; you are a vessel of honor in the Master’s house, “useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”

Scriptures:
2 Timothy 3:15-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work
Philemon 8-11
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul-an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus- I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
2 Timothy 2:20-21
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work
1 Peter 4:9-11
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Romans 12:4-8
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
John 15:1-8 NKJV
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, a great source of beauty in Your creation is the beauty of usefulness, of practical utility. What is more efficient and productive than a healthy branch in a thriving vine? Thank You for drafting me into the Vine! Thank You for Your calling on my life, a call to be useful and productive . This, indeed, is a beautiful life. You spoke the words and John recorded them; let me hear them again today, “You have not chosen me but I have chosen you to go and bring forth much fruit and that your fruit should remain.” Help it continue to be so today and all this week! For Your Glory! 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

November 18, 2017: “Escape”

Escape

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

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

There are other things we cannot escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November, 15, 2017: “Cold”

Cold

Cold (cool, refreshing) is to life, like silence is to music.
There is more to music than sound; there is also silence. The sound of music is not just the measured vibration of the notes:

  • A-440, the standard pitch, is a note sounding at exactly four hundred forty vibrations per second.
  • Half that, A-220, and the note sounds an octave lower.
  • Double it, A-880, and the pitch sounds an octave higher.
  • All other pitches vary in relation to this standard, each with a precise number of vibrations per second.

In theory.

Real live people making music on real instruments make their own imprecise versions of the pitch.  The standard is seldom an exact match to the sounds musicians make.  It is called being “out of tune.”  Playing “in tune” is the mark of a fine player.  It isn’t easy and requires the constant attention of the musician.

Silences are also precisely measured in terms of time:

  • 1 beat,
  • one half of a beat,
  • one third of a beat, or
  • 1 measure or more.

Rests are counted just as carefully by the musician as the notes.

How is cold to life, like silence is to music? 
Life is heat but living requires periods of cold.  Like an immature musician who skips the rests and practices only the notes, we tend to focus on the heat we need to stay alive:

  • body temperature,
  • spiritual temperature,
  • circumstantial heat in the trials of life, and
  • the chosen fires of discipleship.

Sometimes we need to cool down.
As we play our life’s little sonata, we begin to produce music that makes sense when we learn to count the rests as well as the notes.  We do not panic when we feel ourselves cooling a bit, knowing that we cannot live long with constantly elevated temperatures.  We also know that when the “rest” is over, the “notes” will be there again for us to play.

All in all, God never forgets that we are human beings, not divine ones.  We need heat to live and we need cold to rest.  Like the tall and strong hardwood tree that braves the northern winter without its covering of leaves, we rest during the cold seasons.  We can rest because we know that the God of the winter is also the God of the spring.  Warmth will come again as surely as grace flows like a River of Life from the Throne of God, and these bare branches will soon be hidden by the green of new leaves.

As our calendars cool, it is important that our hearts retain their heat for the Kingdom of God. Our music will be measured and comprehensible because the notes we play will be ordered and defined by the rests we count.

Scriptures:
Genesis 8:20-22
Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
Psalm 103:6-18 NKJV
The LORD executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children,  to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.
Proverbs 25:25
Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, life keeps the heat on for. Sometimes it feels I will be overcome by the details, exhausted by the demands, and discouraged by the defeats. I know You are working all things together for my good and I look forward to those resolutions. As I follow Your will for my life, help me not to miss the rests, the cooling off times You also provide. Help me find moments to take deep breaths and relax in faith, knowing that You have me. Protect me from those who would steal my rest. And, Lord, as I cool down from time to time, keep my heart warm for You! For Your Glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
The Haven of Rest
Words: Henry L. Gilmore; Music: John R. Sween

1. My soul in sad exile was out on life’s sea,
So burdened with sin and distressed,
Till I heard a sweet voice, saying,
“Make Me your choice”;
And I entered the “Haven of Rest”!

Refrain:
I’ve anchored my soul in the “Haven of Rest,”
I’ll sail the wide seas no more;
The tempest may sweep over wild, stormy, deep,
In Jesus I’m safe evermore.

2. I yielded myself to His tender embrace,
In faith taking hold of the Word,
My fetters fell off, and I anchored my soul;
The “Haven of Rest” is my Lord.

Refrain

3. The song of my soul, since the Lord made me whole,
Has been the old story so blest,
Of Jesus, who’ll save whosoever will have
A home in the “Haven of Rest.”

Refrain

4. O come to the Savior, He patiently waits
To save by His power divine;
Come, anchor your soul in the “Haven of Rest,”
And say, “My Belovèd is mine.”

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 14, 2017: “Believing”

Believing

There is an exercise for the spirit, soul, and body. 
No heavy weights will clank behind us.  Our breathing will not be affected.  No muscles will be flexed or stretched.  No calculations will spin in our brains.  No emotions are required but joy in the aftermath of the workout is assured.  What is this marvelous exercise?

Believing.

Believing the Word of God, the words of Jesus, and the covenantal promises of our Father in heaven rejuvenates the body, refreshes the soul, and revives the spirit.  It is a daily discipline.  Yesterday’s believing will not get us through today.  Tomorrow’s believing will have to wait until this day turns from test to testimony and goes into the record books.

In daily prayer we review the things we believe and we believe them again.  Systematically we read the Book, pray the psalms, see the story of Jesus and the disciples on the movie screen of the mind, and we check our inbox for letters from the Apostles.  As we read and pray, we believe—again.

  • Jesus speaks to us.
  • We travel with Peter and Paul and Silas and Luke throughout the world tell people about Jesus.
  • We weep with the prophets over a backslidden people of God.
  • We wonder with them at the bright Kingdom soon to come.
  • We are charged with the job of living the productive life in the Spirit and
  • we gaze with wonder at the revelation of Jesus we soon will see.

We are believing.

Our believing affects not only us, it affects the world we inhabit.
Though “deep darkness covers the peoples,” the Lord “shines on us” as we step into the day.  At the end of the day, the burning ball of the sun might set, but our central light keeps shining deep into the night.  Why? Because we are  continually believing.

In the shadows enemies may plot against us.  In the streets and offices of the marketplace foes may lie in wait to ambush us.  We do not fear what man can do to us for a squad of angels goes before us and goodness and mercy are following us. Why?  Because we go into the world believing.

We are saved, translated from darkness to light, because we confessed with our mouth and believed in our hearts.  We are fruitful in life because we feed on the eternal Word of God and drink deeply of the living water flowing freely from the well Jesus dug in our hearts when we first believed in Him.  We are fearless because we believe that if God is for us, it simply doesn’t matter who is against us.  We are at peace, our borders secured by armies of angels and our hearts guarded by the unsleeping eye of our Father in heaven.

Today, your assignment is this:  Keep believing!

Scriptures:
Psalm 119:65-66
Do good to your servant according to your word, O LORD. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.
Mark 5:36; 9:24 NKJV
Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
Mark 11: 24 NKJV
…I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.
Mark 16:15-18
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
John 20:26-31
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Romans 3:22; 6:8; 10:7-11
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believeNow if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
… “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Prayer:
The Apostles’ Creed
The Book of Common Prayer
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Song:
Because We Believe
Words and Music: Don Moen

1. We believe in God the Father.
We believe in Christ the Son.
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
We are the Church And we stand as one.

2. We believe in the Holy Bible.
We believe in the virgin birth.
We believe in the resurrection,
That Christ one day Will return to earth

Refrain:
Holy, holy, Holy is our God
Worthy, worthy, Worthy is our King
All glory and honor Are His to receive.
To Jesus we sing Because we believe.

3. We believe in the blood of Jesus.
We believe in eternal life.
We believe in His love that frees us
To become the bride of Christ.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 8, 2017, “Prosperity”

Prosperity

It is time for a biblical view of prosperity.
Some people preach prosperity from an earthly perspective: back accounts, possessions, prominence, etc. While these things are not evil in themselves, they must be severely managed for they have the power to destroy, not enrich us. It is well known but often forgotten than possessions can possess those who hold them.

The Bible is so clear on this:

  • Covetousness made the top ten list in those Ten Commandments we talk about.
  • King Solomon, who had everything to be had in his day, warned that it was all vanity and vexing to the spirit—like feeding on wind.
  • Jesus warns that is not found in the abundance of things we possess. Jesus councils us to be “rich toward God.”

Jehovah Jireh—The Lord Who Provides
God has revealed Himself to us in a series of Covenantal Names. In these names He explains who He is by what He promises to do. He provides, He heals, He gives victory—and so on. Jesus makes an amazing promise. He tells each of us that if we will put His kingdom and righteousness first in our lives, all our life-needs will be met—no conditions, no fine print loopholes—an ironclad promise.

