February 11 “Resurrection?”

Resurrection?

Faith and reason do not have to be at war with one another.
There were those leaders in Jesus’ day who did not believe in the supernatural. They were bright people of reason who could not imagine a world beyond their own senses. If they could see something, or taste it, or measure it, or hear it, then it was a part of their acknowledged existence. If not then it really didn’t exist and was the province of fools. Intellectual superiority marked their company and they amused themselves with lesser beings who believed in things like the resurrection of the dead.

Missing Evidence
Life after death? The whole idea flew in the face of reason. Where was the evidence of such a thing? The evidence for the finality of death was all around, from the elaborate gardens of stone tombs in the city to the cemeteries in every humble village. Stories of ghosts and demons and angels were hardly evidence at all.

A group of these men approached Jesus. They pretended to accept the premise of a resurrection. They began with a quote from Moses about brothers marrying the wife of a dead sibling to raise up children in his name. They extended the hypothetical into seven such instances in one family. Now, in the “resurrection,” whose wife will she be?

Jesus did not reason with them. They were wrong from the onset.

“Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?

A Different Reality
These proud men were mistaken. Their logic was sound but wrong. Their reasoning fell short of reality. There is a world beyond the five senses! They quoted Moses assuming his writings were natural in their source. The Word of God reflects all of reality not just the natural world. The primary concern of Scripture is not an understanding of the natural world. His Word opens to us the world of invisible realities, those of –faith!

These sincere, brilliant men were mistaken because they took reason to be everything and ignored the crucial role of faith in life. This side of heaven, there will always be more questions than answers. Reason organizes the predictable; faith deals with the unpredictable.

The Sadducees projected the ways of the natural world onto the supernatural world—marrying and giving in marriage. Jesus opened the curtain on the spirit world. Gender exists but not for procreation! Life is eternal without deaths or births, an existence like that of angels. These mistaken men were hindered because they did not recognize and exercise the role of faith. Faith in God makes sense in both worlds because the power of God is at work in both worlds. Reason without faith will lead to pride and destruction.

Faith and Reason
Jesus said these men were “greatly mistaken.” Their miscalculation robbed them of life before and after death. The same is true today. To believe in the Word and power of God is not to deny the natural world, but to enjoy it as a witness to the works of God. Within the framework of each day’s sunrise and sunset, each night’s darkness and promise of light to come, we pray—a supernatural activity—and believe and worship and serve, all with the expectation of a real reward in the life to come. Faith and reason, working together, enables us to live life to the fullest.

Faith and reason do not have to be at war with one another.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:18-27
Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.” Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are Master of both the natural and supernatural worlds! You are the Creator of both. You gave me a human spirit to understand the supernatural world and a human soul and body to process the natural world. Help me walk by sight in the natural world and by faith in the unseen world. I will not fear the unpredictable in the world nor the powers of darkness because I am living in Your care. You are God of the living and not the dead! I know my loved ones are waiting for me over there in Your presence and I know You are with me today in this world. Help me live by faith and by reason. Amen.

Song:
Living by Faith
Words: James Wells and R.E. Winsett; Music: J.L. Heath

1. I care not today what the morrow may bring,
If shadow or sunshine or rain,
The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything,
And all of my worries are vain.

Refrain:
Living by faith in Jesus above,
Trusting, confiding in His great love;
From all harm safe in His sheltering arm,
I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.

2. Though tempests may blow and the storm clouds arise,
Obscuring the brightness of life,
I’m never alarmed at the overcast skies—
The Master looks on at the strife.

Refrain

3. I know that He safely will carry me through,
No matter what evils betide;
Why should I then care though the tempest may blow,
If Jesus walks close to my side.

Refrain

4. Our Lord will return to this earth some sweet day,
Our troubles will then all be o’er;
The Master so gently will lead us away,
Beyond that blest heavenly shore.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 31 “Following”

Following

Perhaps the Twelve had never thought about the consequences of not following Jesus.
Now they considered it. Walking along with Jesus involved long periods of silence during which the Twelve thought deeply about what Jesus had just said. These things were mysteries beyond their ability to explain, riddles they could not solve. Each of them had heard the same call the rich young ruler had heard—“Follow me!” They had abandoned fishing businesses, tax rolls and other means of security for life to follow Jesus into a future none of them could imagine. They had just seen a man refuse to follow. They had heard solemn and violent warnings against things that would hinder them in following Jesus. Lose a hand or an eye but do not lose the call! Heaven awaits those who follow and hell those who are hindered.

Remembering the Abandoned
In this silence, perhaps they each remembered what they used to have before Jesus called them to follow Him. The four fisherman abandoned more than nets and boats; they left a life of security and useful purpose. Levi, also known as Matthew, left a shady but lucrative life in league with the governments, that of a tax collector free to skim his prosperity from the loosely kept records. Nine other untold stories are unknown to us but were the real histories of these men. As usual, Peter spoke what they all were thinking.

“See, we have left all and followed You.”

Kingdom Assumptions
From our distance of 2000 years, we must remember the revolutionary message of Jesus. These men had never known of a kingdom that did not involve riches for those who led it. There was no way for them to conceive of a kingdom that would be led by servants. Now Jesus was telling them not to expect riches or power but to live a life of poverty and servanthood. Perhaps if Jesus had challenged them the way He did the rich young ruler, they would have also turned away. But they hadn’t turned away. They had answered His call, leaving all behind to follow Him. He just needed to be reminded of their obedience.

Promises without Limits
Jesus loved these men and truly appreciated their love for Him, their sense of destiny, adventure and purpose. He knew what was coming and though He tried to warn them, He knew there was no way they could know what was ahead for them. He made certain promises to them that have remained in force for 20 centuries to all who answer His call.

  • Those who follow Him, leaving their comfortable lives to embark on His adventure and mission will be cared for. Leaving their families, they will find new ones, spiritual ones. Leaving their ancestral homes and traveling to the next place of service, they will be provided homes of safety and rest. There will also be persecutions.
  • In the age to come there will be mansions of glory and reunions of magnificent magnitude and no more pain or parting ever again.

Choose to serve now and you will reign then.

These promises are still in effect as Christians have proved in every generation. Without them the Gospel would be locked into one time and place. With them, the Jesus Story goes out to the whole world.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 28- 31
Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have heard and answered Your call. I can testify that though I left my natural family to follow You, You have blessed me with a multitude of friends and family. Though I left my hometown and state, You have given me traveling mercies without number and new environs in which to serve You with gladness and singleness of heart. You have been faithful to these promises. Your Word is true and following You is the only way to live! Thank You, Jesus!

Song:
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Traditional

1. I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

2. Though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

3. My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

4. The world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 6, 2017: “Vow”

Vow

A vow is more than a promise—it is a pledge made that must not be broken.
Sometimes it is called “swearing an oath.” If you take a vow like this in court to tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” and then you lie, that is a crime. When we make a vow to God, the human law is not involved so breaking that vow is not a crime; we won’t go to jail. Keeping our vows to God yields great benefits while breaking them makes us vulnerable to the enemies of our souls.

The Psalmist, knowing this, puts our vows to God in perspective:

“I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God…”

While promises are sometimes expressions of our good intentions, a vow is a binding promise. We must be very careful of the vows we make with the Lord. To raise our hand to Him in praise is one thing; to raise our hand making a vow to Him is another altogether.

Covenantal Relationships
The ancient world into which the Bible was spoken was a world built on covenants. They were even sealed in blood, binding the covenantal partners to the agreement. In our modern world, we are more familiar with contracts. When we sign a contract it is binding and can only be broken at great cost and with mutual agreement. God’s promises to us are of two kinds:

  1. Conditional promises that come into effect with our obedience to our part of the agreement. God says, “I will do this, if you will do that.”
  2.  Unconditional promises that do not depend on us. There are some things that God is going to do regardless of what man does. Among these are the Great Outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days and the Second Coming of Christ.

These two types of promises require two different responses from the believer. For the unconditional promises of God, our job is to be ready when God does what He says He is going to do. Most of our lives are spent in the realm of the conditional promises. As we do our best to fulfill our vows, the Lord is faithful to fulfill His promises to us. He proves Himself to be true to His covenantal names:

  • I am the Lord Who Provides—Jehovah Jireh,
  • I am the Lord Who Heals—Jehovah Rapha,
  • I am the Lord Your Righteousness—Jehovah TsidKenu,
  • I am the Lord Who Sanctifies—Jehovah McKeddish,
  • I am the Lord Your Shepherd—Jehovah Roi,
  • I am the Lord Your Peace—Jehovah Shalom,
  • I am the Lord Who Is Present—Jehovah Shammah,
  • I am the Lord Your Banner, Your Victory—Jehovah Nissi, and
  • I am the Lord of Hosts—Jehovah Saboath.

To break a vow we have made to God breaks His heart, but He does not cast us out. He is still the God who forgives. He is the God of the second chance—and the third, and the fourth—His grace is without measure.

As this week begins, remember your vows. God will surely never forget His promises!

Scriptures:
Psalm 56 NKJV
Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up; Fighting all day he oppresses me. My enemies would hound me all day, For there are many who fight against me, O Most High. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me? All day they twist my words; All their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather together, They hide, they mark my steps, When they lie in wait for my life. Shall they escape by iniquity? In anger cast down the peoples, O God! You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book? When I cry out to You, Then my enemies will turn back; This I know, because God is for me. In God (I will praise His word), In the Lord (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises to You, For You have delivered my soul from death. Have You not kept my feet from falling, That I may walk before God In the light of the living?
Psalm 50:14-15 NKJV
Offer to God thanksgiving, And pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
Psalm 61:5-8 NKJV
For You, O God, have heard my vows; You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name. You will prolong the king’s life, His years as many generations. He shall abide before God forever. Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him! So I will sing praise to Your name forever, That I may daily perform my vows.
Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 NKJV
When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed — Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
2 Corinthians 1:20-22 NKJV
For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
2 Corinthians 7:1
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have a full record of the vows I have made to You. Bring them to the front of my mind today so that I might attend to them. I have a full accounting of Your promises to me in the Bible. Bring them, also, to the front of my mind today so that I may live by them. The success of this day depends on both Your faithfulness and mine. Keep me true to my I vows so that might walk in Your promised victory today. For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Standing on the Promises of God

Words and Music: Russell Kelso Carter

1. Standing on the promises of Christ my king,
through eternal ages let his praises ring;
glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
standing on the promises of God.

Refrain:
Standing, standing,
standing on the promises of God my Savior;
standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

2 Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
by the living Word of God I shall prevail,
standing on the promises of God.

Refrain

3 Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
bound to him eternally by love’s strong cord,
overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
standing on the promises of God.

Refrain

4 Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
resting in my Savior as my all in all,
standing on the promises of God.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 4, 2017: “Wings”

Wings

The neighbor across the street put out corn and birdseed.
The result was a group of sand hill cranes, (see photo) noisy year-round natives of Florida. They are strikingly tall and walk carefully as if the bottoms of their feet are sore. The males wear a natty red cap and are larger than the females. They fight and argue with each other while the lady crane keeps pecking at the seeds and corn as if she were disinterested. They are fun to watch, especially when they decide to fly. Like an old fashioned carrier plane, they need a runway to gain airspeed. When they lift off and circle above the neighborhood and head out to some distant wetlands, the miracle of wings comes to mind.

We have all felt the desire to fly like a bird. It was this passion that led 20th century man to finally master self-propelled flight. Now the phrase, “taking wings” applies to us.

There are so many reasons to take wing:

  • Travel to distant lands,
  • The adventure of defying gravity,
  • To get a higher view of creation, and
  • To escape.

This is the desire of the psalmist:

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.”

Situations here on earth press upon us, seemingly increasing the downward pull of gravity. If we could only do what the birds do—take wing and fly!

But this type of flight remains a metaphor, a fantasy unfulfilled. Birds have wings; we do not.

Or do we?

Is there a way the soul can take wing?

Is there a dove whose wings we can borrow for a while “to fly away and be at rest?” Of course there is. The Heavenly Dove of the Holy Spirit can lift us above the tortured plane of difficulties. To pray in the Spirit is to take wing. To enter the lofty realms of truth in the Word of God is to soar in restful restoring flight. To gather with the saints to worship in Spirit and Truth is to be lifted to the heights of Mt. Zion where God lives and rules. There is found peace, real peace, a peace resting among the promises of God, not the circumstances of earth.

So let us practice our taxi for takeoff—prayer. Let us consult the pre-flight checklist, like any well-trained pilot, making sure all is in proper working order. And let us take wing and soar on the rushing mighty winds of the Spirit. We can travel to distant lands in effectual fervent intercession. We can defy the earthly gravity of circumstances for a while. From these heights, let us get a wider view of life. This escape is restorative, preparing us to land and face the challenges of the day.

Scriptures:
Psalm 55:1-9
Hear my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my petition. Listen to me and answer me; I have no peace, because of my cares. I am shaken by the noise of the enemy and by the pressure of the wicked; For they have cast an evil spell upon me and are set against me in fury. My heart quakes within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling have come over me, and horror overwhelms me. And I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee to a far-off place and make my lodging in the wilderness. I would hasten to escape from the stormy wind and tempest.”
Psalm 139:7-12 NKJV
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the Dove of Your Spirit! Let me borrow His wings for a while this morning. Lift me above circumstances, good and bad, to see Your higher purpose in me. Help me take the wings of this morning for a flight to Your heavenly chambers. Let me carry the strength and beauty of Your Presence through this day. Though I am earthbound, Your lofty promises carry me forward, fearlessly into this day. Thank You, Lord, for these wings. Amen.

Song:
On the Wings of a Dove
Words and Music: Bob Ferguson

1. When troubles surround us, when evils come
The body grows weak. The spirit grows numb
When these things beset us, God doesn’t forget us
He sends us His love.

Refrain:
On the wings of a snow-white dove
He sends His pure sweet love,
A sign from above On the wings of a dove.

2. When Jesus went down through the river that day
Well, he was baptized in the usual way
And when it was done God blessed His son.
He sent him His love On the wings of a dove.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 27, 2017: “Destiny”

Destiny

“Our Heavenly Father” is not a puppeteer.
We do not dangle from controlling strings attached to His manipulating fingers. The essence of the life we have received from God is choice; we choose our destiny.

This is not to say we control it for any day can bring things

  • which we did not foresee,
  • for which we did not plan and
  • with which we must deal.

Yet with each surprise, we have a choice to do the right thing or to do the wrong thing. That choice is one of destiny. When we choose to live in relationship with Almighty God through His Son Jesus Christ, we walk the path He has chosen for us—our destiny. The Bible calls this, “The Path of Life.”

A Light and a Lamp
For this pathway there is a light illuminating the way ahead. The Word of God is a headlight searching the way before us, revealing hazards, sharp turns, and dangerous ravines on either side of the path. The truth of this path is not a temporary, passing truth; it is a truth that has always been true and a Word that will never cease to be true—the substantial stuff of destiny.

As if this headlight were not enough, we carry a torch, a lamp for each step. We need never to stumble for every footfall is made in the footprints of Jesus, marked by the scars in His feet. He has walked this way before us showing us how to live. The steps we take today may not be the same we took yesterday and tomorrow’s steps may be different yet again. Each step we take in the will of God is a current truth, the application of an eternal Word for the present moment. He is the torch in our hands, the lamp for our feet. He is our choice, our destiny.

Within the Mind of God
We cannot imagine how the mind of God works, independent of time, unlimited by space. He is not playing some cosmic game of chess with each of us the inanimate pieces which only move when he moves us. This game of grace is like a chess game with each piece an independent agent with a mind of its own. We have a choice but He is still the master of the game.

When we choose our destiny—His will for us for life and for each passing moment—He works everything in our lives toward our good. He sets us on a path of blessing, power, and creativity full of good works, choices to make each day that He has laid our for us from eternity past. A puppeteer He is not and puppets we are not. He is master of all time and space and he holds a plan for each of us, a destiny we can choose today.

And so it was in the Garden called Gethsemane.
Jesus chose His destiny, the arrest, the trials, the torture, the cross, the tomb, and finally, the firstborn from among the dead. His chosen destiny opened up a new and living way for each of us, a destiny we can choose every day.

Scripture:
Psalm 16:11
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 119:105
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Psalm 139:1-6; 13-16
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me…All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
1 John 1:5-7
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But 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.
Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
John 15:16-17 NKJV
You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.

Prayer:
Lord, I do not understand everything about my freewill and Your will for me. I know that You have made with a will of my own and You have always had a plan and purpose for my life. I am not a puppet but the greatest life I could ever live is the one I would live in the center of Your will. In a very real sense, we are a team, You and I. I am the junior partner for all the power is Yours. Still You have blessed me with human ability as well as human will and You wish to utilize my humanity to do the work of Your Kingdom. What a joy to find Your will and do it! Amen.

Song:
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Traditional

1 I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

2 Though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

3 My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

4 The world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 7, 2017 “Because”

Because

The Incarnation
Because You came to earth, I can go to heaven.
Because You were born of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, I am born again by the
same Spirit.
Because You revealed the Father, I can know who God is.
Because You are the perfect image of God, I will contemplate your glory and be changed.
Because You are the Way, I will find my way.
Because You are the Truth, I will know the truth.
Because You are the Life, I will live.
Because You are the Bread of Life, I will hunger for you and be filled.
Because You are the door, I will enter in.
Because You love me, I can love others.

The Ministry
Because You are the Great Physician, I have health.
Because You calm the storms, I can live without fear of them.
Because You died on the cross, my sins are nailed there.
Because You rose from the grave, I will live again beyond the grave.
Because You reign in majesty, I can live in peace.
Because You are the Rock of Ages, my life has a firm foundation,
Because You are the Cornerstone, my church will never fall to the gates of hell.
Because You opened up the New and Living Way, I can boldly come before the Throne
of Grace.
Because You are my Shepherd, I will enjoy green pastures and still waters and even a
table of plenty before my enemies.
Because You are my Shepherd, I will walk through the Valley of the Shadow without
fear.
Because You resisted temptation, I can live in victory.

The Names
Because You are the Prince of Peace, I can rest in safety.
Because You are the Lord of lords, I will fear no leader who opposes us.
Because You are the King of kings, I will fear no system that opposes us.
Because You are the Alpha and Omega, I will live each day surrounded by You.
Because You are the Bright and Morning Star, I will endure each long night of trial
confident of the morning to come.
Because You are great, I don’t have be.
Because You are Prophet, I will be prepared for the future.
Because You are the Great High Priest, I will offer my Sacrifice of Praise.
Because You are head over all things through the church, I will set my affections on you.
Because You are the firstborn from among the dead, I will live forever.
Because You are the True Vine, I am a branch bearing much fruit.
Because You are the Refiner’s Fire and the Launderer’s Soap, I am pure in heart and I
worship you acceptably.
Because You are Immanuel, I will never be alone.
Because You are the Wonderful Counselor, I will live each day in faith.
Because You were the Sin Bearer, my sins lie far away from me at the bottom of the Sea
beneath fathoms of Forgetfulness.
Because Your name itself is a prayer, I will keep the name of Jesus on my lips.

The Grace
Because You have hemmed me in behind and before and laid Your hand on me, I can live
each moment in safety and power.
Because You have called me and ordained me, I will bear much fruit, fruit that will
remain after I am gone.
Because You sent Your Spirit, I am a witness to the world.
Because You have broken down the walls between us, I have brothers and sisters who do not look or sound like me.
Because You are coming soon, I can live in hope.
Because You are one with the Father through the Spirit, I can be one with You and the
Father through the same Spirit.
Because You are the Rock upon which my life stands, I will not fear any flood.
Because You created me, I have meaning.
Because You have anointed me, I have power and purpose.
Because You are the song of the angels, I will sing and make music with abandon.
Because You are my song in the night, I will sing with determination.
Because You drained the cup of my sins, I will drink from the cup of Your life.
Because You remembered me, I will not forget You.
Because You included me, I will never exclude You.
Because You are on the Throne of Heaven, I will walk the earth without fear.
Because You are on the throne of my heart, I am not.
Because You are the Living Word of God, I will live by Your Word.

Because Yours is the greatest story ever told, it will be my story to tell.

Scriptures:
Psalm 29:1-2 NKJV
Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, Give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Colossians 1:15-18 NKJV
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my reason. You are my cause and You are my effect. You are my life both here and now and there and then. You are my peace and my rest. You are my leader and my reward. Your will is my plan. Your love is my garment of praise. Your approval is my success. Because of Who You are, I can face this day and all those that follow. Because of You, Lord, everything that is good in my life is there because of You! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Because He Lives
Words and Music: Bill and Gloria Gaither

1. God sent his son, they called him Jesus,
He came to love, heal and forgive.
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my savior lives.

Refrain:
Because he lives I can face tomorrow
Because he lives All fear is gone
Because i know he holds the future
And life is worth the living Just because he lives

2. How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives,
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain day because he lives.

Refrain:

3. And then someday, I’ll cross that river.
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain.
And then as death gives way to victory
I’ll see the lights of Glory and I’ll know He reigns.

Refrain:

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 5, 2017 “Circumstance”

Circumstance

Circumstances; we all have them and we must sort them out every day.
This sorting of circumstances is a type of prayer.

Definitions include:

  • A condition or fact attending an event and having some bearing on it;
  • A determining or modifying factor.
  • A condition or fact that determines or must be considered in the determining of a course of action.
  • The sum of determining factors beyond willful control.

The omnipresence of circumstances yields a bevy of clichés in our speech:

  • “Circumstances permitting,”
  • “Under the circumstances,”
  • “Pomp and circumstance,”
  • “A victim of circumstance,” and
  • “Face the circumstances.”

Sorting it all out.
Our ability to live through each day with any degree of self-determination depends on our ability to sort out the conditions and facts we will face. As free will agents, there are many things we can control, enough of them to count—and to count on—to give us courage to get out of bed, cleanup, dress for the day, and even to go out the door and start the car. Free will is a gift from God and He enables those who worship Him to do this regularly and with great redeeming effect upon the world.

However, some of the circumstances we face are well beyond our ability to control.
The person without Christ must file these things safely away from the conscious mind in order to function. If the unbeliever cannot do this, the burden of life becomes too great to bear. That person must find relief in an altered state of consciousness, using anything from alcohol to drugs to soul-numbing addictions, to suicide.

The Christ-follower is never left alone to face the circumstances of his/her life. The worshiper of Jesus does not stand in awe of the Lord from a distance, but is held close in a secure embrace. There are no circumstances beyond the Lord’s control.

In prayer this morning, sort out the circumstances you will face today.
Renew your vows of discipline to fully engage the fruit of the Spirit called self-control. Look for opportunities throughout the day to change the circumstances others may face. Look squarely, fearlessly, into the circumstances beyond your control and place them in the hands of your Lord. He can handle anything.

Scriptures:
Psalm 61 NKJV
Hear my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me, A strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah For You, O God, have heard my vows; You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name … So I will sing praise to Your name forever, That I may daily perform my vows.
Ephesians 1:22-23
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Romans 8:28-29
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Philippains 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for seeing what I cannot see, hearing what I cannot hear, and knowing what is beyond my capacity to know. You already know what circumstances will come my way today. Nothing that happens will surprise or alarm You. Lord, sometimes circumstances rush at me so fast and in such numbers that my heart is overwhelmed, like a dry gully in a sudden, violent rain. But in such times, You are my Rock, Lord Jesus, my high tower of safety and you always welcome me, fears and all. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” From the vantage point of Your towering greatness, I can see that the storms and floods are no real threat to me, because I am in You. Lord, Jesus, my all-in-all. Amen.

Song:
Living by Faith
Words: James Wells; Music: R.E. Winsett

1. I care not today what the morrow may bring,
If shadow or sunshine or rain,
The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything,
And all of my worries are vain.

Refrain:
Living by faith in Jesus above,
Trusting, confiding in His great love;
From all harm safe in His sheltering arm,
I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.

2. Though tempests may blow and the storm clouds arise,
Obscuring the brightness of life,
I’m never alarmed at the overcast skies—
The Master looks on at the strife.

Refrain

3. I know that He safely will carry me through,
No matter what evils betide;
Why should I then care though the tempest may blow,
If Jesus walks close to my side.

Refrain

4. Our Lord will return for His loved ones some day,
Our troubles will then all be o’er;
The Master so gently will lead us away,
Beyond that blest heavenly shore.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 27, 2017 “Anyway”

Anyway

One of the first pastors I worked for was a pilot licensed to fly small planes.
I was in awe of this of course. Once he tried to assure me that it was no mysterious gifting. He said you could teach a chimpanzee to fly a plane but what you could not teach him was how to adjust to the changing situation.

Situations do change, either to our delight (“Finally!”) or to our dismay (“I never saw this coming!”). And sometimes things do not change with similar results: “I knew I could count on this!” or “I am beating my head against a wall!”

Jesus described life as shifting sands. He was correct. Those who make their daily choices based on what happened the night before are at the mercy of the winds and sands and desert mirages—images they see shimmering on the horizon that aren’t real at all.

Jesus offered us an alternative—solid Rock!
He is the Rock that stands unaltered by the winds of the moment. He is the Rock that laughs at the waves incessant casting of themselves upon Him only to break up and slink back out to sea, take a breath and try again. He is the Rock and the foundation of our lives, when we build upon Him.

How do we do that?
It isn’t a mystery but it is beyond the abilities of chimps:

  • Listen to Him (Read His Book—the Bible is the story of Jesus from beginning to new beginning!)
  • Take Him as Lord and Savior and follow Him.
  • Receive His Spirit as your abiding Helper. You cannot do this on your own.
  • Spend time with Him, both just you and Him, and with the church He is building.
  • Do what He has called you to do, in His time, in His way and in His love.
  • Join His family. You can’t follow Him without being a part of the “Called-Out-Ones.”

So, what does all this mean?

  • If the politics of the day are crazy, we will be sane anyway.
  • If the world is cruel, we will be kind anyway.
  • When the world is full of prejudice, we will love anyway.
  • When the economy is falling, we will rise both to give and to receive anyway.
  • When the media tells lies, we will tell the truth anyway.
  • When the moral climate is polluted with filth, we will breathe the clean air of heaven anyway.
  • When people swear using the name of God in vain, we will praise His name anyway.
  • When the earth is shaking, we will stand anyway.
  • When the world is crashing, we will fly anyway.

Jesus teaches us to fly and the Holy Spirit leads us to adjust to the changing situation.

Scriptures:
1 Corinthians 2:12 NIV
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11 NKJV
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed — always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
Matthew 7:24-27 NIV
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Galatians 6:7-10 NKJV
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Colossians 3:15-17; 23-25 NKJV
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
Philippians 4:8-9 NIV
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, “Pilot me!” the old song said. It is a good prayer. Take the controls, Lord. You know the flight plan. You know the plane and the instruments. You take account of the changing things: fuel, winds, altitude, and emergency landing strips if needed. No detail of this trip escapes Your notice. You know every mile of this journey before it slips beneath us on the ground. When this day surprises me, I will continue on anyway. When things confuse me, I will keep believing You anyway. Help me trust You, Lord, and help me to obey what I know to do even as situations change around me. For Your glory, Lord. Amen

Song:
Trust and Obey
Words: John H. Stammis; Music: Daniel B. Towner

1. When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

2. Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Refrain

3. Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

Refrain

4. But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Refrain

4. Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

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 7, 2017 “Heat”

Heat

Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we do unplanned things.
At other times heat accumulates, building and building until we make elaborate plans to escape it. Heat can oppress us or it can surprise us, causing us to do things we carefully plan and things we do not plan at all.

In the winter, when heat is hard to come by, we fondly remember the warm winds of spring and even the hot blasts of summer. When it seems the sun takes more than a day to cross the heavens scorching the earth on its way, we fondly remember the refreshing cold of winter and long for the brisk promise of the cool autumn breeze. We are profoundly ambivalent about heat: we want it when it the weather is cold and we seek shade and shelter from it when the weather is hot.

Heat can also be a blessing. We measure the health of the body by a constant heat of about 98.6 F. Less than that or more than that is a sign of illness. God set the inner thermostat to regulate this body heat. We don’t even have to think about it. When it varies up or down, then we notice it.

Of course each of us has a spiritual thermostat in our heart.
God has given to us the responsibility of setting this spiritual instrument. We can willfully turn down our spiritual temperature or we can deliberately turn it up. When we feel our hearts cooling toward the Lord, we are the ones who have decided to let it happen. Most likely there is never a moment when we choose to let the fire within begin to die. It happens in a series of small choices that seem innocent:

  • Missing a daily prayer and Bible time of devotion,
  • Sleeping in on the Lord’s Day,
  • Avoiding potential conflict with a troubled brother or sister in the Lord,
  • Keeping silent when the conversation turns to the things of the Spirit, or even,
  • Telling a small lie to avoid exposure as spiritual things begin to slip away.

These things are far from innocent. They are deadly.

The inner fire of the Spirit of God within us needs fuel.

  • We stoke the fire with the Word of God and with prayer. A single day without these things reduces our passion for God and His Kingdom.
  • When we gather with brothers and sisters in the House of God to worship each week, the sparks fly! The fires of corporate worship burn bright and hot—cleansing each of us from the junk we have accumulated during the week.
  • When conflicts between spiritual family members are resolved, the discarded anger, envy, and strife are fuel for our inner flames.
  • When we speak up for truth and justice the fire within grows white hot and there is no longer any need to pretend to be spiritual—we are spiritual!

The heat of the moment will prove us true and the heat of the season will serve us well.

Scriptures:
Malachi 3:1-4
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Luke 3:16-17
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
2 Timothy 1:5-7
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, When I gave my heart to You, Your Spirit took up residence in my heart. Today I need a new baptism of the fire of Your Spirit, a new endowment of spiritual power to serve You in every moment of this day. In the heat of the day, in the cool of the evening, empower me, Lord. When the trials come in the guise of unfair demands or unfaithful people, grant me a cool center in the midst of the flames. Like those Old Testament heroes You walked with in the furnace, the flames will not even scorch my clothes! Moreover, in the process, the heat meant to destroy me will actually be a Refiner’s Fire to purify me. How wonderful that You walk with me every day in the cool of the day or in the fires of circumstance. Let my offering today be made in righteousness. Amen.

Song:
Send the Fire

Words: William Booth; Music: Frederick Booth-Tucker

1. Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Thy blood bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost;
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

2. God of Elijah, hear our cry:
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To make us fit to live or die,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To burn up every trace of sin,
To bring the light and glory in,
The revolution now begin,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

3. ’Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
The fire will meet our every need,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
For strength to ever do the right,
For grace to conquer in the fight,
For power to walk the world in white,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

4. To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To live a dying world to save,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
O see us on Thy altar lay
Our lives, our all, this very day;
To crown the offering now we pray,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved