August 26, 2017 “Forthright”

Forthright

There are so many expressions for someone who is not being forthright:

  • Beating around the bush,
  • Dancing around an issue,
  • Pulling the wool over someone’s eyes,
  • Blowing smoke,
  • Shooting me a line,
  • Giving me the business, and
  • Others too graphic to mention.

Each of us has a natural aversion to this practice. We want the straight news, the true facts, the real deal. Our shrubs do not need to beaten around. We don’t want to be bored by verbal dancing. Smoke is not healthy to breathe and we don’t need any lines or phony business. We want people to get to the point already!

To be forthright in our dealings means to be to the point, truthful, timely, and trustworthy.
The Poet has good news for us. When we are forthright with God and man, God will be forthright with us.

“With the faithful you show yourself faithful, O God;
with the forthright you show yourself forthright.”

To be faithful and forthright is part of God’s nature. Even though we are created in His image, these things are not natural for most of us—we have to learn how to be like our Creator. We also need the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit to sanctify our minds and enable our wills to do what is right and in a timely—forthright—fashion.

We begin by imitating our parents, learning how to behave, including how to speak, from them.
Children generally understand more than they can explain and they soon learn when their parents are dancing around an issue they do not want to discuss. When the child is caught doing something naughty, he/she quickly learns to talk in circles, cleverly avoiding the subject of guilt or innocence. They learned these life skills from their first teachers—Mom and Dad.

When a child of God begins to learn to pray—to talk with God—he or she usually tries to pull the wool over the all-seeing eye of God. We actually beat around the prayer bush, as if we could blow smoke so dense that God could not see through it.

One of the first lessons of prayer we must learn is to be forthright in our conversations with the Lord. One cannot pray a lie! This is one of the great things about prayer—it is a process of peeling the onion of our souls—removing layer after layer of self-deceit, of lies we tell ourselves, when we realize we cannot like to God. None of us has enough wool to pull over God’s eyes.

When we get down to the honest truth, we really start praying—and the Lord’s starts listening.
He can then speak to us and when God speaks, He gets right to the point!

“With the forthright, He shows Himself forthright.”

Scriptures:
Psalm 18:1-28
I love you, O Lord my strength, O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven. My God, my rock in whom I put my trust, my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge; you are worthy of praise. I will call upon the Lord, and so shall I be saved from my enemies. The breakers of death rolled over me, and the torrents of oblivion made me afraid. … He reached down from on high and grasped me; he drew me out of great waters. He delivered me from my strong enemies and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster; but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into an open place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. The Lord rewarded me because of my righteous dealing; because my hands were clean he rewarded me; For I have kept the ways of the Lord and have not offended against my God; For all his judgments are before my eyes, and his decrees I have not put away from me; For I have been blameless with him and have kept myself from iniquity; Therefore the Lord rewarded me according to my righteous dealing, because of the cleanness of my hands in his sight. With the faithful you show yourself faithful, O God; with the forthright you show yourself forthright. With the pure you show yourself pure, but with the crooked you are wily. You will save a lowly people, but you will humble the haughty eyes.
Matthew 5:33-37; 6:5-8 NIV
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, It is such a foolish notion that I should ever try to deceive You in any way—especially in prayer. You know my every thought, the hidden-most, inner workings of my soul. As I seek Your face in prayer, Your Spirit peels away each self-deceiving thing I say and shows me the real truth. In this way, You reveal the hidden things in my heart that hinder me. More than merely reveal them—You heal them! Your wonderful, cleansing blood will go as deep as I dare to pray and remove the offense, whether it is an action, an attitude, or an aspiration. To be honest with You is a great grace! Thank You, Lord!

Song:
I Must Tell Jesus
Words and Music: Elisha A. Hoffman

1. I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me,
He ever loves and cares for His own.

Refrain:
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.

2. I must tell Jesus all of my troubles,
He is a kind, compassionate Friend;
If I but ask Him He will deliver,
Make of my troubles quickly an end.

Refrain

3. Tempted and tried I need a great Savior,
One who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus:
He all my cares and sorrows will share.

Refrain

4. What must I do when worldliness calls me?
What must I do when tempted to sin?
I must tell Jesus, and He will help me
Over the world the vict’ry to win.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 29, 2017 “Until”

Until

We’ve all been there. A question lingers without an answer.
It is an important issue as yet unresolved. Every clock we see tells us the same time—until. Not yet. Someday, but probably not today. The question will be answered, sometime. The issue will be settled, perhaps soon. Until then…Wait. Be patient. Have faith.

The Poet faces a common question—

why do the heathen prosper while the righteous suffer?

We’ve all been there, too, if we are honest.

Life isn’t fair.
It is a strange irony that we have been given an inborn sense of fairness and yet we must learn early on that life isn’t fair. As children we were shocked by this. After all we were the center of the universe so why shouldn’t things go our way? We spend the rest of our lives sorting out the details of what we deserve, of what we expect compared to what we actually get. Scorekeepers we are until—until we learn not to keep score.

Keeping Score
Hear the words of the Poet:

“I envied the proud and saw the prosperity of the wicked…”

Words written so long ago ring with resonance today because life isn’t fair. To be sure each way of life has a trajectory—an ultimate destination.

  • The Bible predicts and careful observation reveals that the selfish, self-centered, self-actualized life of the one who doesn’t follow Jesus is a downward spiral leading to death no matter how well one lives and to emptiness no matter how much one accumulates.
  • Also, the Bible predicts and careful observation reveals that the faithful life of the Christ-follower leads to life everlasting and fullness no matter how sparse the life here and now may be.

The score cannot be kept by human standards of momentary measures. Only eternity will balance the scales. The Kingdom that is coming will be one that is fair to behold and fair in all things else.

Like the ancient Poet, we must deal with the “until…”

“When I tried to understand these things, it was too hard for me…
Until I entered the sanctuary of God.”

The Worship Lifestyle
Life is not only unfair, it can be confusing if we fail to worship God every day and every week. Paul recommends a lifestyle of worship—the presentation of our whole lives to God as a “service of spiritual worship.” The Apostle makes an astounding promise—to worship God renews the mind!

  • Until we know the answers, we will worship.
  • Until we see the resolution, we resolve to worship.
  • Until we have peace over the conflict, we will do warfare in worship.
  • Until we reach the end of our time on this earth, we will prioritize the Presence of God.
  • Until Jesus returns for His Church, we will make sure His House remains a house of worship.
    Until then we can agree with the Poet:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
and having you I desire nothing upon earth.
Though my flesh and my heart should waste away,
God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Scriptures:
Psalm 73
Truly, God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had nearly slipped; I had almost tripped and fallen; Because I envied the proud and saw the prosperity of the wicked: For they suffer no pain, and their bodies are sleek and sound; In the misfortunes of others they have no share; they are not afflicted as others are; Therefore they wear their pride like a necklace and wrap their violence about them like a cloak. Their iniquity comes from gross minds, and their hearts overflow with wicked thoughts. They scoff and speak maliciously; out of their haughtiness they plan oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their evil speech runs through the world. And so the people turn to them and find in them no fault. They say, “How should God know? is there knowledge in the Most High?” So then, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase their wealth. In vain have I kept my heart clean, and washed my hands in innocence. I have been afflicted all day long, and punished every morning. Had I gone on speaking this way, I should have betrayed the generation of your children. When I tried to understand these things, it was too hard for me; Until I entered the sanctuary of God and discerned the end of the wicked. Surely, you set them in slippery places; you cast them down in ruin. Oh, how suddenly do they come to destruction, come to an end, and perish from terror! Like a dream when one awakens, O Lord, when you arise you will make their image vanish. When my mind became embittered, I was sorely wounded in my heart. I was stupid and had no understanding; I was like a brute beast in your presence. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You will guide me by your counsel, and afterwards receive me with glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? and having you I desire nothing upon earth. Though my flesh and my heart should waste away, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Truly, those who forsake you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful. But it is good for me to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge. I will speak of all your works in the gates of the city of Zion.
Romans 12:1-2 AMP
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my Hope and my Friend! It is true that some things in my life are stored in the container labeled “Until.” I will leave these things undisturbed for now. Today I will walk in the path I see, one illumined by Your light, my steps made clear by the lamp of Your truth. These occupations are enough to keep me occupied—until—You return for me! If the grave is my destiny, only my body will enter there; my hope will be Your presence, Your peace, Your mansion made to my specifications. Until then with joy I’ll carry on! Thank You, Lord Jesus!

Song:
Until Then
Words and Music: Stuart Hamlin

1. My heart can sing when I pause to remember
A heartache here is but a stepping stone
Along a trail that’s winding always upward,
This troubled world is not my final home.

Refrain:
But until then my heart will go on singing,
Until then with joy I’ll carry on,
Until the day my eyes behold the city,
Until the day God calls me home.

2. The things of earth will dim and lose their value
If we recall they’re borrowed for a while;
And things of earth that cause the heart to tremble,
Remembered there will only bring a smile.

Refrain

3. This weary world with all its toil and struggle
May take its toll of misery and strife;
The soul of man is like a waiting falcon;
When it’s released, it’s destined for the skies.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 8, 2017 “Melted”

Melted

I was told a story by my college music theory teacher.
A huge symphony orchestra was recording a huge symphony, probably by a late Romantic composer. During a particularly loud part of the music, the two bassoon players who had rests at the moment and were having a conversation. They forgot that there was a sudden “grand pause” in the music and suddenly it was deadly quiet. In the moment of silence, one said to the other, “I fry mine in butter.” Recording ruined; bassoonists everywhere disgraced.

Some things gain their usefulness only when melted.
Butter is one of those delicious things. Our baked potatoes, toast, hot biscuits and rolls could testify to this if they stayed around long enough.

In a way, the Christ-follower who has been melted by the Refiner’s Fire of the Holy Spirit is the one who is useful to the Master. The Lord is the only One who can change hearts. We can cajole, nag, manipulate, plead, and abuse those whose hearts need changing and nothing works. We can change their behavior with rules, regulations, penalties, and cruel and unusual punishment but these things harden rebellious hearts instead of melting them.

Melting requires heat.
Life is full of heat: time pressure, performance pressure, unbroken self-destructive habits, financial demands, relationships, unspoken expectations. It is a heat we feel every day and it keeps us awake at night. In a character sense, this pressure hardens us in a good way—giving us inner strength and the confidence of experience.

The Refiner’s Fire spoken of in the Bible is a different kind of heat.
It isn’t based in circumstances or personalities or even our own shortcomings and commanding dreams. This fire is the fire of the Spirit of God applied to our human spirit. This part of us is deeper than personality, or ambition, or patterns of behavior. It is the source of those things. Let’s call it the “heart of us,” the place where the spirit abides within us.

Precious Metals and Us
The original language used in this passage refers to the refining of precious metal by the application of heat. The gold or silver melts quickly so the hard and worthless material bonded to it can fall away.

Do we see that we are precious to the Lord? We are to Him gold and silver, worthy of careful refinement. He controls the heat and will never harm us. When the fires of the Spirit are burning in our spirit, we can rest, knowing that we will better for it, cleaner because of it, more fit for the Master’s use, tried in the fire.

When the heart of someone we love seems impervious to logic, unaffected by reason, unyielding to the appeals of what is right and what is wrong, there is only one way that heart can change. Only the fires of the Spirit can melt a heart as frozen as this.

The plan of action is this: prayer. And when we are done praying, pray some more. There is a marvelous promise in the closing lines of the Old Testament: The Lord will turn the hearts of parents and their children to each other. If your child is the one with the frozen heart, claim this promise in prayer every day.

The Lord is the only One who can change hearts.

Scriptures:
Psalm 17:1-3
Hear my plea of innocence, O Lord; give heed to my cry; listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips. Let my vindication come forth from your presence; let your eyes be fixed on justice. Weigh my heart, summon me by night, melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.
Malachi 3:1-4 NIV
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord , as in days gone by, as in former years.
Malachi 4:5-6 NIV
“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
2 Timothy 2:20-22 NKJV
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 NIV
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
Hebrews 12:28-29 NIV
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, send me Your Refiner’s Fire to purify my life at the deepest level. As the song says, “Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me.” There are stony places in my mind; I invite You in, Holy Spirit, to melt that frozen rock. There are cold places in my heart; Come O Fiery Holy Ghost and melt my icebound heart. “Oh Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee. Send a revival. Start the work in me. Fill me with fire where once I burned with shame. Grant my desire to magnify Your name.” “O Lord, Send the Fire!” Amen.

Song:
Spirit of the Living God
Words and Music: Daniel Iverson

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 27, 2017

 

Understanding

It takes understanding to solve a puzzle.
Call it discretion; call it wisdom; call it knowledge; call it insight; call it discernment, call it what you will, understanding is the thing we all need all the time. With the gift of understanding we organize invisible things. We place random things in a context that orders them aright. Understanding turns notes into a song. It sequences events into a narrative. It shapes words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into a message received.

Wise old King Solomon says it this way: “With all thy getting, get understanding.”

Ours is not the way of understanding.
The pieces of the puzzle just don’t seem to fit

  • The culture around us has substituted education for understanding, facts for truths, and images for insights.
  • We live in a world of surfaces: shining, attractive, commercial, and shallow.
  • Depth is for nerds.
  • Understanding is for the senile.
  • The joys of irony, the mysteries of paradox, and the wonders of the enigmatic, are lost in the flash of attention spans measured in mere seconds.
  • We numb our souls with chemicals and hypnotic entertainments because we prefer such temporal medication to any meditation of the eternal.

The good news is this: This random world has not been abandoned.

  • To this shallow world comes a Man of great depth.
  • To this chaos comes a Spirit of order and peace.
  • To the overmedicated mind comes the Balm of Gilead, the Sun of Righteousness, rising with “healing in His wings.”
  • To this wiggling, writhing population comes a Father who does not waver and whose embrace brings stillness.
  • To this decaying world comes its Creator, whose words still call wonders into existence, a future New Creation, foreshadowed now as the twice-born heart of a child of God.

With all our getting, let us get understanding.
In every company where Christ-followers labor, there should be at least one office, one work bench, one station, one workplace that is the Office-Place of the Lord. People know who among them can pray. They know whose opinion is not just so much noise. They recognize the co-worker or the boss or the subordinate who has understanding. Him or her they seek out. It may be a quick question at the water cooler or a whispered conversation in the break room or a sidebar in a staff meeting, but they know who might have an answer to be trusted, an insight to be shared. There are those in every company whose feet seem to have a lamp, and whose path seems to be illumined by a light source from somewhere else.

We must be those insightful, wise, discerning, discrete, understanding people, for no one else can be.

In this way we follow the 12 year old Jesus. We must be about our Father’s business.

Puzzle solved.

Scriptures:
Psalm 119:73-77 NKJV
Your hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments. Those who fear You will be glad when they see me, because I have hoped in Your word. I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to Your word to Your servant. Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight.
1 Chronicles 22:11-13 NIV
“Now, my son, the Lord be with you, and may you have success and build the house of the Lord your God, as he said you would. May the Lord give you discretion and understanding when he puts you in command over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God. Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.
Proverb 4:7
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
James 3:13-18 NIV
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
1 Coriinthians 2:13-16 NKJV
These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy* Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?”* But we have the mind of Christ.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the Bible makes an outlandish claim: “We have the mind of Christ!” That cannot possibly mean that I am as smart as You. It means that I have You in me, including Your amazing mind. Help me listen to Your Spirit within as He brings to my mind what You have said. Give me insight into the puzzle of life that I may solve some of it every day. Let the principles You teach go so deep into my heart, that I live by them every day—today, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Open My Eyes that I May See
Words and Music: Clara H. Scott

1. Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

2. Open my ears, that I may hear
voices of truth thou sendest clear;
and while the wave-notes fall on my ear,
everything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!

3. Open my mouth, and let me bear
gladly the warm truth everywhere;
open my heart and let me prepare
love with thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 27, 2017

Participation

The story of Jesus is unique among religious literature. 
Instead of mankind desperately seeking God, God came to earth as a man to break the in barrier between God and man.  Instead of poets dreaming up gods of their own imaginations, God revealed exactly who He is: the face, the voice, the touch of Jesus.  The glory of Jesus is not a glory to be achieved; it is a glory to simply behold in humility, repentance, and faith.

The Table of the Lord demonstrates our participation in the mystery of redemption.  One of the Greek words for participation is koinoneo which means

“to have a share of, to share with, take part in” is translated “to be partaker of”
(Vine’s Dictionary of NT Words)

Koinoneo emphasizes the fellowship resulting from shared experiences and beliefs.  Somehow, when we come to the table we do not just observe a memorial of the ministry of Jesus.  We actually participate in the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.  What are these mysteries?  They are summed up by Paul in seven words:

“…Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

This is the theme of everything said and done at the Last Supper.  This meal marked the passing of the Passover and the coming of “The Great Thanksgiving”—the Eucharist.  No longer a celebration of a deliverance from in the distant past, our Fellowship Meal (koinoneo) is a participation in a current deliverance from sin and destruction.

Jesus said we should participate in the bread and the cup as a remembrance of Him.  Our English word, “remembrance” comes from the Greek word, anamnesis which means:

“a remembrance” (“again”) …not “in memory of” but in an affectionate calling of the Person Himself to mind; (b) of the “remembrance” of sins… is not simply an external bringing to “remembrance,” but an awakening of mind. (Vine’s Dictionary)

At the Lord’s Table we do more than remember, we participate.
The Holy Spirit ministers to us as we believe in Jesus’ Body and Blood, His substance and His life.  He told us in John chapter six what it meant to eat and drink of His substance and life—it is to believe—this is the work of God.

John 6:28-29
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

At that Last Passover and First Communion, Jesus spoke of our participation in the New Covenant:

  • We would enjoy the complete forgiveness of sins.
  • We would engage in a life empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  • We would be branches in Him, the True Vine, bearing much fruit.
  • We would be destined for eternal life in His Father’s house.
  • We would have the opportunity to be one with Him as He is one with the Father.

He prayed that we would seize the opportunity.

As we consider the events of the final week of Jesus’ ministry of this earth, we do more than remember, we participate.  We are there

  • at the table,
  • in the Garden,
  • at the arrest,
  • through the night of trials in the courts of men,
  • on the road to Calvary,
  • at the cross,
  • in the storm and darkness,
  • hearing His last words,
  • seeing Him lifeless and still, silent,
  • weeping at the tomb through the night, and
  • rejoicing in the dawn of a new day, a New Covenant and a new life!

The story of Jesus is unique among religious literature.

Scriptures:
Mark 14:22-26

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”  When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
2 Peter 1:4
… he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
1 Corinthians 10:15-17
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
Colossians 1:24-27
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.  I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness- the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.  To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are more than the leader of my religion, the philosopher whose words I try to follow, or my hero from history. You are my Deliverer, my Savior, my best Friend, my King, my Counselor, and my Companion in the way. Today I will listen to Your voice sounding in music of Your creation, in the words of friends, and in the silences in between. I believe in the power of your substance—Your Word, Your presence, Your strength. I believe in the power of Your life—the Holy Spirit, the force of divine creation and restoration of what has been lost. I will carefully place my feet in Your footprints clearly seen in the path of life before me. In Your Matchless Name, Amen.

Song:
Break Thou the Bread of Life
Words: Mary A. Lathbury; Music: William F. Sherwin

1. Break now the bread of life, dear Lord, to me,
as once you broke the loaves beside the sea.
Beyond the sacred page I seek you, Lord;
my spirit waits for you, O living Word.

2. Bless your own word of truth, dear Lord, to me,
as when you blessed the bread by Galilee.
Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall;
and I shall find my peace, my All in all!

3. You are the bread of life, dear Lord, to me,
your holy word the truth that rescues me.
Give me to eat and live with you above;
teach me to love your truth, for you are love.

4. O send your Spirit now, dear Lord, to me,
that he may touch my eyes and make me see.
Show me the truth made plain within your Word,
for in your book revealed I see you, Lord.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 26, 2017

Between

42 Bridges
On US Highway 1 travelers cross 42 bridges to get all the way from Miami to Key West, Florida—113 miles. The highway follows a 1912 railroad plan and was completed in 1938 with recent modern replacements on most of the bridges. It is called the Overseas Highway. For an impressive stretch of this highway, motorists can see the Atlantic Ocean on south side of the car and the Gulf of Mexico on the north side. Nothing separates the two except these small islands and bridges. The traveler is literally poised between two immense bodies of water every moment. The Florida Straits are the meeting place of great ocean currents from the North and South Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Public worship is much like this amazing, beautiful drive.
The worshiper is traveling between time and eternity. Out one window a vast ocean shimmers and out the other a huge gulf glistens. The ocean of eternity and the gulf of time touch beneath this road.

And so it is with worship.

We who are bound by time and space, travel in spirit to a timeless destination of spiritual coordinates—the Throne Room of God Almighty. Here the gulf and the ocean merge. Just as deep currents battle each other in these waters, human tendencies and cultural mores conspire against worship.

This isn’t just fanciful language; this is descriptive. The Book of Hebrews says that when the church comes before God in worship, we are transported spiritually to Mt. Zion, “…to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God…” (Heb 12:22)

What does this mean?

  • Worshipers who are locked into time, get a taste of eternity.
  • The gravity-like pull of time is countered by the upward winds of the Spirit.
  • The fog of earthly confusion is shredded by the warming, clearing light of truth.
  • The homeless ones of earth rest for a while in mansions made for them.
  • The solitary ones, the neglected and forgotten here on earth, fellowship in God-redeemed families.

Today when the hour for worship comes, we must realize that we live our lives between two great forces, time and eternity.

  • Through one window the tide of the gulf may draw us away from worship. The pull of time is heavy and the conflicting currents of human weakness are difficult to fight.
  • Out the other window, the ocean is calling with strength to pull us homeward–deeper tides than those of time and mightier currents than those of the soul.

Eternity is stronger than time and in worship we can enter the eternal—for a moment. There we can touch God and be touched by Him.

Scriptures:
Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV
…you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Ecclesiastes 3:9-12 NIV
… He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1 NIV
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I thank You for my life today. Made in Your image, I can enjoy the warmth of the beautiful gulf of time and the prospect of the ocean of eternity, gleaming beyond my imagination. In this life I travel a road between time and eternity. As I worship today, lift me beyond the sensational to the spiritual. Open my eyes to heavenly things. Tune my hearing to the music of Your Throne Room. Help me empty my heart of pride so that Your Spirit can fill me with Your love. Take us to Mt. Zion, today! The in-between-road we must travel will be straighter and safer and more meaningful tomorrow, because today, for a while, we worshiped before Your Throne frolicking with angels and singing with saints to the music of eternity. Joyfully in Your Name, Amen!

Song:
Launch Out
Words: A.B. Simpson; Music: Russell Carter

1. The mercy of God is an ocean divine,
A boundless and fathomless flood;
Launch out in the deep, cut away the shore line,
And be lost in the fullness of God.

Refrain:
Launch out, into the deep,
Oh, let the shore line go;
Launch out, launch out in the ocean divine,
Out where the full tides flow.

2. But many, alas! only stand on the shore,
And gaze on the ocean so wide;
They never have ventured its depths to explore,
Or to launch on the fathomless tide.

Refrain

3. And others just venture away from the land,
And linger so near to the shore
That the surf and the slime that beat over the strand
Dash over them in floods evermore.

Refrain

4. Oh, let us launch out on this ocean so broad,
Where floods of salvation o’erflow;
Oh, let us be lost in the mercy of God,
Till the depths of His fullness we know.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 2, 2017

Deep

Beneath the glittering surface of our lives there is the deep of who we really are, who we were, and there are dark tidal forces taking us where it seems inevitable that that we will end up. Most people passing by us see only the glitter and never the deep.

We like it that way.

The deep is private stuff, like the ocean’s floor covered by tons of water, beyond the penetration of the sun’s light and effciently obscured by the silt and sand collected in our hearts.

So distant is the deep, that we seldom dare explore it ourselves.

Just a glimpse of the monsters that may lurk there or the mysteries that linger there is enough to send us searching for the shallows and the friendly splashes of air that welcome us back from the deep.

What Is the Truth?
How much energy do we spend in self-delusion pretending the surface is the true story? Concentric relationship circles radiate out from us with only a very few people in the closest ring and there are secrets we must never tell even them. There is no need. It is all under the blood of Christ, long ago forgiven and stricken from the heavenly ledger. We know this, of course, but even these forgotten and forgiven things erupt in strange images in our dreams setting little fear fires that burn in the night and leaping to mind at odd hours during the day.

The Deep Things of God
Who is there that we can trust to dive deep into the hidden, neglected caverns of our historical hurts and lingering fears? Is there a “Deep” that can speak to our “Deep?”

The good news is this: The Holy Spirit dives as deep into us as we go. At conversion, our sins were cast from us into a sea that is so much deeper than we are. Thank You, Jesus!

And the Spirit within us is an abiding Spirit. He does deep work. At the surface it may feel like an emotional tug, or we may feel nothing at all. But when we open our depths to the Lord whose dimensions are deeper still, He is faithful to do the deep work only He can do.

  • Hurts are healed.
  • Painful memories are managed, filed away someplace too deep to disrupt our joy.
  • Despair is dislodged and hope installed in the empty space left behind.

No matter how deeply we have been hurt, no matter how deep our shameful secrets are buried, no matter the terror that crouches deep in us, the Spirit of God goes deeper.

We are deep but the Spirit dives deeper. Trust Him with your deep places today

Scriptures:
Psalm 42:5-8
NIV
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. … Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.
1 Corinthians 2:10-16 NIV
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Prayer:
Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin and set me free.

I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word and make me pure (and whole) within;
Fill me with fire where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Your name.
from Cleanse Me J. Edwin Orr

Song:
Deeper, Deeper

Words and Music: C. P. Jones

1. Deeper, deeper in the love of Jesus Daily let me go;
Higher, higher in the school of wisdom, More of grace to know.

Refrain:
O deeper yet, I pray, And higher every day,
And wiser, blessed Lord, In Thy precious, holy Word.

2. Deeper, deeper! Blessed Holy Spirit, Take me deeper still,
Till my life is wholly lost in Jesus, And His perfect will.

Refrain

3. Deeper, deeper! Though it cost hard trials, Deeper let me go!
Rooted in the holy love of Jesus, Let me fruitful frow.

Refrain

4. Deeper, higher, every day with Jesus, Till all conflict past,
Finds me conqu’ror, and in His own image Perfected at last.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved