March 1, 2017 Ash Wednesday

March 1, 2017


It was justice, of a sort.
Smudges of ash on my forehead in the rough shape of a cross, no, the Cross, the one cross that counts. So many crosses, so many executions, so many guilty souls departed this life from rough-hewn timbers, and perhaps, a much smaller number of innocent souls but with the same outcome. It was justice, of a sort—the Roman sort that kept the peace, Pax Romana, in the known world. All of them are nameless now, forgotten, all save One: Jesus of Nazareth. The actual wood of His cross has long ago rotted into dust. The blood He shed that day has long ago dried and returned as water to the cycle of life from death, life from death.

Yet somehow, that cross remains and that blood still saves.
Lifted to the sky as far as man can reach, the cross graces buildings as diverse as tall stone-cold cathedrals and small rickety wooden churches made of kindling standing in defiance of any threatening flame. The cross has become ornamental to fashion and glitters around the necks of sinners.

The blood is not so popular; it is too close to home. We have blood flowing in us and we want to keep it there, hidden from our eyes for we hate the sight of blood.

Now this—ashes in the shape of the cross on my forehead, expressing hope in the continuing power of that blood—the cleansing blood of Jesus—a spiritual force of forgiveness. It has never lost its power. That blood is my hope. So I take the sign of the cross in deep repentance. I will discipline my rebel flesh with fasting.

I will not speak of it or boast. It will be a secret between Him and me. Like that stone-cold cathedral and that rickety wooden little church, I have lifted His cross as high as I can.

Now, I must be still and let His blood do a deep work in me.

Joel 1:13-14 NIV
Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.
Matthew 6:16-18 NIV
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Acts 13:1-3 NKJV
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.

(from The Book of Common Prayer)
Prayer of Repentance
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Prayer for the Adminstration of the Ashes
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Just As I Am
Words: Charlotte Elliot; Music: William Bradbury

1.Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come!

2. Just as I am, and waiting not To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come.

3. Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come!

4. Just as I am, poor wretched blind; Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee I find, O Lamb of God, I come!

5. Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 15, 2017


Regret is a precursor to repentance, but when our sins are removed from us as far as the East is from the West, regret often remains. Although painful, this type of regret is in reality a blessing. When we remember the pain we have caused by doing wrong, the lives our sins have altered beyond repair, and the ripple effects of our selfishness continuing in the circumstances of others, we are cautioned never to act that way again.

We think, “God help me to never do that again!” or, “If I had it to do over again…”

The truth is, we have it to do over again—constantly.
Based upon the undying regret of sins past, we must resolve never to repeat them. We cannot change the past but we can affect the future. As marvelous as forgiveness of sins is from the hand of the Lord Jesus, the power to break the patterns of behavior that led us into sin is more marvelous still. This power is the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit—regeneration, the theologians call it. The past is forgiven and a different future is in store for us.

Part of that future is the blessing of regrets that remind us the past can be future if we are not constantly dependent upon the Spirit of Christ, who is the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of New Life, the Spirit of Holiness, and the Spirit of power.

  • The Spirit of Christ is the victory over evil and death.
  • The Spirit of Truth is the revealer of all truth and the One who quickens us to understand spiritual things.
  • The Spirit of New Life is the resurrection power of God making all things new.
  • The Spirit of Holiness is the Refiner’s Fire and Fuller’s Soap to purify the Sons of Levi.
  • The Spirit of Power is the inner strength in the abiding, covenantal presence of the Holy Spirit, to resist the Devil and witness to the Gospel.

Lest We Forget
So drastic is the change with the entrance of Christ into a life, it would be easy to forget the way we lived, the way we were, before Jesus saved us. Regret is the gift of God that keeps our feet on the ground.

  • When we see a face that reminds of someone we have harmed,
  • when we hear a phrase that reminds of some unkind thing we have said, and
  • when we hear a true story that is a reenactment of one that happened to us long ago, before we became the hero of such stories,
  • then we remember who we once were and how we once lived.

Remembering and regretting, we breathe a prayer of thanksgiving and without hesitation, send to heaven a plea like the old song, “Keep me true, Lord Jesus. Keep me true.”

2 Corinthians 7:8-11

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it…because your sorrow led you to repentance… See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
Colossians 2:13-15
When you were dead in your sins and in … your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Romans 6:3-4
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Malachi 3:1-4
“…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.

Lord, don’t let me forget, on this side of heaven, where I was when you found me and how I was before you came into my heart. Turn this regret into the Gates of Thanksgiving for me! I as remember the dark time before Your light shone around me, let me also recall how different my life has been since then—light instead of darkness, peace instead of turmoil, faith instead of fear, and your constant nearness. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Lord! I do not regret a mile I have walked with You!

Keep Me True
Traditional Chorus

Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true.
Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true.
There’s a race that I must run.
There are vict’ries to be won.
Every hour, by Thy power, keep me true!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved