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

September 11, 2017

Danger

In this dangerous world we find safety in Jesus.
In Jesus we find the courage to face the dangers in this world. Our faith is not a run-and-hide kind of faith. We are called to do dangerous things but not foolish things or presumptuous things. We must not let danger stop us from following the call of God on our lives.

This isn’t a truth just for missionaries.
We are all called to take a stand for Christ in difficult and dangerous places. Missionaries who are called to the untamed regions of the world may face cannibals, wild beasts, hostile tribes, or treacherous terrain. Most of us will never face that kind of danger.

We are called to different jungles, domestic and foreign.

  • The cannibals who would have us for lunch are often co-workers or wicked bosses with patches of jungle they have to protect.
  • The wild beasts that roar at us are speeding cars, buses, trains, and aluminum tubes that fly at hundreds of miles an hour 35000 feet in the air.
  • We face hostile tribes of competitors who will just as soon slit our career throat as stab us in the vocational back to advance their safari through this jungle.
  • We walk in dangerous places, steep mountain trails, impenetrable forests, and we must somehow cross swollen rivers.

All the while, foreign enemies who follow a hostile god who commands that we either deny Christ or die, stand ready, armed, and dangerous at every point of entry to our country, digital or geographic.

What Might Happen
Yes, we face danger. Worry is one of the greatest threats. There is a lot to worry about: illness, accidents, family, machine failure, society breakdowns, dirty bombs–North Korea! The “what if” game will drive us mad. How can we sleep at night? How can we venture forth tomorrow to brave the dangers the day will hold? If every time we are tempted to worry we would turn that thought into a prayer, what a difference that would make.

What We Know
Of all the things we can remember or imagine, there are few things that we can know.

  • We know that God loves us and that He is in ultimate control of lives when we have trusted Him with them.
  • We know that Jesus promised never to leave us or forsake us.
  • We know God sends angels to watch over us every hour of every day.
  • We know that we are called according to God’s purpose and He is really good at making all things work out for our good.
  • We know that “greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world.”
  • We know that Jesus has overcome the world and that through Him we can overcome it too.

We do not face danger alone.
If we don’t understand what is happening, we know that God does. He is not pacing the balcony of heaven wondering what to do next. If our spiritual eyes could only see them, we are sure angels surround us all the time. Our every footfall will be lit by the Word of God as will every path we take no matter how steep and narrow. In Jesus we find the courage to face these dangers. Let’s turn every worry into a prayer!

In this dangerous world we find safety in Jesus.

Scriptures:
2 Corinthians 11:24-29
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
Romans 8:34-39
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 6:10-13 NKJV
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the Wiles of the devil … to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Prayer:
The First Song of Isaiah
Isaiah 12:2‑6 The Book of Common Prayer(adapted SRP)
Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in Him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and He will be my Savior. Therefore you (I, we) shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation. And on that day you (I, we) shall say, Give thanks to the Lord and call upon His Name; Make His deeds known among the peoples; see that they remember that His Name is exalted. Sing praises of the Lord, for He has done great things, and this is known in all the world. Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
Be Still My Soul

Words: Kathrina von Schlegel; Music: “Finlandia” Jean Sibelius

1. Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
who through all changes faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 5, 2017 “Clarity”

Clarity

A heavy fog is a dangerous impediment to orderly travel.
Some drivers ignore the fog and continue to drive at their normal above-the-speed-limit speeds, a practice that is very hard to understand.

  • Fogs turn the presumed safety of multi-lane highways into a blinding menace. In the fog brakes scream and smoke, crashes, unseen but clearly heard, fill the thick air and lives slide and crash as our suppressed terrors become real though still unseen.
  • Daylight brings the horror into view, cars and trucks frozen at odd angles up and down, often merged into mangled sculptures of meetings missed, promises broken, lives interrupted, ended or hanging by a thread, and the occasional miracle of someone simply walking away unscratched.

Even on a clear sunny day, life can become a fogbound journey.
The way ahead is obscured by clouds hanging low to the ground, even to our shoe tops and we cannot see which step to take next.

We need clarity.

We need a fresh wind of the Spirit of God to blow our way, clearing the path before us.

