Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Cor 4:7-11 (ESV)

My earthen vessel isn’t cracked, it’s smashed.  It’s smashed to dust. And I admit that for a long time I thought there was surely something wrong with me. I felt victimized. I felt wronged.  It wasn’t fair.  It wasn’t right.  I’ve been abused.  I’ve been ravished.   I’ve talked to God about it a lot.  

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8 (ESV) 

If He’s the potter and I’m the clay, then why do I feel like dust? 

Did you know how dust becomes clay?  

“Clays form from millions of years of mineral erosion. Mountains break down into boulders, boulders into rocks, rocks into pebbles, sand, silt and eventually, when the silt reaches a certain size of fineness, an amazing transformation occurs. Instead of just being a loose mix, the fine particles manifest an attraction for water and each other at a molecular level. Clay can be thought of less as a material and more of a behavior, the phenomenon of very finely eroded minerals to agglomerate.” (Webb, Patrick “From Dust We Come: A Look at Clay.” Traditional Building. Feb 14, 2017 https://www.traditionalbuilding.com/opinions/a-look-at-clay)

Today as I began to write and lament about my suffering, the Lord reminded me of a vision he’d given me a few years ago. I saw a beaten and battered up old vase sitting on a pedestal.  Light showed through the cracks and broken places and cast an intricate pattern of spider web designs across the walls.  The room was lit up by them.  

The vision could have ended there for me to know that God was working and making beauty from my brokeness, but God had more to show me.  A huge sledgehammer suddenly came down and smashed the vase, but instead of extinguishing the light, an explosion of vibrant colors filled the room. The walls around it could not contain it, and they crumbled into dust as the light and colors filled the world outside with unimaginable beauty as far as the eye could see.  

As I recalled the vision this afternoon, I heard God say, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

There’s my dust. 

I thought back to the Garden of Eden.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust was a consequence of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had warned Adam and Eve about it, but they didn’t listen.  

Yet I know I’m not suffering the consequences of my sin because I’ve chosen to eat from the tree of life through Jesus instead of the tree of slavery to my own debauchery.  My consequences got paid for on the cross. 

What I’m carrying are the marks of an enemy who hates me.  He hates me because I chose Jesus instead of death.  I chose to eat from the tree of life.  I called BS on the serpent’s lies. 

I think of Jesus, and why He chose to go the cross, and why He called His disciples to do the same.  “And he (Jesus) said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23 ESV) We saw Jesus carry His cross. He couldn’t even do it by himself, he needed help!  It was excruciating, horrifying, and brutal. But necessary.  

Jesus came in the flesh to show us that the pain of this world and the death that it brings doesn’t have to be eternal.  He came to show us that we don’t have to suffer the consequences of Adam and Eve and their bad decision.  We can choose for ourselves to take the fruit of life offered by Him. We can choose life. 

It’s a necessary step, suffering.  It’s the consequence of an evil serpent throwing a tantrum because Jesus has offered us eternal life. Jesus knows that road well. He faced those consequences, too.  He did it for us. He submitted to Satan’s tantrum and said, “Give me your worst!” and Satan obliged Him.  

Jesus’s life wasn’t pretty, and it ended brutally, but resurrection followed!  Jesus gets the last word.  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  And the Word cannot be overcome.  It is life and it is beautiful, and he carries the scars on his own resurrected flesh just to remind us of that.  What a gift.  I’m so thankful for it.  

If I’m to follow him in all things, then I must be willing to accept the crushing with the hope that it will bring resurrection life.  Not because God hates me, but because the world does, and God is not content to let me suffer in vain.  There’s got to be beauty that comes from it, or there’s no point in living at all.  

Jesus showed me that because He experienced it.  He laid down his life willingly so that I could see that all the suffering the enemy could throw at me in this world would not be the end of me.  Because He conquered death, if I follow Him in life, I too shall stand upon the wreckage of death and proclaim eternal life through Him who saved me from it!

Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust. Dust to clay. Clay to life in the Potter’s capable hands.

Complete Joy

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28

Sometimes I just get tired and defeated and I want to give up.  It hurts. I have war wounds that never seem to heal. I get delivered from one thing only to be devoured again by something else.  What’s the point of fighting? 

I say these things to remind myself that it’s okay to fall short.  It’s okay to be broken and sad about it. Really. It’s okay. This isn’t actually about you.  At least not in the ways you might think. The suffering of the Christ follower always has purpose.

10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

I stumble and fall, but I get back up again, even when I don’t want to.  I get up because I am weak and broken and yet I am triumphant. Yes, you heard me right.  It’s about triumph. It’s about trust in that triumph. Pain and failure are always an opportunity to need God desperately and find that He is utterly faithful, utterly strong, and utterly victorious.  Always.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.
Psalm 37:39-40

Jesus looked really, really defeated on that Roman cross.  I think Satan thought he’d actually done it: defeated the King of Kings.  But we all know what happened next. After suffering horrifically, after scourging and mocking and humiliation, after slowly bleeding out and getting weaker and weaker, after agonizing asphyxiation, Jesus allowed himself to die. 

And that looked like the opposite of deliverance. Especially when we recall Psalms 37  “…he delivers them from the wicked and saves them…” 

Jesus couldn’t have victory over death until he’d experienced it.  

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:21-24

Death wasn’t the end for Jesus, and it’s not the end for us.  

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
Luke 24:1-7

That pretty much says it all, right?  

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:29-31

So when the time has come to suffer again, and I’m feeling weary from the pain, I will look to the cross of Christ and find my strength.  I will remember the suffering that leads to victory, and my joy will be as Christ’s.  Death isn’t the end.  

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