ashes to beauty

Today, as I write this, I mark three years to the day that I began my journey out of a profoundly dark season of my life, into the joy and pain of deliverance and healing and the relief of finding mercy and acceptance from my Father and from family and friends I had deceived and sinned against.

Three years ago, at this time, I was in the process of drinking myself into an alcoholic stupor. Sometime in the early morning hours of the next day I lurched back into a semblance of coherence and discovered I was lying on a bed in a local ER. I saw my wife sobbing; I looked into the shocked faces of precious friends; I beheld my children as they struggled through tears to understand what was happening, and what had happened.

I had walked with the Lord almost forty years and had served in a leadership capacity in many local and international ministry venues. Yet now I lie on a hard bed, wasted, bloated with alcohol, wretched, angering the nurses with my continued lies as I insisted I had “only had a few beers.”

I won’t go into details about my descent into alcoholism—that is for another time. But through the years of ministry, and all the decades of good Christian activity, I still found it difficult to fully accept the love and forgiveness of God. Somehow, I was hesitant to completely trust the tenderness of His mercy. I somehow wasn’t convinced that as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.  For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13-14). In my foolishness—in my pride—I assumed my frame should be made of “sterner stuff”.

We read in Isaiah 53:5 that Yeshua was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. He took the full brunt of my anguish and rage and dishonesty and wickedness and bore it away from me by fully bearing it in His pierced and severed flesh. My angry recriminations against God, who I felt was unjustly ignoring me, found full-throated expression in His howl “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Because He took all my iniquity upon Himself, I am fully and completely free, and I have been able to walk a path of profound healing and renewal. I am forgiven, and justified by His grace alone.

I write about my experience today to proclaim that the past one thousand ninety-six days (one of the years was a leap year) have been a source of amazement to my family and me. God was able to take a series of events that had the potential to smother us in cerements of despair, and instead use them to craft a multi-colored tapestry of hope and healing.

For years I read Yeshua’s words in John 15:5: “Without Me you can do nothing.” I agreed with Him, of course; but through my filter, what I really believed was: “Without Me, you can’t do a lot of things.”

Well, funny as it might seem, when you look into the original language, what Yeshua actually meant when he said “nothing” was NOTHING.

Weird.

Interesting, isn’t it, how regularly and easily we fall into the trap of thinking we can accomplish much. Even worse, we also feel that our salvation, our holiness, our love for God is primarily self-generated. We pray and cry, we mourn because of our failures, we wail that we“should be closer to God”, when all the while Yeshua holds out His nail-pierced hands and tells us: “I have done all and more than you could ever imagine. You are fully forgiven and accepted in the Beloved. I desire to manifest My goodness to you and live My life through you, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Come boldly to the throne of grace, to find mercy and grace to help in all your need.”

The worldly spirit of self-reliance and the spirit of dutiful religion are two sides of the same coin. Both give credence to the lie that we are our own god. Either way, we view our lives through the filter of our own works. That is the reason brutal self-condemnation (my specialty) brings no awareness of our Lord’s loving presence, and does nothing to foster deeper holiness within. Yeshua accomplished our salvation and our righteousness through His sacrifice on the cross, and there is nothing we can accomplish to add to His finished work.

So I rejoice today in a life made precious and beautiful in His image; a life saved and catapulted into new hope even as I thought I had plunged myself into a pit of degradation. Our Savior is the God of restoration, the One who gives

 …beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
That (we) may be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD
that He may be glorified (Isaiah 61:3).

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8 thoughts on “ashes to beauty

    1. Jeff, thank you for sharing your story, many of us self condemning souls do so with different things, for me it is frustration of why the life changing accident where I lost my job, my home my dog, any chance of employment, and has led to me living on my daughters couch since mid 2014… and I have screamed, prayed resolutely determined to say faithful while so questioning God why, when all I did was obey you to go horseback ridinh, so I focused on trying so hard to figure out what to do for God, and now that I have been so sick since Thanksgiving, I have had no more energy to even beg God and felt as if He was slipping away or I was… there is a small glimmer of hope that rises on reading your path to redemption, reconciliation, and that right now all I need do is fall into His arms and rest

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      1. I understand, Trish. I am humbled and grateful that my story gave you that little glimmer of hope. His ways can be difficult to understand, but when we remember that we usually focus on the “here and now”, and HE has eternity in mind, it helps us understand a little bit more the “exceeding weight of glory” He is producing in us. In the meantime, we share in each other’s pain–and joy–because we’re all in this together! It is hard to trust that we are really being held onto when everything screams that we are not, but I have found Abba’s love to be faithful and secure, no matter my circumstance.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your testimony!! It is the love of God that sets us free!! I am so joyful that you were able to go deeper and wider in His love!!

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