Amazing.

No wonder we call grace “amazing!”

Prosperity of the Soul
The Apostle John gives us further details on this “Kingdom and Righteousness” guarantee. He measures prosperity of life in terms of the prosperity of the soul—the inner person. This is entirely consistent with the promise of Jesus. Our needs will be met as we put internal things—His Kingdom and Righteousness—first in our lives. Our external needs are met because our internals are in correct order:

  • God’s Kingdom—not ours, our anyone else’s, and
  • His Righteousness—not just right thinking but right living, not just high sounding words but life-giving deeds.

Giving and Receiving
True spiritual prosperity is more a matter of giving than receiving. It has been well said that the only things in life we can hold on to are the things we give away. This is expressed in the spiritual law of sowing and reaping. If we sow sparingly, we will reap sparingly. If we sow bountifully, that is how we will reap.

The disciples demonstrated their prosperity of soul when they encountered the lame man at the Temple gate begging for alms. They were broke in this world’s currency but they gave what they had and the man didn’t need his mat anymore. Their words ring through the ages:

“Silver and gold have I none but such as I have give I thee.”

This is the promised prosperity of soul that produces a life wherein needs are met. Lord, fill us up with true riches so that we can give them away!

Scriptures:
Acts 3:2-9 KJV
And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God:
Psalm 1:1-3 NKJV
Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
Psalm 72
Give the King your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the King’s Son; That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice. That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, and the little hills bring righteousness. He shall defend the needy among the people; he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor. He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, from one generation to another. He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, like showers that water the earth. In his time shall the righteous flourish; there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more. He shall rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. His foes shall bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts. All kings shall bow down before him, and all the nations do him service. For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper. He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy. He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight. Long may he live! and may there be given to him gold from Arabia; may prayer be made for him always, and may they bless him all the day long. May there be abundance of grain on the earth, growing thick even on the hilltops; may its fruit flourish like Lebanon, and its grain like grass upon the earth. May his Name remain for ever and be established as long as the sun endures; may all the nations bless themselves in him and call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous deeds! And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
Amen. Amen.
Psalm 122:6-9 NKJV
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, Prosperity within your palaces.” For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, “Peace be within you.” Because of the house of the Lord our God. I will seek your good.
Psalm 25:12-15 NKJV
Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses. He himself shall dwell in prosperity, And his descendants shall inherit the earth. The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, For He shall pluck my feet out of the net.
3 John 2-4 NKJV
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
Matthew 6:31-34 NKJV
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me a passion for the internal things—Your righteousness—that make such an external difference in my life. These things are holiness, integrity, purity of thought and intention, compassion for others and passion for Your presence. Lord, help me focus on Your Kingdom, to seek Your will and Your way in all things. I want to lead the way You led, through servanthood, not power and position. When I do these things, I am seeking Your kingdom and righteousness and You have promised to meet all my needs. Help me sow bountifully, giving freely of what I have been given. Miracles will follow me in Your name! Hallelujah!

Song:
Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God
Words and Music: Karen Lafferty

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Allelu, alleluia

Man shall not live by bread alone
But by every word
That proceeds from the mouth of God
Allelu, alleluia

Ask and it shall be given unto you
Seek and ye shall find
Knock and the door shall be opened unto you
Allelu, alleluia

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 7, 2017: “Silence”

Silence

Every silence means something.
There may be an absence of sound, but there is always a presence of meaning. Absolute silence is rare. It is the province of outer space. Here on earth there is always sound. I’ve heard it said that the universal pitch of creation is B Natural. I don’t know if that is true but what we usually mean by silence is a lack loud or unwanted sound—quiet. In music a measured period silence is called a rest. The old conductor’s joke is: “What do you do on a rest?” The student replies, “Nothing.” “Wrong,” says the leader. “You count.” Rests are not restful in music.

Selecting Silences
Many of us long to linger by the ocean and we call it silence when it is really quite noisy with wind, waves, and shore birds. It feels like silence to us because we don’t hear motors or crowds or loud speakers. Our silence is really the absence of manmade noise. It is the same with the country or the woods. There is plenty of sound but it is not the sound of the city, of civilization. It is the sound of rest and not work, of relaxation not tension.

The Psalmist claims silence as a form of prayer:

“For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation.”

Silence and waiting are joined together in prayer.
A place of prayer should be place free from noise. We must find a solitary place where only the sounds of creation accompany our time with the Father. There is enough noise in our souls; we don’t need the clanking clamor of man’s devices. We need silence of the soul to hear the still, small voice of God. We don’t even need the ticking of the clock. Waiting on God in prayer is the suspension of time—there are no clocks in heaven. In this silence our strength is renewed like the eagle.

Silence and Faith
When there are no answers for a question facing us, silence is needed. Perhaps we have already written a “pros and cons” worksheet and we still can’t see the way forward. It is time to be still and know that God is God. It is enough to know that He knows and doesn’t need any information from us. Faith is sometimes expressed best when we close our mouths and just trust in what we know God has promised. Overwhelming circumstances shrink in this silence to a manageable size. This quiet faith reminds us that God knows and cares and is on the scene.

Silence and Hope
Silence simplifies life. One of the three greatest things in the world, according to the Apostle Paul, is hope. Hope does not shout, it whispers. When the noise of the moment subsides, we hear the beautiful drone of hope. It was there all along but it was drowned out by cacophony of life. Hope is like what is called the tonic in music. It is the note C in the Key of C. The song starts there and wanders far away through all the other pitches in the scale but in the end it returns to the tonic, to C, and we are at rest. Hope is always singing to us; silence helps us hear the song again.

Choose Silence Every Day
The Path of Life is the path of silence—choose to walk it every day. Today, turn off the speakers and machines and the other noise makers so you can hear the silence.

“For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation.”

Scriptures:
Ecclesiastes 3:7 NKJV
…A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
Habakkuk 2:20 NKJV
“But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”
Exodus 14:13-14 NKJV
And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”
Psalm 46:10 NKJV
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!
1 Kings 19:11-12 NKJV
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
Psalm 62  (BCP)
For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be greatly shaken. How long will you assail me to crush me, all of you together, as if you were a leaning fence, a toppling wall? They seek only to bring me down from my place of honor; lies are their chief delight. They bless with their lips, but in their hearts they curse. For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken. In God is my safety and my honor; God is my strong rock and my refuge. Put your trust in him always, O people, pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge. Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, even those of low estate cannot be trusted. On the scales they are lighter than a breath, all of them together. Put no trust in extortion; in robbery take no empty pride; though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it. God has spoken once, twice have I heard it, that power belongs to God. Steadfast love is yours, O Lord, for you repay everyone according to his deeds.
Luke 21:19 KJV
In your patience possess ye your souls.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, quiet my soul today that I may hear Your voice within. I may face, like the prophet, a mighty wind today—let me weather the storm. My world may shake like the tremors of an earthquake today—help me stand steady until the shaking stops. A consuming fire may threaten to destroy what I have—keep me safe from its flames. After all these devastations have done their worse, I know in the silence that follows, I will hear Your still, small voice and know that it is well with my soul. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Be Still My Soul
Words: Katrina von Schlegel; Music: Jean Sibelius

1.  Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to thy God to order and provide;
in ev’ry change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
thro’ thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

2.  Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
to guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice, who ruled them while He dwelt below.

3.  Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the veil of tears,
then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
from His own fullness all He takes away.

4.  Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 1, 2017: “Sowing”

Sowing

A fundamental life process is that of sowing and reaping.
We do this in two ways: unconsciously and intentionally.

  • Without thought we are creatures of habit performing our little life rituals day in and day out: eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, working, resting and so forth. Each habit we possess actually sows some sort of seed into our days and nights. They produce results which, like the habits themselves, remain unnoticed because that is just how we are and how we live. Though this all happens without conscious thought on our part, the results are very real. Our life habits, acquired in childhood and adolescence, determine our health and wellbeing when age catches up to us.
  • Intentionally we sow a different kind of seed, one we have chosen with a specific harvest in mind: savings for retirement, investments in the market or in real estate, education in our chosen field, and such like. Sowing spiritual seed falls into this category.

Sowing and Reaping
This principle is so deep in God’s creation that it is sometimes overlooked by even the most careful of us. Nevertheless it is always at work bringing an element of cause and effect into spirituality. If we do certain things, certain things will happen. It is true in personal relationships.

  • Lifelong friendships with our adult children are the harvest of the love and interest we showed them when they were small. The productive habits, pleasing personalities, and admirable character traits we see in them as adults are the harvest of good seeds the Lord helped us plant in them when they were small. Good seed produces a good harvest.
  • In ministry as the years pile up, we reap a harvest of good things in the lives of those we have touched along the way. If you see a long term pastor presiding over the congregation God has given him/her through years of faithful sowing, you are observing a harvest of blessing even while he/she continues to sow the good seed. A phone call or a text message from former parishioners to check on the pastor always brings a deep joy to the “sower who went forth to sow.”
  • A teacher knows this, too, as former students recognize them in stores and call them out with smiles. We are all former students of teachers who affected us greatly, sowing good seed into our lives. It is good to intentionally reward them with a note of thanks.

The Good and Precious Seed
The promises of God to one who would sow good seed are nothing short of astonishing. Here is just one:

Psalm 126:5-6 KJV
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

Two things to see in these verses:

  1. Sowing in tears,
  2. Sowing precious seed.

Sowing in Tears
Sowing and reaping is not for cowards; this is tough stuff. The fallow ground does not break itself up; it only yields to the iron blade of the plow. To sow in tears has two meanings:

  1. Times of sorrow when the seed is stolen or hindered before completing its cycle of blessing, and,
  2. Sowing with a passion do deep our tears water the seed we sow.

In each case, somehow our amazing Lord promises us a harvest of joy—eventually.

Sowing Precious Seed
At this point intentionality takes control. We choose the seed we sow. When select truths to live by from the Word of God. Despite the odds or the wisdom of men, we choose to obey the voice of the Spirit. We explore the Bible for good seen to sow into the lives of those around us, all the while knowing for certain that a harvest is promised. “We shall reap if we faint not.”

Scriptures:
Genesis 8:22 NKJV
“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease.”
Matthew 13:3-9 NKJV
Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Galatians 6:6-10 NKJV
Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Psalm 126:4-6 NKJV
Bring back our captivity, O Lord, As the streams in the South. Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have provided me with precious seed. Help me be faithful today in the sowing of that seed. Help me be kind and encouraging to others even when they are not kind to me. Help me live by the truth of Your Word throughout this day as a constant conscious act of sowing the precious, good seed. Send Your sharp plow of the Spirit to break up the fallow ground in my heart so that I can sow even more seed. I want to sow to the Spirit today and not to the flesh so that of the Spirit my reward will be everlasting. Whether in tears or in joy, help me sow without ceasing today. For Your Kingdom, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Bringing in the Sheaves
Words: Knowles Shaw; Music: George A. Minor

1. Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain:
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

2. Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain

3. Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
Tho’ the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 25, 2017: “Holding”

Holding

Holding and hoarding are not the same. 
When we hold something, we treasure it, tend it, protect it, and let it perform its function.  To hoard something means to collect things compulsively and then neglect those things to their own destruction.  Things we hold, we can access readily when we, or others, need them.  Hoarded objects, emotions, or ideas pile up in random stacks, stuffed drawers, and messy cabinets so that specific things known to be in the “collection” can never be found when needed by us or anyone else.

As believers in Jesus, there are wonderful treasures filed neatly in our inner selves, things that we hold dear:

  • The Word of God,
  • The sweet presence of Jesus,
  • The abiding comfort of the Holy Spirit,
  • The divine embrace of the Father,
  • The spirit-deep assurance of salvation,
  • The confidence in the Covenant that is called, “faith,”
  • The call of God on our lives,
  • The two families we belong to, one of blood and name and the other of faith, and
  • The hope of the life to come.

When someone is rich in the wealth of the world, that wealth can be measured by adding up the holdings of that individual.  As Christ-followers, the list above is only a partial list of our holdings.

Tending our Holdings
The things we hold in our hearts are not all the same.  There are different ways we must tend to them.  Some things we hold on to as treasure while other things need to be thrown out with the trash.

May we never hoard things like these:

  • Wounds to the body, soul, or spirit.  These should be held long enough for Jesus to heal them.  Then we can let them go so completely that all that is left of them are memories.
  • Sins that lie hidden in our hearts.  These holdings spread death in the center of our life.  They must grow so abhorrent to us that we lay them before the Lord in repentance so that he can deliver us.  These holdings are fit only for the Savior since He has already borne their cost.
  • Ambitions that life has given us, selfish motives, and wicked dreams.  These things need to be replaced with the “dreams and visions” that come with the infilling of the Holy Spirit.  We need to let go of our own glory and seek to hold in our hearts the Glory of God.

