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      When I was a boy, and before the Township passed an ordinance against it, one of my jobs was to take the paper trash out to the ash can and burn it.  I remember that the bottom of the can was filled with ashes, and each burning just added to the pile.  Large, filled bags became nothing more than ashes, their contents gone, and only the ashes remained.  Life is very often much the same.  Who among us has not had their dreams, hopes, and desires turned to ashes?  Who has not seen what had been filled with joyful expectation, made, in an instant, into nothing more than a pile of ashes?  We live in a fallen world, and this world will bring us, more than once, to that pile of ash.  The key is what, and who we find there.
      Isaiah 61 contains the very words that Christ spoke as He began His earthly ministry.  Verse 3 reads, "To all who mourn in Israel, He will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair."  He speaks of something far more than having a good and positive outlook on things.  Having such is very hard when one finds themselves on the ash heap.  Neither is He speaking of suddenly making the circumstances around us instantly better, removing them from us, and us from them.  No, the beauty He speaks of is the giving of Himself in the midst of the ashes.  He is the Beauty.  The Beauty that shines brighter, further, and more deeply, and so much so that even the greatest pile of ash is unable to quench Him.  When we are captivated by that beauty, held in its grip, joy is exchanged for mourning.  Praise does replace despair.  Out of the ashes, we rise in and with Him.  The enemy always seeks to have us make our home among the ashes.  The Father calls us upward, in Christ, to make our home in Him.  He tells us in His word, "I am your Home."
     What has been burnt up in our lives today, leaving nothing but a pile of ashes?  Where do the disappointments lie, the defeats and the failures?  Where and what are the lost dreams, the betrayals, the sorrows and the heartaches?  In what pile of ash might we find ourselves today?  Do we know that He is there, with us?  Can we sense His Presence?  Can our eyes be opened to see the beauty, His beauty, in the midst of those ashes?  Will we allow Him to give us that beauty, make it a part of us?  Will we allow Him to make real for us the exchange of all the ashes for the fullness of His beauty?  Bring to Him the ashes, and receive from Him His beauty.  Can there be a more beautiful exchange than that?

Blessings,
Pastor O
 
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