September 15, 2017 “Encouragement”

Encouragement

Encouragement is one of those things that you have when you give it away.
The way to have it is to keeping giving it. Encouragement is the “cup of cold water” Jesus told us about.

In the opening sequence of Frank Capra’s classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life, two angels discuss the crisis in George Bailey’s life. Clarence, the angel getting the assignment to help George, asks, “Is he sick?” His boss answers, “No, worse, He’s discouraged.”

Discouragement is worse than disease. 
It strikes without a warning cough or sneeze but soon we are unable to breathe. There is no fever but soon we are listless, the fires of our life burning without hope. No one is immune to this disease—we are all susceptible to it and it can spread from one discouraged soul to everyone he/she touches.

In his letters to the church, we see that Paul sought to be an encourager.
Everything any of us will ever attempt for the Lord requires courage. Courage is faith put to work—believe in action; it is theology as behavior. If we are a discouraging presence, we drain from our brothers and sisters the fuel they need for their engines. If we are an encouraging person, others draw energy for their work from the Lord Himself—our source of encouragement. It is not some sick transfer of human will from one person to the next; it is a tapping into the strength of the Lord and the power of His might.

What does discouragement do?

  • Darkness obscures the goal,
  • hides the face of our Savior, and
  • makes us feel alone, misunderstood, and put upon.
  • Discouragement only decorates pity parties.
  • A martyr spirit sours our faces and makes us whine instead of sing.

What does Encouragement do?

  • Encouragement turns the lights back on,
  • reconnects us with others, including Jesus, and
  • makes us smile and sing.
  • We celebrate the coming victory, even when it is a long way off.
  • We are refreshed by a cool cup of living water.

Encouragement comes from relationships with others who share our beliefs. It is more than a shared optimism. It is a shared faith, a hope held in common, and a love that we know will triumph in the end. But we must be more than receivers of encouragement; we must be givers. It is likely that the most encouraging person you know, may be the one who needs most to be encouraged. The person who gives encouragement to others will see it flowing back in strength and joy.

A Discouraged King
In King David’s life a time came when there was no one to encourage him. What did he do? In the King James Version it says “He encouraged Himself.” How can we do that? Through prayer and the Word of God.

We are not really alone.
Jesus is with us—when we read the Word, we open our hearts to His presence, our ears to His voice, and our minds to His vision for us. We all need encouragement so we must all distribute it like cups of cold water to those we meet. As we do, we ourselves drink deeply from the well of living water. When we are encouraged, it really can be a wonderful life!

Scriptures:
Mark 9:41 41
I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-14;2
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you…, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Thessalonians 2:16-17
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
Romans 1:11-12
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
Philippians 1:12-14
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
Colossians 2:2-3
My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
1 Samuel 30:6 AMP
David was greatly distressed, for the men spoke of stoning him because the souls of them all were bitterly grieved, each man for his sons and daughters. But David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You know the human condition; You know it well. You laid aside Your heavenly majesty to become someone like us. You were a helpless baby, a dependent child, an adolescent with raging hormones, and a young adult craftsman running a family business. You felt what we feel as human beings. I am sure You were tempted by discouragement. Since this is nor really a sin, perhaps You actually were discouraged. Yet You found the strength to complete Your mission. You found the courage to face Your accusers with deafening silence. Encourage me, Lord to do Your will today! Amen.

Song:
I Know Whom I Have Believed
Composer: Daniel W. Whittle

1. I know not why God’s wondrous grace To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love Redeemed me for His own.

Refrain:
But “I know Whom I have believed, And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day.”

2. I know not how this saving faith To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word Wrought peace within my heart.

Refrain
3.I know not how the Spirit moves, Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word, Creating faith in Him.

Refrain

4. I know not what of good or ill May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days, Before His face I see.
Refrain
5. I know not when my Lord may come, At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him, Or meet Him in the air.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 15, 2017 “Boldness”

Boldness

Boldness is expressed in bold thoughts and bolder deeds.
Bold deeds are celebrated in song and story, in reputation and renown, and in great shouts of victory as well as in quiet deeds of mercy. Boldness, then, is to be sought, a necessary thing for victorious living in this fallen world.

Boldness is a product born of its root.

  • Boldness born in myth will dissipate like a mist on the moors because it is a fiction born of a fiction.
  • Boldness born in the heart of man will strengthen his arm for battle where luck and random violence may bring either defeat or victory it really doesn’t matter.
  • Boldness of the mind of man, may actually make the soldier shrink from the fray if there is no hope of triumph saying, “Live, my son, the battle is not yours. Live to fight another day.”
  • Boldness conceived in the spirit, the God-consciousness of mankind, will insist on spiritual weapons even when the weapons of human violence are in plentiful supply. The weapons of this fight are mighty through God.

