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Smoke detectors (a message for Ash Wednesday)

Just read on facebook of a Vicar doing the Ash Crosses on peoples foreheads and got their words muddled up and instead of saying: “from dust you came and to dust you shall return – turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ” and not ‘turn away from Christ and be faithful to sin”.

Yet actually I think this hits the nail on the head, sometimes we Christians don’t behave as we should.
Even St. Paul struggled with sin, just check out Romans 7, “the good I want to do I don’t do, and the sin I don’t want to do I do do”…
Yet Christians not behaving as we should has disastrous effects on our calling to make Christ known, check out this quote:

“The greatest cause of Atheism in this country is Christians who confess Christ with their lips but deny him by their lifestyle, that is what an unbelieving world finds unbelieveable” said Brendan Manning (not to be confused with Bernard Manning) on the DC Talk Album, “What if I stumble?” -Taken from the Title track whose first line is “What if I stumble, what if I fall, will the love continue when the walk becomes a crawl?”.

The Answers “YES” by the way!

A great verse to remember when we feel weighed down with sin and brokenness, is “a bruised reed he will not break nor will he snuff out a smoldering wick”.

God is gracious when we come to him in repentance and brokenness, in fact we see Jesus having a predisposition towards the fallen… “there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 righteous people who need no repentance” … I think here Jesus is being subversive and a little sarcastic, you see the 99 aren’t righteous, Paul tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, the problem is they think they are righteous, and it is their own pride and arrogance which will see them missing out on Salvation. This is why Jesus says “Blessed are those who know their need of God”.

It might be helpful to think of our consciences like ‘Smoke Alarms’… some smoke alarms will start bleeping away when you boil a kettle or singe the toast, I guess a battered consciences leaves some people crawl through life feeling massively condemned, and need to know that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, whereas others are like the smoke detector with a flat battery no matter how spiteful, hurtful or dishonest their actions the entire house will be engulfed in flames before the smoke detector even offers a bleep.

Interestingly I think this story can be found in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the religious one so full of blind arrogance that he leaves the temple not right or justified with God.

The problem is, a defective conscience never gets sorted out, we may offer what Bonhoeffer called ‘Pseudo repentance’ in our confessional prayers, but the question is when offer pseudo repentance do we receive pseudo grace?
It is easy to say or sing words that we don’t actually mean… Shane Claiborne talks of “people singing ‘Just as I am’but the problem is the leave the same way they came in and they behave as they always have”.
Whereas the Tax Collectors authentic faith discovered grace, and left the temple right and justified with God.
So lets, look at ourselves this Ash Wednesday with sober judgement, asking God to re-calibrate and re-set our consciences, just as we might change the battery in a smoke alarm, so that we are sensitized to his Spirit, our eyes opened to our blind-spots of pride and self righteousness, and set us free from false condemnation.

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