Tag Archives: wrong

A Reflection for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is a time for reflection, for confession, for honesty before God.  It is an opportunity also to seek God’s forgiveness – and receive it, deep into our heart and mind; to know that those things that trouble us, and those we are barely aware of but effect us deeply, can be dealt with by God; and to receive his peace.

Ashes are a way to show sorrow, a physical sign of an inner reality.

2014-02-27 12.12.10

Ashes mark penitence and mourning, an acknowledgement of and sorrow at our wrongdoing.

Daniel 9:2-4 (CEV)
Daniel Prays for the People

1-2 Daniel wrote:

Some years later, Darius the Mede, who was the son of Xerxes, had become king of Babylonia. And during his first year as king, I found out from studying the writings of the prophets that the Lord had said to Jeremiah, “Jerusalem will lie in ruins for seventy years.” 3-4 Then, to show my sorrow, I went without eating and dressed in sackcloth and sat in ashes. I confessed my sins and earnestly prayed to the Lord my God:

Our Lord, you are a great and fearsome God, and you faithfully keep your agreement with those who love and obey you.

We go through life.  We think we’re doing ok – not a bad job all things considered.  Or we don’t even have time to stop and think about it.  We are busy just surviving, getting to the next thing, trying to hold everything together.

But sometimes we are pulled up short.  We realise we have got something badly wrong, or just a little bit wrong, and we have to stop and think.  We need to apologise, put right what we have got wrong and receive forgiveness.  Often the hardest person to forgive is ourselves.

Ash Wednesday is a specific opportunity to do that thinking.  To take the time to purposely reflect before God on the reality that is our life.

Burning,
cleansing God,
I come before you today;
I want to take this time
to remember,
to honestly recall,
to examine my life
in your presence;
to ask my self
if I live up to all you ask of me,
day by day,
heartbeat by heartbeat,
in every corner of my life.

We know the Ten Commandments:

The Ten Commandments

20 God said to the people of Israel:

I am the Lord your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves.

Do not worship any god except me.

Do not make idols that look like anything in the sky or on earth or in the ocean under the earth. Don’t bow down and worship idols. I am the Lord your God, and I demand all your love. If you reject me, I will punish your families for three or four generations. But if you love me and obey my laws, I will be kind to your families for thousands of generations.

Do not misuse my name. I am the Lord your God, and I will punish anyone who misuses my name.

Remember that the Sabbath Day belongs to me. You have six days when you can do your work, 10 but the seventh day of each week belongs to me, your God. No one is to work on that day—not you, your children, your slaves, your animals, or the foreigners who live in your towns. 11 In six days I made the sky, the earth, the oceans, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That’s why I made the Sabbath a special day that belongs to me.

12 Respect your father and your mother, and you will live a long time in the land I am giving you.

13 Do not murder.

14 Be faithful in marriage.

15 Do not steal.

16 Do not tell lies about others.

17 Do not want anything that belongs to someone else. Don’t want anyone’s house, wife or husband, slaves, oxen, donkeys or anything else.

Read them slowly, thinking not just about the letter of them, but the spirit too.

Talk honestly to God about where you are with them and with him.  How have I lived out what God wants me to do?  How have I shown love, his love and mine, to those around me?  Not just the lovely people, but those that annoy me too?

I worship God, but are there other gods in my life?  Things I do rather than spend time with God or do what he requires of me?  Are there things I put in God’s place?

Am I free and easy with God’s name?  Do I do or say things that make me sound like I am closer to God than I am; or when I use his name to validate what I say, when it is actually my opinion that I have to say?

Do I make space, real space, for God, for myself and for those I love?  Or am I busy cramming my life with things that don’t really matter?

Do I truly respect those that I should?  Those who have experience and wisdom that I don’t?  Those who have sacrificed much for me and cared for me?

Of course I’ve never murdered anyone, but have I done and said things that have made people die on the inside?  Have I wished ill of people?

Am I faithful?  Do I always give the honour that is due?  Am I focussed, or do other things distract me?

I may not commit robbery, but do I look for short-cuts, loopholes or the cheapest rather than the best way?  Do I take others time, take them and all they offer for granted?  Am I looking for an easy ride through life, or willing to give as much as I get?

Am I honest in character?  Do I stretch the truth when it suits me?  Avoid the question?

Am I easily jealous, wanting what others have?  Thinking it will answer my problems?

There is so much I do that I shouldn’t do, and don’t do that I should…

Lord,
I come before you in shame,
in penitence,
to say that I am truly sorry.
My life is not what you would have it be,
I have not lived as the person you called me to be,
I have got some things very wrong
As I think of the ashes,
the dirt and the dust,
I see the darkness in my life;
I rub my hands in it
and see and feel the stain
Forgive me,
I pray.
Thank you
that you promise forgiveness
and give it freely.
This day may I go,
marked by you,
forgiven,
restored
and free
in and through
your love
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A Whole Load Ruined

Have you ever managed to do a white wash and got something of a different colour in it?  However small, that one thing manages to colour the rest of the load – everything with it is tainted by it.

Isaiah 1:10-18 (CEV)

Justice, Not Sacrifices

10 You are no better
    than the leaders and people
of Sodom and Gomorrah!
    So listen to the Lord God:
11 “Your sacrifices
    mean nothing to me.
I am sick of your offerings
    of rams and choice cattle;
I don’t like the blood
    of bulls or lambs or goats.

12 “Who asked you to bring all this
when you come to worship me?
    Stay out of my temple!
13 Your sacrifices are worthless,
    and incense is disgusting.
I can’t stand the evil you do
    on your New Moon Festivals
or on your Sabbaths
    and other times of worship.
14 I hate your New Moon Festivals
    and all others as well.
They are a heavy burden
    I am tired of carrying.

15 “No matter how much you pray,
I won’t listen.
    You are too violent.
16 Wash yourselves clean!
I am disgusted
    with your filthy deeds.
Stop doing wrong
17     and learn to live right.
See that justice is done.
Defend widows and orphans
    and help those in need.”

An Invitation from the Lord

18 I, the Lord, invite you
    to come and talk it over.
Your sins are scarlet red,
but they will be whiter
    than snow or wool.

The people thought that they had got things right.  They thought they were doing all the right things, making the right sacrifices in the right way – and they believed that meant they were doing what God asked of them.

What they totally overlooked was the way they behaved the rest of their lives away from the temple.  Their behaviour elsewhere is condemned as nothing short of evil – so whatever they did in the Temple was meaningless, it was not their true selves.  It doesn’t matter how awesome and holy the sacrifice looks, if the rest of life is not right.  Their behaviour in bringing sacrifices did not effect the rest of their lives; rather their everyday behaviour tainted their apparently pious offerings to God, making them unworthy and unacceptable.  If only they cared as much about justice as they did about looking good!

The powerful bit comes in verse 18.  Wow! an invitation from God – Having got things so wrong is not the end of the story.  God invites the people to come and talk it over.  Nothing is too bad, beyond redemption or too far gone.  God invites us to come to him, and what seems scarlet, can become whiter than ever.

To return to the laundry, I don’t know how successful it is, but you can buy a product that “turns back the clock on most colour run disasters”.  That is what God offers to each one of us for our lives.

However bad the stain, it can be sorted out.  Whatever we have done, God invites us to come and let him remove the stains.  We need not despair.

I don’t know about you, but I need that in my life.  As I think back over things I have ruined, people I have hurt, things that have gone wrong by my interference…

By God’s invitation there can be a clean start.

Wash Me Lord

Oh Lord,
there is so much I have got wrong,
so many ways I have lived my life
so differently to how I might present it,
my offerings have been meaningless,
or a cover for how I really am.

Wash me Lord
I pray.
Where my everyday actions
have tainted the whole of my life,
wash me clean,
restore the whiteness in me.
I come at your invitation,
and accept your cleansing.

One Thing Leads to Another

John F Kennedy made famous the quote

For of those to whom much is given, much is required

Tied to it is the principle that one day we will be judged by our success or failure in the post we hold.  Citing courage, judgement, integrity and dedication as the markers of serving.

We expect more of those put in positions of authority.  We expect them to lead by example.  In one way that is only fair, yet they are only human like the rest of us, with the same temptations and failings.

Here David shows his very human side:

2 Samuel 11:1-15

David and Bathsheba

11 It was now spring, the time when kings go to war. David sent out the whole Israelite army under the command of Joab and his officers. They destroyed the Ammonite army and surrounded the capital city of Rabbah, but David stayed in Jerusalem.

2-4 Late one afternoon, David got up from a nap and was walking around on the flat roof of his palace. A beautiful young woman was down below in her courtyard, bathing as her religion required. David happened to see her, and he sent one of his servants to find out who she was.

The servant came back and told David, “Her name is Bathsheba. She is the daughter of Eliam, and she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

David sent some messengers to bring her to his palace. She came to him, and he slept with her. Then she returned home. But later, when she found out that she was going to have a baby, she sent someone to David with this message: “I’m pregnant!”

David sent a message to Joab: “Send Uriah the Hittite to me.”

Joab sent Uriah to David’s palace, and David asked him, “Is Joab well? How is the army doing? And how about the war?” Then David told Uriah, “Go home and clean up.” Uriah left the king’s palace, and David had dinner sent to Uriah’s house. But Uriah didn’t go home. Instead, he slept outside the entrance to the royal palace, where the king’s guards slept.

10 Someone told David that Uriah had not gone home. So the next morning David asked him, “Why didn’t you go home? Haven’t you been away for a long time?”

11 Uriah answered, “The sacred chest and the armies of Israel and Judah are camping out somewhere in the fields with our commander Joab and his officers and troops. Do you really think I would go home to eat and drink and sleep with my wife? I swear by your life that I would not!”

12 Then David said, “Stay here in Jerusalem today, and I will send you back tomorrow.”

Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day. Then the next day, 13 David invited him for dinner. Uriah ate with David and drank so much that he got drunk, but he still did not go home. He went out and slept on his mat near the palace guards. 14 Early the next morning, David wrote a letter and told Uriah to deliver it to Joab. 15 The letter said: “Put Uriah on the front line where the fighting is the worst. Then pull the troops back from him, so that he will be wounded and die.”

King David had done some amazing things.  But this doesn’t stop him seeing a lovely woman, and wanting her.  Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there, as that leads to her becoming pregnant.  Unable to persuade her husband to go home to his wife, so it may be assumed the child is his, David eventually arranges a murder.

One tiny error of judgement, giving in to one temptation, snowballs out of all proportion.  One wrong action leads to another, and another…

How easy it is, even for the best of us.  If David, great as he was can fail, it should be no surprise that we fail too, and others fail us.

Have you ever had it said to you,

But you’re a Christian, you shouldn’t get things wrong

or

Christians are hypocrites, no better than the rest of us.

Well the truth is we do still get things wrong, sometimes very wrong.  David got some things spectacularly wrong in his life.  He was a man of deep faith and devotion to God, but still made some bad choices.  Even the best of us can get it wrong. The story moves on… but more of that next week.

To not rush on, for now perhaps we need to sit with the acknowledgement of failure, of poor choices, of downright disobedience.  Of how easy it is for one little decision to escalate out of control.

Perhaps you’re thinking I’ve never done anything that bad.  But are we talking about degrees, not actions?

Can any of us stand before God and say we have never done anything wrong?

Perhaps you’re fully aware of what you’ve done wrong?

Is today the day to bring it to God, to hear his voice, and receive his peace and forgiveness?

Lord

as I read this story,

I can sit back –

glad that I am not an adulterer

or a murder.

But then if I actually pause and think,

I recall the things I have got wrong,

times when I have gone the wrong way,

done the wrong thing,

not done the right thing,

and I find that I am no different.

Or,

as I read it,

I am only too aware of what I have got wrong.

So Lord,

I acknowledge before you,

the things that I have got wrong,

and I come

seeking your forgiveness,

your peace,

your hope,

and I thank you for the chance to start again.