Choosing to be bold.
When the noise of battle can be heard over the horizon of the morning and the dust of an invading army clouds the early air, the soldier of faith must choose his/her brand of bravery:

  • Mythological,Human will and courage,
  • Human intelligence and cunning, or
  • The weapons of spiritual warfare.

If we choose to fight a spiritual battle with human weapons, all our efforts will be for nothing. If, however, if we choose to fight a spiritual battle with the weapons proven by the Lord Himself and those who followed Him, whose record we read in the Bible, we will see victory.

As each week begins:

  • We choose to praise God every day—praise makes us bold!
  • We give careful thought to the battles we choose to fight—the Spirit sharpens the mind for battle!
  • We recall the victory of Christ—all evil has been already defeated—such hope makes us bold!
  • We stand fully armed for battle with spiritual armor and the two-edged Sword of the Spirit—such weapons make us invincible!

Be bold this day, for the Lord stands tall in you!

Boldness is expressed in bold thoughts and bolder deeds.

Scriptures:
Proverbs 21:29
A wicked man puts up a bold front, but an upright man gives thought to his ways.
Proverbs 28:1
The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.
Psalm 138:1-3
I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.
2 Corinthians 3:12-13
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.
2 Corinthians 6:4-10;
Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ…
Ephesians 6:10-18
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Prayer,
Lord Jesus, You are my strength, my victory. Because of You I can be bold today, facing the enemies who come against me and staring down the fears within me. Doing anything for You, Lord, requires courage and You are faithful to supply the boldness this day will demand. I have Your plan, the spiritual weaponry You have provided, Your empowering Spirit abiding within, and I am stationed with a mighty army. Some of my fellow soldiers are seen here on this earth and others move in unseen realms but all move toward victory. I can be bold. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Song:
Keep on the Firing Line
Words: Bessie F. Hatcher; Music: Alphus LeFevre

1. If you’re in the battle for the Lord and right,
If you win, my brother, surely you must fight,
Keep on the firing line;
There are many dangers that we all must face,
If we die still fighting it is no disgrace;
Cowards in the service will not find a place,
So keep on the firing line

Refrain:
Oh, you must fight, be brave against all evil,
Never run, nor even lag behind;
If you would win for God and the right,
Just keep on the firing line.

2. God will only use the soldier He can trust,
Keep on the firing line;
If you’ll wear a crown then bear the cross you must,
Keep on the firing line.
Life is but to labor for the Master dear,

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 9, 2017 “Advancing”

Advancing

Let’s collect some clichés:

  • Time marches on.
  • The times they are a changin’.
  • You can’t stop progress.
  • Life is passing you by.
  • This train has left the station.
  • If you are standing still, you are going backwards.

All of these timeworn phrases express a cynical view of the relentless advancement of the years.

There is another phrase that is filled with faith and optimism:

The Kingdom of God is advancing.

Two Inevitable Spirals

  • The Outpouring of the Spirit: There is nothing the enemies of God can do to stop the unfolding of God’s plan in the earth.  What God has promised, He will do.  He has promised a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the days of the New Covenant (Joel 2:28-32) and it is happening.  Each passing day advances the cause of the Kingdom—to seek and save lost things and destroyed people–by the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the power of the Spirit.
  • The Great Falling Away: The apostle Paul warned of a downward spiral that will happen at the same time as the upward spiral of the Kingdom of God.  “The great falling away,” he called it. (2 Thess 2:1-12) He also warned that events would advance toward the revelation of the Man of Sin and lead to the final conflict between God and Satan.  Long before that moment of revelation, the spirit of iniquity, of lawlessness would advance through the world.

In a very real sense, each day offers us a choice. 
Which cause will we advance today?

  • Will we pray, read the Word, love God, love people, listen to God’s voice, and obey the Spirit as we interpret the world around us?
  • Or, will we yield to temptation, fulfill the lust of the flesh, feed the pride of life, and look for leverage with the lustful eyes as we advance the cause of error, waste, and destruction in the world around us?

The choice is ours.  Will we yield our bodies as instruments of righteousness or implements of violence?

The enemy is advancing. So is the Kingdom of God.
It is not difficult to detect the advancing forces of iniquity, deception, and violence in the world.  The advancing forces of righteousness, truth, and healing are more difficult to see.  Righteousness does not make headlines.  Deeds of mercy seldom go on trial to grab the attention of the nation.  Truth telling is most often done quietly, one-to-one, in the dynamics of personal relationships.

As spiritual people following the Lord Jesus, we need to look for the advancing cause of the Kingdom of God and join the quite parade of mercy.  Let us hear the drumbeat of the Spirit and get in step.