Other holdings we possess are designed to flow through us to others:

  • We cling to the love of God, and as we do, His love flows through us to the people around us.  In this way we obey both of the top two commands: love God, love people.We hold truth dear and build our lives upon it.  As w
  • We live out the Jesus story, building our house upon the Rock, we are re-telling the Jesus story to anyone who is paying attention.  The truth of God flows through us even as we hold it fast in our hearts.
  • Praise and worship flow through us.  We treasure the presence of the Lord each day and then, like an Old Covenant priest carrying the Ark, we carry the Lord’s presence out into our world.  On the Lord’s day, we join our passion to that of the Holy-Royal Priesthood and the Glory of the Lord is revealed in public worship.

As this day begins, check your holdings. 
If you find unworthy things in your inventory, do not hoard them!  Cast them out and cast yourself on the mercies of God.  Treasure the eternal, beautiful things in your well-ordered heart.  From the abundance of your heart’s holdings, your life will speak eloquently of the Glory of the Lord.

Scriptures:
Matthew 5:8
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
2 Corinthians 4:7-8 NKJV
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
Luke 6:43-45
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Mark 12:29-31
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.   Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’   The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
1 John 4:20-21 NKJV
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
Matthew 7:24-27
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Philippians 3:12 NKJV
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, as Paul said, You have laid hold on me—thank You! This is my peace and security. Help me to lay hold of You and of all the treasures You have hidden in Your Word, in the church, and in all of creation. There are wonderful, beautiful things I can hold in my heart to regulate my emotions. There are equally splendid things I can hold in my mind to focus my thoughts. There are spiritual ideals I can live my life by to be a good and productive person. Because of Your Spirit within, these amazing things are within my grasp! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 20, 2017 “Listening”

Listening

Imagine for a moment that the events that Friday had somehow been recorded.
The contemplation of the Cross of Christ, calls for us to listen to the sounds of the world’s most infamous scene of execution.

The sounds of the approaching parade of pain were still distant, locked within the city walls, the sounds at the Place of the Skull were those typically heard there:

  • Two criminals writhing against the pain of nails freshly driven into their hands and feet,
  • Cursing soldiers waiting another job of killing,
  • Wind sweeping over the hill called Calvary, as it had done for ages, slowing smoothing the rock face and floor of the summit, scattering trash and dust,
  • The distant cries of circling scavenger birds, high in the clear sky, riding thermals and biding their time,
  • Heavy breathing from the two criminals drooping on the crosses, their weight pulling at rusty nails, their lungs collapsing a little with each effort to inhale, and
  • Moans from these guilty men still clinging to life while hoping for death.

All in all, not a noisy scene, the atmosphere was heavy with hopelessness, the weight of the seeming inevitable triumph of evil.

Gradually the distant noise of the crowd following Jesus became clear. 
Such hostility impressed the cynical soldiers waiting for the next victim.  Whoever he was, he must have been an enemy of the people, a deceiver, a cruel man reaping what he had sowed, a self-centered charlatan whose many misdeeds had caught up with him at last.  The weeping of the few who loved him was lost in the din of those who reviled him.  This was going to be easy work, untroubled by claims of innocence and cries of injustice.  This evil man deserved the nails.

The soldiers saw something different in this procession, a man from the crowd was carrying the condemned man’s cross.  As the spectacle drew nearer, the reason was clear.  The criminal was already near death; he had collapsed beneath the cross.  His body was shredded, bleeding, and his pale skin gave a sickly glow as fresh blood flowed in little rivers of  red from so many, many wounds.  The Roman soldiers at the top of the hill shifted their hammers from one hand to the other, knowing the signs—the wrath of Rome—the whip filled with sharp objects and hooks designed to tear flesh and inflect pain beyond imagining.  This evil man had not only offended the people, he had offended Rome itself.  Between the Roman whip and the Roman cross, this will be short work, hopefully the last one of the day.

All was routine as the noise of the crowd broke the serene savagery of the mountain of death.  Like spectators in the arena, every blow of the hammer brought cheers from the crown and wails from the mourners, mostly women, the soldiers noted.  Their practiced hands made quick work of this execution.  Through the wall of noise they heard the voice of the criminal and they tried not to think that this was no voice of evil.  There was no anger, no cursing, and no cries of injustice.  His words were like arrows through the night. The soldiers heard words of compassion and concern for others, words of comfort for one of the criminals beside him and even words of forgiveness for all them.  They did not notice that the clear sky had grown dark.  The light breeze had become the blast of a storm.  Just crazy weather, they thought.

The earthquake, however could not be ignored.
The three crosses shook with the trembling earth, but they did not fall.  The sun seemed to have fled, leaving the incessant lightning to provide the only illumination.

More prayers from the man on the center cross and suddenly he slumped in death.  The soldiers knew that it was more than the loss of blood or than the depth of the wounds.  They knew that even as he died, it was more his decision than their work.  This was a life, not taken, but given.

  • Perhaps instead of a liar, this was a man of truth?
  • What if he was a revealer and not a deceiver?
  • Could it be that he was a healer instead of man of cruelty?
  • Is it possible that it was not for his own misdeeds, but those of others who were truly guilty that he went to the cross?
  • Could this be a monstrous injustice rather than an act of legal justice?
  • Could this be the triumph of good over evil

A Soldier’s Witness
At least one of the soldiers had questions like these swirling through his pagan mind.  Surely the gods were offended at this execution. The whole world was reeling in protest.  One voice sounded in the midst of the storm and darkness, a soldier’s voice, “Surely, he was the son of God!”

Scriptures:
Mark 15:25
It was the third hour when they crucified him.
Matthew 27:54
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
Revelation 5:11-14
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, in my spirit today I wish to survey Your wondrous cross. Help me feel the tragic wind on that barren hill. Help me hear the angry shouts of the mob, the curses of the soldiers, and the weeping of those who loved You. Above all let me hear Your voice: “Father, forgive them.” “I thirst.” “It is finished.” “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” I want to sense the silence that followed your death and then the terrible storm. I want to feel the darkness in the middle of the day. Let me share the quiet tears of the women who love You. Why do I desire these things? So that I may never forget. Amen.

Song:
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Lowell Mason

1 When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

2 Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.

3 See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

4 Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 19, 2017: “Reaping”

Reaping

Few things in life come with a true guarantee. 
Reaping a harvest of good for the glory of the Lord and the benefit of mankind is one of them.  Two verses from the Bible express the inevitability of the harvest, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

  • Psalm 126 promises that the one who lives with passion for man and God and plants the Word of God, that person will doubtless come again with rejoicing bringing a great and joyful harvest.
  • Galatians promises a great harvest to those do not grow weary in doing the right things.

The promise of the Old Covenant is continued in the New Covenant.
Combining the two gives us the conditions of the promise:

  • The sower pictured in Psalm 126 is said to sow in tears.  The guaranteed reaping flows from the passionate life.  The heart that sees the harvest is the one moved by the plight of those without God.
  • The seed that brings the harvest is the precious seed of the Word of God.  Good will and positive thinking doesn’t guarantee anything but the good seed of the Word will have its affect those who hear.  Some will laugh and turn away.  Others will engage in a shallow attempt to follow God until conditions worsen and the seed planted in then comes to naught.  Still others will gladly receive the seed of the Word and it will become new life in them forever.
  • Galatians presents perseverance as the final condition.  The sower who gets the happy harvest celebration is the one who learns how to ward off weariness with rest and dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

The “Doubtless” Harvest
Passion, knowledge of God’s truth, and consistent faithfulness in the work God has given us to do will “doubtless” bring a harvest of joy.  The tears we shed for the lost,

  • for the church,
  • for the pain of the world,
  • for the pain in our own hearts when others treat us the way people treated Jesus,
    will water the good soil of those who listen to us and the harvest will come.  Tears will be forgotten in the laughter of the time of reaping.

That time is more sure than tomorrow’s sunrise.  It doesn’t matter how long the night may last until that dawning of the day of reaping.  Until then, let us be passionate, full of truth, and faithful in all things.  The happy harvest is one of life’s few sure things.

Scriptures:
Psalm 126:5-6 KJV
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
Matthew 13:3-9;18-23 NKJV
Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!””Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Galatians 6:7-10
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the God of guarantees! Your promises are sure, irrevocable, and powerful in real life. Your truth is fixed but is also marvelous in its many applications. Help see Your Precious Seed and perhaps the fresh plowed fields where I might sow that seed. The day will come when before Your judgment seat I will lay down my harvest at Your feet—the faithful record of my faithfulness—souls won to You, deeds of mercy, acts of righteousness, words of truth fitly spoken. I want with all my heart to hear You say, “Well done!” Amen and Amen.

Song:
Bringing in the Sheaves
Words: Knowles Shaw; Music: George A. Minor

1. Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,

Refrain:
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain

2 Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain

3 Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
Tho’ the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved