Rising out of the Ashes
Whispers of smoke rose up as Cindy walked through the remains of her house. The fire, last night, completely destroyed her home. As she kicked a charred picture frame, she realized that these smoking embers are symbolic of what her life had become.
This past year, everything had fallen apart in Cindy’s life. A misunderstanding with her boss caused her to lose her job. Her two-year relationship with her boyfriend had ended. Her car was destroyed when a drunk ran a stop sign. Now, her house has burned down.
The frustrations and pressures seem to be overwhelming. She asks herself, "How can I overcome this? Not only is there no light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel seems to be collapsing all around me."
Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever felt that your life has turned into such a mess that all you have left are ashes? Most likely, as a Christian, you’re probably familiar with the verses that talk about God being close to those in trouble. However, the old comfort of, "All things working together for the good" (Rom 8:28) may seem rather shallow. You ask yourself, "How can God create something good out of my life when all I have left are ashes?"
Many people don’t realize if you mix ashes in oil and then put the mixture into a salt brine, you’ll get a "scum" that floats to the surface. If you squeeze the scum together, you will end up with a bar of soap. What originally appeared to be a worthless waste product is actually a beneficial healing product.
Think about this concept for a moment. If you mix the ashes of your ruined dreams along with the anointing oil of God into the salt of your tears, you will end up with a useful substance. The "scum" you see floating in your life is not a worthless byproduct of a life-gone-bad. It is actually something that is very useful. God can take the remains of your destroyed dreams and turn them into something that can help cleanse those around you. God can use the lessons you have learned from your experiences to help heal dirty and wounded hearts.
Many of the problems we encounter are outside our control. We do, however, bring some problems on ourselves. Sometimes it is our sin that has caused our world to collapse. Does God rebuild our lives into something special even if it is our sins that has caused the destruction?
You may say, "Okay, I can see how God can take a life that is hurting and turn it into a shining example of God’s love and power. I can’t see, however, how God can salvage the testimony of a Christian who has allowed his life to be completely destroyed by sin. Once a Christian life has made a total mockery of the gospel and has alienated both Christians and non-Christians, what is left for him?"
That is a very good question; what is left for him? Unfortunately, we treat the repentance of a Christian and a non-Christian differently. If a person makes a total mess of his life and then becomes a Christian, we hold him up as a shining example of what God can do. If, however, a Christian falls into the same despicable sin and then repents, we usually try to hide him in a corner somewhere. He has become an embarrassment to us.
There is a double standard in the Christian community. While I think there are some practical considerations that require us to treat fallen Christians differently, I think a critical and judgmental spirit motivates most of our reactions to these Christians. The unfortunate reality for these fallen Christians is most ministries will not want to employ them. So, what is left for these people? Will the scars of their terrible sins prevent them from ever being used of God again? Sin always produces scars, and as a result, there is no way for things to completely return to the way they were before.
To illustrate, let’s say you are a youth minister at your church and have fallen into deep sin. It has been discovered you have been having sexual relations with several of the young girls in your youth group. In fact, some of the girls are as young as eight years old. Many things will probably happen all at once. You will lose your job and the ministry of your church is set back many years. Your wife leaves you and your transgressions make national news.
After several years in prison, you finally turn your life around. Your repentance is genuine, and you have taken multiple steps to correct your deviant behavior. Your walk with God is closer than it has ever been. Your humility before God is profound.
After you get out of prison, you try to pick up the pieces only to find there aren't any pieces to pick up. Your family and all of your Christian friends want nothing to do with you. Your former pastor says it wouldn’t be a good idea for you to be actively involved in your former church. In fact, he prefers you attend a different church. Most parents have said they don't want you to be near their children. Despite your burden to serve God, no one wants your help.
You understand their rejection, but this does little to ease your pain. You ask yourself, "What type of service is left for me?" You still have a burden to serve God, but no one will give you an opportunity. You think about the people who have been saved in prison and now have growing ministries. You think about the unfairness and you struggle to overcome the bitterness.
So, what do you do? I guess you could crawl into a hole somewhere and live out the rest of your life in shameful isolation. You could change your name and move to another state and start working in some distant church. Assuming they don’t do a background check, it still wouldn’t do you any good. God will not bless a ministry based on a lie. So, we go back to the original question, what do you do?
Rom. 5:20,21 says where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. Are these just hollow words that sound good in a sermon, or does God take special care of his fallen children? If this is true, the youth pastor should have received a great deal of extra grace.
God has provided, through nature, a beautiful illustration of His grace. Long ago in a forest there once stood a mighty tree. It was the tallest and most beautiful tree in the whole forest. It provided shade and shelter for a large variety of animals. One day the world came crashing in on the life of the tree (quite literally; an earthquake swallowed up the whole area). Now, the tree has no practical purpose and is basically worthless. To add insult to injury, conditions were just right to cause the tree to turn into coal. This mighty tree is now a dirty, messy substance, something that is undesirable to be around. To make matters worse, this tree was then put under incredible pressure. Amazingly, this destroyed tree, this filthy mess, has turned into a diamond.
The tree was designed for a specific purpose, but it could no longer function as a tree. Its original purpose and function had been completely destroyed. There was no turning back. Yet, this tree can still be useful. Even though it can no longer be used as it was intended, it now has a new function. Being a beautiful diamond, it can be used for something very special, such as a jewel on a king's crown.
Likewise, a Christian who has completely destroyed his testimony and ministry still has hope. He probably will never be able to be involved in the type of ministry he was involved in before. He can, however, be used in other types of service. It may not be a high profile position. It may not even appear glamorous to him or anyone else. Yet, in God's eyes, these remaining years may be even more valuable and productive than his previous years in his other ministry.
Isn’t it miraculous to see how God can take a dark filthy mess and turn it into something beautiful and valuable? What do you think He can do with the mess you’ve made in your life? If you have fallen deep into sin, God can still make your life valuable and useful. You’ll still have to live with the terrible scars of your sins, but these scars will be a living testimony of God’s love and grace. Truly where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.
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