Scriptures:
Joel 2:28-32
‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 NKJV
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Romans 6:12-14  NKJV
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.  And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Ephesians 5:15-16; Col 4:5-6 NKJV
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Today I want to advance with You. Let me share Your inevitable progress toward the consummation of all things. Shield me from the snares of the enemy; show me his devices; uncover his subterfuge. Give me strength for ascent of Zion today as I climb the Hill of God to stand in the Holy Place. Give me endurance to run the race with patience. At the end of this day that You have made, let me be in a different place than when it began. Help me find higher ground! Amen.

Song:
Higher Ground
Words: Johnson Oatman, Jr.; Music: Charles H. Gabriel

1. I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Refrain:
Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

2. My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

Refrain

3. I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

Refrain

4. I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 4, 2017 “Fields”

Fields

“Field” is an extremely useful noun.
Literally, there are corn fields, hay fields, bean fields, and cotton fields back home. There are football fields, baseball fields with infields and outfields, and there are soccer fields. Tragically, the list of literal fields must include battlefields.

Figuratively, there are fields of study, fields of medicine, law, and science, fields of influence, mission fields and fields of personal interest. Ironically, all of these figurative fields can also be playing fields, fields of produce, and battlefields.

The Poet reports that in his day the enemies God had plans to steal, “The Fields of God.” This is still true and it is no limited strategy for the fields of God are wide and varied. God created human beings to be productive people with many fields to till and harvest.

Just What Is the Father’s Business?
Perhaps we have been too narrow in our understanding of God’s business, that business that sent the 12 year-old Jesus to the Temple to interview the priests. Some might say this, with the intention of shutting down the conversation, “The business of God is souls.” This is absolutely true beyond any “fear of successful contradiction” as a pastor I knew liked to say. Do we really think “souls” is the sum total of God’s business? Does the Lord have just this one field?

The Lord had many fields.
Many years ago I did some teaching on ministry through the arts. I talked about bearing fruit in terms of creating beautiful works of art. Unknown to me, the pastor’s secretary was a painter. She had never connected her art to the concept of bearing fruit for God. “That was always just winning souls!” She told me. Her field of interest was painting and it was God’s field, too.

Dramatically, Jesus calls us to the harvest fields in these last days. Exactly which fields are they?

More than the traditional concepts of witnessing: going door-to-door, passing out tracts, presentational services and events, the Fields of God are where He has planted us! Our interests, our vocations and avocations, our callings and skills, our craftsmanship and creativity, our planting and harvesting, our hobbies and games, our arts and endeavors, our passions and our compassion—even our battles and competitions can be the Fields of God.

  • Many have been successfully stolen by the enemy—let’s take them back.
  • Others have been corrupted by sin—let’s reform them by the Book.
  • Some fields have grown fallow and unused—let’s plow them up and plant them again.
  • Dusty and dry, some of our own fields need a fresh rain—let’s ask the Lord to send rain.
  • Here and there one of our fields may suffer from neglect—let’s pay attention and do the work!

Then, like the word, “field,” we can be extremely useful to God.

Scriptures:
Psalm 83
O God, do not be silent; do not keep still nor hold your peace, O God; For your enemies are in tumult, and those who hate you have lifted up their heads. They take secret counsel against your people and plot against those whom you protect. They have said, “Come, let us wipe them out from among the nations; let the name of Israel be remembered no more.” They have conspired together; they have made an alliance against you:… Who said, “Let us take for ourselves the fields of God as our possession. O my God, make them like whirling dust and like chaff before the wind; Like fire that burns down a forest, like the flame that sets mountains ablaze. Drive them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm; Cover their faces with shame, O Lord, that they may seek your Name. Let them be disgraced and terrified forever; let them be put to confusion and perish. Let them know that you, whose Name is Yahweh, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.
John 4:34-38 NIV
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Malachi 3:10-12 NIV
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.
2 Corinthians 10:13 NIV
We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9 NIV
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Hosea 10:12 NIV
Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am headed out into the fields today! You have called me to work in these specific fields. I will sow good seed in them. I will water and care for the young plants. I will tend the vines in Your Vineyard You have given me to tend. I will gently harvest the fruit of these fields. Every day is an adventure in Your fields of labor! I will be joyful in the tilling, patient in the toiling, and fluent in the telling. I will not become weary in all this well-doing for I know I shall reap bountifully if I sow bountifully and do not give up! O Lord of the Harvest, thank You for calling me into the fields! Amen and amen.

Song:
The Call for Reapers
Words and Music: James Oren Thompson

1. Far and near the fields are teeming
With waves of ripened grain;
Far and near their gold is gleaming
O’er the sunny slope and plain

Refrain:
Lord of harvest, send fir reapers!
Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry.
Send them now the sheaves to gather.
Ere the harvest-time pass by.

2. Send them forth with morn’s first beaming;
Send them in the noontide’s glare;
When the sun’s last rays are gleaming,
Bid them gather everywhere.

Refrain

3. O thou whom the Lord is sending,
Gather now the sheaves if gold;
Heavenward then at evening wending.
Thou shalt come with joy untold.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 3, “Restraint”

Restraint

A Necessity
If human life depends the discovery of fire, and human industry flows from the invention of the wheel, human civilization is made possible by restraint.

If people were simply really smart animals with no spirit within and no soul to organize an inner life, we would be creatures of instinct alone. We might still be able to do remarkable things like animals can do—

  • perform long distance migrations like hummingbirds and butterflies,
  • build intricate construction projects like ants and wasps,
  • form complex societies like chimps and wolves, and
  • adapt to absolutely hostile environments like mammals who live in the water.

But none of these accomplishments would reflect the gift of a free will. We would simply be following pre-programmed instincts installed by the Creator and passed from generation to generation.

Captives to Instinct
We can see no evidence of any initiative of the part of animals to reform their conduct—they are captives to their instincts. Any restraint they my show, such as a lion crouching in the high grass stalking a calf straying from the heard, is merely a temporary tactic to complete the kill. It is never an action prompted by a stricken conscious laden with guilt over the lion’s innate taste for blood. Wild animals have been domesticated, but we should not be surprised if we see just a glimpse of the wolf in a friendly beagle.

The Will and the Restraint
For reasons known only to Him, God wanted people to have a free will—the ability to choose our own actions. When the world was a perfect place called the Garden of Eden, the first two people were also perfect. They enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God. This unrestrained voluntary righteousness did not last into a second generation.

The spiritual history of the world is one of possessing restraint or lacking it. The truth is that each of us cannot follow our every impulse. We cannot taste everything that looks like it tastes good. We have been given a mind and will that are intended to help us exercise restraint. In society restraint is called “the Law.” In the individual it is called “discipline.” In both arenas, a will informed with the truth can rule a soul and body filled with impulses and drives.

A Faulty Vision
When the will falls into sin, the mind operates on faulty information. In this post-modern society, young people are taught that they are simply really smart animals. It is unreasonable to expect purity of thought and deed—but it is profitable. Whole industries plan, promote, and profit from the lack of restraint in all things. This dim vision of who people really are makes morality a personal design springing only from base instinct. Thus, we have only the responsibilities we choose to have and there is no judgment to face when this life ends. We can cast off any restraint that does not suit our plans

A Better Vision and a Reason for Restraint
The Poet knew nothing of 21st Century life, but he faced the same challenges in ancient Israel. His wisdom still speaks to us today:

“I restrain my feet from every evil way, that I may keep your word.”

Because Jesus took on all the temptations we can ever expect to face and never gave into a one of them, His remarkable restraint is at work again in us.

Another Poet links the desire for restraint to a commanding vision for living.

“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.”

The Christ-follower resists temptation because he/she knows that

  • Jesus will empower;
  • Jesus will be pleased; and that
  • Jesus will reward.

This vision of a Judgment Day filled with joy inspires restraint of all kinds:

  • Daily discipline,
  • Dynamic worship,
  • Determined, powerful prayer, and,
  • Delayed gratification—perhaps the greatest restraint of all!

Scriptures:
Psalm 119:97-104
Oh, how I love your law! all the day long it is in my mind. Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies, and it is always with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my study. I am wiser than the elders, because I observe your commandments. I restrain my feet from every evil way, that I may keep your word. I do not shrink from your judgments, because you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste! they are sweeter than honey to my mouth. Through your commandments I gain understanding; therefore I hate every lying way.
1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Hebrews 2:16-18; 4:14-16 NIV
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Proverbs 29:16-18 NIV
When the wicked thrive, so does sin, but the righteous will see their downfall. Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul. Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, restrain me! Put spiritual steel in my backbone so that I stand straight and tall in an bent and puny world. Help me restrain my eyes for seeing what should not be seen, my ears from recording what should not be heard, and my will from longing for what does not please You. Keep my sword in its sheath when the battle is not Yours. Put a Holy Ghost muzzle on my mouth when my words would injure or discourage. Keep me from the enticing bed of ease and give me Sabbath rest every night. Restrain the nagging remnants of my old self that sometimes plague me. Grant me an overpowering vision of You, Your Kingdom, Your People; a vision that justifies restraint. In Your Holy Name, Amen.

Song:
Show Me Your Ways
Words and Music: John Fragar

Show me Your ways That I may walk with You
Show me Your ways I put my hope in You
The cry of my heart Is to love You more
To live with the Touch of Your hand
Stronger each day Show me Your ways

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 12, 2017 “Procession”

Procession

The music was a majestic march, a processional.
One does not play a waltz for a procession! Solemn-faced marchers held tightly to the poles that carried the banners they carried down the aisles of the sanctuary. Each banner proclaimed a different name of God:

  • King of Kings
  • Lord of Lords
  • Emmanuel
  • Mighty God
  • Prince of Peace

Praise on the march—a moving revelation of the character of Almighty God. The attention of the people was focused and expanded all at once by the combination of musical and visual praise.

God was glorified in the procession. As the Music Minister who put it all together, I felt I had done my job.

Life is full of processions.
The root word is process—a systematic procedure—a step-by-step sequence of events, of actions, of thoughts, each leading seamlessly to the next until the destination is reached.

When we march in the procession—that is, when we engage the process—things tend to work out for us. Events happen in their course. They are well planned and well brought off. When we short-circuit the process—that is, when we get out of step or take a short-cut in the procession, unnecessary problems crop up that distract us and delay our arrival at the destination.

The poet proclaims his intention of joining the worship procession:

“I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, that I may go in procession round your altar, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving and recounting all your wonderful deeds.”

Life, like worship, requires preparation.
The choir and orchestra that played the processional had to rehearse for that moment. The banner bearers had to practice their posture and route through the church. They prepared for much longer than the time it took to perform.

And so it is with life—preparation for the procession qualifies us to march in peace.

How can we “wash our hands in innocence?” Not based on our own record, but in faith in the innocence of Christ. Sinless was He on the cross bearing our sins. Christ is both our process and our destination.

We should hear His music and get in step today—it isn’t a waltz—it is a march of victory.

Scriptures:
Psalm 26
Give judgment for me, O Lord, for I have lived with integrity; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered. Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and my mind. For your love is before my eyes; I have walked faithfully with you. I have not sat with the worthless, nor do I consort with the deceitful. I have hated the company of evildoers; I will not sit down with the wicked. I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, that I may go in procession round your altar, Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving and recounting all your wonderful deeds. Lord, I love the house in which you dwell and the place where your glory abides. Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with those who thirst for blood, Whose hands are full of evil plots, and their right hand full of bribes. As for me, I will live with integrity; redeem me, O Lord, and have pity on me. My foot stands on level ground; in the full assembly I will bless the Lord.
Psalm 42:1-6 NIV
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. 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.
Psalm 68:24-26 NIV
Your procession has come into view, O God, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary. In front are the singers, after them the musicians; with them are the maidens playing tambourines. Praise God in the great congregation; praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel.
Psalm 118:26-29 NIV
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to march through this day in perfect step with You. Let Your great heartbeat be the cadence. May the music of heaven be the march: Introduction; First Strain; Second Strain, Trio; Break Strain; Trio, again—all in order from the first note to the stinger. I will wave the banner of my life high for all to see, for it bears Your name—Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Your name, Your story will be the content of my song, the beat of my drums, and the melodies and counter-melodies of this day’s procession! For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
We’re Marching to Zion
Text: Isaac Watts; Music Robert Lowry

1. Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known;
join in a song with sweet accord, join in a song with sweet accord
and thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne.

Refrain:
We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion;
we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God

2. Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God;
but children of the heavenly King, but children of the heavenly King
may speak their joys abroad, may speak their joys abroad.

Refrain

3. The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets
before we reach the heavenly fields, before we reach the heavenly fields,
or walk the golden streets, or walk the golden streets.

Refrain

4. Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry;
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
to fairer worlds on high, to fairer worlds on high.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 9, 2017 “Anointed”

Anointed

The words of the Poet are, beyond all doubt, true.

“Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his anointed…”

But what about…? You may ask and rightfully so. What about the times when the wicked win, the ungodly are unconquered, the devious defeat the righteous? How can these facts exist on the record of history and the proposition of victory to the Lord’s anointed also be true?

It is simple. The game isn’t over.
The battle is still raging. The truth will eventually come out. For the Christ-follower, to obey the Lord is victory, regardless of the immediate outcome of that obedience. We are his anointed—His chosen ones—His empowered ones.

  • We win because He is the Champion.
  • We are unconquered because He is the Victor.
  • We are true because He is the Truth.

To follow Jesus is to be on the path of victory,

  • in spite of deep valleys of the shadow
  •  or treacherous mountain steeps,
  • or searing heat,
  • or pounding waves,
  • or shifting winds.

These discomforts blasts us while they last but we keep

  • walking,
  • climbing,
  • hydrating our bodies,
  • sailing or
  • flying and

we get through the tests.

Why? Because we are His anointed.
How? Through the power of His anointing.

The Anointing is God’s choice and it is the flow of God’s power.

  • In the Old Testament people and objects were set apart for God’s exclusive use by anointing them with oil especially prepared for that purpose. The Hebrew word means “to anoint, to consecrate.”
  • In the New Testament, the Greek word is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit.

We are the Lord’s anointed—all of us not just the preachers and singers! We have all been set apart by the Lord for His purposes. We have all been empowered by His Spirit to serve Him in His power, not in our own.

So this word is for us—“Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his anointed!”

All set backs are temporary. All acts of obedience are battles won. The story isn’t over. Though the battles still rage, the outcome of the war is not in doubt.

  • We win because He is the Champion.
  • We are unconquered because He is the Victor.
  • We are true because He is the Truth.

We are his anointed—His chosen ones—His empowered ones.

Scriptures:
Psalm 20
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble, the Name of the God of Jacob defend you; Send you help from his holy place and strengthen you out of Zion; Remember all your offerings and accept your burnt sacrifice; Grant you your heart’s desire and prosper all your plans. We will shout for joy at your victory and triumph in the Name of our God; may the Lord grant all your requests. Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his anointed; he will answer him out of his holy heaven, with the victorious strength of his right hand. Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall down, but we will arise and stand upright. O Lord, give victory to the king and answer us when we call.
1 John 2:20-21 NIV
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.
Isaiah 10:27 KJV
And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NIV
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Psalm 105:15 NIV
“Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”
Psalm 28:7-9 NKJV
The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him. The Lord is their strength, And He is the saving refuge of His anointed. Save Your people, And bless Your inheritance; Shepherd them also, And bear them up forever.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Share Your victory with me today. You have chosen me—anointed me—for the work I am doing. I know that I am not left to my own power and strength to do this work. The powerful Holy Spirit abides with in, this too, is my anointing. Let Your power flow through me today. May my life bud like Aaron’s Rod! May my shadow fall as a blessing on those who pass by me today, like the shadow of Peter. Anoint my words with wisdom, my hands with strength, and my mind with clarity. I am chosen and empowered today—anointed! Thank You, Lord.

Song:
Victory Ahead
Words and Music: William Grum

1. When the hosts of Israel, led by God,
Round the walls of Jericho softly trod,
Trusting in the Lord, they felt the conqu’ror’s tread,
By faith they saw the victory ahead.

Refrain:
Victory ahead! Victory ahead!
Through the blood of Jesus, victory ahead;
Trusting in the Lord, I hear the conqu’ror’s tread,
By faith I see the victory ahead!

2. David with a shepherd’s sling and five stones,
Met the giant on the field all alone,
Trusting in the Lord, he knew what God had said,
By faith he saw the victory ahead.

Refrain

3. Daniel prayed unto the Lord thrice each day,
Then unto the lion’s den led the way,
Trusting in the Lord, he did not fear or dread,
By faith he saw the victory ahead.

Refrain

4. Often with the carnal mind I was tried,
Asking for deliverance oft I cried,
Trusting in the Lord, I reckoned I was dead,
By faith I saw the victory ahead.

Refrain
5. When like those who’ve gone before to that land,
By death’s river cold and dark I shall stand;
Trusting in the Lord, I will not fear or dread,
By faith I see the victory ahead.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 7, “Sure-footed”

Sure-footed

Animals can run, climb, and stand in amazing places.
They turn and look at the camera as if to say, “What are you looking at? This is simple. Can’t you do this?”

No we can’t and we don’t want to!

God made deer, big horn sheep, and mountain goats sure-footed to live the lives he planned for them. They may rightly fear their many predators but they never fear for their feet. Their unchallenged sure-footedness can speed them away from the cheetah or the wolf and deliver them to high and safe places even the climbing leopard cannot reach.

The Christ-follower has his/her own kind of sure-footedness.

  • When our feet are shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace, we can stand in places where those who try to walk bare-footed (without the Gospel) through life cannot.
  • When the Holy Spirit sounds the alarm, we can run like the wind to flee youthful lusts, outrunning any temptation that would dare pursue us.
  • When we have climbed above the danger and outrun the enemy, we can stand in high places where truth itself stretches to the far horizons.

The Word of God balances us.
The key to being sure-footed is a sense of balance. God has equipped these animals with senses of balance far beyond anything humans can achieve. Spiritually He can do the same for us. We can have an inner sense of balance based on truth, stabilizing truth. In the New Covenant the Lord promises to write His word into our hearts. This means that the truth of God is not an outward force, a philosophy forcing its way inside our minds despite our natural tendencies. This wisdom is a match for us, working from the inside out. The Word is alive in us through the enablement of the Holy Spirit giving us a sort of spiritual inner ear to help us keep our balance.

The place for the Word is already in us—our redeemed hearts—but the Word itself has to be written into our hearts. This happens as we give our attention to the Word through Bible reading and study, through teachers and preachers, and through praying the Scriptures.

The worship of God strengthens us.
A sense of balance is only good when the mountain-dwelling animal is strong in limb as well as in mind. Our spiritual stability is the strength that comes when we spend time with God. Daily worship and weekly Lord’s Day worship are times when our spiritual muscles are stretched and exercised. This is a process of emotion converging with faith producing joy—and the joy of the Lord is our strength.

This means Christ-followers can run, climb, and stand in amazing places.

Scriptures:
Psalm 18: 21-34
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. You, O Lord, are my lamp; my God, you make my darkness bright. With you I will break down an enclosure; with the help of my God I will scale any wall. As for God, his ways are perfect; the words of the Lord are tried in the fire; he is a shield to all who trust in him. For who is God, but the Lord? who is the Rock, except our God? It is God who girds me about with strength and makes my way secure. He makes me sure-footed like a deer and lets me stand firm on the heights.
Hebrews 8:10 NIV
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.
Psalms 17:5 NIV
My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
2 Samuel 22:31-34 NIV
“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.
2 Timothy 2:22-26 NKJV
Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, keep me balanced today. With Your steadying hand I will not fall. Guide me with Your Shepherd’s Staff today—Your eternal, sure and certain Word. Your will for me make take to some tricky or even treacherous places where the path is narrow with deep gorges on each side of the path, but show me each footfall and keep me looking forward the heights of Your will for me. “My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay.” Lord, lead me on to higher ground. I will be sure-footed all through this climb! Higher, Lord higher! Amen.

Song:
Higher Ground
Words: Johnson Oatman, Jr.; Music: Charles H. Gabriel

1. I’m pressing on the upward way
New heights I’m gaining every day
Still praying as I onward bound
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Refrain:
Lord, lift me up and let me stand
By faith on heaven’s table land
A higher plane than I have found
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

2. My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay
Tho’ some may dwell where these abound
My prayer, my aim is higher ground.

Refrain

3. I want to live above the world
Tho’ Satan’s darts at me are hurled
For faith has caught the joyful sound
The song of saints on higher ground.

Refrain

4. I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright
But still I’ll pray till heaven I’ve found
“Lord, lead me on to higher ground.”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 15, 2017 “Useless?”

Useless?

No way! It is only an illusion, a cheap trick by a cheaper magician.
Each of us has immense value and usefulness to God. Sometimes this fact of faith is easy to forget. Why?
Because we know, also, that we are broken—all of us—not just the derelict on the street corner trudging to the cover of a bridge for the night. Pride would lift us up and say that he is broken but we are whole and healthy.

Check again. We are all broken. The difference is only a matter of degree.

“Great!” You might be saying, “Where is the encouragement in that bit of news?”

While the feeling of uselessness is a powerful one, that does not make it accurate. It is a story only half-told. There is more, another act to be seen in this drama.

The Poet expressed the feeling for us:

“I am as useless as a broken pot.”

This is emotion not information.

Clay pots were the creation of the potter.
His skillful hands and whirling wheel shaped the shapeless wet clay into a useful form. Baked in the oven, the soft clay hardened into stone as the useless thing became useful in the potter’s shop.

God, of course, is the Potter of our lives and His skills range far above those of the human potter. In the earthly shop, a broken earthen pot cannot be mended; it is good only to be thrown away. Not so in our Potter’s Shop! He specializes in the reconstruction of broken pots!

Earthly “wisdom” would tell us that we are beyond repair, ruined forever.
This is the cynical, earth-bound, deterministic lie that we who have been repaired must expose. Lies like this discourage us from another attempt at reform. Our record of unsuccessful self-reform programs is dismal.

There is another brand of wisdom we need to consult, “the wisdom from above.” In our brokenness we have come to the wrong shop. We need to keep walking until we find the Potter’s Shop where Jesus works. We will find work going on here that we can’t find anywhere else—the work of restoration. Jesus rebuilds broken pots, making the useless useful again.

This is information, not emotion.

Look around you and you will see many people living useful, productive lives.
Be assured they have not always been so busy and beneficial. They were once broken to one extent or another but Jesus repaired them.

His shop is open for business today.

Scriptures:
Psalm 31
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Incline your ear to me; make haste to deliver me. Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me. Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, for you are my tower of strength. Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth. I hate those who cling to worthless idols, and I put my trust in the Lord. I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy; for you have seen my affliction; you know my distress. You have not shut me up in the power of the enemy; you have set my feet in an open place. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly. For my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed. I have become a reproach to all my enemies and to my neighbors, a dismay to those of my acquaintance; when they see me in the street they avoid me. I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot. … Yet I said in my alarm, “I have been cut off from the sight of your eyes. “Nevertheless, you heard the sound of my entreaty when I cried out to you. Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.
2 Timothy 2:20-22 NKJV
…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.
Acts 9:15-16 KJV
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
Jeremiah 18:1-7 NIV
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
James 3:13-18
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. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, to this day Your strong, carpenter’s hands bear the scars of our sin; yet they are still healing hands! You have handled me skillfully, tenderly restoring my marred and broken life. Today Your work in me will continue. I want to be pliable in Your hands, malleable beneath the gentle hammer of Your grace. I am grateful that You haven’t given up on me! With Your on-going repairs I can be a vessel unto honor, fit for Your use, Master Jesus! Amen.

Song:
The Broken Vessel
Words and Music: Andrea Crouch

1. The Potter saw a vessel, that was broken by the wind and rain
And he sought with so much compassion to make it over again.
O I was that vessel, that no one thought was good
I cried Lord, You’re the potter and I am the clay make me over again today.
Then God picked up the pieces of my broken life that day
And He made me a new vessel, and washed all my sins away.

2. My friend if your broken and scattered by the storms of life
And You’ve looked in vain for the answers for all your turmoil and strife.
Just look to the Savior Who’ll save your soul from sin
And cry Lord you the potter and I am the clay make me over again today
Then let God pick up the pieces of your broken life today
He will make you a new vessel and wash all your sins away.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

How to stay “Useful” to God? “Strange Place for a Tree.”

May 25, 2017

Backache

When the back hurts, we might as well just hurt all over.
If we carry too much weight we pay for it with our aching backs. Relax. This is not about weight. This is about much more than pounds. This is about responsibilities, guilt, debt, ambition, regret, fear—all sorts of invisible things that bear no material weight at all but register heavy on internal scales for they are invisible too.

The biblical word for this kind of weight is “burden.”
This is also a metaphor for heavy loads that people had to carry around before God blessed the world with pickup trucks, handcarts, furniture dollies and such mechanical beasts of burden. (Can I get an “Amen!)

There is a lot in the Bible about burdens:

  • Heavy burdens and light ones
  • Impossible burdens,
  • Burdens of sin and guilt, and
  • taxing responsibilities weighing heavy on us.

We may “shoulder” the load but our backs carry the weight in tension and strain and pain.

Are we stuck?

If we are faithful people we accept responsibility, people count on us, and the pressure to perform lies heavy on us. These are unavoidable facets of being a good person. Good things become the weight, the burden we carry. And, as well-intended and godly we may be, our backs hurt.

Jesus is our burden-bearer.
One of the best parts of the Good News is this: Jesus is not only our Sin-bearer, He is our Burden-bearer. When He shouldered the cross, He also shouldered our daily burdens. It is not news to Him that we have been given impossible things to do in His name. We need to realize that “in His name” means “in His strength.”

In my first pastoral position, I was “Youth Pastor and Minister of Music.” I had just spent four years as a high school band director so it was easy for me to love the teens in that church. I had a dream one night. The kids in the youth group were all asleep in various positions all over the sanctuary like of sheep. Jesus stood on the church platform with a tall shepherd’s staff watching the little “flock.” In the dream I walked up to Jesus, tapped Him on the shoulder and said, “OK, Lord, I’ll take it from here.”

I woke up in a sweat of realization that I had just been rebuked. I had taken too much on myself.

Backaches come from such over-reaching.
We have to learn how to let Jesus shoulder the load He has given us to carry. There is no use trying to serve God with a sore back.

Because, when the back hurts, we might as well just hurt all over.

Scriptures:
Psalm 38
O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. For your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me. Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. …I wait for you, O Lord; you will answer, O Lord my God. For I said, “Do not let them gloat or exalt themselves over me when my foot slips.” … O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior.
Psalm 55:21 NKJV
Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Psalm 68:19 NIV
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

Prayer:
Burden Casting Confession
From Psalm 55:22 and 1 Peter 5:6-7 (adapted SRP)
Today, I cast my burden upon You, Lord. You will sustain me. As I stand in the righteousness of Jesus, You will never permit me, to be shaken, to slip or to fall. Therefore I humble myself under Your mighty hand, O God. Exalt me in due time. I cast all my care upon You, for You care for me.
(From “The Book of Daily Worship: Seven Days of Prayer”)

Song:
Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary
Words and Music: John H. Moore

1. Days are filled with sorrow and care, Hearts are lonely and drear.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near.

Refrain:
Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Calvary, Calvary;
Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near.

2. Cast your care on Jesus today, Leave your worry and fear.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near.

Refrain

3. Troubled soul, the Savior can feel Every heartache and tear.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved