March 21 “Treasures”

Treasures

Creation is full of objects. The mind is full of thoughts. The heart is full of emotions. Some of these things stand out from the rest.
These things are our treasures:

  • objects that may have great market value or simply personal value only to us,
  • truths that we hold dear and that hold our lives together, and
  • feelings that bring us home, give us hope, and clear our heads.

Treasures like these are carefully kept, hidden away, locked up, meticulously filed so we can retrieve them at a moment’s notice, hold them close, and consider their value. Of course, our greatest treasures are the people we love. They occupy the heart and the mind and little things that were theirs occupy the corners of our homes.

Treasures in Heaven
Jesus spoke of securing our treasures, of finding storage for them that is beyond the reach of natural disasters, wicked people, or even the ravages of time. There is only one such storage place—heaven. How can we store our treasures in so remote and removed a place?

It is a matter of offering. Do we hold to our treasures with so tight a grip that we cannot let go? For safekeeping we must give them to the Lord. The house you live in, the car you drive, the money safely invested toward an uncertain future are gifts from God. Since He is their source, He has a program in place to protect them! We must return our treasures to Him in faith:

  • objects that may have great market value or simply personal value only to us,
  • truths that we hold dear and that hold our lives together,
  • feelings that bring us home, give us hope, and clear our heads, and
  • people we treasure above all other things.

These treasures are the contents of our hearts, hearts whose source is heaven and which are safe only there.

The Treasure of Sight
Of all our five senses, perhaps the most precious is our ability to see. In this passage, Jesus is speaking about more than our ability to detect light reflecting off objects. He is talking about a deeper level of sight—insight, we call it—the ability to see the true value of things. The Holy Spirit can help us truly see the differences between the treasures and the trash around us. With this spiritual insight we can cling to the good, return it to God for safekeeping, and keep it forever.

Beware of Evil Treasure.
The old saying that “all that glitters isn’t gold” has never been more true than today. The world glitters all around us with shining sins sparkling in the sun of our own selfishness. Evil treasures do not add themselves to our collections; they make themselves masters of our lives. We cannot collect them; they capture us! The greatest of these is money. We must have it, use it, invest it, save it, but we must never serve it. The Love of money is a root that only produces evil. We cannot treasure wealth and serve God, too.

Creation is full of objects. The mind is full of thoughts. The heart is full of emotions. Some of these things stand out from the rest.

Scriptures:
Matthew 6:19-24
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
James 1:16-18
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.
1 Timothy 6:6-10
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank for the tremendous blessings I enjoy, gifts good and perfect, from Your hand. These are my treasures so I return them to You for safekeeping, beyond the consumption of moths, the reach of rust. and the danger of thieves. As You continue to supply my needs, protect me from the love of money and the things it can buy. You only will I serve. Give me insight to see the difference between the treasure and the trash. For Your glory, Lord, Amen.

Song:
I’d Rather Have Jesus
Words: Rhea F. Miller; Music: George Beverly Shea

1. I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands.
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand

Refrain:
Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

2. I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame.
I’d rather be true to His holy name

Refrain

3. He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs.
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 20 “Prayer”

Prayer

Simply put, prayer is not a show.
When Jesus approached the subject of prayer and deeds of Christian kindness, He took these things off center stage. He lived in a religious culture that was corrupted by religious showbiz:

  • marketplace praying,
  • the theatrical giving of alms,
  • trumpet-announced offerings, and
  • vain repetitions as if God were hard of hearing.

None of these public displays of what is really a private set of deeds was the least bit impressive to Heaven. The only reward to be gained was the here-and-now, then-and-there recognition of the public.

Prayer and giving are private matters.
The important thing is not the one “praying” or “giving alms” or “fasting;” it is the prayer to God, the giving to His Kingdom, and the discipline of the body for spiritual concerns. No fanfares are needed. The public streets are not the proper place. The synagogue is not a stage. The Secret Place, away from prying eyes and listening ears, is the place to pray. Giving is to be a solemn secret that even each of our two hands remain unaware of what the other is giving. A multiplicity of words shouted on a street corner does not bring Heaven’s reward, only the hollow acclaim of ignorant men.

The Lord’s Prayer
Jesus not only sent us to the closet of prayer, He gave us a prayer to pray. Tradition calls this “The Lord’s Prayer” and rightly so for He gave it to us. Others insist it should be called “The Believer’s Prayer” and this, too, is proper for He gave it to us. Some of us pray it as a recitation and others take it as an outline for extended prayer. Both approaches are correct. Early Christian documents outside of the Bible indicate that first Century Christ-followers were encouraged to pray this prayer three times each day. The prayer includes forgiving those who sin against us. To refuse to do this one thing, disables everything else we do before God.

“Your Father Knows”
Prayer is based on the Character of God. Pagans prayed the same phrase, called a mantra, many times as fast as they could to try and impress their hostile little gods and keep them at a safe distance. Christian prayer is the exact opposite. We do not need “vain repetition” because our prayer does not serve to keep a god away, but to draw near to the One True God. When Jesus told us the Father already knows what we need, He was telling us who God is and how much He loves us! The intrinsic goodness of God, His holiness, is the basis of our praying. We don’t need public announcements or the acclaim of the masses, or endless repetition. God is good and His mercy endures to the moment of our prayer.

Joy marks the one who prays.
Fasting is a most serious form of prayer. Going without food can weaken the body while building the spirit within. We must keep our fasting between God and ourselves. Present to the world a clean, joyful face, hiding the voluntary sacrifice for a spiritual cause. God sees. Our spirit rules the body and our reward is on its way.

Simply put, prayer is not a show.

Scriptures:
Matthew 6:1-18
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the greatest need in my life each day is a time of prayer with You. Help me be faithful to the Secret Place. Those I love are dependent upon my prayers. How can I say I love them and then not pray for them? Lord, increase my passion to pray. I want to pray the prayer You gave us. I want to privately but intentionally confess Your character and say with the hosts of Heaven, “Holy, holy, holy.” I want to intercede for those who are in need. Lord, help me find that sweet time for prayer. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
Sweet Hour of Prayer
Words: W.W. Walford; Music: William B. Bradbury

1. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer! that calls me from a world of care,
and bids me at my Father’s throne make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,  my soul has often found relief,
and oft escaped the tempter’s snare by thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

2. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer! the joys I feel, the bliss I share
of those whose anxious spirits burn with strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place where God my Savior shows his face,
and gladly take my station there, and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

3. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer! thy wings shall my petition bear
to him whose truth and faithfulness engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since he bids me seek his face, believe his word, and trust his grace,
I’ll cast on him my every care, and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 19 “Enemies”

Enemies

When we live as “salt and light” in this world, we make enemies. How are we to respond to them?
Jesus had a way of turning every issue on its head; this one is no exception. In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives the most counter-intuitive advice. To the natural mind it just doesn’t make sense.

  • Offering the other cheek when an enemy has already struck the first one?
  • Going a second mile voluntarily when only the first mile was required?
  • Surrendering a coat to an enemy when all he demanded was a shirt?
  • Giving things to thugs demanding them by force or moochers who want to “borrow?”

Human nature resists all these tactics. If we want to fight or quit before the job is done or keep an enemy in his place as an adversary, we need to ignore the advice of Jesus.  However, if we want to have peace, complete a task, make a friend out of an enemy and be a blessing to those who are cursing us, these things make perfect sense.

Getting Back what You Give
The Law of Sowing and Reaping is built into Creation. If you want corn, plant corn. If you want beans, plant beans.

  • If you want to fight, hit back every time you are struck.
  • If you want a business partner, go beyond what the job requires.
  • If you want to win over an opponent, be more than kind to him.
  • If you want to have what you need when you need it, be generous to a fault to those who do not deserve it.

When we, with God’s help, intentionally counter our fleshly, human impulse to strike back or hold tightly to what is rightfully ours and we do this in the Name of the Lord, the Lord goes to work in the life of our enemy. As foolish as this may seem, it works. We sow good when presented with evil. We change the subject from hate and selfishness to joy and generosity and faith.

“Coals of Fire.”
In Romans, the Apostle Paul echoes the Sermon on the Mount. As he does, he makes one of the strangest statements in all of the Bible. To plant these seeds of non-violence and generosity in response to the actions of an enemy, we actually:

“…heap coals of fire on his head.”

We can read all sorts of explanations of the meaning of this strange phrase most of them having to do with the essential nature of coals of fire to survival in the ancient world. It seems “coals of fire” is a metaphor for the conscience of the individual. People who are given to striking others or taking advantage or forcing their will on people have a conscience that has gone cold. To counter their violence with peace, their coercion with cooperation, their selfishness with generosity can reawaken that sleeping conscience. In the natural this may seem like a faint hope but it must be remembered: in the Sermon on the Mount we are talking about a supernatural life enabled by the Holy Spirit. Our obedience to the Word of God sows supernatural seed in the life of our enemy. We will be surprised what God can do with that!

Scriptures:
Matthew 5:38-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Romans 12:14-21
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have called me to a supernatural life. Help me to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, and to be generous all in Your name and for Your glory. Give me the joy of seeing enemies become friends. Help me overcome evil with Good as I sow good seed into the lives of people around me, especially those who don’t like me. I want to see the surprise on their faces when I counter their evil deeds with good ones. Lord, You will fight my battles. You will be my defense. I will be Your servant in this supernatural life. Amen.

Song:
Make Me a Blessing
Words: Ira B. Wilson: Music: George S. Schuler

1. Out in the highways and byways of life,
Many are weary and sad; are weary and sad
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
Making the sorrowing glad.

Refrain:
Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,
Out of my life May Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O savior, I pray,
I pray Thee, my Savior,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

2. Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;
Tell of His pow’r to forgive;
His pow’r to forgive.
Others will trust Him if only you prove
True ev’ry moment you live.

Refrain

3. Give as ’twas given to you in your need;
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed;
Unto your mission be true.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 16 “Fulfill”

FulFill

Jesus knew He was susceptible to the charge of being a radical.
He also knew it wasn’t true. He had not come to destroy. On the contrary, He had come to fulfill. In a series of remarkable statements, fulfillment is the recurring theme. He teaches us how

  • to fulfill the demands of the law,
  • to conquer hate and violence in our hearts, thus fulfilling the command to love God and others,
  • to fulfill our duty to worship God, and
  • to handle conflicts with others without going to the courts.

His logic is unassailable, His instruction is sound, and His language is direct and unambiguous.

Fulfilling the Law
Far from departing from the Law, Jesus came to fulfill it. The Word of God is not some temporary tome in need of editing. It is more firm and permanent than creation itself. The Old Covenant Law was a document of prophesies of truths to come. The people in His audience were seeing the fulfillment of these prophesies in Jesus. Under the New Covenant we enjoy the fulfillment of the Law when we are in relationship with Jesus. He fulfills the demands of the Law!

The Law of Love
Each day the faithful Old Covenant believers confessed the Shema, demanding they love God completely. The Law also demanded that they love their neighbors. Jesus warned His listeners against the destructive power of hate. Hate blocks the fulfillment of the greatest commandments in the Law. Hate is revealed in name calling, in prejudice, and derision. To fulfill the Law of Love one must not deride a brother or sister with names that demean them

  • raca—“empty one, worthless one”
  • fool—“dull or stupid one”

To feed one’s anger with derision is to take a step toward violence or even murder. Some who would never kill someone with a gun are experts with character assassination using words. To live this way is a short trip to hell. To refrain from hate is a short trip to the fulfillment of the Law of Love.

The Law of Worship
Each of us is on the earth to worship God. To walk with Jesus on the Path of Life is to live the worship-filled life. Unresolved conflicts with others spoil our worship. We may be the finest of singers or instrumentalists, but if we are harboring hate, bitterness, or envy against someone, our worship does not reach the Lord’s ears, let alone His heart. Jesus said these things must be resolved if we are to fulfill our call to worship, our purpose to worship. There is no way to calculate the degree to which revival is hindered by worship that is negated by unresolved conflicts within the church. We must obey Jesus:

“…leave your gift there before the altar, and … be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

The Law of Peace
We shortchange the Grace of God if we let conflicts within the church go unresolved to the point of legal action. Jesus said

“Agree with your adversary quickly…”

That means find a consensus according to the Word of God and agree together! Remember, The Word lasts forever!

Scriptures:
Matthew 5: 17-26
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Levitcus 19:17-18 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Mark 12:29-31
Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, draw me close to You! I want to fulfill the greatest commands to Love You with heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. I want to fulfill Your call on my life to be holy and productive, loving and compassionate, creative and skilled. Keep me from hate. Keep me from name-calling and all forms of derision. Help me be a peacemaker—a child of God! Amen and Amen.

Song:
O to Be Like Thee
Words: Thomas O. Chisholm; Music: William J. Kirkpatrick

1. Oh! to be like Thee, blessed Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Refrain:
Oh! to be like Thee, oh! to be like Thee,
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

2. Oh! to be like Thee, full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinner to find.

Refrain

3. Oh! to be like Thee, lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer, others to save.

Refrain

4. Oh! to be like Thee, Lord, I am coming,
Now to receive th’ anointing divine;
All that I am and have I am bringing,
Lord, from this moment all shall be Thine.

Refrain

5. Oh! to be like Thee, while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love,
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 14 “Blessed”

Blessed

“Blessed” There are no hidden meanings in the Greek. It means what it means, “happy,” “fortunate,” even “well-off.” (Vine’s Dictionary)
Jesus, the carpenter-turned-preacher/healer/miracle worker, saw the growing multitude of people who had left their homes and businesses, followed Him into the wilderness, and were waiting now for His every word. He went up into an elevated place, like a speaker’s platform, to deliver what would become His most famous sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount.”

No platitudes, please.
These people wanted the truth, not some routine, warmed over mush meant for babies. Jesus was ready. His storehouse was stacked high with truth from the Word of God, from the carpenter’s shop, from the village, from the synagogue, from the home, and from His keen eye for observation. This sermon would challenge those who wish to live a meaningful, significant life for centuries to come. Little phrases here and there would go into the vernacular of common use:

  • Go the second mile,
  • Turn the other cheek,
  • The salt of the earth,
  • A city on a hill,
  • Let your yes be yes and your no be no,
  • No one can serve two masters,
  • Judge not that ye be not judged,
  • Do not cast pearls before swine,
  • Do unto others…, and
  • Build your house on the rock.

He also gave the world a prayer that has become the universal confession of the Christian faith.

The Beatitudes
He began with a list of conditioned responses. He itemizes life’s challenges and with each one gives a way to meet the challenge and in these ways become blessed. It is all here.

  • The human condition: poverty, hunger and thirst, loss, injustice,
  • The longings of the human heart: purity, peace, mercy, and
  • The uncertainty of the future: persecution at the hands of evil men.

To these relentless conditions, Jesus provides new and triumphant responses:

  • The poor in spirit are citizens of heaven’s Kingdom.
  • Those who mourn will be comforted.
  • The meek shall be owners of the earth’s bounty.
  • Those who hunger for God will be filled.
  • Those who have been wronged shall respond with mercy.
  • A pure heart will open to see the Throne of God.
  • Those who make peace in the middle of conflict will be those of God’s family.
  • Those who are lied about for His sake will be rewarded for the truth of their lives.

A Continuum
In the Beatitudes, Jesus is presenting a continuum, an extension of the eternal Kingdom of God into the present generation. Truth-tellers have always been attacked by those whose hopes lie in lies. To be pure in heart takes courage. To hunger and thirst after righteousness takes discipline that makes others uncomfortable. To make peace in this troubled world is an affront to those who thrive in strife. It has always been so. These things do not surprise us. We are “blessed.” Knowing the cost of following Jesus, we can rejoice that we have been called to walk in the footsteps of the prophets before us and in the light of the disciples whose writings inform us, and in the company of the Savior who walks by our side.

Scriptures:
Matthew 5:1-12
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You experienced the reality of the life we face and not from the safe distance of heaven, but from right here on earth. Your knew what it is to mourn, to be poor and persecuted, to hunger and thirst, to be lied about, and to face the challenge of making peace in a violent world. Now, You live in me! Help me be a peacemaker. Give me a pure heart. I want to hunger and thirst after righteousness and be filled. Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Wonderful Words of Life
Words and Music: P. P. Bliss

1. Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life;
let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life;
words of life and beauty, teach me faith and duty:

Refrain:
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
wonderful words of life;
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
wonderful words of life.

2. Christ, the blessed One, gives to all wonderful words of life;
sinner, list to the laving call, wonderful words of life;
all so freely given, wooing us to heaven:

Refrain

3. Sweetly echo the gospel call, wonderful words of life;
offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior, sanctify forever,

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 18, 2018: “Oaths”

Oaths

People lie. They always have.
This is the human condition so we moderate it to make it more comfortable and manageable. We classify lies:

  • little lies and big lies,
  • cruel lies and harmless lies,
  • vicious lies and merciful lies, and on and on it goes.

Once someone we trust is caught lying to us, it is unlikely that we will even trust them again. Trust is what truth-telling is all about and trust is broken when lies are told. When people lie to each other they put their lives on shaky ground. When lies are told on TV or in government, society is shaken. Art is supposed to tell us what the artist believes is true. When it is used to spread lies it is called propaganda, not art.

Lying to God
When people lie to each other it is bad but when someone lies to God, the results are far worse. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus dealt with truth telling and it is in this context that He addresses divorce. The marriage contract is more than a legal document, it is a vow made to God Himself. If one of the partners breaks this vow, that person has lied to God. We may take our vows before God lightly but He does not. Just as He is bound by His Word and His character, He expects us to be bound by our words.

In the early church we are told of a couple who lied to God. This couple sold a piece of land to raise money for the church. The man, Ananias, made a great show of placing part of the money at Peter’s feet. The Holy Spirit revealed to Peter that this was a lie. Peter confronted the man, making it clear that he had lied, not to men, but to God. Ananias fell dead and people wrapped his body and buried him. Three hours later, his wife, Sapphira, was not aware of these things. When she was asked about the amount, she lied as well, fell dead, and was quickly buried next to her husband. Dr. Luke adds this postscript:

“So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.”

I would imagine so. Obviously this was a one-time warning to the church since nothing like this is recorded elsewhere. We can be thankful for God’s grace!

“Do not swear at all.”
Jesus makes a nearly impossible demand of those who would follow Him—

“But I say to you, do not swear at all…”

How can we live by this command? Oaths are demanded from us at crucial times in our lives. The last statement in this teaching reveals the principle behind the instruction: Tell the truth!

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’
For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

The reason we are made to swear oaths before the law is because people are liars. The law demands truth so to lie after swearing an oath is a crime. If people were truthful, there would be no need for oaths.

We who follow Christ must be a people of TRUTH. We must be true to our words and to our vows.

Scriptures:
Matthew 5:31-37
“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
Acts 5:1-11
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I wish that I could boast that I have true to all the vows I have made to You. Thank You for forgiving my failures and shortcomings. Help me be a person of truth, known by all that my word can be trusted. I stand on the solid ground of Your trustworthiness; help me to be as trustworthy to others. “O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end; Be thou forever near me, my Master and my friend.” For Your glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
O Jesus I Have Promised
Words: John E. Bode; Music: Arthur H. Mann

1. O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end;
Be thou forever near me, my Master and my friend.
I shall not fear the battle if thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway if thou wilt be my guide.

2. O let me feel thee near me! The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me, around me and within;
But Jesus, draw thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.

3. O let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will.
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, thou guardian of my soul.

4. O Jesus, thou hast promised to all who follow thee
That where thou art in glory there shall thy servant be.
And Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 17, 2018: “Heart”

Heart

Jesus had a lot to say about the human heart.
I heard a national politician declare that her goal was not to change people’s hearts, just their behavior. She was wise in this sentiment. Laws can modify people’s behavior somewhat. Fear of arrest and imprisonment can at least make people be more careful but people are most likely going to do whatever is in their hearts to do. Jesus, being so much better than any politician, takes a different approach. He actually has the power to change hearts! And He does!

Lust and Love
When, as the Bible says, “Male and female created He them,” God made people, he made two genders. This is the fundamental organization truth of mankind. The physical differences are delightful and undeniable. From childhood we grow up in a world populated by boys and girls; oftentimes, “the boys against the girls.” Each gender is a mystery to the other which makes for a lifetime of fascination. God intends us to pair up this way even though some are not blessed to enjoy this pair bonding.

The differences go far deeper than anatomy; the mind is involved. Imagination occupies the heart of the loneliest among us. So much so that, as Jesus said, just looking at a woman, or even just the image of a woman, can excite lust in the heart of a man. This powerful imagination is a gift from God for with it we imagine what we will do before we do it. Every work of art or object of construction or organization of people toward a single purpose began as an act of imagination. We are able to “see” things in our minds and then created them with our hands. This is one of the evidences of Imago Dei, the image of God in us. God is CREATOR and He has made us creative.

When the heart betrays the mind, this powerful imagination can be a temptress leading us to dwell on sinful, destructive things. The natural attraction we have for the opposite sex becomes lust, a self-centered seeking of pleasure at any cost. Today whole industries exist to feed this debased hunger.

Christ in the Heart
The heart is connected to the eye and to the hand, what we see and what we touch. Jesus said it would be better to lose an eye or a hand to prevent the lust-filled action birthed in the heart. Is there a better answer than removing an eye or a hand? Of course—add Jesus to the heart! Every one of us comes into this world with heart trouble and Jesus is the only cure! Jesus has changed the hearts of killers to make them kind, thieves to make them trustworthy, adulterers to make them arduous toward their spouse, and gossips to make them preachers of the Gospel. On and on I could go as far as alliteration could take me.

This is not some faint hope of heaven by and by; Jesus changes hearts today. He is the hope for the addict whose heart has been chained to poison, the glutton whose belly is never quite full, the lecher who eyes are never satisfied, the backslider whose heart is never true, and the agnostic whose mind is never at rest. Jesus goes deeper than behavior to the things hidden in the heart. He will come into our hearts, cleanse them from sin, and take up residence there by His Holy Spirit.

Scriptures:
Matthew 5:27-30
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Matthew 19:4-6
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Luke 6:43-45
“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
John 7:37-39
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the King of my heart. You have made Your Throne there. A river of Living Water flows from Your Throne established in my heart. Lord, continue the work of purifying my heart. Let my imagination see only good things and not evil things. Show me good things You would have me create. Protect my heart from anger, lust, prejudice, and greed. Fill my heart with Your Word so that truth may flow from my life today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
Into My Heart
Words and Music: Harry D. Clarke

1. Come into my heart, blessed Jesus,
Come into my heart, I pray;
My soul is so troubled and weary,
Come into my heart today.

Refrain:
Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus;
Come in today,
Come in to stay,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

2. Come into my heart, blessed Jesus,
I need Thee thro’ life’s dreary way;
The burden of sin is so heavy,
Come into my heart to stay.

Refrain

3. Come into my heart, blessed Jesus,
O cleanse and illumine my soul;
Fill me with Thy wonderful Spirit,
Come in and take full control.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved