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Ashes for Beauty

We’ve all heard of the phrase “beauty for ashes” – a lovely image of trading off a lowly and filthy state, for fresh, renewed beauty.

It is the language of the gospel. It is the language of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 61 of his book.

It is the hope and yearning of any honest person who looks into his/her soul and sees the ash heap of sin and selfishness that defiles every one of us.

We mourn, and a symbol of that mourning in the days of Isaiah was to cover oneself with ashes in sorrow and humiliation.

But that’s not the end of the story.

beauty for ashesLater, in chapter 61:10, Isaiah proclaims that the period of ashes is to be followed by its opposite – a state of newness, light, and cleansing. The language is striking and even romantic:

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in God;

for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Some people – and I confess that I am one of them – seem to feel more comfortable wallowing in the ashes, than rejoicing in the freely-given robe of righteousness. Instead of trading up to beauty for our ashes, we trade down – neglecting the good news of an infinitely forgiving and cleansing God in order to stare at the soot and the filth. As if a right posture before God was one of unending mourning. “Thanks for the beauty, but I think I’ll just cover myself with ashes again today…”

The mourning period is temporary. It is meant to lead us to repentance, then to embracing the beauty of Jesus Christ while putting away our ashes of self-will and unbelief.

Yes, we will still sin, and mourn our profound imperfection. But we’re now alive. We’ve been granted pardon and been adopted. We have righteous robes. We have beauty instead of ashes.

It’s time to clean up the mirror and see as God sees…

photo credit: sparktography via photopin cc

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Iridescent

Dancing and shimmering in the cool breeze, a fresh spider web reflected the dawn’s rays from its perch in the red maple above our deck.

It looked, for all the world, like the wings of a dragonfly – shades of electric blue and seductive purple and shameless red, pulsating to an unseen rhythm with the reflecting sun playing off its silken strands.

The arachnid architect had no awareness of the beauty it had spun. This, to him, was a meal ticket. But to his Designer, it was art – an intricate blueprint of glorious structure, made to capture not only flies, but also human eyes and imagination. It was a symphony of silk, a rainbow captured and displayed in strands instinctively woven overnight by an 8-legged maestro.

A web of wonder, made to fill human eyes and souls with a sense of their glorious Creator. He who is a generous and imaginative Artist, even when the masterpiece is for trolling the sky for unwitting insects.

For the spider, a fresh dinner will be the reward. For us, the reward is exceedingly greater. A fresh opportunity to worship.

Photo credit: Anne Campisi via Flickr

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