Jesus told us the Holy Spirit moved like the wind in ways beyond our understanding but obvious in their effect in our journey. Like a morning fog, the warmth of the Word and the soft breezes of the Spirit can clear the air for us at the beginning of each day.

Why do we choose the fog over the sweet clarity of the Word of God?
It is not as though all our questions are answered.

  • Mysterious remain, things about God or life that lie just beyond our ability to understand.
  • But mysteries never form a fog bank. They are high flying clouds that momentarily hide the sun only to see it reemerge in light and warmth.

Mysteries cast only fleeting shadows on the path before us. The light behind them is constant and clear.

Of course, we must not be a fogbank to others.
In prayer ask the Lord to show you if your witness has clarity. Let the wind of the Holy Spirit breathe away any fog in your way of living that diffuses the light He has put in you.

Clarity from Him and clarity in witness to Him are ministries of the Holy Spirit.

Scriptures:
John 3:7-8
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Job 28:23-28
God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When he established the force of the wind and measured out the waters, when he made a decree for the rain and a path for the thunderstorm, then he looked at wisdom and appraised it; he confirmed it and tested it. And he said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord-that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.'”
Job 37:21-24
Now no one can look at the sun, bright as it is in the skies after the wind has swept them clean. Out of the north he comes in golden splendor; God comes in awesome majesty. The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress. Therefore, men revere him, for does he not have regard for all the wise in heart?”
Psalm 68:1-3
May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him. As smoke is blown away by the wind, may you blow them away; as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God. But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.
Psalm 135:6-7
The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
Jerermiah 51:15-16
“He made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
Acts 2:1
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting…

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my constant source of light. When clouds of circumstance hide Your light from me, it is only for a little while. The Bible clearly states that nothing has and nothing ever will extinguish Your light. If today should be one that is overcast, send the refreshing winds of Your Spirit to blow away the cloud cover. And Lord, help me today that I will not cloud the vision of anyone else; not a seeker desperately seeking Your light or a fellow believer looking to me for help. Keep us all safe on the dangerous roads we must travel even when the fog rolls in. Safe in You, Lord Jesus. Safe in You! 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

August 30, 2017 “Fellowship”

Fellowship

Christian spirituality is more than an individual faith, it is a corporate reality as well—a fellowship.

2 Cor 13:14
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

You are never alone. Even if all your friends and loved ones were taken from you, you would still not be alone. Our Christian fellowship is rooted in the fellowship within the Trinity:

  • The Father with the Son,
  • The Son with Father,
  • The Father with the Spirit,
  • The Spirit with the Father,
  • The Son with the Spirit, and
  • The Spirit with the Son.

We came from God.
The most amazing truth is that our very existence is rooted in the existence of the Triune God—we came from God. When Adam and Eve sinned and passed on their sinful nature to us, a barrier fell to earth and barred us from fellowship with God, just as the angel with the flaming sword barred re-entry into Eden. For centuries the sin barrier remained. The Old Covenant provided forgiveness in the innocent blood of animals. Fellowship with God was based in symbolic worship and the common bond of the Word of God.

It took a Roman cross on a Judean hill to break this barrier of sin—Jesus came as the final, innocent Lamb. Just as the veil in the Temple gave way to the mercy of God for all of mankind, the sin barrier between each of us and our Creator was destroyed by the death of the Lamb of God. When we repent of our sins and confess the Lordship of Christ, we are welcomed back into fellowship with Almighty God.

Fellowship, not isolation
As personal as our reception of communion with God may be, it is not done in isolation. Communion with God initiates communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ. No matter how alone you may feel, you cannot know who among your faith family is praying for you at any moment. The same Holy Spirit who abides in your heart, abides in their hearts, leading and empowering them. Their effectual, fervent prayers avail much—in your behalf.

The New Covenant disciple should enjoy close fellowship with a group of intimate friends from the church. These companions share our faith, our passions, our interests, and even our sense of humor. Some call this an accountability group and certainly our friends should function as that, but this fellowship goes deeper than that. Miles may separate these friends but distance does not break this fellowship. Words of affirmation and admonition as well as humorous comment and heartfelt confession sustain these relationships without reference to passing time or diminishing ability.

“In the midst of the congregation”
On the Lord’s Day we gather with the local expression of the whole family of God as our fellowship with God and His Covenant people draws us another step closer to heaven. One of the most important prepositional phrase in the Scripture is, “In the midst of the congregation.” If we are to feel the presence of God in our quiet, lonely moments when we are tempted to feel alone, we must be well schooled in the fellowship of Grace at all levels: Our fellowship with the church, with our closest friends, and our fellowship with God, Father, Son, and Spirit.

Scriptures:
Psalm 68:24-26
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 111:1
Praise the LORD! I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, In the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.
Psalm 26:12
My feet stand on level ground; in the great assembly I will praise the LORD.
Psalm 52:9
I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints.
1 John 1:7 7;3:14
…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.
Mattnew 28:20 NKJV
I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Even when I cannot feel Your presence I know You are still with me. You have promised to never leave me and You haven’t. Expand my heart, O Lord, that I might learn from You how to love and have fellowship with others. Help me pay closer attention to people around me, to hear a note in their voice that may be a call for help, to see a look that signals trouble within. Help me be an encourager of others, helping them to walk more closely with You. For when others do this, they are also closer to me, and aa promised, walking together in the Light, we have fellowship with one another. For Your glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
The Family of God
Words and Music: Bill Gaither

1. You will notice we say “brother and sister” ’round here,
It’s because we’re a family and these are so near;
When one has a heartache, we all share the tears,
And rejoice in each victory in this family so dear.

Refrain:
I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God,
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family, The Family of God..

2. From the door of an orphanage to the house of the King,
No longer an outcast, a new song I sing;
From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong,
I’m not worthy to be here, but praise God I belong!

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 22, 2017 “Sustained”

Sustained

There are creatures of the night—silent, stealthy—stirring about while we sleep.
They mean us no harm. In fact, they do us much good. The raccoon, the opossum, the beautiful fox, the feral cat, patrol the urban landscape after hours to clean up things we don’t want to know about, let alone touch. When the sun comes out, they go in to take their turn at sleep.

Fields sleep, too.
They dutifully grow the grass, taller each day, thicker with each fall of rain. When the season is full, then comes the mower, the hay bailer, to organize what was random, to strengthen what once was wearied by bending to the wind. Then, resting from its work, the field sleeps sustained by the hand of God and the diligence of man.

The poet speaks of the broad, sustained rhythms of life: daylight and dark, the changing seasons.

“I lie down and go to sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.”

The Creator of both day and night, the Designer of the earth, brilliantly tilting us on an axis so that we could have seasons of contrasts to enjoy, made us for time and He made time for us.

We are sustained when we loosen our grip on time.
The conscious mind must rest so we close our eyes to sleep. It seems the world stops when we sleep, but it doesn’t. It seems but a moment when we awaken several hours later, rested, sustained.

While we slept time worked its magic and the creatures of the night were on patrol.

  • When we rest in the grace of God, the inner mind processes the day, speaking mysteries the soul needs to hear and songs the spirit needs to sing. Like tall grasses in a well-tended field, we danced through the day, breathing the air, drawing strength from the fertile earth, and sipping the sun and rain. With the night comes the sustaining rest when our sleeping selves consolidate and organize the growth of the day.
  • The darkened alleyways of our inner lives are patrolled, not by creatures of the night, but by the gentle Dove of the Spirit, to organize what was random, to strengthen what was wearied by bending to the wind. Angels watch over our bed and the Lord Himself guards our heart. No evil force can enter there. The Spirit of God dwells within and He is at work in us.

“I lie down and go to sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.”

Scriptures:
Psalm 3
Lord, how many adversaries I have! how many there are who rise up against me! How many there are who say of me, “There is no help for him in his God.” But you, O Lord, are a shield about me; you are my glory, the one who lifts up my head. I call aloud upon the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill; I lie down and go to sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I do not fear the multitudes of people who set themselves against me all around. Rise up, O Lord; set me free, O my God; surely, you will strike all my enemies across the face, you will break the teeth of the wicked. Deliverance belongs to the Lord. Your blessing be upon your people!
Proverbs 6:20-23 NIV
My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life…
Psalm 4:5-8 NIV
Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?” Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Psalm 104:19-23 NIV
The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.
Psalm 121 NIV
I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you — the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Psalm 91:9-11 NIV
If you make the Most High your dwelling — even the Lord, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You never tire or grow weary. The Bible says You never slumber or sleep, that Your eyes are always open keeping watch and Your ears are always listening to the faintest cry of the troubled heart. When I sleep Your angels keep watch and Your Spirit examines my inmost being. Often You speak to us in our dreams, making wild and silly dramas of our waking fears so that we can awaken and realize You have it all in Your hands. When we awake, refreshed by a very real dream or even alarmed by a nightmare, we soon know that You are with us in the darkest nights and speak to us in the deepest places we know. Thank You for sustaining us day and night. Amen.

Song:
Abide with Me
Text: Henry F. Lyte; Music: William H. Monk

1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

3. I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

4. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

5. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

August 10, 2017 “Act!”

Act!

A Sign in the Clouds
Just after one of our Florida afternoon rains, a vivid rainbow followed me home from a trip to the store. It was complete from end to end. A second rainbow, fainter than the first and much shorter and thinner, timidly smiled just to the south of the larger one. What a sight!–all the colors of creation spread like a painter’s palette resting in the clouds.

These heavenly signs were worth looking at. I kept turning to see the rainbow as I made the rights and lefts required by the small town streets of Bartow on my way home. The unusually bright rainbows stayed with me until I parked the car to stand, staring at the sky for as long as I dared.

A neighbor lady, out for her daily walk, was concentrating on something private and paying no attention to the artwork over her head. I thought she might be discomfited by my standing in the yard, so I waved to her and pointed to the sky. “Don’t miss the rainbows!” I said. She hurried on without looking.

A Sign of the Covenant
The rainbow is the sign of a covenant God made with man, never again to destroy the earth by floods. Of course the rainbow is only an optical illusion, a clever trick done with water drops and sunlight. I tried to imagine the first rainbow after the great flood. If it had never rained before the flood, there could not have been a rainbow before. Only Noah and his family saw the first one. The same voice that instructed Noah to that point of the adventure,  told him of the meaning of the sign.

The sign of the covenant was a symbol, a presentation of light and color bearing a message.  The rainbow is an illusion but the covenant and promises are real. God has been faithful to His promise even as the “days of Noah” have returned.

Two Parties in Agreement
An explanation of the ancient customs of the covenant is far beyond these paragraphs. Two parties, one greater than the other, agree to perform acts for their mutual benefit. The rainbow is the perfect representation of such an amazing thing as a covenant between God and man—beautiful, ethereal, real but untouchable.

The Poet acts in an appropriate way when He demands action from God.

“It is time for you to act, O Lord…”

We are offended by the poet’s presumption. How can we demand anything of God? He is the greater partner in the Calvary Covenant. What right do we have to question Him?

These are modern concerns. The Poet, is exercising the ancient right of a covenant partner to call the other party to action according to the covenant. This is not pride or presumption—it is an ancient form of faith, a proper petition based on love and the expectation of God’s actions. The God-Who-Keeps-Covenant will act in our behalf.

Yelling at God
As we read deeply into the psalms we find many complaints from the poets. They don’t just complain about things; they complain to God. It is almost as if sometimes, they are yelling at God. Can this be right and proper?

The Lord “remembers our frame,” that we are only human beings. Sometimes we need to complain and the only One we can complain to is God. We can even yell at Him if we chose the time and place and do so in a very painful expression of faith. This not a public event—it is not for the worship service—it is private, intensely so.

How can this be? Won’t we offend God?

He does not turn away from us in our pain and He can handle anything we have to say to Him. He knows what is in us before we speak. When the air is clear of our complaint we will hear His gentle words of promise again— all the colors of grace in the bright rainbow after the storm–He will act!

Scriptures:
Psalm 119
I have done what is just and right; do not deliver me to my oppressors. Be surety for your servant’s good; let not the proud oppress me. My eyes have failed from watching for your salvation and for your righteous promise. Deal with your servant according to your loving-kindness and teach me your statutes. I am your servant; grant me understanding, that I may know your decrees. It is time for you to act, O Lord, for they have broken your law. Truly, I love your commandments more than gold and precious stones. I hold all your commandments to be right for me; all paths of falsehood I abhor.
Genesis 9:8-16 NIV
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you — the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you — every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
Psalm 142:1-4 NIV
I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me. Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.
2 Corinthians 1:20-22
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 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.
2 Peter 1:3-4
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these 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.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your promises are sure, irrevocable, unchanging. Down here on earth it seems everything is subject to change. For all we can discern with our human intelligence, there seems to be a random element to creation. I cannot reconcile Your sovereignty with this randomness. When it comes my way, I will pour out my complaint to You in prayer and You will hear me. I know that nothing lies outside of Your sovereignty. You will act in my behalf! No matter how violent the storm, I know the beauty of Your Loving-kindness, like a full, double rainbow, will guide me safely home. Amen.

Song:
Hear My Cry, Oh Lord
Words and Music: Marvia Lee Providence and G.E. Peters

Hear my cry, Oh Lord, Attend unto my prayer.
From the end of the earth, Will I cry out to Thee.
When my heart is overwhelmed, Lead me to the Rock,
That is higher than I… That is higher than I…

For Thou hast been, A shelter for me.
And a strong tower, From the enemy.
When my heart is overwhelmed, Lead me to the Rock,
That is higher than I… That is higher than I…

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 27, 2017 “Hills”

Hills

We build castles and forts on mountains. On hills, we build farm houses and barns.
This is the relationship the Poet describes in reference to the nation’s King:

That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice.
and the little hills bring righteousness.

Metaphorically, mountains represent big ideas while hills represent the daily truths that occupy the details of our lives. It is said that we cannot live on the mountaintop and to a great extent it is true. Mountaintops are for pilgrimage and recreation and are useful when elevation is needed to see what is in the distance.

We come home from the mountaintop to dwell among the hills. Keeping the mountain in view through the bedroom window, we can rest in our hilltop home, secure and safe with all we own within easy reach.

The rule of our King is equally strong on the mountains as on the hills.

The Mountains
The righteousness of God is a mighty mountain, eternal—He has never been anything except righteous—and impervious to the erosive effects of time. It is the theme of worship in both the Old and the New Covenants—God is good and His mercy endures to all generations!

God’s love and His mercy form a mountain range of protection around those in Covenant with Him. No enemy can cross these mountains at any point. Out hilltop dwellings are safe in the shadow of the Almighty.

The truth of God is the highest peak of all. From the lofty heights of the Word of God we can clearly see to each horizon. We gain a perspective on the smaller issues somewhere down the mountainside that we could never see from the trails going up or down.

The Hills
Justice is the joy of the hills—truth, love, mercy, and righteousness at work in our homes and businesses.

It takes all the mountains to produce justice on the hills. Justice without mercy would not be loving. Mercy without truth would not be just. If these things are not all in order all at once the hills would not be safe for houses and barns.

Here is the redeeming order:

  • It is true that we have sinned.
  • It is also true that God made us and loves us.
  • In His mercy He sent His Son to bear our sins far away.
  • The righteousness of Christ has been credited to our record and the case is closed.
  • We have been justified by the Love of God in Christ Jesus!

We are free to build our lives on the gentle hills of daily discipline and obedience, praise and prayer, and with skillful hands and hearts.

In the shadow of the King’s Castle on the friendly mountain, we can till the fields on the hills, tend our flocks in the broad pastures, and rest each night in perfect peace in our hilltop homes.

Scriptures:
Psalm 72
Give the King your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the King’s Son; That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice. That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, and the little hills bring righteousness. He shall defend the needy among the people; he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor. He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, from one generation to another. He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, like showers that water the earth. In his time shall the righteous flourish; there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more. He shall rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. His foes shall bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts. All kings shall bow down before him, and all the nations do him service. For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper. He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy. He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight. Long may he live! and may there be given to him gold from Arabia; may prayer be made for him always, and may they bless him all the day long. May there be abundance of grain on the earth, growing thick even on the hilltops; may its fruit flourish like Lebanon, and its grain like grass upon the earth. May his Name remain forever and be established as long as the sun endures; may all the nations bless themselves in him and call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous deeds! And blessed be his glorious Name forever! and may all the earth be filled with his glory. Amen. Amen.
Psalm 72:1-4;16 NIV
Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.
He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor. …Let grain abound throughout the land; on the tops of the hills may it sway.
Isaiah 55:12-13 NIV
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord ‘s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”
Amos 5:24 NIV
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the mountains, the towering truths that do not change. Thank You for four horizons lined with these comforting peaks. Thank You also, the hills, these present blessings that make up my life: home, family, work, prayer, health, and hope among so many others. Because You are the author of it, my life is multi-dimensional, mountains and hills and streams in the valleys, constant health from Your hand. Thank You, Jesus.

Song:
Peace in the Valley
Words and Music: Thomas A. Dorsey

1. Well, I’m tired and so weary
But I must go along
Till the Lord comes and calls me away
Where the morning’s so bright
And the Lamb is the light
And the night, night is as fair as the day.

Refrain:
There will be peace in the valley For me some day
There will be peace in the valley
For me, Oh Lord I pray
There’ll be no sadness
No sorrow, no trouble I see
There will be peace In the valley for me.

2. Well, the flowers will be blooming
And the grass will be green
And the skies will be clear and serene
Where the sun ever beams
In this valley of dreams
And no cloud will be seen.

Refrain

3. Well, the bear will be gentle
And the wolf will be tame
And the lion shall lay down By the lamb, oh yes.
And the beasts from the wild Shall be led by a child
And I’ll be changed,
Changed from this creature that I am.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 26, 2017 “Sinai”

Sinai

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

It was a year of adjustment.

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

It was a year of God’s faithfulness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song:
See His Glory
Words and Music: Rich Cook

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 22, 2017 “Crooked”

Crooked

My mother had a saying, “That man is as crooked as a barrel of snakes.”
Pretty descriptive, right? I tried finding an image for this devotion of a barrel of snakes and found some; they are too gruesome to use so I went with the crooked tree. That works too.

The poet says, “A crooked heart shall be far from me; I will not know evil.”

Good for him! I wish we could all be so certain.

Before we examine the “crooked” aspects of this, we must take a look at the heart.
That muscle faithfully pumping blood all through us has been our friend since we were snuggled in our mother’s womb. It survived the shock of our expulsion from that safe place into this dangerous world and has served us well ever since. We can feel it and hear it but we have never seen it.

Somehow in man’s attempt to understand the inner life, he has decided to call this hidden world within us, the heart. Like the muscle, we can feel it and hear it but we have never seen it clearly. We have little glimpses from time to time of the secrets lurking there, the good, the bad, and the unproductive. We resonate with the words of Jeremiah:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

The Crooked Heart
When we think of such a lofty theological concept as “The Fall of Man” it is difficult to realize what this really means. It means we come into this world with a crooked heart—a heart bent like that poor wounded tree in the picture, positioned next to a tall, straight tree with no sign of past trauma. A twisted, crooked tree is the result of a trauma when it was only a bendable sapling. It is twisted but it must be seen as a survivor, not at all pretty, but still alive.

This is how we are born, twisted by the sins of Adam and Eve and all our subsequent parents. For a few years we survive in our crooked form and then we are gone.

Except for Jesus.
He is the one who was born of woman but not of man, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. His heart was straight, a perfect example of the highest human potential. His heart never failed Him all through His life on earth: as an infant, a child, a teen, and as a young man. This was the heart that took on our sin because there was room in it for Jesus had no sin of His own to clutter it. This was the heart that broke and finally stopped beating on the cross when all His healing blood had been spilled to the earth. This was the heart Mary and the other women heard at the tomb and the disciples found again in the resurrected Jesus.

It is true we come into this world with hearts bent out of shape, but that is not the whole truth.
Our hearts were designed for better things:

  • To fellowship with God,
  • To be the dwelling place of God,
  • And the Temple of the Spirit of God, and
  • To host the Throne of God and of the Lamb.

We live from the heart out to the surface. Out of the heart flows the River of Life making us a healing force in this world.

Our hearts have been healed of the trauma and straightened by amazing grace. Now each of us is like a tree by rivers of water, tall straight, and fruitful.

Scriptures:
Psalm 101
I will sing of mercy and justice; to you, O Lord, will I sing praises. I will strive to follow a blameless course; oh, when will you come to me? I will walk with sincerity of heart within my house. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the doers of evil deeds; they shall not remain with me. A crooked heart shall be far from me; I will not know evil. Those who in secret slander their neighbors I will destroy; those who have a haughty look and a proud heart I cannot abide. My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me, and only those who lead a blameless life shall be my servants. Those who act deceitfully shall not dwell in my house, and those who tell lies shall not continue in my sight. I will soon destroy all the wicked in the land, that I may root out all evildoers from the city of the Lord.
Matthew 12:34-37; 15:18-20 NIV
For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.'”
Jeremiah 17:9-10 NKJV
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.
Psalm 51:10-11 NKJV
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Keeper of my heart. You found it wounded and You healed it. You found it full of sin an selfishness and You emptied it. When You found it thus emptied You did not leave it there—You moved in to live there. You filled my heart with the Blessed Holy Spirit to make it strong and true, a heart to be trusted. With this redeemed, restored heart I worship You and that changes everything for the good. Praise You, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Change My Heart, O God
Words and Music: Eddie Espinosa

Change my heart, O God,
Make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God,
May I be like You.

You are the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me, this is what I pray.

Change my heart, O God,
Make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God,
May I be like You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
How to find true-hearted people for your team: “Heart-Search”

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

 

June 7, 2017 “Heritage”

Heritage

Seeing the Invisible
Imagine for a moment that cameras capture everything in a photograph instead of only what is visible. There would be no such thing as an individual picture for behind each person would stand a multitude of

  • inventors and manufacturers ,
  • thinkers and writers,
  • tinkerers and mechanics,
  • teachers and scholars,
  • patriots and warriors,
  • parents and siblings,

who have formed the heritage of that person.

We simply do not stand where we stand alone.
Someone who lived before our time stands behind us—a heritage of people stretching back in time beyond our ability to see. We frame our thoughts in ideas they developed. We live our lives by laws they constructed. Our greatest treasures bear the fingerprints of this multitude. These invisible people in our portrait are the authors of our story, the architects of our civilization, and the builders of our society.

They are both our helpers and our hinderers.
Much of our heritage is a gift from God, given to us by faithful people of previous generations. There are also portions of our heritage that flow from evil hearts in this throng.

  • They have convinced us of lies.
  • They have sold us building materials that do not stand the stress of investigation.

It is our duty to test the substance of our heritage to see if some details are worthy of our use. When we find something that is wrong, it is our human right and our moral obligation is to resist that thing, to remove it from our storehouses, to replace the weak and beggarly materials with the true, the tested, the tempered, the stuff that lives, not dreams, are made of.

This is never more true than when worship is the subject of the photograph.

  • Every humble country church has a cathedral in the background where the glory of God is frozen in stone and colored sunlight.
  • Every cathedral stands before a long line of village chapels and house churches and synagogues, temples and tabernacles.

The worship of God did not spring into existence when we discovered it. We blend our voices with the unseen choir of our heritage every time we sing to the Lord.

Ours is a heritage in motion.
To be true to this invisible host we must learn from them, true enough. They have delivered us to this moment for the cause of the future not for the sake of nostalgia. The cameras of our souls must see the past in an unforgiving light, the good and the bad, the important and the inconsequential so that our time here can be what God intends. For soon we will be the invisible ones in the picture.

Scriptures:
Psalm 61
Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. For you have heard my vows, O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. Increase the days of the king’s life, his years for many generations. May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever; appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him. Then will I ever sing praise to your name and fulfill my vows day after day.
1 Peter 1:3-6 NIV
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
Colossians 1:10-14 NIV
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You dwell in eternity, a concept beyond my ability to understand. Once You entered into time, leaving the eternal behind. As a child You learned of Your heritage as a Jewish boy and man. You sensed the invisible heritage that stood behind the visible elements of life. The record we have of Your teaching reveals how You tested those invisible things. Where wickedness had crept into the customs, you spoke against it. Where righteousness shone in those practices, You preached the truth in Your generation. Lord, help me do the same. Amen.

Song:
A Charge to Keep Have I
Words: Charles Wesley

1. A charge to keep have I, a God to glorify,
A never dying soul to save, and fit it for the sky.

2. To serve this present age, my calling to fulfill;
O may it all my powers engage, to do my Master’s will.

3. Arm me with watchful care as in Thy sight to live,
And now Thy servant, Lord, prepare a strict account to give.

4. Help me to watch and pray, and still on Thee rely,
O let me not my trust betray, but press to realms on high.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved