October 30 “Towel”

Towel

There was no quitting or turning back for Jesus.
What we call “the Last Supper” was over. Their bellies full and the outset of night’s shadows blurred the minds of the Twelve—all except one. The mind of Judas was racing. His heart was occupied by a plan. We do not know his reasons; it is enough to know what John tells us—Satan put it in Judas’ heart.

The Towel
The evening was far from over. Jesus had much to teach His men. Seeing their mental state, He began with an object lesson. John’s explanation of Jesus’ motives is crucial.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments,
took a towel and girded Himself.”

How could the Son of God stoop to this extreme act of humility and service—to wash the dirty feet of the Twelve, including Judas? He could do this because He was sure of both His origin and His destiny. He came from heaven and would soon return to heaven. On the other side of the agony He was about to endure, was a coronation. When one knows from whence he came and is sure of his destination, there is no shame in humility, no dishonor in servitude. So Jesus took a towel and knelt before each of His men and washed their feet. He prayed for each one, whispering words of encouragement never to be forgotten.

The men watched in amazement. None of them would do this. They were repulsed by it and fascinated with it. Each man was deeply conflicted until Jesus took his feet and drenched them water, and wiped them dry with the towel. He whispered prayers and blessings meant only for them and all their internal conflicts ceased. Each man knew that no one had or ever would love them the way Jesus did.

Peter
Jesus came to Peter next to last. The fisherman could not understand the reactions of the others. Whatever Jesus doing, He would not do it to him. Peter protested, shielding his feet from Jesus’ hands

“Lord, are You washing my feet?”

The other men shook their heads, wishing that Peter would be quiet for once. Jesus stayed at Peter’s feet, waiting for Peter to offer them to Him. Without looking up said,

“What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

Peter would have none of it. Like a petulant child, he drew back his feet.

“You shall never wash my feet!”

His voice was louder than he intended. Jesus stood and dried His hands with the towel as if the ceremony was over. Firmly, He admonished Peter.

“If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Peter was crushed. He wanted to look at the others but He could not take His eyes off Jesus. Was He still willing to wash his feet? Jesus smiled and knelt before him. Peter surrendered, broken, but still unable to restrain his words.

“Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

The other men shook their heads again as Jesus smiled and went on.

“He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean;
and you are clean, but not all of you.”

Jesus came to Judas, who, unmoved by the moment, looked away, distracted while Jesus washed His feet. He did not hear the tender words spoken only to him as Jesus washed his feet and dried them with the towel.

Scriptures:
John 13:1-11

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Lord of All, You, whom all of heaven served joyfully, willingly, and completely, came not to be served but to serve. You did more than teach us about serving, You served. Humility is the coinage of Your Kingdom. Make me rich in it, Lord Jesus! Teach me the joy of service in Your powerful name and in Your peaceful shadow. I know from whence I came and I know my destination, so let me find my towel and serve my brothers and sisters and this hurting world. For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Lord, Make Me Like You

Words and Music: Jimmy and Carol Owens

Lord make me like You, Please make me like You.
You are a servant. Make me one, too.
O Lord I am willing  Do what You must do
To make me like You Lord,  Just make me like You
Whatever You do Lord, Please make me like You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 7 “Scholars”

Scholars

By the time Jesus was 12 years old, Joseph and Mary seemed to forget who He really was.
Each year, the family (Joseph and Mary had their own children by that time.) repeated the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover. Perhaps they busied themselves with the other children and left Jesus to His own devices. He was never any trouble anyway.

When the feast was over, everyone started for home, supposing Jesus to be with the entourage. He wasn’t. One day out, they realized this and returned to Jerusalem to find Him. It took them three days to think of the Temple. If they had been paying attention, they would have seen how the Temple fascinated the 12-year old Jesus. He was transfixed by the ceremony, the colors, the music, and the constant chanting of the Psalms. He knew all the psalms by heart but hearing them in the Temple gave them a thrilling new context.

He never left the Temple
The other pilgrims finished their obligatory worship and headed for home, eager to get back to their businesses. Jesus had just found His business and could not leave it. The Temple was His Father’s house. The psalms were addressed to His Heavenly Father! He belonged here! This place held a vital connection to His mission—the business His Father had sent Him to do. Thoughts of Nazareth and Mary and Joseph and the growing family seemed distant and disconnected.

Jesus and the Scholars
Like all academics, they were a mixed crowd. Many of them were sincere students of the Word and others were in it for power and prestige. Regardless of their heart conditions, all of them knew the Word of God. Imagine what it was like for them to see this little boy emerge from the crowd to ask them questions. This was flattering, of course. Men with all the answers love to entertain questions from lesser beings.

This boy was different. His questions sprang from an intense knowledge of the Word, not from ignorance of the law. For three days the Q and A continued. The boy never seemed to tire and he wore out group after group of the finest minds in the Temple. He asked questions they never before considered and for which they had no answers. The sincere ones kept the conversation going. Jesus was feeding their souls with truth. When the first night came, they took care of Jesus and were surprised when he peacefully slept in the quarters they provided. Shouldn’t a lost boy cry for his parents at night? Evidently not. The power-hungry priests were embarrassed and annoyed that this presumptuous little fellow could do this to them. They huddled together and decided to mark Jesus as a man to be watched. He might get one of their jobs one day.

The Return of Mary and Joseph
Late on the third day, Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the Temple teaching the scholars. They were embarrassed and rebuked Jesus. How could He do this to them? His answer sounds a bit rude to us but it really tells the tale.

“Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

This answer confused the priests. Wasn’t His father the carpenter? The Temple was not his business place.

Joseph and Mary thanked the scholars and hurried Jesus out of there and back to Nazareth. Jesus submitted to them for this, too, was His Father’s business.

Scriptures:
Luke: 2:39-52

So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the living Word. Those scholars in the Temple had no way of knowing that You knew the Word because You are the Word. But I know this and believe it will all my heart. Illumine my every step, O Lamp of God! Give light to my path, O Light of the World! The world around me is shrouded in darkness but Your Light shines on me, just as Isaiah promised. As I walk in this light, help me show the light to those who walk in darkness! For Your glory, Lord! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Thy Word Is a Lamp unto My Feet

Words and Music: Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant
1. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet
and a light unto my path.

When I feel afraid, think I’ve lost my way,
still you’re there right beside me,
and nothing will I fear as Iong as you are near.
Please be near me to the end.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet
and a light unto my path.

2. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet
and a light unto my path.

I will not forget your love for me,
and yet my heart forever is wandering.
Jesus, be my guide and hold me to your side,
and I will love you to the end.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet
and a light unto my path.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 1 “Wilderness”

Wilderness

Finding bread in the wilderness is not easy to do.
This was the second time the disciples had faced this challenge and they seemed unprepared. A crowd of 4000 men plus women and children had been with Jesus in the wilderness for three days with no provisions. Jesus, already motivated by the illnesses, the afflictions, and the spiritual vulnerabilities of the crowd, was moved with compassion for their hunger. He expressed this compassion to His men:

“I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

Although it seems amazing to us, the disciples seem to have forgotten about the feeding of a larger multitude just a few days before.

“Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?”

The only bread to be found in the wilderness is the bread someone had brought with them into the wilderness. The report was seven loaves of bread and a few little fish. Jesus took these meager provisions in His hands and blessed them. At this point surely the disciples remembered that they had done this before. They remembered the miracle in their hands as each piece of fish or hunk of bread they broke and gave to someone in the crowd was replaced by more when they repeated the process.

Food in the Wilderness, Take Two
If the disciples were slow on the uptake, so are we. We are a multitude in the wilderness, hungry for life. We are following Jesus and He is proving to be all that we need. He forgives us and sends His Holy Spirit to take up residence in us. He reveals His Word to us so we can know more about what life is and how it should be lived. He connects us with others on their own wilderness trek and adopts us into His holy family. He delivers us and heals us when are overcome or ill. He makes the wilderness into a garden. Isaiah prophesied this and it happens; time and again, it happens. We find bread where no bread should be. We place the little that we have into the Lord’s powerful hands and it becomes enough—more than enough! This slightly smaller multitude had 7 large baskets full of leftovers! Jesus sent them away, healed, delivered and picking fish out of their teeth with provisions for the trip home! Jesus was Jehovah Jireh, The Lord who Provides, in the flesh.

Sometimes we forget.
One of the most important forms of praise is thanksgiving—remembering what God has done for us in the past. Remembering past wildernesses that bloomed into beautiful gardens encourages us to face the wilderness that surrounds us now. We are not empty handed. We have something to give the Lord, even if it is only a heart full of good intentions. Remember that the contents of the heart changes things and the small, mustard seed-sized faith is enough to grow a mighty tree. The secret is to put what we have in our hands into His hands. With His touch we can see another wilderness become a garden.

Scriptures:
Matthew 15:32-39
Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” Then His disciples said to Him, “Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?” Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven, and a few little fish.” So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that were left. Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And He sent away the multitude, got into the boat, and came to the region of Magdala.
Genesis 22:13-14
Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord -Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
Isaiah 51:1-3
“Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, You who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, And to Sarah who bore you; For I called him alone, And blessed him and increased him.” For the Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the Lord; Joy and gladness will be found in it, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the master of the wilderness! Your delight is to lead us someplace dangerous and then provide what we need to face that challenge. You have not called us to a life lived safely behind walls of fear. When we follow You we will find ourselves in a wilderness. We are not alone; You are there. We have something of value we can give You there in the wilderness. We will watch time and time again as You take what we give You and make it enough. Lord Jesus, You are the master of the wilderness! Amen.

Song:
Come and Dine
Words and Music: C. B. Widmeyer

1. Jesus has a table spread
Where the saints of God are fed,
He invites His chosen people, “Come and dine”;
With His manna He doth feed
And supplies our every need:
Oh, ’tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time!

Refrain:
“Come and dine,” the Master calleth, “Come and dine”;
You may feast at Jesus’ table all the time;
He Who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now,

2. “Come and dine.” The disciples came to land,
Thus obeying Christ’s command,
For the Master called unto them, “Come and dine”;
There they found their heart’s desire,
Bread and fish upon the fire;
Thus He satisfies the hungry every time.

Refrain

3. Soon the Lamb will take His bride
To be ever at His side,
All the host of heaven will assembled be;
Oh, ’twill be a glorious sight,
All the saints in spotless white;
And with Jesus they will feast eternally

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 2 “Christ-child”

Christ-child

The miracle of the Incarnation is that God became a man.
The wonder of it all is that He became an infant, the most powerless of all human beings. This is the central mystery and fact of Christianity. It is a fact attested to by the most numerous and ancient of historical sources. No theologian has ever explained how it was done. In the early centuries of the church, leaders expended much effort and time and resources in conferences to try and figure whether Jesus was a man who became God or was He God in the form of man or something in between these possibilities. Various Creeds like the Nicene Creed go into detail to express the nature of God as a confessed belief and this is helpful. Statements of faith are needed but an explanation is not. We simply accept by faith that Jesus was both God and man both at the same time. In order to become the Christ-child, the pre-incarnate Jesus had to lay aside His divine nature and take up His human nature. This is a mystery not to be explained, but to believe and to confess in worship.

The Most Promising Young Couple in Nazareth
In my imagination, they were the pride of the village.

  • Joseph was an excellent craftsman with his own profitable shop. He was a man of integrity in business and piety in his religion. He knew the scriptures so well, the village children would gather into his shop after class to hear his wisdom on the lessons of the day. He specialized in prophecies of Messiah.
  • Mary was as perfect for him as he was for her. She was the model of beauty and modesty. Her cheerful spirit always brightened the mood wherever she went. Most of the young men were intimidated by her and most of the other girls found her so genuine they could not even envy her—except perhaps for her Joseph.
    All in all their betrothal was a bit of good news in those troubled times.

People found hope for the nation in young people such as these.

“Before they came together…”
They were not yet husband and wife when Mary realized that she was pregnant. We know from other sources that she had been visited by the angel Gabriel and told that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her leaving her with child. It happened just as Gabriel said and Mary had the difficult duty of telling Joseph. As a carpenter. Joseph knew the measure of things and did not believe her story. Brokenhearted, he decided to handle things as discreetly as possible by sending her away. It was not to be. In a dream an angel appeared to him and told him the facts. Awaking from his sleep Joseph obeyed the angel’s words and took Mary as his wife. His love for her was so great, it negated logic and thus their marriage was an act of faith in God.

“Immanuel—God with Us”
When the child was born, they named Him “Jesus” as instructed. In addition, the prophet Isaiah said that He would be called Immanuel, meaning, “God with us.” Jesus means, “Savior.” And thus He came to be! He will go to the cross as a sinless Lamb to save us from the price of our sins and He will be the manifest presence of God in the earth. Mary “brought forth her firstborn Son”—fully God and fully man—the mystery of the ages.

Scriptures:
Matthew 1:18-25
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Isaiah 7:14-15
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

Prayer:
The Apostles’ Creed
The Book of Common Prayer (Adapted SRP)
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Song:
Emmanuel
Words and Music: Bob McGee

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel
God with us, revealed in us
His name is called Emmanuel
(Repeat)

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 17, 2017

 

Brokenhearted

Broken bones will mend if properly set.
Broken promises can be renegotiated. Broken lives can be repaired in the office of the Great Physician; we see this all the time.

Broken hearts are harder to reach than broken bones.
What splint or caste is there to bind up the brokenhearted? People whose hearts have been betrayed, may never trust another negotiator. Wounded hearts may never press through the crowds to touch the hem of His garment.

The Wounded Healer
The story we tell the world is that of the wounded Healer. The One with His own broken heart who is able to bind up the broken hearts that come to Him.

In these weeks we contemplate the brokenhearted Jesus:

  • abandoned by most of His family,
  • forcefully taken to the brow of a hill in His hometown only to disarm the crowd simply by walking through them,
  • assaulted by the religious establishment,
  • weeping over Jerusalem,
  • receiving the kiss of His betrayer, and
  • hearing the footsteps of His followers fleeing from the Garden.

The taunts and blows of the soldiers bruised His mind and body, but His great heart was not broken by these injuries. Neither the whip nor the nails could wound His heart; they could only pierce the body His Father had provided Him.

His heart kept on beating.
Pain enough, these wounds, but His strong heart did not break—it had work to do. His precious blood must be pumped through these wounds and spill to the earth—a crimson stream of blood. The whole world would need this redeeming flow. His life must be poured out for all who will believe in the ages to come, so His heart kept on beating.

When the full price was paid, with His face ashen and drained of color, Jesus lifted His eyes to the Father. He had taken the full measure of wickedness into a sinless heart. It was done. “It is finished.” He was barely able to pronounce the completion of his task.

In a way that we cannot understand, His Father could not look anymore upon Him. For this Abraham and Isaac there would be no angel to block the thrust of the knife.

The heart of Jesus broke and He released His spirit to God, quoting a psalm He had learned as a child.

In that moment of brokenness all wounds were healed.
Until we are made like Him when we see Him as He is, we have the power to endure broken bones, promises, and lives. The Wounded Healer is our Physician. Jesus is the One who is anointed to preach this good news—He will bind up the broken hearted.

Scriptures:
Psalm 69 NIV
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. … You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. … I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs. The poor will see and be glad — you who seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them, for God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will inherit it, and those who love his name will dwell there.
Jeremiah 8:22 NIV
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?
Isaiah 61:1 KJV
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
Matthew27:46 KJV
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
John 19:30 NIV
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
Luke 23:46
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my heart has been broken, but never like Yours was broken. I have felt Your warm hands holding my heart at those times, shielding me from further injury, sustaining me with Your strength. I thought I would die, but You kept me alive. You let my tears flow just as your tears did at the tomb of Lazarus and on that hill overlooking Jerusalem. When my tears stopped, Your healing hands cradled my broken heart in love. You warmed my wounded heart with the Balm of Gilead and the healing began. In this life some wounds never completely heal. They leave behind scar tissue to remind us of Your touch then, now, and someday, when we see You as You are, the touch that will finish the work. Amen

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

4. O how the world to evil allures me! O how my heart is tempted to sin!
I must tell Jesus, and He will help me Over the world the vict’ry to win

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved