Beauty for ashes

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My life, these days, I live by faith. However, it has not always been that way. I started out in life working as a carpenter building many of the homes, condos and apartments that many of you are now living in. I loved working with my hands building beautiful porticos, patios or an elegant gazebo out of a nothing but a pile of raw materials.  The satisfaction that came out of cutting and assembling something out of nothing was very rewarding. To stand back and admire a structure that grew from just having an idea and a measure of faith was quite an accomplishment.

My life, these days, I live by faith. However, it has not always been that way. I started out in life working as a carpenter building many of the homes, condos and apartments that many of you are now living in. I loved working with my hands building beautiful porticos, patios or an elegant gazebo out of a nothing but a pile of raw materials.  The satisfaction that came out of cutting and assembling something out of nothing was very rewarding. To stand back and admire a structure that grew from just having an idea and a measure of faith was quite an accomplishment.

Now, I’m a pastor and live each day by my faith in God. I love the people God sends to me and get satisfaction in watching what God is building. He moves mysteriously, never doing the same thing in the exact same way. He is a master choreographer who carefully and patiently explains each step to us before we take them.

Tom and Carol had been together for twenty-five years and recently decided to get married about two and a half years ago. Last week, on Halloween, Carol began coughing and the coughing became so violent that Tom drove her into the emergency room. While Carol was being admitted to the hospital she had a massive stroke and died. What started out as a routine trip to the emergency room ended in heartbreak and loneliness leaving Tom with many unanswered questions.

While at a pastor’s conference last week I received a phone call from Tom asking if I could help with Carol’s “Celebration of Life” on the following Saturday. I said yes, and asked if I could pray for him. I had grown up with Tom but did not know his wife all that well. On Thursday, I called Tom to see if we could meet somewhere and discuss things. So, we met the following day and after a nice time of reminiscing I gathered a few notes and we parted company.

I love to write when God gives me ideas and they flow from my mind as fast as water running over Niagara Falls. But sometimes ideas are as scarce as rain on Southern Californian mountain sides. It’s also nice to have plenty of time in order to put these words together in a way that will comfort friends and family who are gathered to remember and grieve.

While I was able to pull the main body of the service together, I still did not have the opening greeting or the closing. I went to sleep Friday night not knowing how all this was going to congeal but I had faith in God that He would give me the words to say.

As I pulled up the road there were cars lined on both sides of the curb. As I got closer to the house I still was waiting for God to give me words of comfort. With less than five minutes left, God literally gave me a section of scripture in the book of Isaiah chapter 61:1-3, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”.

Jesus, while visiting his home town, stood up in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and read the verses recorded in Luke 4:16-21. He stopped abruptly after quoting the verse having to do with His first coming “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” Jesus stopped at “And the day of vengeance of our God.” where He closed up the scrolls.

Jesus knew He was coming to the earth twice. The first time He was born to die for the sins of the world by laying down His life as a lamb led to the slaughter. The next time Jesus comes to the earth He will bring a sword of vengeance.

No matter where you are in life, no matter how lonely you are or how dark your future seems there is still hope. Jesus has come to comfort all who mourn, to give them beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning. He can break those chains that bind you and open doors that have you imprisoned. He is the giver of life and invites you to partake in the Living Water. He has come to heal the broken hearted!

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